§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Janet Anderson.]9.35 am
§ Mr. Patrick Hall (Bedford)
Thank you, Madam Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech—the first speech by the first Member of Parliament for the new constituency of Bedford.
The constituency is really made up of two towns, Bedford and Kempston. Bedford is the county town of Bedfordshire, and has been a centre of regional importance since Saxon times, if not longer. Kempston has been a village for most of its history, with evidence of Roman settlement. Bedford grew rapidly during the 19th century, and later physically joined Kempston to create a single built-up area, but an area with two distinct identities for the two towns—to the extent that Kempston has its own elected town council and mayor.
Unfortunately, those separate identities are not reflected in the official name of the constituency, and I shall therefore seek to change that name, to reflect the two towns of which it consists.
Bedford and Kempston is a good place to live and work, and a good place to represent. I am honoured to have been given the chance to serve my home town—if I may call it that, having lived in Bedford for 18 years, and in the locality for 34 years.
However, if I am still to be regarded by some as a migrant to the area—there are some old Bedfordians who might take that view—I am in good company, because Bedford and Kempston were founded on inward migration. Migrants came first from the surrounding villages when industry and the railways arrived in the 19th century.
Secondly, between the wars, the locally buoyant engineering and electrical engineering base attracted people from the depressed northern cities and from south Wales. Thirdly, after 1945, the towns expanded rapidly to their present size, attracting young families from London and elsewhere in Britain—and also from continental Europe, especially from Italy, Poland and the former Yugoslavia. People also came from the new Commonwealth—from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Caribbean.
There are people from more than 50 countries of origin living and settled in Bedford and Kempston. They have their various identities and, in many cases, their children, and their children's children, were born in the area and are growing up there. They are all part of the wider community and they contribute strongly to it.
258 That makes for a constituency rich in the diversity of its people and, therefore, strong in its potential for the many ideas and talents that we all need to bring to fruition if we are to work together to build a better world.
That ethnic diversity was recognised and respected by my predecessor for the Bedford part of the new constituency—Sir Trevor Skeet, who retired at the general election. I am pleased to acknowledge his role both as a constituency Member of Parliament for 27 years and as a man who displayed independence of thought. I wish him and Lady Valerie Skeet a long and happy retirement. I also wish to salute the service to Bedford of the two Labour Members of Parliament elected by slim majorities in 1945 and 1966—Tom Skeffington-Lodge and Bryan Parkin.
During the past three months, my constituents have shared with me some of their problems, hopes and fears. There are always many problems, of course, and most are connected with the wider social, economic and political realities.
In housing, for example, there is a constant expression of need associated with an inadequate supply of affordable housing to buy and to rent. There are those whose lives have been blighted by the deep injustices associated with the bureaucratic nightmare which is the Child Support Agency. There are many others whose lives have been reduced by the creaking welfare benefit system which locks so many people into a life of dependency and relative poverty, instead of offering a helping hand into education, training, skills and dignity.
I am sure that I am not alone in being told about the stresses and worries generated by the growing pressures on community and social services, the national health service and local schools, despite the very best efforts of dedicated staff. People are concerned about crime, vandalism, jobs, pensions and transport, but they also tell me that, since the general election, the mood has changed for the better.
There are still problems—there always will be—but there is now a feeling that there can be solutions. People are not displaying unrealistic expectations or a desire for magic instant answers, but they believe that we can make progress—a step at a time if need be—and for the many, not just the few.
People in Bedford and Kempston want to see smaller class sizes, quality child care and early-years education. They want lifelong learning to become a reality for all those people who have been denied it for too long. My constituents support the prospect of a revived NHS and they want to see fairness at work and a realistic minimum wage.
People support the measures to tackle unemployment and to boost investment by supporting business by helping people to train and improve their skills. Many of my constituents have made it clear also that they want this country to be positive in Europe and to play our part in fair trade and international co-operation, peace and justice. They want us to be active in cleaning up the global environment in our interdependent one world.
So many people who feel that they have been forgotten over the years—including pensioners and those with disabilities—are waiting with interest for the reviews of the benefits system, pensions and community care. If I may say so, I hope that my constituents will not just wait, but will have their say in the consultation process. In my 259 view, a wind of change is blowing through the country today. Expectations are rising, but with higher expectations comes the serious responsibility of the need to deliver. My constituents are patient and are prepared to give the Government a fair chance.
There are concerns about the effect of the strong pound on industry and employment, and about the consequences of the appalling state of the public finances which we have inherited and which point to further cuts in schools, hospitals and local council services. I urge the Government to be sensitive to those concerns and to help to minimise the damage before we get on to the long road to recovery outlined in my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's Budget.
There are concerns about traffic congestion and pollution, and I hope that local interested parties will respond to the consultation exercise on trunk roads in England, argue for measures that will help to complete the bypass in Bedford and Kempston and press more widely for improved rail services. With rising expectations and greater public interest in politics and our national life, it is now all the more important that we open up our democracy so that all voices can be heard. That means action on freedom of information, and parliamentary, electoral and constitutional reform.
Since the general election, this country has begun a great journey and we cannot turn back. I have no doubt that it will be a long and often difficult road, but it will be worth it. In common with the majority of the British people, most of my constituents offer their support and their good will to help to ensure, in the words of a former leader of my party, John Smith,that the best of Britain is yet to come.
§ Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)
May I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) on his maiden speech? He spoke of his constituency with the intimacy which comes of long residence, and my right hon. and hon. Friends particularly appreciated his tribute to Sir Trevor Skeet.
I speak—unusually, from the Dispatch Box, in this debate—to raise the question of the Government's so-called ethical foreign policy and particularly its application to defence-related exports. I do so because there has been no previous opportunity to do so and because the Foreign Secretary has gone to extraordinary lengths to evade questioning on this topic.
Let me make it quite clear at the outset that the Opposition whole-heartedly support the view that this country should have an ethical foreign policy. We believe that we had an ethical foreign policy under the previous Government. In considering applications for export licences for defence-related equipment, for example, those responsible were required to take into account, among many other factors, thebehaviour of the recipient state and its human rights record.Indeed, on many occasions under the previous Government, licences for defence-related equipment were refused.
The Foreign Secretary clearly intends to take a different approach—or at least he wants people to think that he is taking a different approach. First, with a flourish of 260 trumpets, the Foreign Secretary issued his mission statement in the Locarno suite of the Foreign Office on 12 May. He described it as a new mission statement and said that it set out new directions in foreign policy. He said that he was setting a new direction for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
In the course of setting out these new directions, the Foreign Secretary put up a series of Aunt Sallies and proceeded to knock them down. He said, for example:the Labour Government does not accept that political values can be left behind when we check in our passports to travel on diplomatic business.But nor, as I have made clear, did any of my former right hon. Friends who served as Foreign Secretary since 1979 accept that. Nor do I.
The second occasion on which the Foreign Secretary raised the matter outside the House was on 17 July. In a speech entitled "Human Rights into a New Century" he set out a dozen steps tocarry through the Government's commitment to raise international human rights standards.Most of these steps continue the policies of the previous Government. In many cases, the fact that they do so is openly acknowledged.
On Monday, the Foreign Secretary announced the criteria to be used in considering licence applications for the export of conventional arms under this allegedly new policy. Given the importance that the Foreign Secretary clearly attaches to the policy—and given the fact that there has been so much press briefing about it—one might have expected the announcement to be made by way of an oral statement to the House. One might have thought that the Foreign Secretary was proud of his initiative.
Not a bit of it. The announcement was smuggled out in a written answer to a question from the hon. Member for East Ham (Mr. Timms). There was no opportunity to question the Foreign Secretary and we are left to speculate on the meaning to be attributed to this delphic pronouncement.
Let us test it by reference to one of the more controversial cases in this field—the export of Hawk jets to Indonesia. The sale of those aircraft to Indonesia was initiated by the Labour Government in 1978, less than three years after Indonesian troops entered the capital of East Timor. However, as a senior member of the Government insisted to the Financial Times on 18 July:there is no evidence that the aircraft is being used in East Timor. Our intelligence on that is very clear".The Minister also said, in the same report in that newspaper:the decision on Hawks should not be seen as a sign that new applications for similar export licences would be approved".Why not, if they have not been used in East Timor?
Later briefing makes the tale even murkier. Foreign Office sources told The Daily Telegraph—according to yesterday's paper—that, after legal advice, it was decided that it was "unrealistic and impractical" to revoke export licences granted before Labour's election victory. They also said, however:the Hawk jet deal would be still seen as acceptable under the new rules".What we now have is the worst of all worlds—the minimum of clarity, the maximum of confusion. We are discussing not some academic paper, but a policy on which people's livelihoods may depend.
261 I hope that the Leader of the House will tell us at the end of this debate why it was "unrealistic and impractical" to revoke export licences granted before 1 May, if that indeed was the reason for their being allowed to continue. I hope that after the recess, the Foreign Secretary will make some effort to clear up the mess that his various statements have created. I hope that the country will note this sorry episode as yet another example of those warm words from Whitehall signifying nothing that are rapidly becoming the hallmark of this Government.
§ Mrs. Janet Dean (Burton)
I am grateful for this opportunity to make my maiden speech. I have heard many excellent speeches by so many Members who, like myself, are new to the House. It seems strange that it should be such a daunting task when many of us have been used to speaking at council and public meetings in our constituencies. Some, like my colleague the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney), could not wait to make their first speech. Others, like myself and my predecessor for the constituency, Sir Ivan Lawrence, chose to approach the task at a rather more leisurely pace.
Sir Ivan made his maiden speech on 1 May 1974, and went on to make the longest continuous speech on the Floor of the House in this century—some four hours and 27 minutes. I may have emulated him on the time that it has taken me to make my first speech, Madam Speaker, but I promise I will not follow his latter example, although I commend him for his fortitude.
Before the recess, I wanted to tell the House how delighted I am to have been elected to represent the Burton constituency. I came to live in the constituency in 1968, when I married my dear Alan, who was my inspiration in politics. In those 29 years, the people of the Burton constituency have shown me their warmth, friendship and support, and I thank them for the great honour that they have given me in electing me to the House. I must also thank those who worked so hard to get a Labour Member elected for Burton for the first time since 1945, when Arthur Lyne gained the seat for Labour.
Other Members for Burton have been named Bass, Evershed, Ratcliffe and Gretton. Yes, as the name of my constituency suggests, the largest town is that of Burton upon Trent, the home of brewing—the world capital of the brewing industry. Brewing grew up in Burton because the monks of the local abbey discovered the special qualities of the local well water. By 1880, there were around 40 breweries in Burton. Now we have four—Bass, Carlsberg Tetley, Marston' s and the smaller Burton Bridge Brewery.
The brewers may not now be the major employer in Burton, but the breweries still encompass large areas of the centre of the town. Many fine buildings owe their legacy to the brewing industry. The history of that industry is best displayed at the Bass museum, the home of the famous Bass shire horses.
Burton upon Trent has many qualities, including the Trent washlands, which provide a uniquely attractive informal parkland in the centre of the town. Burton upon Trent has its problems, however. It has the highest unemployment rate of all the main settlements in Staffordshire, and six of the most deprived wards in the west midlands outside the conurbation are in the town centre.
262 I commend the local authorities and industries and all those who are working closely in partnership to try to overcome the high unemployment levels and improve the quality of life in those wards. Single regeneration budget and European regional development fund moneys are particularly important to the regeneration of the centre of Burton, as are the Government's welfare-to-work proposals.
