§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Ms Bridget Prentice.]
§ Madam Speaker
Before I call the first hon. Member to speak, I remind the House that a great many hon. Members want to participate in the Adjournment debate—I ask all hon. Members to bear that in mind.
§ Mrs. Alice Mahon (Halifax)
I believe that I am pushing at an open door on this matter, but I still think it worth putting on the record. In a recent article by Lucy Ward in The Guardian, my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health spoke about the problem of chlamydia and the devastating effects that the disease can have on women's lives. More recently, my local branch of the British Medical Association raised the matter with me, asking whether the Government would introduce a screening programme.
Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease in the United Kingdom, and nearly 40,000 cases are reported every year at clinics in England. Even more alarming is the fact that the disease is extremely prevalent among young women under the age of 25—the infection affects both sexes, of course, but the real damage is done to women.
The symptoms, when they are evident, manifest themselves as inflammation of the cervix. However, the problems are not usually evident—chlamydia is a silent infection, which does tremendous damage. If it is untreated, it can spread and damage the fallopian tubes, which can lead to infertility and, more seriously, to ectopic pregnancies—the fertilised egg lodges in the fallopian tube, which can be life-threatening after a few weeks.
My concern is not only that the condition is so easily treatable—a course of antibiotics over seven days could get rid of it—but that there is so much ignorance about it. Given the number of cases that are presented at clinics, no educational programme seems to have had any effect.
I ask the Government—I know that my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Health has said that she wants to do this—to ensure that women are screened, in a procedure similar to the one for cervical cancer, at family planning clinics and doctors' surgeries throughout the country. As the condition is preventable, advice should be readily available to women and the procedure should be accessible. The Government must accept that screening must be backed by extra funding, as the cost could not be borne by current budgets.
270 Professionals and politicians have become increasingly aware of the damage that chlamydia can do to women. The chief medical officer has convened a working party on the subject, which I believe is due to report in a few weeks. It is widely rumoured that it will recommend routine screening of those under 25, but I want screening to be offered to all women who may be at risk. That would be most welcome, even as a pilot scheme—evidence from schemes in America and Sweden shows that screening is effective.
I should also welcome a good education programme about chlamydia—it is important that young people in schools should have proper information. There would be cost benefits. Given the growing incidence of infertility and the high cost of in vitro fertilisation treatment—to say nothing of the complete misery that couples face when they find that they cannot produce children, and, usually, that they cannot receive IVF treatment on the national health service—if the number of cases of chlamydia were reduced, the benefits would be twofold. I am asking my right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department of Health to bring a report before the House very soon on their proposals for screening. When they do so, I think that they will receive the overwhelming support of the House.
§ Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire)
First, I wish to refer to the BBC's decision to take away the broadcasting of "Yesterday in Parliament". The BBC is unique in the way in which it has access to free radio coverage. All the independent radio stations must pay a great deal of money for access to the wavelengths. It enjoys that free access by almost general agreement. If the BBC wants to have friends in the House, it must ensure that it continues to provide the public service that we have come to expect from it. I regret the decision that it has taken on "Yesterday in Parliament".
Secondly, an announcement was made yesterday by the Minister for Local Government and Housing. I have been in the House for a little while, and I know that Governments have the habit of slipping out news shortly before the House rises for a recess. The Government have shown that they are no different from previous Administrations. Yesterday, the Minister for Local Government and Housing sent a letter to all Derbyshire Members, telling us that the Deputy Prime Minister had announced his decision on council tax capping for 1998–99.
In her letter, the Minister tells us that Derbyshire county council is the only county to be designated for possible capping. I understand that the county council has 28 days in which to make representations to the Government before they come forward with an order.
It is ironic that this is the first time that the county council has been designated for possible capping. During the 18 years of Conservative government, it was never capped. It did some crazy things during that period, including increasing its rate on numerous occasions. Now we have new Labour, and a new Labour Government have designated Derbyshire for capping.
In the run-up to the general election, all the Labour candidates in Derbyshire were saying that the county would receive better treatment from a Labour Government. They claimed that it would be looked after, because somehow it had been unfairly treated in the past 271 by the Conservative Government. Alas, that seems not to have happened. When we debated this matter in February all the Derbyshire Members except me supported the Deputy Prime Minister's capping criteria. I suppose that we cannot complain now when we find that the right hon. Gentleman and the Minister for Local Government and Housing have decided to follow through with possible capping.
It annoys me intensely that the county council knew exactly what it was doing. Indeed, it was bragging. It issued press releases telling the people of Derbyshire that, if it was not allowed to break the cap, there would have to be specific cuts. It told us where the cuts would come. Incidentally, it has never singled out its public relations department for any cuts. Instead, it has referred to education and social services. It has issued many press releases, and I could refer to them, but I shall not do so out of courtesy to other hon. Members—I understand that we are under pressure of time. Undoubtedly we shall be able to return to this subject if the Government introduce an order.
The most sickening feature is that, a few weeks ago, the Government allocated to Derbyshire more than £1 million to reduce class sizes. That was hailed by the Prime Minister and Education Ministers as a great move forward for the county. However, it must be understood that the council tax re-billing of all the households in Derbyshire will cost more than £500,000. That money could have been used for the provision of services. It could have been used, for example, to continue to reduce class sizes, a move that we all welcome. I have no difficulty in welcoming the pressure that is being put on reducing class sizes.
The county council knew that there was a possibility of its being capped, and it now seems that the Government will impose a cap. Let us be clear that we are talking of the Government's capping criteria. Those criteria have nothing to do with anything inherited from the Conservative Government. Instead, we have new Labour's capping criteria. New Labour's judgment was announced yesterday by the Minister for Local Government and Housing.
In the hon. Lady's letter to me—I presume that it was sent to all Derbyshire Members—she writes:
We are satisfied that on the basis of the information so far available to us the reduction is reasonable and achievable in all the circumstances of Derbyshire County Council.
Representatives of Derbyshire county council met the Minister, and, using the usual happy-clappy words that we get from the Government, she assured them that she understood their problems—she understood what they meant, and she had sympathy with them. However, when it came to the Government announcing their capping criteria, there was no sympathy whatsoever.
We are talking of the first full year when the Government can say that they are totally in control of local government spending. The only county council they are designating for possible capping is Derbyshire. As I have said, the re-billing of every household in the county will cost more than £500,000. That money could be better used in providing many services.