We all know that there is work that needs doing, that there are homes that need improving and insulating, and people who need to use their abilities and develop their talents. In my constituency, 366 young people who have been unemployed for more than six months, and 489 long-term unemployed will benefit from the Government's policies. The 16,500 pensioners in the constituency will benefit from the cut in value added tax on fuel and, whether my constituents live in Burton upon Trent, the villages and rural areas or our other town of Uttoxeter, they now have new hope for the future.
I mentioned the breweries in Burton, but Uttoxeter is famous for its race course, one of the best small courses in the country. Four breweries and a race course—can any other constituency boast of such icons of leisure? Uttoxeter is always classified as a market town, but has always been more than just that. It has always been a working town as well and has weekly cattle and retail markets, which attract visitors from a wider area. Its industries have developed from the agricultural area by which it is surrounded.
Uttoxeter used to be the home of Bamford's agricultural machinery company and a dairy that, even in the days before refrigeration, sent milk by rail up to London. Sadly, both Bamford's and the dairy closed in the 1980s and Uttoxeter lost many local jobs. Elkes Biscuits has continued to grow, however, and is now the largest employer in the area.
The town of Uttoxeter has not only a heritage centre but a memorial to Dr. Johnson. Hon. Members will know of Dr. Samuel Johnson's skill in compiling the first dictionary, but they may not be aware of his connection with Uttoxeter. His father ran a bookstall in the marketplace. One day, when he was ill, he asked young Samuel to stand in for him. Dr. Johnson refused; so, when he was 70, he returned to Uttoxeter and, as an act of penance, stood bareheaded in the rain.
I am not too sure what Dr. Johnson would have thought about the election of a woman Member of Parliament, or the fact that there are now 120 of us in the House. He was known to make disparaging remarks about women. One of his most generous was:I am very fond of the company of ladies—I like their beauty … and I like their silence.I am unsure whether Mary Queen of Scots was kept in silence, but she was certainly imprisoned in Tutbury castle for 18 years. Tutbury is a charming historic village, which is famous for its Tutbury crystal. Close by, near the village of Hanbury, is the site of the biggest explosion ever to take place in this country. The Fauld explosion on Monday 27 November 1944 was caused by an underground bomb store exploding. A farm house and other buildings just disappeared, and 70 people were killed.
There are many attractive villages in my constituency: Marchington; Draycott; Newborough, with its well dressings; and, to the north, Ellastone, Stanton and 263 Mayfield, which border Ashbourne and the Peak district. The rural areas are not without their problems; the six most northerly parishes are part of the SRB 5 area, and the BSE crisis caused much distress to many of my constituents.
One of the greatest success stories is the JCB factory at Rocester. It is set in superb grounds, with lakes, statues and a vast complex of buildings that blend in with the countryside around them. The company is world renowned and has become a symbol of British industry at its best; it has invested in its plant and developed other factory sites around Staffordshire, including one in Uttoxeter, and continues to develop new machines to meet the needs of customers throughout the world.
Next door to Rocester is the pretty village of Denstone, which is the gateway to the Churnet valley and Alton Towers. I am lucky to represent an area of such diversity and I look forward to continuing to work with all those who are involved with the communities in the Burton constituency, including the voluntary sector and our schools, which have welcomed the extra money in the Budget. I will work with local authorities and businesses.
My constituency is truly in the heart of England, ideally situated for inward investment and industrial and commercial development. Now that I have taken hon. Members on a tour of the delights of Burton, I hope that I will have whetted their appetites and that, during the recess, some might think it an ideal spot to visit; whether at the world barrel rolling championships at the Burton festival in September, or at the races in Uttoxeter, they will be given a very warm welcome.
§ 10.1 am
§ Mr. Thomas Brake (Carshalton and Wallington)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) on her maiden speech, which was thoughtful and composed; she gave us many reasons to visit her constituency, not least the breweries that are based there, and I am grateful to her for not emulating her predecessor by talking for four hours or more.
I should declare an interest in my topic, albeit a non-pecuniary one. I want to discuss the accident and emergency unit at St. Helier, which is the local hospital at which our first child was born two weeks ago. In the past three years, the hospital has been in and out of the news and in the public eye.
Some hon. Members may remember a story that appeared six or nine months ago about a patient who spent 72 hours waiting on a trolley before being moved into the hospital proper. A petition calling for the A and E unit to be kept open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, was signed by 2,500 local residents, as the unit was having to shut its doors at peak times because of overcrowding.
There is no doubt that conditions at the A and E unit will improve, as an extension is being built, but unfortunately, according to the nurses there, it is a case of too little, too late, and they are expected to ballot for industrial action within the next couple of weeks; they have already received approval from the Royal College of Nursing council to go ahead.
I am afraid to say that I am assured that the results of the ballot are a foregone conclusion: the nurses will take industrial action. I hasten to say that the action will be 264 limited and that there is little, if any, risk to patients. The nurses intend to withdraw their good will, which means that they will not work during lunch breaks, as they currently do, or provide cover at short notice.
Why are the nurses taking action? It is not about pay and conditions at the hospital but about their concerns about the quality of care that patients are receiving at the A and E unit. They are worried because the out-patients department is being used an overspill area for the A and E unit. Even the children's waiting area—there is a separate children's unit—is being used for adults because of overcrowding.
The action could start within the next four weeks. I raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Health, but I am afraid that his response was quite blunt: to paraphrase, he said that it was nothing to do with him and was a matter for the hospital management. My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) raised the matter at Prime Minister' s Question Time and got a more conciliatory response, although I think that the underlying message was the same: that it was down to the hospital management.
I accept that the hospital management bears the brunt of responsibility, but the St. Helier trust had a couple of million pounds cut from its budget recently and the Merton, Sutton and Wandsworth health authority, the main purchaser in the area, has a deficit of more than £10 million, so neither of those organisations will be in a position to help the A and E unit or the nurses, and I am afraid that that leaves the Secretary of State for Health in the firing line.
I hope that we will not be told about jam in the next financial year. The A and E unit is under threat this year and the nurses propose to take industrial action this summer—not next year, but probably within the next four weeks. I hope that the Leader of the House will convey my great concern to the Secretary of State; there is still time for him to take action. He can still take an interest in the dispute and help to secure a painless outcome for patients, staff and management at the hospital.
There is still time to stop the RCN taking action. It should be noted that it would be the first time that the RCN has taken action because of concerns about the quality of patient care. I hope that my plea will not fall on deaf ears and that the Secretary of State will show that the national health service really is safe in the new Government's hands.
§ 10.7 am
§ Mr. Bill O'Brien (Normanton)
I want to talk about the future of energy provision, and to press for a full debate on a comprehensive energy policy. If we are to plan for the 21st century, we need a fuel policy to secure energy supplies for future generations. Our approach must be built on a firm foundation and we must put the current energy supply policy in a proper perspective.
Because of shortness of time, I intend to focus my remarks on the electricity supply industry. Electricity is supplied from many sources, and I want the various means of generation to continue, but the major source is coal. That is understandable because of our vast coal reserves. At present, about 45 million to 50 million tonnes are produced annually. It creates about 66,000 jobs, which is a substantial contribution to our economy. The distortion in the electricity regenerating industry and the way in 265 which fuel is used for generating electricity gives rise to two prime concerns. One is subsidised foreign coal and the other is the bias in favour of gas.
I am not asking for favours for coal—I am asking for fairness. Instances of unfair competition have been identified and form the subject of negotiations. Subsidies are a case in point. Government Departments are involved. The artificially low price of electricity generated from gas significantly distorts the generation of baseload electricity in favour of gas at the expense of coal.
The Financial Times of 17 June reported that the German coal industry received substantial subsidies, which resulted in the'dumping' of German anthracite in the British market.Germany captures a quarter of the United Kingdom's 400,000-tonne-a-year market for anthracite. Mr. Keith McNair, the chief executive of Celtic Energy, claimed that German producers were selling their coal for less than the cost of its production. According to the report:Bonn spends about DM10.3 billion in subsidies to keep 85,000 miners employed in the coal industry.… it costs German producers up to £100 a tonne to mine and ship anthracite.It sells in the United Kingdom at £75 per tonne, and the market price ranges between £85 and £100 per tonne.
There is thus a bias in favour of German coal which affects the United Kingdom coal market. The Germans argue that if they had to run down their coal industry as a result of the withdrawal of subsidies, Germany would lose its position as a leading manufacturer of mining equipment. Our engineering industry is also affected, because German mining equipment manufacturers are subsidised. That is why we should have a major debate on the coal industry.
The inability of coal to compete with gas on a fair and level basis results from significant distortions, which result in electricity generated by gas being bid by electricity generators into the baseload generation market in the electricity pool of England and Wales at artificially low prices as a result of uneconomic bidding behaviour, which displaces coal-fired generation plant in favour of gas. The crucial part of bids for fuel is the base load principle. As the generating industry is biased in favour of gas, coal-fired generators cannot bid for the base load and have to bid into the mid-merit market. That is unfair competition.
All the coal industry is asking for is the opportunity to bid to supply fuel for baseload generation. That is not unreasonable.
§ Mr. O'Brien
I will deal with that point, but my point is to underline the unfairness of subsidised coal and the bias in favour of gas created by not allowing coal to tender for the baseload.
The United Kingdom coal industry accepts its responsibility to reduce emission levels by using clean coal technology. It will be more than able to make its contribution to the Government's commitment to a 20 per cent. reduction on 1990 levels of carbon dioxide by 2010. In order to meet that target, we need to start investing in clean coal technology now.
266 The coal industry is geared up for the introduction of clean coal technology. I am a former mineworker and a member of a mining community. We accept that the coal industry has a responsibility to promote clean coal technology. We have the means. What we need now is the resources to help us to move in that direction.
My hon. Friend the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry has said that an acceptable energy policy must encompass three watchwords—diversity, security and sustainability. Diversity can be defined in principle as a fuel mix, not a monoculture or duopoly based on one or two sources of energy. Today's mix of gas, nuclear and coal gives us that diversity. A dash for gas at the expense of coal would make us overdependent on one fuel. The coal industry accepts the need for diversity. We are asking for the opportunity to play a full part in electricity generation.
Security can be defined as the need to ensure that the country is not dependent on imported energy. United Kingdom gas reserves are limited, and it is estimated that they will run out early in the 21st century; yet coal is in abundance here in our own country.
A sustainable energy policy will ensure that future generations have access to competitive sources of energy that can be produced in an environmentally acceptable way, using clean coal technology. It is accepted that the non-fossil fuel levy will be dispensed with in a few months' time. Some of the resources could be used to develop clean coal technology. That would give us the means to produce electricity from coal while meeting the emissions levels requested by the Government.
The non-fossil fuel levy has been used to support nuclear power and the development of renewable sources of energy. If we can channel some of those resources into clean coal technology, I believe that we could create a balanced system of energy provision for the future. If we are to have a comprehensive energy policy that makes use of the diverse fuels available to us, we must consider the use of coal as a serious option. There is an urgent need to address that matter, because, although the coal industry is efficient and a success story, that cannot be maintained unless we consider the use of subsidies, the inherent unfairness of the comparative prices of gas and coal and the use of clean coal technology.
I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to provide time in the near future for a full debate on a comprehensive energy policy. Hon. Members would then have the opportunity to express their concerns either for or against the arguments that I have raised. I rest my case.
§ Mr. David Tredinnick (Bosworth)
I, too, extend my congratulations to the hon. Members for Burton (Mrs. Dean) and for Bedford (Mr. Hall) on their interesting and informative maiden speeches.