There are schools in my constituency, especially in Belper, which are overcrowded because of the large housing developments that have taken place in the area. 272 It is against that background that the county council faces re-billing costs amounting to more than £500,000. If that money has to be spent, it will take longer to resolve some of the overcrowding problems, for example.
We have heard a great deal about the problems faced by the countryside. My constituency is an area of about 350 square miles. Within it is some of the most attractive scenery, without doubt, in the midlands. Indeed, it has some of the most attractive scenery in the United Kingdom. That underlines some of the problems that less-favoured farming areas are facing.
Our countryside is beautiful because it has been looked after by farmers for generations—not because of some accident. It is beautiful because of the way it has been managed and conserved. Unless the Government take some action, especially in some of the less-favoured areas, to give help and support to farmers, our beautiful countryside will not be there for future generations. These areas will not be cherished and well looked after as they have been so far.
The Government might say that some of the problems in the countryside have been inherited. That may be so, but the Government are the Government of the day. Therefore, they must take the action that is required to ensure that people in less-favoured areas can get a living from the countryside, thereby ensuring that it is available for future generations to enjoy.
Those are the points that I wish to raise before the House rises for the Easter recess. I could speak for much longer about Derbyshire county council, but I shall not do so because I know that there is a huge demand for speaking time in this debate.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
It is a brave and incredibly foolhardy man who ignores the views of the Speaker of the House. The gentleman in charge of the BBC is taking his life in his hands. He seems to believe that the Radio 4 programmes that report Parliament are of so little importance that he can continue with his intended changes without apparently taking note of the views that you, Madam Speaker, expressed on behalf of Parliament.
The BBC is still—just—a public broadcasting system that is very much valued throughout the world, so it really pains me that it has decided, in an arbitrary and extraordinarily stupid way, to proceed with basic changes that will have a tremendous impact on the reporting of Parliament and all its functions. I got into terrible trouble the other day—which, considering what a mild and flexible woman I am, I find very hurtful—when I suggested that this was a failure in the BBC's duty. One of the Lobby correspondents then suggested that anybody who got so much publicity for Pooh was not a woman to be treated seriously, but I do work reasonably hard in this establishment.
The BBC seems to be ignoring one of the most important functions of public broadcasting: to allow listeners to make up their own minds about what they hear. I am sure that it is easy for the best journalists in the world to interpret what Members of Parliament say, both in the Chamber and in Select Committees, but from my own experience, occasionally their interpretation is not accurate. Occasionally they go for the superficial. They do not have sufficient time in their programmes to 273 look in depth at what is really happening in Parliament, so their reporting is no substitute for what Members say and for what Select Committees and the other aspects of Parliament do.
I have looked carefully at all the arguments made by Radio 4 for the changes, particularly to programmes such as "Yesterday in Parliament", and some of the arguments are pretty puerile. In fact they are fairly insulting. The current audience for "Yesterday in Parliament" at 8.45 am is 1.3 million. That is more than the audience for "Newsnight", although nobody is saying that.
The audience will be reduced by a third or a half if the programme is shifted to long wave. I, for example, have to use an old radio to get long wave. When I am in London, I live in the centre of the city. I cannot pick up a clear programme on long wave on the existing apparatus I have, and I see no reason to buy another old radio to please the BBC. I cannot be unique: there must be others who suffer in precisely the same way.
Even BBC managers say that only a third of the Radio 4 audience listens on long wave. If that is true, there will be a massive loss of information to important segments of the community. We are talking about 650,000 listeners a day, not just friends of Members of Parliament, but large numbers of the general public.
I have a particular interest in this as a Chairman of a Select Committee. I happen to think that one of the really useful things that Parliament has done is set up Select Committees, which are effective, which take evidence, produce detailed reports and offer advice to the House of Commons and, coincidentally, the Government, about what is important. It is extraordinary that the detailed programme "In Committee" will be scrapped altogether, to be replaced by "The Westminster Hour", which will have a totally different political brief—we know what that will be.
We have lots of exciting, amusing and interesting people in this place, but they may not all get on "The Westminster Hour", incredible though that may seem. Perhaps some of the reporting will be fairly superficial. Perhaps—dare one say it?—more time will be given to subjects that journalists regard as important but the public do not.
I have a sad example of that. Last night, I listened to the late evening bulletin of Independent Radio News, which I remember as a remarkable service in the past, and two of the biggest items were, first, the adultery of an Army officer—I am sure it was fascinating to him, but it was astonishingly boring to me—and, secondly, the fact that someone had returned to his wife.
Well, good. We are all for the family. It is nice that people return to their wives—although there are occasions when wives do not want them back—but, frankly, the idea that that is news is embarrassing. It assumes that the whole world consists of people who have an attention span of two and a half seconds, and are basically idiots.
Of course, there are people who vote for the Conservative party, so there may be a number of idiots in the population, but the reality is that we must treat the people of the United Kingdom seriously. We must assume that they want to know what their elected Parliament is doing. That is what democracy is about. Once people do 274 not know what we do here, at any level, we are in grave danger, because they will be entirely reliant on other people's interpretation.
§ Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall)
Perhaps I can point out another specious argument used by the chairman of the BBC: because the majority of Members of Parliament have not issued their own personal protest about these changes, he assumes that they are happy with them. Does the hon. Lady agree that the fact that our own Speaker has made representations, and that all the expressions of opinion are entirely in accord with what the hon. Lady has said this morning, gives the lie to that fact?
§ Mrs. Dunwoody
It is astonishing that the chairman of the BBC should be so ill informed, and that he assumes that the Speaker does not speak for the House of Commons. For whom does Madam Speaker speak? She speaks not only for the Chairman of the Select Committee concerned, but for us, firmly and loudly. I have never heard of anyone ignoring the representations that Madam Speaker makes. She made a clear statement that the BBC is probably failing in its public duty.
I am not altogether surprised that Sir Christopher Bland finds it difficult to understand that, because the only time that I complained to him, he did not answer my letter. He sent it off to the producer about whom I was complaining, who wrote back and said that he was sorry that the programme "did not work" for me. If that is the level of the producers that the BBC has, perhaps we could get rid of quite a few of them and save a bit of money.
The reality is that, although BBC managers admitted privately that no audience research had identified the changes that they are pushing, some of the changes will materially alter the way in which people learn about Parliament and its doings. After all, laws carry with them sanctions. What we do here is not just decide where the odd Belisha beacon will go. We frame laws under which the United Kingdom will operate for many years to come.