I was particularly interested in the speech of the hon. Member for Bedford, because I well recall serving with Sir Trevor Skeet in the Committee on the Electricity Bill, which privatised the industry. I noted his great expertise in nuclear power and all matters relating to energy.
I understand that there was some dispute locally about whether Sir Trevor should stand for re-election in 1992. I wrote to the Bedford Echo—I believe that that is its 267 title, but the hon. Gentleman can correct me if I am wrong—to say what a tremendous job Sir Trevor had done in that Committee, and I explained that the expertise of senior Members is valuable to the House. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman is fortunate that Sir Trevor decided to retire at the previous election and did not contest the seat.
I wish to raise issues relating to statutory instruments, or secondary legislation, and if time permits I would also like to say a word about the threat behind vitamins. I should like to discuss secondary legislation wearing my hat as the Chairman of the JCSI—the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments—and Chairman of the Select Committee on Statutory Instruments. There are three areas of concern which those Committees are currently considering, which I wish to raise with the Leader of the House and bring to the attention of hon. Members.
The first relates to matters outstanding from the previous Parliament. The second concern relates to issues that are the subject of current debate, and the third relates to issues of concern for the future. We are considering them at a time when the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of the Commons is considering certain recommendations, and there is the strong possibility of a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly. I put it to hon. Members that there has never been a better time to consider such matters.
The outstanding issues from the previous Parliament relate to the scrutiny of delegated legislation and statutory instruments derived from European legislation. The Procedure Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), published a report in June 1996 on delegated legislation, which drew attention to the deficiencies in the current system of consideration and scrutiny of statutory instruments.
The report recommended that the praying time, the time to object against negative instruments—there are, of course, negative and affirmative ones, and negative instruments do not necessarily go into Committee—should be extended to 60 days. It also recommended that a Standing Order should be introduced to prevent the House from taking a decision on any instrument until the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had completed its consideration of it.
Thirdly, and most importantly, it recommended that a new Select Committee should be established to identify which of the many instruments laid before Parliament involve important questions of policy and should therefore be drawn to the special attention of the House. I draw that recommendation particularly to the attention of the Leader of the House.
That sifting Committee would go some way to filling what has often been identified as a gap in the process of scrutiny of instruments. The JCSI is only empowered to look at the vires or the legality of instruments, rather than consider their drafting or their merits. I must tell the right hon. Lady that a Government response to that report is still awaited, and perhaps she may care refer in her reply to her current deliberations and whether those points have been taken into consideration.
The second outstanding matter that has exercised the Committee and which is the subject of considerable debate is instruments derived from European obligations. In the same report, the Procedure Committee 268 recommended that statutory instruments made under the European Communities Act 1972 should be colour-coded or marked in some way, to make their derivation easily identifiable by hon. Members.
Secondly, in a report on European business, which was published in March 1997, the Committee made further recommendations that the proposed sifting Committee on statutory instruments should be empowered to look at how Whitehall Departments implement directives in United Kingdom legislation. That is a topical issue, because many of my hon. Friends might say that Whitehall is attempting to ride roughshod over the wishes of hon. Members and force matters that should not be forced.
That is a matter of concern to the JCSI because of gold-plating—jargon for the over-implementation of European legislation—and the sheer number of instruments which create offences, and are unsatisfactorily drafted in terms of standard United Kingdom legislative practice. What proposals does the Leader of the House have to implement the Committee's recommendations relating to European legislation?
The current debate on delegated legislation relates to devolution. According to the Government's proposals for Scottish devolution, there are many issues that we must consider relating to statutory instruments. I give the right hon. Lady notice that there should be a separate debate in the autumn on secondary legislation.
The devolution of power to Scotland raises issues to do with how the Scottish Parliament will make and scrutinise secondary legislation. What will be the relationship between any Committee established by the Parliament for this purpose and the Joint Committee of this House?
The Scottish Parliament will create, in its legislation on devolved—non-reserved—areas, new powers to make subordinate legislation, exercisable by Ministers of the Scottish Executive. According to papers already published, the Scottish Parliament will constitute its own Committees to scrutinise subordinate legislation, whether made under existing Westminster Acts or future Scottish Acts. The Westminster Parliament's Joint Committee, the JCSI, and the Select Committee, the SCSI, will, I infer, scrutinise delegated legislation on reserved matters; but that is not clear.
It is not just the Midlothian question that is unclear—there are many other unclear issues at stake.
§ Mr. Tredinnick
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend nodding assent.
The sheer volume of secondary legislation passing through this place is staggering. I have already, for instance, referred to the amount of European legislation.
Will the JCSI check the Scottish Parliament's statutory instruments to see whether they are legal and free of conflicts with primary legislation; or will statutory instruments go straight off to Edinburgh, where it may be found that they conflict with current law? This is a technical matter which gives rise to great concern, and some thought must be given to it.
The other devolution proposal, for a Welsh Assembly, is quite different, but just as complicated. There is no easy way out. Just as we found in 1979, when the autumn 269 debates begin, it will be seen that nothing is going to be easy. The fact that the Labour Government have thus far allocated 48 hours of debate will not serve them well, either. In 1979, there were 47 days of debate on the Floor of the House, not to delay proceedings but to examine all these questions. In the end, there was no solution, which is why the legislation fell. Curtailing debate this time will not lead to a solution.
I do not, however, intend to be sidetracked today. The Welsh proposals for the scrutiny of secondary legislation by the Welsh Assembly are, unlike the Scottish proposals, set out in some detail in the White Paper. The Assembly—it will not be a Parliament—will be able not just to make but to amend and reject secondary legislation. Its Committees will also be able to consult, and take expert advice, on draft orders. The power currently possessed by the Secretary of State to revoke, replace or amend secondary legislation passed by this House will be given to the Assembly.
How will this work in practice? What are the implications for the relationship between Westminster and the Assembly? What are the implications of this extension of powers for the scrutiny process at Westminster?
The Welsh Assembly will be a deliberative body; it will inherit executive powers from the Welsh Office, including the power to make subordinate legislation. Hence the Assembly, under Westminster legislation and vires, will make secondary legislation. If that secondary legislation is arguably ultra vires, it will be referred to the Privy Council's Judicial Committee. Is that the Government's intention? Do they plan to let the Privy Council sort out these matters? That, at any rate, is how things stand now.
The Committees of the Assembly will prepare the legislation, but the Assembly itself will approve and make it by order. Scrutiny of secondary legislation will be done apparently by a secondary legislation Scrutiny Committee of the Assembly, considering first draft orders. But implementation of the UK's European obligations will remain at Westminster—or will it? We do not know. It is yet another grey area. I am sorry to burden the Leader of the House with so many grey areas, but we really do need answers, faced as we are with complex legislation which, some would argue, is about the break-up of the United Kingdom. Indeed, it may lead to precisely that.
These are not minor issues relating to a particular Bill or order. They relate to the whole principle of the government of these islands. They refer back to the unravelling of decisions made, I think, at the time of the Act of Union in 1704—although I am not an historian, and I stand to be corrected by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack).
§ Mr. Tredinnick
I am grateful. I spent some time with my hon. Friend in the last Parliament on parliamentary business, and I learned then of his expertise.
The question remains: will responsibility for the scrutiny of instruments implementing our European obligations remain with the JCSI? Will scrutiny of statutory instruments made under transferred powers be done by the Welsh Scrutiny Committee? Will other statutory instruments remain the responsibility of the Joint Committee? This autumn, we need a debate on the whole issue of statutory instruments. It would be a grave mistake not to consider it.
270 My final point on devolved secondary legislation concerns the future of the European convention on human rights. It will have an impact on the exercising of powers to make delegated legislation—not necessarily a well-known fact.
We need to know what consultation there will be on issues of parliamentary scrutiny in this area. We need to know more about the suggestion that either a Joint Committee of both Houses or the existing Joint Committee should examine the matter. Do the Government propose to set up a new Committee? Will it be a Sub-Committee of one of the newly established Committees; or will members of the Joint Committee which I chair have this responsibility? I should like an answer from the right hon. Lady.
I want to raise one other subject entirely unrelated to statutory instruments. I do so as the long-serving—almost 10-year—treasurer of the parliamentary group on alternative and complementary medicine. My point relates to the Government's decision to withdraw or ban a range of vitamin B6 supplements, which, among other things, help with pre-menstrual tension, heart disease and a range of other ailments. I say this against the background of a tendency to turn ever more to alternative medicine and away from conventional medicine.
The fact remains that the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, has decided to ban higher dose supplements. Time prevents me from going through all the arguments today, and I know that other colleagues want to speak—but this issue, I warn the Government, will not go away.
If MAFF wants to expand its postroom, fine. Thousands of letters will be pouring in on this issue. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment has taken the soft option, and has insisted on pills of an unnecessarily high degree of safety. That has enraged people in the world of alternative medicine.
In all my time running the secretariat for the parliamentary group, I have never come across a Government decision so at variance with so much professional thought in the industry, and so annoying to so many people and practitioners.
In the previous Parliament, the Government had to deal with the herb comfrey, and we won that case. The Minister of State is in his submarine and going straight for the bottom, because this issue will not go away. I implore the Leader of the House urgently to tackle him and ask him to review his decision. I should be most grateful if she did so.
§ Mr. Jim Dobbin (Heywood and Middleton)
I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to make my maiden speech during this general debate. I am pleased to be making it before the recess, because that means that I can go home feeling that I have achieved a little. I have to be careful what I say, because I believe that you had a connection with part of my constituency in earlier days.
My constituency is one of those that make up the metropolitan borough of Rochdale. Having been subjected to boundary changes, the constituency of Heywood and Middleton now incorporates the wards of Castleton and 271 of Norden and Bamford. When it was in the constituency of Rochdale, Norden and Bamford was probably an 8,000 Conservative block vote, but at the last election there were some major switches, and in parts of the ward we took up to 40 per cent. of the vote. Both Castleton and Norden and Bamford were formerly part of the Rochdale constituency.
It is said that Heywood was created in the 18th century by the father of Sir Robert Peel. It has a strong sense of working-class history and tradition. Today, Heywood is an expanding centre for the distribution industry on one side of the M62 and close to the M66, which motorway has recently been under review but is now due to be completed, thanks to the intervention of my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister and Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions. It is a most important road link around the Manchester conurbation.
Heywood has many links with historical events and people, and certainly has dramatic links with this House. Peter Heywood of Heywood hall is credited with being one of those who, on 4 March 1605, snatched the lantern from the hand of one Guy Fawkes. Right hon. and hon. Members therefore have a former constituent of Heywood to thank for the preservation of this democratic establishment—I nearly said a former constituent of mine, but that would have given away my age. The lantern is on show at the Ashmolean museum in Oxford.
A descendant of Peter Heywood, also called Peter Heywood, was a midshipman on the famous ship, the Bounty. It is recorded that he was vindicated of mutiny, as one would expect of a fine, upstanding constituent of that town.
To the south of the M62 lies Middleton. Samuel Bamford, one of the great political poets and reformers, led a contingent from Middleton to Manchester, where a number were murdered at Peterloo in 1819.
I represent two wards in Rochdale, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lorna Fitzsimons), my colleague and neighbour, on her tremendous win in the general election. Rochdale has the distinction of being the birthplace of the Co-operative movement, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. As recent leader of Rochdale council, I am proud to be a Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament.
I am proud of the radical traditions and politics of my constituency, which I inherited from my predecessor Jim Callaghan—little Jim Callaghan, known widely in the House as "Gentleman Jim". He spent 22 years in the House, and was recognised throughout the constituency as a hard-working Member who built his majority from 500 to more than 8,000. In this year's general election, the majority was 17,500. Jim was always loyal to his constituents and to his party, and he left the House knowing that he had done a good job.