What we do here carries with it sanctions against people's lives. What we do changes not only their health care and education, but the future of their relationships with other countries. It changes their role in employment. It changes every aspect of their lives. That is why there is a democratic Government. That is why many of us fight to get here. That is why we think it important that what we do should be represented.
I am desperately angry with the way in which the BBC is behaving, because I believe that the work it does in Committee, in its radio programmes, in its television programmes that seriously report Parliament, is so fundamental that it should not be under-valued. The BBC will lose a large number of listeners and viewers, and when it has got it all wrong, it will scrabble to try to get them back. We have seen that in changes to other programmes. We have seen the way in which audiences for other serious programmes have been decimated.
Although I value the programme "From Our Own Correspondent", I have not heard it since it was changed to a completely different time. It is not that I do not want to; it is because I cannot. It appears quite impossible for the BBC to understand that the decline in its viewing and listening figures may relate to the fact that people go to work. There are still some people who leave home between 8.30 am and 9.00 am, but that is such a revolutionary idea that it has not crossed the minds of the people who are taking these decisions. 275 I have always supported the BBC, but I find it increasingly difficult to do so. I have always believed that public service broadcasting is a jewel. I like it when I go to America and people tell me how lucky I am to have the BBC. Having worked in what are loosely called "the media", I like to hear people praise the BBC for what it has done in the past—but now I am very dispirited and angry about the BBC's arrogance and ignorance, and about the fact that it ignores what Members of Parliament say. The media think that what those nice people up in the Press Gallery have to say is much more important than what Members of Parliament are deciding and voting on. That is not just asinine stupidity: it is totally unacceptable.
Perhaps we could suggest one other change. I know that Lord Cocks of Hartcliffe was the only member of the governing body to vote against the changes. Perhaps we should offer our own views of possible changes for the future, and get rid of the chairman and governors, replacing them with sensible people who know what is going on. Perhaps we should do something to enable the general public to find out what Parliament really is, what it does, and above all what it represents—for that is wholly outwith the knowledge or instincts of the current governors of the BBC.
§ 10 am
§ Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)
I too would like to be associated with the remarks just made.
I am speaking on behalf of constituents of mine. When hon. Members do that, they nearly always want the Government to spend more money. I am not asking the Government to spend more money. Often, too, Members want special rules or conditions to be imposed to protect their constituents. I do not want that, either. Indeed, I seek the very opposite.
On other occasions, Members claim that the Government are doing nothing or have no sympathy for the cause that they have in mind. That is not why I am speaking this morning. I want to discuss an issue that requires no Government money and no special rules or exemptions; and it does not lack Government support at the moment. It concerns the European Union's provisional anti-dumping levy on unbleached cotton. The subject is perhaps not widely discussed by people sitting on buses, but in the community of Strines in my constituency, people do discuss it. Strines Textiles is a textile finishing firm which faces ruin as a result of the imposition of the levy.
The problem has not sprung up this morning or this year. We are now in the second cycle of this absurd process. The European Commission is taking steps to protect the textile industry across the EU—surely a laudable aim—but, unfortunately, what it has chosen to do is counter-productive and is destroying jobs in this and other EU countries.
The anti-dumping levy consists of the imposition of an additional duty or levy on unbleached cotton that is manufactured outside the EU and then imported to the EU for the use of textile finishers. Members will know that, in the past, the United Kingdom has had a proud and substantial textile industry which included all phases of production, from spinning right through to the finishing of fabrics. But changes inside the EU, and changes in the 276 UK's textile industry, mean that there is now practically no weaving of raw cotton into material in the EU, and none at all in the United Kingdom.
So this levy, designed to protect the spinners and producers of what is called grey cloth or unbleached cotton, is completely unnecessary and counter-productive.
The European Commission has the power to introduce a provisional duty. It lasts for about six months, and is then subject to confirmation by the member states. Some two years ago, such a provisional duty was imposed, and was fought vigorously by the UK Government of the time—and by other EU Governments. In due course, the provisional levy was dropped.
Meanwhile, a disaster had already occurred. Raw material costs to the fabric finishing companies in the UK were raised by between 15 and 20 per cent. The intention behind the levy is that it should protect the producers of grey cloth inside the EU, and guarantee their market, but there are nothing like enough producers of grey cloth in the EU to fill the gap. The importing countries that were not subject to the levy promptly raised their prices by the amount of the levy anyway, so that all imported grey cloth immediately became more expensive in the EU by roughly the amount of the levy.
Therefore, external suppliers increased their prices to our finishing textile industry. The European weaving industry, such as it is, is incapable of filling the gap; and to make matters worse, some raw-cloth-weaving nations are also keen to develop their own textile finishing industries, and have taken the opportunity to set up their own trade—which, of course, can purchase the raw materials without having to pay the levy at all. Not only do they have lower labour costs, but they therefore have lower raw material costs.
The process has exposed the fact that, on this occasion, the European Commissioners have been unaware that the textile industry is a global market. Two years ago, before the first introduction of the provisional anti-dumping levy, Strines Textiles in my constituency employed 230 people. It had emerged from a management buyout some five years before, when it had been on the verge of closure, and had developed a range of specialist textile finishing products that go into the high fashion trade—and, incidentally, also into Ministry of Defence contracts.
The impact of the provisional anti-dumping levy on Strines's competitiveness meant that, by May of last year, the firm had shed more than half the work force, and was on the brink of closure. One of my first jobs on being elected was to raise the matter in the House and with the Department of Trade and Industry.
I have had support at every stage. The first anti-dumping levy was removed shortly before the general election. For the past six to nine months, the company has been gradually getting back on its feet with a cheap supply of imported materials; once again, it has been able to compete in the global market. Then, on 25 March this year, the EU Commissioners once again imposed the duty. That will be catastrophic for my constituents and their families, and for the work force and management of Strines.
If any hon. Member has a textile firm in his or her constituency which believes that the duty is a good thing, I should be glad if they got in touch with me. I can find no one in the textile trade in the UK who believes that the 277 imposition of the duty will do anything to protect the market or ensure the long-term survival of the industry in the EU.
The European Commission has argued that finishers such as Strines Textiles will be able to withstand the imposition of the levy because they are adding high value to the product, but the market is global and the technology is moving away from the European Union, so the impact will be counter-productive. [Interruption.] Contrary to what I hear from some Labour Members, I support the EU's work in protecting trade and industry, although I am a critic of this mechanism. The EU must take more account of individual nations and their industries. I emphasise that only five EU nations have agreed to the provisional levy—a minority voted in favour—but the levy will still be imposed.