Before him, Joel Barnett, now Lord Barnett and a former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, served the people of Heywood with great distinction, and is remembered with great affection. I can never fill the shoes of my two eminent predecessors—I can merely try to do my best.
Having come from local government, I judge much of the legislation introduced in the House by the effect it will have on local government, services to local communities 272 and the local economy, because that is where the people will measure its impact. The Government's commitment to schools, raising standards, smaller class sizes and repairing school buildings will be most welcome in my constituency, where many classes contain more than 30 pupils and many schools are in a state of disrepair.
I especially welcome the Government's early decision to fund a new hospital for my constituents based in Rochdale. The proposed new deal on welfare to work is a real bonus for the area, and my hon. Friend the Member for Rochdale, other partners, represented by the local training and enterprise council, the chamber of commerce, business link and the council, and I have already produced a scheme that I hope the Minister concerned will find exciting. Allowances for small business and the release of capital receipts will clearly benefit the local economy. I am so far pleased with the contents of the Budget.
However, I have for some time been concerned about the links and the relationship between central and local government, which have deteriorated in recent years. The debate on the proper relationship between central and local government is not a new one: its origins in this country date back to the middle ages and the territorial conflicts between the monarchy and nobility over the relationship between the Crown and its most powerful subjects. The compromise reached with the signing at Runnymede of the Magna Carta, which laid the foundations of our so-called unwritten constitution, can be seen as the forerunner of modern conflicts in local and central relations.
We need to put the relationship between central and local government into perspective. Despite the supremacy of Parliament, which was established during the English civil war in the 17th century, there has always been an uneasy relationship with the regions and localities; but, even without a written constitution, the importance of local government and administration has been acknowledged. Today, we need to define a new relationship with the centre that meets the challenges of the next century.
Our role in a new Europe and our responsibilities to our own citizens also need to be redefined. When, all over Europe, the emphasis is on decentralisation, devolution and the delegation of powers, this country should meet the challenge and give leadership in the transformation of our society and our economy into smaller, more manageable, self-governing but interdependent units. We must move away from centralisation, bureaucracy and conformity. Regionalism and local self-government will become more important in the Europe of tomorrow than the complex interplay between independent nation states.
Today, when nearly all our major economic and industrial competitors recognise the importance of local self-determination, economic autonomy and the need -to provide a flexible localised response to a changing environment, economy and society, we have created a great centralised system that destroys local initiative and disregards local achievement.
Through the introduction of universal education, sanitation and welfare, and through the great cotton entrepreneurs of the north and the great civic fathers such as Joseph Chamberlain in Birmingham, who promoted self-esteem and a measure of local control, this country pioneered great developments in local self-government during the 19th century; but we are now sadly falling way 273 behind other European countries. On the continent, local government is a major force behind economic and social change. Its relationship with the centre is that of a partnership and its role is that of an activator and enabler.
Local government in this country is less powerful than it was 18 years ago. It has less discretion and less money, and it is hampered by a legislative straitjacket designed to prevent it from responding to local needs in contravention of policies determined at the centre. Despite all that, local government is resilient and has responded to changes in our economy and society. It has attempted to match limited resources to changing needs and has, within the confines of its powers, attempted to promote a measure of local autonomy.
I argue that, whatever we might think of local government, it has been able to adapt to a new environment and can provide the key to our future success as a country, if it is allowed to act in partnership with our communities, with local business and industries, and with the voluntary sector, to intervene positively on behalf of the areas that it represents.
I am sure that we shall see parallels with moves in the private sector to greater integration and decentralisation of production groups with their own cost centres. There is an important difference, however. The private sector normally seeks to increase demand and can then increase supply in order to boost profits. Local government cannot do that. It is essentially a rationing agent, hemmed in by central Government's financial controls, which are far more primitive than any specific service-based legislation.
I am now coming to the end of this presentation. We must move with the times. We have become, as one commentator has suggested,Europe's constitutional pygmy, a truncated democracy in which the entire political and economic life of the nation revolves around an all sovereign House of Commons.That notion of democracy in a complex society is outdated and increasingly threatens not only our liberties but our pockets. The Government's policy of devolution of power and decision making—this is where I differ from the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick)—will surely go some way to bridge the obvious gap that exists between central and local government. That, I maintain, will maximise the benefits of the Government's policies and future Budgets.
§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) on what he referred to as his "presentation"; it certainly was. He presented his constituency most ably. He will be able to contribute his obvious knowledge, and I should think experience, of local government to future debates, and I am certain that he will be listened to with interest and respect.
I shall now leave the Rochdale area, to ask the Leader of the House one or two questions. Why did she not feel it necessary to make a statement to the House yesterday, when the first report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons was published? Many matters have come before the House since the new Government came into office, but this one affects every hon. Member considerably. I make this speech to draw attention to some aspects of the report in debate before the House rises, and to make more people aware of them.
274 I have some good news and some bad news; I start with the good. I am delighted that the Committee, under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House, was able to present a unanimous report. I am pleased because it confirms several of the reports, awaiting action, produced by the Procedure Committee under my chairmanship. In addition, some new thoughts have been brought into consideration. Most important, however, all members of the Committee agreed that the object of the report was to improve the standard and the thoroughness of legislation that is passed by Parliament.
Some of the new considerations are interesting. First, the Government are willing to publish draft Bills, and the report recommends that there should be some pre-legislative scrutiny of those Bills before they are introduced to the House. Secondly, there might be a First Reading committee to consider that legislation before its Second Reading in the House.
Thirdly—repeating a recommendation by the Procedure Committee—there should be greater use of the Select Committee procedure for Standing Committees, which should be able to investigate aspects of a Bill and cross-question witnesses about it before proceeding with the usual Standing Committee amendment and consideration of the Bill. Those are all efforts to ensure that legislation passed by the House is better understood, and less open to error than it may have been in the past.
The next matter of considerable importance is that, at last, we have a sensible recommendation on the programming of legislation. I have argued for many moons that Oppositions of all parties are mistaken in their belief that long debate in Standing Committee, forcing the guillotine to be introduced, does anything to limit the progress of a Government's legislative programme. At no time since the war has a Bill introduced in the Gracious Speech not been approved legislatively during a full Session of that Parliament, unless a general election has shortened the Session.
Most people have not understood that, when a Bill goes into Committee upstairs, the Leader of the House and the officers supporting the Leader of the House have set a date when it must leave Committee, so that its passage may be completed to a reasonable timetable. When the Opposition have spent days—sometimes up to 100 hours—debating the first few clauses of a Bill, the Government have had to introduce a guillotine to ensure that the Bill was before the House for Report by the date that they had in mind.
If that is the case, in order to avoid wasting time in Committee, why not let Members know the period that the Bill can remain in Committee? That would allow the Committee to decide how best to use its time, so that it might debate every major clause. The Procedure Committee has advanced that argument for many moons, and I am delighted that the Government and the Modernisation Committee have adopted that concept.
I hope that, starting in November—I shall discuss the date later—we shall conduct an experiment. Immediately after Second Reading, the Government will produce—we hope by agreement through the usual channel—an idea of the date when the Bill will leave the Committee. It will then be left to the Sub-Committee of the Standing Committee to decide how the hours shall be devoted so that all clauses may be properly debated.
275 That must have considerable advantages in producing legislation that is better understood and has been thoroughly examined. It will ensure that legislation does not go to the House of Lords that has been only partially considered in Committee or on the Floor of the House.
We seldom pay tribute in the House to the Clerks who serve on Committees. The Principal Clerk at the Table may be embarrassed if I mention him by name, but a paper that he produced was helpful to the House, and Mr. David Natzler, the Second Clerk, has done immense work in producing papers for us. They deserve particular credit.
May I be controversial? I am sorry that the Committee did not start by dealing with Prime Minister's Questions. There is a major arrogance in how the Government altered Prime Minister's Questions without consultation—they are now held only once instead of twice a week. The House has already heard me on this matter, but I shall continue to press it. It is wrong that matters that arise after Cabinet on a Thursday cannot be put to the Prime Minister until the following Wednesday. The Prime Minister talks about wanting to be democratic and pays tribute to the work of the House, but he arrogantly casts the House to one side. We must return to the matter before long.
I have another little hobby horse: I am delighted that we are moving in the direction of modernising the names of Committees so that they describe what Committees do. A Standing Committee does not stand; nor does it last the whole of a Parliament, but only for one Bill. Its sole purpose is to deal with the Bill before it, so I do not understand why it should not be called a legislative Committee. I am glad to say that we shall return to that matter in due course.
I urge the House to pay attention to the report. Will the Leader of the House guarantee today that she will introduce the necessary alterations—there are not many—to Standing Orders so that we can begin this experiment? We should not have to wait until February or March, but should start the experiment in November. The Committee can then monitor it correctly and report to the House on its success in June or July.
I gave the Leader of the House notice of a question that affects the south-west in particular: the improvement of the A30-A303 road links between London and Exeter. Within the "Wessex link", as it is termed, decisions have been made about the run between the north and south of the A36 and A46, which affects the Swindon bypass. I do not wish to argue about those decisions.
However, approval has been given and money earmarked for improvements to the A30-A303 from Marsh to Honiton. The hairpin bends on that road make some aspects of the grande corniche in the south of France look like Woolworth. They are dangerous, and an accident black spot. We need to progress with that, so I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the Government do not delay the matter.
Parts of the main link road between London and the west are just single carriageway on both sides. I shall not bother the House by listing them all, but four areas are set for approval, and I hope that the right hon. Lady will press for improvements, which will benefit the tourist industry. Tourism is the biggest industry and the biggest 276 earner in the south-west, so that link road is of the greatest importance. Will she carry that message to the Secretary of State for Transport and the Deputy Prime Minister who heads that Department?
I hope that the Leader of the House accepts that she deserves much credit for how she has chaired the Committee. She has been the one exception in the Government: there has been no arrogance from her, and I hope that some of her colleagues will copy her excellent example.
§ 11.5 am
§ Mr. Martin Salter (Reading, West)
I rise to make my maiden speech and I thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me an opportunity to do so before the welcome summer recess. I understand that convention demands that my maiden speech should be non-controversial, which may be difficult; that I describe in glowing terms the delights of my constituency, which I am happy to do; and that I offer generous praise to my predecessor, which I am also happy to do—within reason.
May I take those three themes in reverse order? I am happy to pay tribute to my predecessor, Sir Anthony Durant, who represented my constituency of Reading, West from 1983 to 1 May this year. In total, he served the people of Reading for more than 23 years, having first entered Parliament as the hon. Member for Reading, North, which in those days was considered a genuine marginal seat. Incidentally, the good people of Reading have been thoroughly confused by the machinations of the various boundary commissions, which have over the years tended to favour boundaries that benefited the Conservative interest, despite the long and proud Labour tradition of the town of Reading that stretches back to the days even before our most famous parliamentarian, the late and missed Ian Mikardo.
My first conversation of note with Tony Durant, as he was then, was in the summer of 1986—two years after I was elected to Reading borough council and some two months after I became chair of the leisure committee. It was not so much the conversation that stuck in my mind, although if I remember rightly we were discussing the forthcoming general election—from our respective political bunkers we both agreed that it was good that we would be contesting different seats and not fighting each other—as the venue. It was the backstage beer tent at the Reading festival. That would not have been remarkable had it not been for the decision of the previous Conservative-controlled council to scrap the rock festival in 1984 and 1985.