I call on the Government to press the Commission as strongly as possible to abandon the provisional anti-dumping levy and to ensure during their presidency that the eight EU nations that joined us in opposing the provisional duty should be reinforced in their views, and encouraged to make them known to Commissioners. I hope that our presidency will be used to put in place guidelines that would make it impossible for Commissioners to impose a provisional duty when it would demonstrably cost jobs and damage the industry that they intend to protect.
Some workers at Strines Textiles are the fourth generation to work at the firm. They have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps twice in the past 10 years, and they are shattered to be on the brink of disaster once again—not because their product is bad, not because they are inefficient, not because their productivity is poor and not because their pricing is are wrong, but because someone is trying to help them. They say clearly, "Please stop helping us, because it is doing the damage."
I do not want money or special rules; on the contrary, we want a free, fair and open market, which would allow Strines Textiles to flourish.
§ Mr. Alan Hurst (Braintree)
I am most grateful to have been called to speak, and I want to raise on behalf of my constituents the consequences of a recent decision of the education committee of the county of Essex, which, at a meeting this week, determined that it would end home-to-school transport for students aged over 16. The change goes counter to the traditional support of all parties for home-to-school transport.
The proposal is that pupils who currently benefit from transport and those whose parents are on income support will continue so to do, but the remainder will not, and will have to find the fare to travel to sixth forms or to colleges. The decision is especially pernicious in a rural area. The people in the villages in my constituency do not have a sixth form to which they can walk or cycle, but have to travel to Braintree or another town where there is such a facility. For example, Coggeshall has a distinguished school, Honywood, which has a good reputation, but education finishes at 16. Students from Coggeshall will be obliged to buy tickets to travel to further their education.
This is a particularly unfortunate policy, because it penalises those who live in small towns, villages and rural areas, and those who are less well off than their fellows. 278 There is a mosaic of discrimination: Witham, in my constituency, has sixth form education, and students there can carry on through the system without the burden of paying to travel, but parents of the Catholic faith would almost certainly send their children to the John Payne school in Chelmsford, which is many miles distant. The concession of free transport for over-16s will be ended, so the policy discriminates against those who send their children to denominational schools, which is especially hard on those from less well-off backgrounds.
Great play is made of countryside questions; indeed, one sometimes thinks that some hon. Members take the view that everyone in the countryside is pursuing the fox and finishing off with a supper of beef on the bone. However, other countryside matters cause great concern. We do not want the countryside to become a ghetto for the well-off or the weekender; we want a countryside where ordinary families can live, bring up their children and send them to schools at a cost they can afford.
I regret that Essex county council education committee has made this change, and it is strange that it has been made after the policy has been in place for so many decades. Those who are not intensely familiar with Essex may not know of recent developments in the county. The political balance has changed, not because hon. Members have overlooked a special county election, or because there have been a spate of by-election losses by the governing Liberal Democrat and Labour parties, or because there has been a mass defection from them to the Conservative party—but because the boroughs of Southend and Thurrock have been deleted from the historic county of Essex and granted unitary status. That action, which was taken at midnight on 31 March, changed the balance in the county. A consequence, I regret, has been the policy change that I have outlined.
I hope that Conservative Members will prevail upon their colleagues on Essex county council to consider whether the change will help poorer people and those who live in small towns and rural areas, and to reconsider the policy.
§ Sir Peter Emery (East Devon)
This is only the second time in 38 years that I have spoken in such an Adjournment debate. I divided the House last time, but the Lord President will be pleased to know that I do not intend to do so today.
Before I discuss the Bournemouth symphony orchestra, I must agree with the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) that hon. Members must make a greater demonstration of their condemnation of the way in which the BBC is treating the reporting of Parliament to the nation. The BBC appears to think that it is much more important than Parliament. In its decisions, it seems to be saying, "To hell with Parliament. We will decide how we report it, and Parliament will have no say." Perhaps it should think about what Members of Parliament will say when its grant comes up for discussion.
I condemn the way in which "Today in Parliament" and "Yesterday in Parliament" have become much more editorialised. Producers and commentators are interpreting what Parliament is saying rather than reporting what hon. Members themselves are saying, which is unacceptable.
Now for praise and condemnation: I praise the work of the Bournemouth symphony orchestra, especially in the west country, and its programme; and I condemn the fact 279 that Devon county council has seen fit to cut the grant of under £100,000 for the forthcoming year to nothing. There is considerable concern in my constituency. Although the orchestra does not play there, the problem affects Devon and, indeed, Cornwall. It appears that the Liberal-Democrat-controlled county council lacks an understanding of music and the arts, and the role they play in the lives of civilised people.
For more than 30 years, the Bournemouth symphony orchestra has provided the main professional music service for Devon and the south-west. It has given regular concerts, not just in the cities but in rural areas, and the sinfonietta has travelled to Teignmouth, north Devon, Ilfracombe, Honiton and many smaller areas. The county council's decision will destroy that at a stroke, and will deprive the population of the orchestra's work in general. The council made its decision without consulting the orchestra, the Arts Council or the districts, and its unilateral action has been rightly criticised.
The orchestra promotes a rolling programme. In good faith, and because of demanding lead time, it has entered into contracts for the future. It will have to adhere to those contracts, although it has no money to meet the cost of commitments in the county for 1998–99.
Activity in the county is supported by a tripartite funding arrangement between the county, the district and the Arts Council. The withdrawal of the grant puts the balancing factor from the Arts Council at risk, because it is provided on a shared basis. The county council does not seem to have taken its responsibility on board, and that has implications for the south-west as a whole.
The council seems to have ignored the fact that one of the orchestra's bases is the great hall of Exeter university has applied to the National Lottery Commission for a refurbishment grant, and its figures are based on the assumption that the orchestra will contribute to the hall's costs in future. As that contribution will not now be made, the lottery application is immediately at risk. The receipt of a special grant from the Arts Council out of its stabilisation fund is also at risk. There is a real danger that Devon and the south-west will be deprived entirely of the orchestra's activities.
Musical education will also be affected. Last year, the sinfonietta and members of the orchestra's staff held more than 80 teaching sessions in different schools, explaining the use of musical instruments and talking about music as an art form. That will now disappear overnight.
I appeal to the Lord President, who I know is a very generous person, to see whether she or the Government can take any action to help the orchestra. Perhaps she will ask the Liberal-Democrat-controlled county council to review its decision. It is not yet too late to act.
The orchestra is supported by a massive amount of voluntary work. I should have said at the outset that it is a registered charity. It receives a good deal of financial support from those who want to support music in the south-west. Perhaps the BBC will play its part by reporting part of my speech, and members of the public in the south-west may then send money to the orchestra—to Bournemouth, or to its headquarters in Poole.
The council's decision affects not just my constituency, but the arts and music in the south-west as a whole. If the services of the Bournemouth orchestra are lost, it will be a tragedy.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for giving me a chance to speak for two or three minutes about the proposed rate cap in Derbyshire, which was raised by the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin).
It is strange to think that, when I was on the Labour party national executive with my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), we were on opposite sides of the fence: I was on the left, and she was on the right. Now my hon. Friend is old Labour. New Labour has moved to the right of old Labour, and she and I are now in roughly the same place. What a difference a day makes. No, I am not going to sing it.
My hon. Friend talked about the BBC. It is sad to think that, for all those years—day in, day out—all of us Labour Members, and probably some Conservative Members, supported the BBC. We told people how wonderful it was that we had a public sector broadcasting service. We cannot say that any more. The BBC is more concerned about paying Camelot than about doing the job that it is supposed to do. It has gone down market: there is no doubt of that.
Anyone who watches the news can see that standards are getting lower and lower. We used to be able to say that the BBC could lift its sights to the highest common factor; now it is a question of the lowest common denominator. Murdoch will be putting in a bid for it next. That is a crazy thought, but, given what is happening, it is conceivable. Those at the BBC ought to look at some of its old programmes—some of the transmissions of the past. They would then see that the BBC is unquestionably slipping further and further down market.
As I said, I want to talk about the proposed rate cap in Derbyshire. The situation is not exactly as the hon. Member for West Derbyshire described it, but he is a Tory Whip, and I expect him to do the job he has been sent to do. He is not here now, but I will say it anyway: he has to do his job.
Over the past 15 years or so, Derbyshire county council became a target, or scapegoat, for the Tory Government. There is no denying that. Tory Members used to urge Ministers on, saying, "Hammer Derbyshire." They used words like that. They wanted the Labour-controlled county council to suffer. They used to come here and make speeches—they are all in Hansard—calling on Ministers to do Derbyshire down.
Naturally, the Tory Ministers did that. It is bordering on hypocrisy for an hon. Member to come into the Chamber now and give the impression that he is worried about Derbyshire's ratepayers, when Tory Members called on the Government to cut its grants left, right and centre. The Government did cut the grants, and we estimate that we lost between £200 million and £250 million during those dismal years when the Tories were in power.
On one occasion, I came to the defence of the Labour-controlled county council, putting in for an Adjournment debate. I turned up at 11 pm or midnight, and suddenly the Adjournment debate was not like any normal Adjournment debate. Some hon. Members may remember that occasion. All the Derbyshire Tories were present—Edwina Currie and all the others who were defeated in the election, and the hon. Member for West Derbyshire. I was putting the case for the 281 Labour-controlled county council when Greg Knight, a Tory Member, raised a point of order and demanded this, that and the other.
Anyone who reads the Hansard report for that day will see that the Adjournment debate did not take place. Tory Members attack Labour Members for asking a few questions and being a bit awkward now and again, and the report of that debate is littered with points of order. I got out about three sentences in about half an hour. Because the Tories could not stop me, they called, "I spy strangers." That caused a 15-minute Division, and the Serjeant at Arms had to get them out of the Lobby. By the time they came back, the half hour was up. That was done because I had the temerity to speak on behalf of the Labour-controlled county council whose grants had been cut by the Tory Government year after year.
That Hansard makes good reading for anybody who wants to see what happened when Tory fanatics were determined to see that Derbyshire ratepayers did not get a fair crack of the whip. The county council was prepared to fight on behalf of miners during the strike. During the holidays, it decided to hand out food packages to the kids in miners' families, because, as the schools were off, the children could not get school meals. Such actions got up the noses of Tory Members, and we were subjected to attacks.
In the Government's second rate support grant initiative, they have said that they will make marginal changes. They have to stick, so they said, within Tory spending plans. That was a crazy idea. During the general election, we should not have got that round our necks. I did not get it round mine. It was a mistake, and we would have won the election handsomely without saying that. It has been a problem, and the sooner we get away from it, the better.
The next Budget, the one in 1999, will be important, because on that day I hope that we will wean ourselves off Tory spending limits. In the meantime, the Government are saddled with the problem of that manifesto commitment. Wrong as it was, there it is, and the Government were able to make only marginal changes to the rate support grant. They were sensible changes, in that they shifted a little money from some of the posh areas such as Westminster, which had been chucking money away right, left and centre on this, that and the other. There was a marginal movement of money to some depressed areas, and especially to those in which pits had been shut.
There were shifts—not great, just marginal—in areas such as Lancashire, but Derbyshire did not benefit, because it is really two counties. On the western side, there is the beautiful peak district, with small industries. In general, it is an area of tiny villages—it could be Devon. The eastern side had the old coalfield, which has gone. It is not a question of some pits closing: every one has been closed.
We did not benefit from the new Labour Government's marginal changes to the rate support grant this year. As a result, we got the lowest settlement. On top of that, in some pit villages 30 to 40 per cent. of people are out of work. The settlement was not good enough. Derbyshire has more kids in classes than any other county. I accept that other hon. Members may be able to point to similar problems, but ours is the worst, and we must change that.
282 Against that background, would it not have made sense for the rate support grant to favour Derbyshire a little more? However, because of the new criteria, it did not quite measure up, so Derbyshire county council decided to go through the cap. It would have liked to go through by as much as £10 million, but it decided to be new Labour and to be careful, and it went to £3.9 million. The council thinks that it will just about scrape home with that extra money.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions will stand in this afternoon for the Prime Minister, who is trying to pull off a big job in Northern Ireland. I hope that he succeeds: it is important that he does. He is doing his level best, but no doubt, if he fails, the BBC will blame him. It probably has the headline already.
The Deputy Prime Minister has been asked to issue a declaration about capping. I must put the hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) right. It is a formality—at least I hope that that is all it is. That is what I have been told. I shall explain. According to law, a form is sent out, and, within 28 days, the county council and Labour Members such as me from Derbyshire will put the case for the extra £3.9 million. I am making a start now in case we are not heard loudly and for long enough. Requesting the issue of the notice is a formal matter.