At that time, I learnt two important lessons from Tony Durant: first, he took absolutely no notice of the absurd and unpopular actions of his Conservative council colleagues, which is presumably why he was re-elected to this place long after they had all been wiped out in the council chamber; secondly, he was a man who liked people. Moreover, he was a man who liked people who like drink. He was and still is a convivial and sociable man, in marked contrast to some of the humourless robots who are, I am afraid, too often a feature of British politics.
However, Sir Anthony was not always a pillar of political consistency. He fought the 1974 election opposing the Reading rock festival—that was before he discovered the backstage beer tent—and in 1992 he spoke out against the planned Tory pit closures only to vote in favour of them in December of the same year.
277 Sir Anthony Durant and I share a common interest: a love of the rivers and canals of Berkshire and the Thames valley—Sir Anthony, appropriately, from the cabin of his boat; I, also appropriately, from the muddy river bank fishing for fish more often than I ever fish for votes. We have both spoken out against the decline in our region's rivers, Sir Anthony on over-extraction from the beautiful little River Pang, which has almost been destroyed by the greed of the privatised water companies, and I over the decline of the River Kennet and the River Thames through pollution and threats to develop the watermeadows and over the disgraceful dumping of radioactive effluent by AWE Aldermaston.
Sir Anthony was a hard-working and well-respected constituency Member. His announcement that he planned to retire and not contest Reading, West at the last election persuaded me to seek the Labour nomination for the seat. Although a majority of 13,000 might seem daunting, a good proportion of that number represented Sir Anthony's personal vote, which could not be considered the property of the Conservative hopeful, one Nicholas Bennett. That proved to be the case.
My last conversation with Sir Anthony—I trust that there will be many more—was a month or so after the general election. He was in fine form and from the twinkle in his eye it seemed that that former Government Whip and undoubtedly loyal Conservative was not too unhappy about leaving this place or seeing the unpleasant Mr. Bennett soundly defeated.
I hope that there is no parliamentary convention that obliges hon. Members to speak in glowing terms of their political opponents at a general election. The Leader of the House is not scowling at me, so perhaps there is not. Never in my 25 years in politics have I encountered such a bigoted, bumptious and unpopular individual as Nicholas Jerome Bennett, the would-be Conservative Member for Reading, West, former Member for Pembroke and junior Welsh Office Minister in the last Thatcher Government.
I found it remarkable that when I arrived at the House I received a warm welcome from senior members of all political parties, some of whom are sitting on the Opposition Benches today. They welcomed me not because they knew me or had a particular interest in the internal politics of Reading, but because they had been spared the awful prospect of being lectured and hectored by that individual for the next five years.
In case hon. Members are wondering what they are missing, I shall outline a few of the policies that I will not be supporting and which would have been put forward had Labour not won the seat of Reading, West. They include the wholesale privatisation of the national health service, the removal of the right of council tenants to act as jurors—after all, we cannot have poor people judging rich people, can we?—outlawing abortion and thereby forcing rape victims to go through the agony of giving birth to their assailant's child, removing child benefit from families whose children get into trouble at school—that proposal was condemned by the Bishop of Reading—and branding all homosexuals as immoral and evil.
The list goes on. If it has a familiar ring, that is because it is the manifesto of the hard-line, right-wing No Turning Back group. I trust that that political doctrine was well and truly buried on 1 May 1997.
I shall deal now with my constituency and the town of Reading as a whole. It may be a town, but in reality it is a city and deserves city status as the capital of the Thames 278 valley. Four years ago, the council, of which I was a member, led the campaign for Reading to be granted city status. We hope that that wish will soon be realised.
Reading has an impressive history, sometimes a bad press but a great future. The early settlements grew up at the junction of the Holy Brook and the River Kennet. The Domesday book records that we boasted six mills, five fisheries and a nunnery, which I am sure was useful. In 1121, Henry I founded Reading abbey. Later in that century and in the centuries that followed, Reading was a regular venue when Parliament assembled outside London, often because of plagues in London. I offer Reading as a venue should we get round to rebuilding this place and need a temporary venue for our Parliament.
Elizabeth I granted the town its first royal charter. A mayor was appointed—not elected—and was served by burgesses, but, for the life of me, I do not know what they were or what they did. The civil war was disastrous for Reading. The town changed hands several times from king to roundhead, much like today's two-party politics. The 18th century brought an improvement in communications. The canal was completed from Reading to Newbury and the roads were improved and became a great coaching route to Bath.
The 19th century witnessed the growth of industry—beer, biscuits and bulbs—the three Bs for which Reading became known. These great companies were Simonds the beer, Sutton's the bulbs and Huntley and Palmer's the biscuits. Sadly, only beer remains but I can commend a pint of Courage Best to anyone in need of either a hangover or a laxative.
Reading has attracted bad press, despite its wonderful location at the junction of two rivers in the heart of the Thames valley and on the edge of the Chilterns. In his classic book "Three Men in a Boat", Jerome K. Jerome said of the town:We came in sight of Reading about eleven. The river is dirty and dismal here. One does not linger in the neighbourhood of Reading.Other commentators have described our town as the most boring and average town in Britain and as a dull, dirty and uninteresting place. That is simply not the case, as I am sure Sir Anthony would agree. Our detractors are blinkered or out of date.
Reading is a town with a tremendous future. It is a popular place to live. In a recent survey it was voted the eighth best town in which to work and play. It is in the top 25 per cent. for average household earnings. It has a high degree of economic activity. It is in the heart of silicon valley and generates new jobs in the high tech and communications industries. It has superb sports and leisure facilities and, of course, its famous festivals. It has a lively town centre.
We may have a bad press from time to time, but we have good local newspapers. I am pleased that the Reading Chronicle has emphasised its pride in Reading and has recently launched a Pride in Reading campaign which highlights the growing night life in the town and our new football stadium, which Reading football club will move into next year. Our local team was only four minutes away from glory in the premiership until we lost against Bolton, but perhaps we should not dwell on that for too long.
We have prominent local business activity in firms such as Microsoft, Prudential, Yellow Pages, Foster Wheeler and Digital. An ever-growing number of firms are keen to 279 invest in Reading. Work has started on our £200 million Oracle shopping development. We have pride in our town and our weekly newspaper reflects that, as does our daily newspaper, the Reading Evening Post, which has sponsored many campaigns such as our successful empty homes strategy.
The main argument that I want to advance this morning is the urgent need not just to modernise the arcane workings of the House but radically to overhaul our entire political system. It is a matter of debate whether we need to mark the millennium with a PVC-coated dome, but I am sure that we need to equip our society for the 21st century with a new politics, new political structures and a political system that connects with the public and their aspirations.
We need a political system that is modern, relevant and efficient and which encourages people from all walks of life to put themselves forward for public office. Not to make the change, not to have the courage to pursue the radical constitutional and political agenda, will result in further decline in the reputation of Parliament and of politics and politicians in general. For many of us, the nightmare scenario is an American political system with a 50 per cent. turnout and an increasingly alienated and disfranchised electorate.
It will not be easy for me or my party, with its large majority, to pursue the agenda of political reform with vigour. In my heart, I am a tribalist. I know the songs, the slogans and the war dances of party politics. In my head, however, I know that the two-party system has had its day. It is confrontational, absurd and often irrelevant. No party has a monopoly on truth, progress or good ideas.
I urge the Government to pursue the pluralist agenda further. I for one welcome the involvement of the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Cabinet process and the more controversial involvement of Mr. David Mellor in our new football task force, but those are just small steps down a very long road.
The vision was set out by the then leader of the Labour party, Mr. John Smith. He said at our party conference in Brighton in 1983:We are proposing nothing less than a new constitution for a new century. I want to lead a Labour government that will introduce the most radical package of constitutional reform ever proposed by any major political party. This I believe will be the battleground of the 1990s as we define the new politics of a new century. Our choice—Labour's choice—is to build a democracy founded on pluralism, participation and justice.I hope that the new Government will have the courage to turn into reality the dreams and vision of the late John Smith.
There is a powerful case for electoral reform. It will herald a more consensual style of politics, develop the pluralist agenda and reflect more accurately the wishes of the British people at the ballot box. However, I see no sense in having different electoral systems for Scotland, Wales, Europe and Westminster. The acid test for any electoral system is that it is easily understood by the people who use it. I also favour the retention of the constituency link. That is why I will not get involved in esoteric arguments about the rights and wrongs of different systems of proportional representation. Those systems that retain the constituency link—between the Member of Parliament and the people he or she represents—are the systems that we should support.
280 There is no case at all for the existence of a second Chamber based on the hereditary principle, 75 per cent. of whose Members are there by accident of birth. They had the temerity to inflict 350 defeats on the last Labour Government. During my short time in this place, I have learned that the other place will not inflict 350 defeats on this Labour Government. I believe that there is a case for reforming the second Chamber, but not for its abolition.
I turn now to the reform of the House of Commons. I remind hon. Members—particularly my colleagues on the Government Benches—of the statement in the Labour party policy document "A New Agenda for Democracy", which says:There is no doubt that the role of the House of Commons is central to realising the objective of creating the bedrock of a pluralist democracy in the UK, and that as the millennium approaches we need to prepare a legislature fit for a new century.I welcome the first report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. We are now to have a much improved Order Paper: it is no longer in code and I hope it is understandable to hon. Members and to the public. I welcome the suggestions regarding fuller involvement in the legislative process and better timetabling of Bills.
However, there is much more work to be done. I hope that we can have advance notice of business. If my whip for 27 October can tell me roughly what I will be doing in three months' time, I hope that, when Parliament is sitting, we can have some idea of what we shall be doing in three weeks' time—if only to allow us to plan our activities as Members of Parliament and our liaison with constituents. I suggest that the conduct of debate should be regulated and that some sort of time limit should be imposed—except on maiden speeches, of course.
I am happy that there are Privy Counsellors, but should they be privileged Members of Parliament? Should they really have the opportunity to prevent other hon. Members from participating in debates in this Chamber from time to time? As for the voting system, I have lost count of the number of discussions that I have had with senior Members who defend the Lobby system, which they say presents an excellent opportunity to meet Ministers. I am sure that Ministers really want to hear from 400-odd members of the parliamentary Labour party at five past 10, 11 or 12 at night. It is not an effective way of putting our constituents' cases to Ministers and it is not a good use of our time. I hope that the Government will consider electronic voting, proxy voting and other measures that will make our parliamentary lives more efficient and make us less of a laughing stock.
If we dispense with the Lobbies and the Lobby system, I hope that we can extend the Chamber so that it is less confrontational and there is a seat for every Member. I hope also that the Government will examine the hours of work. Most hon. Members have better things to do at 10 or 11 o'clock at night than join in the club atmosphere of this House and traipse through the Lobbies.
There is also the question of the role of Back Benchers—particularly in light of the Government's massive majority. It is regrettable that early-day motions are merely political graffiti. When a third of hon. Members sign an early-day motion—particularly if there is cross-party support—is there not a case for allocating parliamentary time to discuss that obviously important issue on the Floor of the House? We could go much 281 further and talk about fixed-term Parliaments. I would certainly support any move to outlaw holding local authority elections on the same day as a general election. That emasculates the work of local councils and does not afford a true reflection the electorate's wishes as to whom they want to represent them in Parliament and whom they want to run their councils.
A strong argument has been made—I am nervous as the Whips are in the Chamber—for preventing Whips from being involved in appointing Members to Select Committees. After all, they are Committees of the House that are supposed to scrutinise the actions of the Executive. That argument was put very well by a Member of Parliament who is now a Whip.