I want people to understand that the ink is not yet dry, and that we have to battle to make sure that we get the extra £3.9 million. Someone has said, "What about Somerset?" It was capped last year: I know all about that—I was here. I did not support the Government that day, either. Warwickshire was also involved in the rate capping procedure, and then it disappeared. Derbyshire wants to be treated in the way that Warwickshire was treated last year. We do not want to be treated like Somerset—[Interruption.] This is not a laughing matter. We are debating teachers' jobs and class sizes, and the fundamental matters that bring Labour Members to Parliament.
Warwickshire came up with a package that enabled it to get through the cap, and it was dropped. Our amount is not as big as that of Warwickshire. It is £3.9 million, and I have reason to believe that Warwickshire went over £4 million. I want my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to pass that message to all those in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, so that, at the meeting within the next 28 days, we can get a settlement that will save ratepayers the extra £500,000 it will cost to send out the second phase of rate notices. That is the last thing we need.
It is necessary to put the record straight. We have reached the negotiating point, and the issue is getting crucial. We want success, and I want my right hon. Friend to make sure that the Cabinet and Ministers will take decisions that ensure that we do not have to face a rate-capping procedure over the next few weeks in Parliament. As no other authorities are involved, the Government will not even have to present an order.
§ Mr. Peter Viggers (Gosport)
Some 15 hours ago in the House, I spoke about the millennium project in Portsmouth harbour, and my speech this morning also relates to that.
That project is an exciting one for the year 2000. I hope to be here in two years to invite every hon. Member to come to Portsmouth harbour to see the dramatic tower 283 on the Portsmouth side, and to visit the museums—the submarine museum, the Priddy's Hard museum, the interesting museum of naval medicine at the Royal hospital, Haslar, which should make us all grateful that we live in the 20th century and do not go to sea, and the Gosport museum.
The point of the millennium project at Portsmouth harbour is to show our naval and military heritage. It backs the local features of HMS Victory, HMS Warrior 1860—I declare an interest as a director of HMS Warrior 1860—and the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's magnificent ship. It is the artefacts relating to those military and naval museums that cause me concern.
Priddy's Hard museum has the best collection of torpedoes in the country. It has a Whitehead, a mark 8 torpedo, one of the type that sank the Belgrano, a type 46 torpedo and a Tigerfish torpedo; in fact, it has the full range of naval torpedoes. It also has a ship-based Exocet missile and a complete range of guns from Tudor cannons to Victorian guns, world wars one and two guns and later ships' weapons, including a "red beard" nuclear bomb that was carried by fixed-wing aircraft.
The museum has magnificent artefacts, but the concern is that it is not as easy for museums to get artefacts from the Ministry of Defence as it should be. I give one example.
About eight years ago, two 4.5 in guns were sold by the MOD for scrap for about £500. Those are unique in history; they are the early model 4.5 in mark 6 turret gun. Priddy's Hard museum is so anxious to obtain one of those guns that it has paid £8,500 for one, and is paying £3,000 today to have it transferred from Pound's shipyard in Portsmouth harbour to the museum. Therefore, somewhere, somehow, someone has lost out on a large amount of money, and it has been difficult for the museum to gain this and other artefacts that will be of significant importance and interest to local visitors to the millennium project in the Gosport-Portsmouth area.
Some time ago, my constituent, Mr. Bill Adnitt, came to my constituency surgery and drew my attention to the fact that Priddy's Hard museum is trying to obtain type 6 gyro sights, gun sight telescopes, open sights, cleaning gear, special stripping tools and books of reference, which, as he pointed out, are all required to give the whole picture of naval and military equipment through the ages.
I took the point up with the Under-Secretary of State for Defence in a letter written on 17 March, in which I asked him whether he agreed
to make a policy statement that Service-related museums such as Priddy's Hard Armaments Museum and the Royal Naval Submarine Museum in my constituency could be given appropriate indication and opportunities to acquire redundant equipment in order to facilitate their important work of maintaining our naval heritage.I have absolutely no complaint that I have not yet received a reply; I would not expect to receive a reply to a substantial request within two weeks or so. He and his Department have always been extremely helpful and courteous in responding to requests, but my point is that there is added urgency to the request.
Only yesterday, I was given information about a further item, called a valiant rig, which is currently at HMS Dolphin. Weapon-handling training equipment, it consists of a large steel rig, a dummy torpedo tube—a cut-away 284 version of an air ram—two consoles and various steel attachments. The total weight of that equipment is 20 tonnes. Priddy's Hard museum is anxious to obtain one small part only of that—the dummy torpedo tube.
The due date for tender for those items was 2 April, so it is urgent that the MOD considers my request that museums should be given priority treatment when military equipment becomes redundant. If special instruction is not given by the MOD urgently, the valiant rig, and no doubt many other features, will be sold for scrap for comparatively low prices. What my constituents would like is an instruction that they should be allowed to remove items such as the dummy torpedo tube from items that would otherwise be scrapped, and that they should be put into museums.
This may seem an item of special interest. It is, but it is of keen interest to a number of people in my constituency. If that urgent request is considered by the MOD without delay, it might be possible for artefacts and items of historical interest to be retained by the nation, rather than scrapped.
§ Mr. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire)
I raise another local issue. My constituency lies at the heart of England, and is a transport crossroads for the midlands. At its centre is my home town of Ashby, which is battered, bruised and bewildered from the incessant heavy traffic. The need for some relief is overwhelming, and a town bypass is important for reasons that I will describe.
Historic Ashby is North-West Leicestershire's ancient market town, and it remains a focal point for shopping and commerce. It serves a growing number of town residents, as well as surrounding villages. Ashby boasts more than 150 listed buildings. Some of the historic passages, which are called "courts", off Market street have been converted into period shopping mews. A market is still held in the former town hall. There is a wide choice of licensed premises and places to eat, and a range of accommodation, hotel or bed-and-breakfast.
The bypass is crucial for tourism reasons. Thousands of visitors stop by in Ashby because of its convenient location, encouraged by A42 and M42 signs advertising local services. The town is a base for visiting nearby attractions such as Snibston discovery park, Calke abbey, Donington race track and the new national forest. English Heritage has reported a sharp rise in visitors to Ashby castle, the setting of the tournament in Sir Walter Scott's "Ivanhoe". The castle has become a popular venue for civil war and similar historical re-enactments. The spacious grounds below the castle offer great potential for hosting even larger public spectacles.
The bypass is crucial for environmental reasons. Ashby-de-la Zouch is just two miles from the oak tree marking the centre of the national forest. Westminster wood was launched in the Palace of Westminster only yesterday by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major). The wood is in the heart of my constituency.
Because of its features and amenities, Ashby has been described as
the jewel in the crownof the national forest by a director of the National Forest Company, which predicts that the prestigious national resource will in due course attract 6 million visitors every year. 285 The bypass is crucial for education reasons. My town has five primary and two secondary schools. Many of the 2,300 students who attend Ivanhoe college or Ashby grammar school, a comprehensive of which I am a governor, must cross the A511, the road for which we are trying to obtain a bypass. The grammar school occupies two sites either side of the busy Leicester road, and there is a frequent flow of pupils between those sites. Both Leicester road and North street, past the entrance to Ivanhoe college, are heavily used by vehicles avoiding A511 bottlenecks. Burton road junior school, which has 270 children, is located right on the A511, next to a difficult and dangerous intersection.
A bypass for Ashby is important for employment reasons. The former mining areas of north-west Leicestershire and south Derbyshire, which surround Ashby-de-la-Zouch, have rightly become a focus of regeneration, helped by funding such as RECHAR. Improved access to motorways via Ashby's bypass will encourage business investment. Ashby's largest employers, United Biscuits and Ashby Dairy Company, account for almost 1,000 heavy goods vehicle movements per day. Other centres in the area are expanding, adding to the heavy flows of local and long-haul heavy good vehicles.
The bypass is also crucial for sports and leisure. Ashby's population growth has led to greater demands for sport and recreation. More indoor and outdoor facilities could be accommodated close to the town centre. The national forest is already adding a range of new activities in the surrounding countryside. Uncongested access in and out of the town is needed for the potential to be fully achieved.
The cause of the town's problems is not difficult to identify; it lies at the intersection of two major trunk routes—Birmingham to Nottingham and Leicester to Burton upon Trent. In 1988, before the Ashby section of the A42 opened, traffic levels reached saturation point, with more than 20,000 vehicles passing through the town centre during a 12-hour period.
Since then, housing and industrial developments, the emergence of the M42-A42 as a major traffic corridor and other factors have resulted in traffic levels climbing back from a low of 12,000 to a weekly average approaching 16,000 per 12 hours in Market street and 20,000 again on parts of Nottingham road. Even taking account of the recently completed Derby southern relief road, the county council predicts a further 3,000 vehicles by next year. In the absence of a bypass, vehicles will continue to use rat runs through housing estates and narrow lanes.
The effects of the incessant, injurious flood of traffic are manifold. There is an impact on congestion. The route of the A511 through Ashby involves complex junctions and 90-degree turns that are unsuitable for HGVs and baffling to strangers. The only so-called alternatives to Market street as routes through the town—North street and South street—are restricted to one-way flow because of bends, narrowness and the risk to buildings. Because the shopping and commercial facilities of the town are concentrated in that area, Market street is thronged throughout the day with pedestrians, delivery vehicles and parked cars.
The situation also causes delays. The intricate and crowded nature of Ashby town centre and the controls for pedestrian safety contribute to huge delays in traffic 286 progress. Peak period queues often stretch as far as one mile from Market street back to the A42 intersection. Long tailbacks also build up on the approaches from Measham, Burton and Moira. Residents along the A511 endure a ceaseless barrage of vehicles. Even at a quiet time of day, it can take 10 minutes for a resident to get out of their driveway. When traffic is at its heaviest, it can take almost half an hour to drive one mile across town.
There is an impact on health. It is increasingly recognised that exhaust fumes contribute to respiratory and other health problems. Idling or stop-start driving greatly increase fuel consumption, and therefore emissions. There are also safety considerations. There are three pelican crossings on Market street, with further crossings on Bath street, Derby road and Burton road, which are all within a short distance.
There are also considerations of damage. Ashby boasts many attractive period buildings, which are sensitive to damage from vibration. Properties suffer impact damage to walls or overhangs. A national firm of painting contractors which carried out some work in Market street recently described Ashby as the most polluted town in Britain. The county council estimates that almost 4,000 homes in the town would have substantially lower levels of pollution if traffic was reduced by a mere 25 per cent.
The situation also has an impact on development. Excessive congestion frustrates attempts to develop strategies to maximise the potential of the town centre. Current facilities for coach parties to alight and board are poor. Co-ordinating bus links with the planned Ivanhoe rail link is difficult. The volume of through traffic discourages walking and cycling.
Ashby-de-la-Zouch needs a bypass, but not at any price. Full-scale developer funding would entail a major additional housing development. Given the expansion of the town over the past 15 years, that would be inappropriate. At a recent public meeting, speaker after speaker rejected an offer of private funding from Wilcon Homes, which promised to make full construction costs available once it had built and sold a minimum of 450 homes, which were to be part of a green-field development on the northern side of the town. The eventual objective of that development is to build at least 1,000 further homes. Any proposal from any developer would undoubtedly be similar in scale. The momentum to fill the space available between the town and the bypass would be irresistible.
Construction of the bypass should not be conditional on developments of such magnitude. I am sure that other towns are in a similar situation. The increase in population resulting from such developments would over-burden the town's capacity to cope. That would have two consequences: extra local vehicles and pedestrians would cancel out the benefits of the bypass; and increased demands would lead to out-of-town shopping complexes, which would draw trade from the town centre. Both would jeopardise the town's future. If it developed beyond a critical size, the town's historic identity would be swamped by its suburbs. We want no further developments until the bypass is complete.
My birthplace is facing a crucial period. It must continue to fulfil its traditional local role as a focal point for residents and surrounding communities. It must also prepare to fulfil a new national role as a visitor amenity alongside the M42 at the heart of the national forest. The 287 removal of through traffic is essential. A bypass will make Ashby safer and healthier for residents and visitors, removing frustrating delays, and assisting the preservation and development of the town's amenities. Public funding of the bypass will bring about the necessary improvements without sacrificing Ashby's identity as an historic market town.
As with any road scheme, the environmental costs must be weighed against the benefits. The integrated transport strategy and roads review are considering those issues. The value of the town centre environment vastly outweighs the intrusion that a short bypass would make into the countryside. The projected route of the bypass crosses no sites of special scientific interest. In addition to the bypass, local campaigners strongly support the development of the Ivanhoe rail link to Leicester and Burton upon Trent as a vital component in a town transport strategy that will integrate with the national strategy.