I trust that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will reply fully to my points and will press her colleagues in government to pursue this agenda. On 1 May, the Labour party was elected to change the face of British politics. I hope that we can get on with it.
§ Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster)
It is a particular pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) and to commend his maiden speech. He was one of the first new Labour Members I talked to on the first day of the new Parliament and we have had many interesting conversations since then. I am quite sure that, as a result of his modest and moderate speech, which caused great excitement on the Government Front Bench—not least on the part of the duty Whip, the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice)—he has an exhilarating political career ahead of him.
The hon. Gentleman touched on many issues concerning Reading, the constitution and our parliamentary system. Perhaps it will not surprise hon. Members to learn that I agree with a number of his comments. The hon. Gentleman has a distinguished local government record. He follows Sir Anthony Durant as Member of Parliament for Reading, West—about whom he made some very nice comments—so he has a considerable act to follow. I think that he is aware of that fact.
The hon. Gentleman is also aware of the constituency connections that seem to be creeping into the debate. Mr. Deputy Speaker, I think that you represented the Middleton and Prestwich constituency in a previous incarnation—as was alluded to earlier. My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who is sitting behind me, won the seat of Reading—which then comprised the whole town of Readin—in 1959. He has reminded me of the considerable struggle that lies ahead for the hon. Gentleman, who will obviously fight for the interests of his constituents and of all the people of Reading.
The hon. Gentleman made certain historical allusions in his speech and he will know that Reading was a royal headquarters during the civil war. I gather that the royalty of the day walked off with the Reading civic silver—royalty are not supposed to behave in that manner, but sometimes they do—which, somehow or other, ended up in Windsor castle. It remained at the castle through the Cromwellian period and the Restoration and is still there. The town of Reading has made various requests for the return of the silver, but it remains in royal hands. I hope 282 that the hon. Gentleman will make its recovery a priority so that it may play a major part in the egalitarianism of future constitutional reform.
§ Mr. Salter
I am slightly worried that the hon. Gentleman is inciting me to commit an act of treason.
§ Mr. Temple-Morris
I judge from his maiden speech that the hon. Gentleman is well capable of dealing with the issue of treason and any other issue. I am sure that the institution of the House will look after him in that regard.
I value the opportunity to speak in the debate. Many hon. Members want to speak; these occasions are useful as they enable us to raise matters of concern to us, to the House and to our constituents. I want to raise a matter that concerns my constituency: agriculture and the beef industry. Leominster, in the county of Hereford, has 700 sq miles of rural land with two and a half traffic lights. When I became its Member of Parliament 24 years ago it had no traffic lights.
In my last speech on the beef industry and agriculture in May 1996—a little more than a year ago—I made two relevant points that I want to repeat now. The first—then, it was almost a plea—was that the BSE crisis should not result in what I called Euro-bashing. It seemed to me that if we depended on an institution such as the EU to get out of a crisis, there was no point in attacking it, let alone not getting on with it. In that regard, I commend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who took that point straight away and worked hard to improve relations, which is particularly relevant to making progress in this matter.
The second point, which in general terms the House has observed, is that there is no necessity for undue party politics on the BSE issue and getting the ban lifted. Controversial points will occasionally be made on behalf of beef producers about this subsidy or that support, but in general we are all in the same boat. We must do the best for our farmers and the best to get the ban lifted. The way to do that is, first, to get on with Europe and, secondly, to recognise that the United Kingdom exacerbated, by its BSE crisis and the press reaction to it, a deeper problem which goes beyond BSE—the consumption of red meat in general and beef in particular. All of us, including our farmers, must acknowledge that European beef producers and the EU market as a whole are, if anything, in a worse state than ours.
Addressing the main problem, I shall make four fairly succinct points. First, the problem goes beyond BSE: we are dealing with declining consumption of red meat. That goes right across the EU. I am happy to say that Britain is better than most in that regard. For example, we are dealing with the decline of the family meal—the great Sunday lunch that I continue to enjoy. Good British beef will always sit on the Temple-Morris table, but it will not sit on every table. We are dealing here, I shudder to say, with convenience foods as much as with beef. We are dealing with chicken meat, associated flavourings and all the rest that is found on the sad gastronomic path down which all too many people across Europe appear to have been tempted.
Secondly, we have a problem that is familiar to the agriculture industry—overproduction and structural surplus. An appalling problem is building up. EU intervention stocks of beef, including ours, could reach no less than 2 million tonnes by 2001 and 4 million tonnes by 2006.
283 Thirdly, we have the continuation of the general agreement on tariffs and trade reforms and the resulting progressive squeeze on subsidised exports to the third world and other countries.
Fourthly, we have increasing national and EU financial constraints on subsidies to farmers allied to the major question of the reform of the CAP and the overall financial priorities of the EU, not least when it is concerned with enlargement.
I can make my next four points briefly because an Adjournment debate is coming up later in which my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) will raise them and an Agriculture Minister will deal with them—no doubt much to the relief of the Leader of the House who has quite enough on her plate already.
First, I welcome the Europewide scheme we have succeeded in obtaining for the removal of the specified risk materials from beef, which means that we can control imports. They have been coming in at the rate of 160,000 tonnes a year, which will have an effect on market prices, not least for the farmer.
Secondly, domestic consumption is up. We have made a remarkably good recovery and I believe that we are almost up to pre-BSE levels.
Thirdly, I welcome, as I am sure will all hon. Members, the decision by McDonald's and Burger King once again to take British beef. I wish that it had come sooner, but at least it has come now.
Fourthly, I welcome the advances that have been made in getting the traceability scheme up and running. I was encouraged by a recent Government statement that we can expect that as a reality by early 1998—the sooner the better, but we need to make progress on the exemption from the ban of certified herds. That is the vital area. Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) did a great deal of work on the matter and he knows its importance. We need to obtain a progressive lifting of the ban. To get the ball rolling, I stress that it is vital that we concentrate on the certified herds, but we must also settle the overall direction of policy towards the industry, making it more competitive and less subsidised.
One central point as, inevitably, we go down the competitive and less subsidised path is that we must give farmers time to adapt along the way. Too quick a change could spell disaster for the countryside. There is a future for the British beef industry. The industry accepts that there will be change, but it needs to be given a firm direction and sufficient direction to have confidence in its future.
§ Mr. Martin Caton (Gower)
I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Mr. Hall), for Burton (Mrs. Dean) for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) and for Reading, West (Mr. Salter). All showed a tremendous commitment to the constituencies that they now represent and a determination to fight for their constituents. I look forward to working in partnership with them in the years ahead.
I was keen to speak today because I want to help to correct the impression beginning to be created—partly, I am afraid, by those on the Labour Benches—that the 284 Labour party in Wales is seriously divided on the Government's plans to create a Welsh Assembly. If all the Labour Members of Parliament from Wales who oppose democratic devolution and all those with serious reservations about specific parts of the policy are combined, they total just six—six out of 34—and only half that number are totally opposed to the creation of a Welsh Assembly.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that, in 1979, only six Labour Members of Parliament were opposed to devolution and the Welsh people voted four to one against devolution?
§ Mr. Caton
The hon. Gentleman brings me to my next point. The great difference between 1979 and now is the attitude of the Labour movement in Wales. It is fair to say that, in 1979, the movement was split from top to bottom; it was seriously divided. That does not happen now, because the policy that has been spelt out in the White Paper is not the product of civil servants in Gwydyr house or Cathays park; it is the product of the Labour party in Wales. It is itself a product of real devolution.
We, the people of Wales, involved in the Labour party, developed that policy through our policy commission, our conferences and in consultation with the people of Wales. We came to that policy, we put it to the people on 1 May and they voted for it. That is why we do not have the same situation that we had in 1979.
§ Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)
I warmly welcome my hon. Friend's remarks. In 1979, almost a majority of Welsh Members of Parliament were opposed to devolution, because in those days there were Conservative Members in Wales. The position now is that, out of 40 Welsh Members of Parliament, only three will vote against, three are lukewarm and 34 will campaign enthusiastically for the thrilling Welsh Assembly that we are about to create.
§ Mr. Caton
I thank my hon. Friend for making those valuable points.
I have listened carefully to the arguments against the proposals in "A Voice for Wales" that have been made in the House and outside it. Opponents of a Welsh Assembly fall into three broad camps: the myopic utopians, the "what-if-ers" and the Chicken Licken tendency, although some people are clearly in more than one of those camps.
Myopic utopians apparently believe that we live in the most perfect of all possible constitutions, and that our existing structure of government cannot be improved in any way. They are completely blind to the glaring democratic deficit that now exists in the governance of Wales. They point to the Public Accounts Select Committee, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, the Welsh Grand Committee and Welsh Question Time and they ask, "Is that not accountability enough for you?" Frankly, the answer is no. As valuable as those democratic vehicles were and are, they have not and could not properly and fully scrutinise the work of the Welsh Office and the public bodies in Wales or provide policy initiatives in all areas of their responsibility.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman's analysis. I have seen 285 a deterioration in the scrutiny of the Welsh Office during the 20 years that I have been in the House. Does he agree that one of the ways in which the system is breaking down is that, at Welsh Question Time, non-Welsh Members table questions and thereby dictate the agenda? Welsh Members need to ask questions of Welsh Office Ministers on many subjects, but we cannot do so because we are unable to get on the list for questions.
§ Mr. Caton
I thank the hon. Gentleman. I have been in the House a far shorter time than he, but even in that short time I, as a representative of Wales, have felt that same frustration at not being able to hold our Executive accountable. I certainly agree with his point. Decisions on how £7 billion of spending by the Welsh Office is allocated should be made by directly elected representatives of all the people living in Wales. It is as simple and as straightforward as that.
The "what-if-ers" are another kettle of fish. They fear what the Assembly might do. What if its south Wales members get together and distort allocation of resources? What if its north Wales members get together and get excessive attention given to the Welsh language? What if it ends up full of retired councillors who starve the health service so as to put money into local authorities? What if, what if, what if! I think that the Assembly will behave fairly and rationally, and will be encouraged to do so by the structures and approach outlined in the White Paper.
If we are honest, we have to admit that democracy does not guarantee good government. If we did not know that before, we learned it in the 18 years to 1 May. Democracy does not guarantee good government, but it provides the best chance of good government. If I had to make a choice between leaving decisions about the future of Wales to a Secretary of State who, as we have seen, may have no connection with Wales and an Assembly directly elected by the Welsh people, I know which I would choose, and which is more likely to make the right decisions for the whole of Wales.
The third category of opponents is the Chicken Licken tendency, and that is where the official Opposition seem to position themselves. Hon. Members will remember that an acorn fell on Chicken Licken's head and she told everyone that the sky was falling in. This time the acorn of accountability has fallen on the head of Quibble Ribble, and he is running about, saying, "Not only is the sky coming down, but the country is falling apart. Oh dear, oh dear."
The Opposition claim that the creation of a Welsh Assembly threatens the future of the United Kingdom, and that it is the first step on the road to secession. That analysis of the facts is as distorted as Chicken Licken's explanation of her sore head; it is ludicrous. The White Paper makes it clear that we are talking not about devolving more power to Wales and the Welsh Office from Westminster or Whitehall, but about democratising the considerable powers that have already been transferred.
It is difficult to understand how anyone who believes in democracy can oppose this measure. Everyone seems to accept the need for a different approach to government in Wales. I did not see one manifesto or election address from any party or individual campaigning in Wales that called for the closure of the Welsh Office or even a reduction in its powers. We can only assume that there is common ground on devolution: it is democracy that is in dispute.
286 To be honest, I understand the logic of the argument for not having a Secretary of State and for bringing public services in Wales under the relevant English Ministries. I would oppose that, but I would understand it because it would be a way of creating a direct, democratic pathway of accountability. What is more difficult to comprehend is the position that recognises the need for devolved Welsh government but denies the demand that it be made directly and democratically accountable to the people of Wales. In my opinion, that denial is more likely to undermine the integrity of the United Kingdom.
Like many of my colleagues, this summer I shall engage with the myopic utopians, the "what-if-ers" and the Chicken Lickens in what I hope will be a friendly debate about the future of Wales, but I hope to spend more time talking to the people in my constituency and in other parts of Wales. They know that the structure of Welsh government has not delivered the goods for them, and I shall urge them to use their vote for change on 18 September, so that it can in the future.
§ Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley)
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to say a few words about a report in The Sunday Times that the Labour Government propose to pour tonnes of concrete over the countryside in England, Wales, Scotland and, I assume, Northern Ireland to provide more homes. I shall make only a short contribution, because many hon. Members want to participate in the debate.
I speak on behalf of not only the United Kingdom as a whole, but my constituency of Ribble Valley, 75 per cent. of which is an area of outstanding natural beauty. In maiden speeches this morning, hon. Members have spoken at length about the beauty of their constituencies. I speak with emotion about the beauty of my constituency. It is beautiful and I wish it to remain so. The last thing that I want is a change in Government policy that will result in thousands of homes being built on green-field sites in my constituency.
William Blake's "Jerusalem" talks of those feet in ancient times that walked upon England's pastures green. That may well have been written about the Ribble valley. In 20 years' time, it may have to be rewritten to talk of those feet in modern times that walk upon England's built-up areas and industrial estates. That does not have quite the same ring, does it? I hope that the Leader of the House will refute the plans for extra homes that were mentioned in The Sunday Times.
We have heard that 2 million extra homes may be built in the countryside. That would be a complete nightmare. The Council for the Protection of Rural England says that a quarter of a million acres of countryside are flooded by concrete every year. That is a dramatic figure, and it would be appalling if it were to be increased. Imagine how much worse it would be if Labour allowed building on green-field sites throughout the country. I do not dispute the fact that additional housing is required, but I take issue with the plans that were reported in The Sunday Times this weekend. Once again, the Labour party has proved that it does not understand the countryside and hates the rural way of life.
The comments of the Minister for London and Construction betrayed the Government's commitment to green politics. The Prime Minister's words about his commitment to the Rio declaration and to the environment can be put to one side if these plans go ahead.
287 There are many small villages in my constituency. The NIMBY factor—"not in my backyard"—is not involved, because small villages, such as Ribchester, have already given way to extra houses. Two hundred houses were built at Barrow, Longridge has had extra homes and quite a number of houses have been built in the small market town of Clitheroe. There are also extra houses in Sawley and Fulwood, which is in the urban part of my constituency, in Preston. As its name suggests, Fulwood was once a wood, but now it is just full. Only about four green plots of land are available, and already the developers want to build on them.
Another problem—which is not unique to the Ribble valley—is caused by the sites of old psychiatric hospitals, although I do not think that anyone has a problem with the idea of building on the "footprints" of those old hospitals. There are three such sites in my constituency, and permission has been given for the building of about 450 houses on one of them. At least 150 houses will be built on the second site, and an application has been made to build several hundred on the third. If the developments go ahead, they will affect nearby villages dramatically, altering their character.
Developers talk about planning gain, saying that, if they are given the opportunity to build all those extra houses, the infrastructure will be improved. Perhaps there will be another school, a better bus service and a chemist. People who move into small villages, however, do so for specific reasons. They enjoy the countryside and the quiet; there seems to be less lawlessness in rural areas than in urban areas. The planning gain lies in the fact that there are not all those extra houses. We should take that into account before developing more land.
There is also the problem of transport. If we build more houses in the countryside, more roads will be needed to meet the demand that will be caused by all the extra cars. People want to live in the countryside because of the quiet, and people want to visit it for the same reason. The last thing that such people want is to see not only 2 million extra houses but millions of extra cars clogging up our countryside.
Tourism is the fastest-growing industry in the world. Last year, more than 24 million tourists came to this country from abroad. Many did not just visit London, but went into the countryside to see our small villages and enjoy the beauty of, for instance, small rural churches. Surely the last thing that we want to do is turn our green fields into one massive building site. People will not wish to come here from abroad to visit one large building site. We are in danger of creating millions of new Swampys who will fight the proposals throughout the country, not just in certain parts of it. What about all the derelict houses in big cities such as Manchester and Liverpool? Thousands of houses are empty, for whatever reason, regardless of whether they are controlled privately or by local authorities. All those houses must be brought into use.
I spent 30 years living above a shop in Swansea. There are still many vacant properties over shops in cities and towns. Let us bring all those properties into use before we start turning our green-field sites into yet more housing estates.
288 There are two more problems in the countryside. I refer to telecommunications masts, the subject of which has been raised before on the Adjournment, and wind turbines, about which I myself have spoken on the Adjournment. We must give more regard to the countryside. It is not just an asset for us to enjoy; it is an asset which we must preserve for countless generations to enjoy in the future. I hope that the Government will give us some reassurances today.
§ Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire)
The beauty of listening to debates such as this is that we learn things from other hon. Members. Sometimes, we can convey what we have learnt to constituents who come to us with problems. For instance, I have learnt from my hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) where the lantern is that was snatched from Guy Fawkes. When some primary schoolchildren wrote to me about Guy Fawkes, I had to do some research in order to answer their questions, but I was unable to answer one question: what had happened to the lantern? Now, however, I can respond to the children of Renishaw primary school.
I have learnt many other things during today's debate. I did not know, for example, that my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) had fought Nicholas Bennett at the last general election. That reminded me of a debate that took place here one Friday. Before the Jopling reforms, we used to be able to put in for the chance to lead debates on various motions. One such debate was led by Neil Hamilton, and was entitled "The future of socialism". It was the first occasion on which there had been a solid debate in the House about socialism as a general theory since the days of Philip Snowden. Finally, Nicholas Bennett raised a point of order, because I had been talking for even longer than my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West—partly to prevent Nicholas Bennett from speaking. The debate was largely taken over by Labour Members, particularly members of the socialist Campaign group.
We should have more opportunities to engage in debates of that kind. We should not have to depend on Front Benchers or on Opposition days. Neil Hamilton did the House a valuable service that day.
Hon. Members have raised questions relating to the future of democracy, and I think that it would be useful to have a debate on that. Democratic socialists are interested in that subject: it is part of their socialist vision. Let me develop one or two of the views that have been expressed today. Unfortunately, it is not easy to deal with such big issues in a short speech; we really need a fuller debate.
One massive problem affecting democracy is the European Union. I am not opposed to the European Union itself, but I feel that it should be reformed and developed. It is clearly a bureaucratic, centralising structure, with much of its power and authority derived from "creeping competences". An interesting report on road safety produced by the Select Committee on European Legislation illustrates the division and transfer of power between our Parliament and the European Union. The report shows how power slips from the national parliament to the European Union, and is relevant to many issues besides road safety.
289 Ultimately, the Council of Ministers—which is still far too secretive—makes decisions over the heads of the national parliaments. Its members do deals among themselves. Our ability to scrutinise the measures that result from those decisions is limited. We should extend the work of the Standing Committees that examine European legislation, and extend the authority of the Select Committee, which does valiant work in difficult circumstances.
It is claimed that the European Union has been opened up and that there is more transparency—that we can see what goes on in meetings of the Council of Ministers, and obtain a few details about voting. That has not been done very effectively, however. The much-vaunted principle of subsidiarity, which holds that legislation should be dealt with at national level wherever possible, has no significant legal import. It is inadequate in terms of explaining who does what and showing national authority. A much more sensible way of achieving that would be a system of clear division and an overall constitution. Such a structure would be federalist, but it does not have to be centralised: arrangements could be drafted to avoid that.
We must grasp the fact that democracy is slipping away from us towards Europe and that many important decisions are made without parliamentary checks and balances. All power should go to parliaments—the European Parliament dealing with European matters and national parliaments dealing with the business that is appropriate to nation states. Many actions need to be taken to advance the powers of parliaments in relation to the Executives. European matters should be decided by the European Parliament, which should not be a mere consultative assembly. There have been nudges towards improving matters, but we are still far short of what is required.
I should like to see a fully fledged, federal, social and democratic Europe. It is only when people have the vote to appoint representatives and, therefore, the power to control and check them that they get the actions that are important to them. That is how the House developed provisions such as the welfare state. The franchise and, therefore, democracy were fully extended, but current arrangements are allowing many such advances to slip away.
Our democracy has many shortcomings and we need to put our own house in order. Some hon. Members spoke about that when discussing Wales and Scotland. Some of our actions have allowed the franchise to slip away. Many people are missing from the electoral register and we need an up-to-date, modern system that will bring about a full franchise—for example, homeless people should be placed on the electoral register.
Parliament must be jealous of the operation of its powers. Labour Members are moving into a new situation and, as it develops, Back Benchers will start to flex their muscles and prod the Executive a bit more. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I have some sympathy with Opposition conclusions, but not with the way in which they put their arguments. When I was in opposition, I observed some hypocrisy in government.
There should be more statements in the House and we should be careful about the operation of guillotines. The procedure should be structured and they should not imposed before there has been proper debate. We should not encourage non-question times, by which I mean 290 underarm bowling to elicit predetermined answers. However, that is not new: it happened under the Conservative Government. Labour Back Benchers should not be too soft on the Government; nor should we be hard on them all the time, looking them in the eye and sticking them with an issue, as we did when we were in opposition. We must be much more sophisticated in pushing our concerns and getting Executive answers. We must remember that we are elected to serve our constituents.
Much more needs to be done in the democratic game. Much has been said about local government having adequate finances. Altering the standard spending assessment formula would confer a massive advantage in that respect. Ian Mikardo was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West who also spoke about world government. A democratic structure within the European Union could be a framework for extension and development. One of the world's problems is the unanswerable power of capitalism in multinational companies whose operations cross many boundaries. We need political frameworks that will counter such powers.
We should think about the great democratic task in which we often fail to get involved. It is as if we have been through the franchise struggles of the 19th and early 20th centuries and think that we have sorted out the basics of democracy and need to attend to only a few changes here and there. We need to work at democracy all the time, or it will slip away unnoticed. Fresh forms of bureaucracy and dictatorship and other sorts of control may seep into political systems unless we keep a continual eye on the game.
§ 12.6 pm
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
The hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes), in his inimitable way, has taken us from European federalism to world government in about 10 minutes. He made a robust speech in which he dared to mention socialism, for which he deserves the thanks and congratulations of us all. The four hon. Members who deserve special congratulations are those who made their maiden speeches.
This debate, which has been slightly changed by Jopling, originally took place over three hours before each recess to discuss why the House should not adjourn. Hon. Members would give reasons for special debates and say why the House should not adjourn until those debates had taken place. So many topics have been aired this morning in 13 diverse and interesting speeches that the House would sit almost until 27 October if the Leader of the House acceded to all the requests. I shall not endorse such requests and I hope that the right hon. Lady will allow us to go tomorrow after a fairly exhausting time in recent months.
I return to the four maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) made a brave plea for the name of his constituency to be changed. No doubt those who deliberate on such matters will note what he said because he made a strong, if not an unanswerable, case. The hon. Gentleman paid a gracious tribute to his predecessor, Sir Trevor Skeet, and we are grateful to him for that because Sir Trevor endeared himself to hon. Members throughout the House. He was first elected to the House in 1959 and therefore had a long parliamentary pedigree. The hon. Member for Bedford also said how concerned 291 he was about the workings of the Child Support Agency. That concern is shared and has been voiced in all parts of the House for a considerable time.
We heard an interesting historical maiden speech, entirely non-controversial, from the hon. Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean), a fellow Staffordshire Member. She talked with understandable pride about the brewing industry and with equally understandable pride about Uttoxeter race course. She also mentioned the marathon speech-making abilities of her predecessor, Sir Ivan Lawrence, who is much missed on the Conservative Benches and who rendered the House a signal service by the way in which he chaired the Select Committee on Home Affairs.
Listening to the maiden speech by the hon. Member for the new constituency of Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin), I wondered as I heard those rich Scottish tones whether, if and when the Scottish Parliament is established, so many English constituency associations will be willing to make the wise decision that his obviously did and choose a Scottish representative.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the gunpowder plot and the lantern, and we heard about the mutiny on the Bounty too. His speech was a veritable tour de force. He also made proper reference to his predecessor for part of the constituency, "Gentleman Jim" Callaghan—"Little Jim" as he called him. The hon. Gentleman also talked about the important links between local and central government. I shall not follow his slightly more provocative remarks, but most of his speech was certainly in the tradition of non-controversial maiden speeches.
I am not entirely sure that I can say the same about the longest of the maiden speeches that we heard this morning, by the hon. Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter). As I listened to him, I could not help but recall the fact that I had the singular distinction of having to congratulate the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on his maiden speech. I remember, way back in 1970, saying that I rather thought that the House might hear from him again. I suspect that the House will also hear quite a lot from the hon. Member for Reading, West, and I am sure that even if we do not agree with it we shall be entertained, and sometimes perhaps provoked, by it.
The hon. Gentleman paid a generous tribute to Sir Anthony Durant, for which we are grateful. He is a most convivial man, as the hon. Gentleman said, and he was always a redoubtable spokesman for his constituency of Reading, for which he had an enormous affection—an affection clearly shared by the hon. Gentleman who now represents that seat.
I was a little concerned by the fact that after only three months here the hon. Gentleman wants to modernise the entire system. I sometimes say to new colleagues that one must not assume that everything that was done before was decided by imbeciles or that things have evolved for no specific reason. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will become absorbed into our ways to some degree and will make a positive contribution to our debates.
We heard several other interesting speeches, including the unusual novelty, in such debates, of a speech from the Front Bench, by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who made what I am sure the Leader of the House will agree 292 was an admirably brief speech about the Government's desire to have an ethical foreign policy. We would all entirely endorse that desire, of course, but my right hon. and learned Friend pointed out some of the contradictions that have been evident in statements emanating from the Foreign Office in recent weeks. I hope that the Foreign Secretary will take an early opportunity to enlighten the House and share with us some of his detailed thoughts on a range of complex issues.
It is wonderful the way in which such debates vary from the great and global to the local. The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) very properly took the opportunity to make a plea for his local hospital, the St. Helier hospital in Carshalton. I understand from the hon. Gentleman that the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), was born in that hospital, so that is an added reason why what the hon. Gentleman said should be taken carefully into account by the Secretary of State.
The hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) deserted, for once, his campaign directed at the Child Support Agency—a campaign for which we all pay him tribute. Today, he made a powerful speech in favour of an energy policy, which illustrated how important it is that the House should not neglect the coal industry. As one who represents a constituency that has seen its coal mines close, I have some fellow feeling with what the hon. Gentleman said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) also spoke. Despite the request by the Leader of the House, I shall not touch on the point about submarines but will leave it for her to deal with. My hon. Friend made an important speech, drawing on his considerable knowledge as Chairman of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which deals with delegated legislation.
My hon. Friend talked in particular about the implications of devolution. If we have a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh Assembly, how will secondary legislation be dealt with? What will be the intricate relations with the House of Commons? That is an important subject which deserves careful and detailed consideration and a most careful answer.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) talked about the report of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons. I echo his genuine tribute to the Leader of the House, who has chaired that Committee with exemplary skill and impartiality. I also echo his wish that all members of the present Government would take a leaf out of the right hon. Lady's book and behave towards the House with a respect that, while never veering into subservience, shows a true respect for its position and its traditions, and that they would not bypass the House when making announcements. The right hon. Lady may be too modest to talk to her colleagues about that, but I hope that her colleagues will take what has been said carefully to heart.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris) talked about the beef industry, and made a strong plea, which I second, for the continuation of the Sunday lunch.
The hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Caton) talked about utopia as though we believed that utopia existed now. I remind him that it was a fantasy that existed in the mind 293 of a great man. With the hon. Gentleman's views on devolution, I think that he is conjuring up a fantasy utopia of his own that will not come to pass.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) made an eloquent Welsh plea for the maintenance of the green belt and the green and pleasant land that so many parts of this country still are. I am sure that that struck a responsive chord with most of us.
We have had a wide-ranging and diverse debate, as we usually do on such occasions. The summer Adjournment debates constitute one of the traditions of the House with which no Modernisation Committee should wish to tamper. It is important that, from time to time, Members should have such open sessions, to which they can come and air their views, and indeed their prejudices, and make pleas for local causes and express their concern about national causes.
Such debates are always difficult for any Leader of the House to sum up. Having taken part in them from the Back Benches many times, I am well aware of that. I am finishing my speech at the precise time that I promised to, so I hope that in her response the right hon. Lady will be able to make at least some reference to the Modernisation Committee, as well as to the speeches that have been made.
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)
As usual in a summer Adjournment debate, we have had a wide range of contributions, with many hon. Members wishing to participate. Many have sat here throughout the debate, some of them without having had the opportunity to speak. That proves that there is a need for such debates.
I will try to deal with as many as possible of the points that have been raised, especially those raised by Members who have been in the Chamber throughout. If I miss anything, I will either write to hon. Members or arrange for colleagues to do so.
I shall start by mentioning the maiden speeches that have been made today. They have all been different in terms of style and content, but they have proved to those of us who have been in the House for some time that the quality of the new Members elected at the recent general election is very high.
The confidence of new Members seems to increase with each intake. I well remember my maiden speech, and also my second "maiden" speech, if I may use that term, in 1987. In those days, people did not approach maiden speeches with such confidence, and I congratulate the Members who after such a short time in the House have managed to do that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bedford (Mr. Hall) clearly has used the last three months well to assess the issues of main concern to his constituents. He highlighted one problem area which all of us would echo—the problems of those facing difficulty with the Child Support Agency. We all agree on that matter, and the Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons—to which the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) referred—has often used the CSA as an example of where Parliament could have done a better job had we approached our work differently. We all need to learn from such problems and examples, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on raising it.
294 My hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mrs. Dean) gave us a treat when describing her constituency. I could see hon. Members' ears prick up when she mentioned that her constituency included four breweries and one race course, and she invited everybody there for the recess. She may have many takers. She caused a great deal of relief by saying that she would not speaking for as long as her predecessor, and I am sure that she will get other opportunities to catch the Speaker's eye because of her brevity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Dobbin) inherited the seat of a close friend of mine, Jim Callaghan, who came to this House on the same day as I did many years ago. My hon. Friend raised important constituency interests, particularly the relationship between local and central Government. We must all be conscious of the tensions in that relationship and encourage people to work together. He also mentioned the need for democratic renewal, a theme which was picked up by several hon. Members. I shall return to that matter at the end of my remarks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Mr. Salter) was, as the hon. Member for South Staffordshire said, more controversial in some of his remarks, although not in terms of his praise for his predecessor, Sir Anthony Durant. My hon. Friend proved that he is as sociable and convivial as his predecessor and that he is willing to talk to Members on both sides of the House. That should stand him in good stead. He may not wish to be told this, but he reminded me of one of the highlights of recent years—the Reading versus Bolton Wanderers match. I was on the other side from my hon. Friend, and I thought that that most extraordinary match ended satisfactorily, although I am afraid that my hon. Friend may not agree.
I can agree with the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West about renewing democracy, and the Modernisation Committee has taken many matters on board. He talked about the conduct of debates in this House, and the Committee agreed that that item would be a part of our inquiries later in the year. We will report in due course.
The hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) raised the issue of vitamin B6, and we have all received letters on that topic. He suggested that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, might not understand the pressures attached to the issue. My hon. Friend has a good reputation for listening to people and for taking all evidence on board, and he will do that when answering the representations made to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) raised an issue that he has raised on more than one occasion at business questions—energy policy—and referred specifically to German coal subsidies. I hope that he will not mind if I write to him in greater detail on this issue, which causes some concerns. The Government are pursuing with the Commission and the German Government subsidies given to German coal producers. My hon. Friend has a long-term interest in coal which comes from his background and that of his constituency. He shares some of my concerns about opencast mining, which may threaten both our constituencies.
The hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Brake) mentioned an issue that he has raised on one or two occasions in this House—St. Helier hospital. 295 He has had correspondence with me on that topic, and he asked me to convey his grave concerns to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, and I shall do so. The Government recognise that there are difficulties. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of all the recent developments, but I will make sure that my right hon. Friend updates him in the next week or two.
Other issues were mentioned, including the Welsh Assembly. It is useful to have a debate such as this so that anybody who could not take part in earlier debates—such as Friday's—can come here and speak today. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) raised interesting questions about house building and putting concrete across our countryside, as he put it. We all have concerns about how we balance the need to build more houses and the need to protect the countryside, but he did not have to include political gibes. Basically, the Conservative Government faced exactly the same problems and we are restating the targets adopted by that Government. There are genuine problems and I should have thought that a genuine discussion across the Floor would be better than scoring political points.
I apologise to anyone whose points I have not mentioned, but I wish to use my final few minutes to refer to our democracy and, in particular, to our parliamentary procedures. This issue was raised by Members on both sides, and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) put it in a wider context. Other colleagues, including my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West, mentioned it as well.
The hon. Member for Bosworth, who has a particular interest in statutory instruments, the right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery), who has great experience as a member of the Modernisation Committee and of the Procedure Committee, and the hon. Member for South Staffordshire will all be aware that we published the first reports of the Modernisation Committee yesterday. That is a useful step forward, but we would not want our recommendations to be the be-all and end-all of 296 parliamentary reform or modernisation. Modernisation of the House is a process, not an event. It is continuing, and we have made constructive suggestions, some of which the right hon. Member for East Devon outlined.
The Committee has made practical suggestions—such as changing the Order Paper—which prove our sound intentions to tackle some of the problems that have been around for a long time but which may not have been taken on board. There is a genuine mood in the House of Commons that we need a change in the way in which we operate. It is important that we keep the best of our traditions in terms of genuine debate, the established principle of holding the Government to account and making sure that legislation is properly scrutinised, but there is great scope for improving the way in which we operate. Our objective as a Committee has been to try to make suggestions to improve legislation and to make better use of the time of hon. Members. In other words, we want to make Parliament more effective but also more efficient. Our proposals are a part of the way to do so.
I understand that the hon. Member for South Staffordshire has had to be discharged from the Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons so that he can serve on another Committee. I must take this opportunity to thank him for the work that he did on the Committee. It may come as a surprise—to outsiders at least—to know that the work of that Committee was constructive and positive on both sides. There was not a straightforward party divide, which is the normal impression people have of everything that goes on in the House. If people of different political parties agree, they should say so. Just as we say so when we disagree. If we could get over that basic principle, we would make progress and move forward.
This has been an important debate. The right hon. Member for East Devon asked about the Modernisation Committee report and I can assure him that we will have an early debate on it—