Local people were dismayed that the problems of A511 congestion were not solved when the A42-M42 corridor was created. They will be outraged if they are denied their bypass now.
I congratulate the campaigners on their long efforts to secure a bypass to relieve the incessant heavy flows of traffic that pour through the heart of the town. The campaign has reached a crucial stage, with a submission soon to be made to the county council, which will look to the Government for assistance. The road is essential to reduce congestion, increase safety, decrease pollution and improve the physical environment for residents and visitors. The long-delayed project will deliver great social, economic and environmental benefits for all those who live in, depend on or care about our town.
Local residents and town organisations believe that the scheme should not—I repeat, should not—depend on developer funding, because further expansion would be seriously counter-productive. It should be financed publicly. I strongly endorse that view. I am working with the Bypass Ashby Now Group to persuade the county council and my Government of the overwhelming benefits of that approach.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarfon)
I am very grateful for the opportunity in this Adjournment debate to raise the issue of industrial workers suffering from lung diseases. I should like specifically to comment on the position of slate quarrymen and coal miners, although the issue may affect other industrial workers.
I find it somewhat ironic to be campaigning on that issue in this—possibly my last—Parliament. In my first Parliament, from 1974 to 1979, I was involved in a prolonged campaign to secure compensation for slate quarrymen suffering from silicosis and pneumoconiosis. The campaign led to the Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers' Compensation) Act 1979, which has enabled about £50 million in compensation to be paid, not only to slate quarrymen but to other industrial workers who previously—because their employers were defunct—did not have a compensation vehicle. We seem to be facing a re-run of those earlier circumstances, which are now affecting quarrymen and ex-quarrymen suffering from emphysema and chronic bronchitis whose former employers are defunct.
288 A few weeks ago, an historic court victory by the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers—on behalf of coal miners and ex-miners suffering from emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma—has placed a new focus on the issue. I pay tribute to Bleddyn Hancock, the general secretary of NACODS, who ran a 10-year campaign to win the victory, which should benefit 50,000—perhaps more—miners, ex-miners and their widows.
I want to press Ministers to clarify their response to the court case, and to receive from them assurances on implementing the compensation payments for coal miners that were implicit in the court settlement. The initial reaction to the case of the Minister for Science, Energy and Industry was that the Government would meet the settlement in full, and that the cost might be as much as £1,000 million or more. However, subsequent developments have caused some concern.
Interim payments of only £2,000 have been offered in each of 5,000 cases, for a total of about £10 million. I should like an assurance that the Government will settle all cases in full; that the Government will settle all cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis; that the court's comment on asthma will be considered; and that not only workers but their widows will be compensated. I should like to be assured also that the Government will not nit-pick in each case, trying to make each individual prove his suffering. After those workers' long wait for recognition of their entitlement, it would be cruel to deal with their cases in that manner.
I specifically hope that the Government will move quickly, because those people have suffered for so long already, waiting for a settlement. There may be—I hope not—a vested interest among some lawyers working for the Government to try to drag out the matter.
I shall warmly welcome the Government's prompt and full settlement of the coal miners' cases. However, we are back to the position of slate quarrymen—and, undoubtedly, of other workers—whose suffering is just as great as that of the coal miners. Anyone who has seen those men struggling for breath appreciates what they are going through. Many of those who have not been diagnosed as suffering from pneumoconiosis or silicosis have precisely the same struggle to breathe, as they are suffering from emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Slate quarrymen and coal miners experience precisely the same suffering. Anyone living in a slate quarrying community will have no doubt that working in dusty slate quarries or slate mines leads to suffering from emphysema and chronic bronchitis, just as working in dusty coal mines leads to other conditions.
Unfortunately, the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council has so far failed to acknowledge the link between working in the slate industry and the incidence of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Statistical arguments are used against recognising the incidence of those diseases. Sadly, because the number of slate quarrymen is relatively small, it is difficult to prove the connection. However, the suffering is just as great in each case. We must urgently accept the fact that emphysema and chronic bronchitis are industrial lung conditions among quarrymen.
§ Mr. Wigley
My hon. Friend has many workers in his constituency, as I do, who suffer from those diseases.
289 If the link is recognised, quarrymen would be entitled to industrial injuries disability benefit.
I draw to the Minister's attention recent developments and evidence from other countries, which show that the matter should perhaps be re-examined by the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. Studies of quarrymen in eastern Germany and of gold miners in Australia, and analysis of lung conditions of workers in potteries, raise the broader issue of the link between industrial working conditions, emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Regardless of whether quarrymen with emphysema and chronic bronchitis are granted disability benefit on the basis of that link, the coal miners' court victory raises the entirely independent matter of lump sum compensation. The Government are reluctant—as they were in the 1970s—to consider quarrymen in the same category as coal miners. The basic argument revolves around the fact that the Government acknowledged responsible for coal miners, who worked for the National Coal Board, which was a public sector employer. Conversely, slate quarrymen worked for subsequently defunct private employers.
On 4 March 1998, in a letter to me, the Prime Minister gave those reasons for refusing slate quarrymen's case. He said:
In addition, we are committed to honouring legitimate claims against British Coal because we have inherited the health liabilities from a state-owned Corporation. The quarrying industry has never been subject to similar state ownership.Exactly the same argument was used in the 1970s, in response to slate quarrymen and others suffering from pneumoconiosis, silicosis and other lung diseases. Those men worked for defunct private companies, and therefore could not sue their previous employer for compensation. The purpose of the 1979 Act was to provide them with compensation. It is not acceptable now to rely on that old argument.
The principle of compensation for quarrymen suffering from pneumoconiosis and silicosis was won and established in the 1970s, and it should set a precedent. Quarrymen must not be forgotten, as they were in that long-drawn-out five-year period in the mid-1970s—from the recognition that coal miners should receive lump sum compensation, to payments to quarrymen under the 1979 Act.
The 1979 Act provides a framework that the Transport and General Workers' Union believes could be used as a vehicle to pay compensation to those suffering from emphysema, chronic bronchitis and similar lung diseases. Section 1(3) of the Act, as amended by the Social Security Act 1985, states:
The diseases to which this Act applies are pneumoconiosis, byssinosis and diffuse mesothelioma [and any other disease which is specified by the Secretary of State for the purposes of this Act by order made by statutory instrument.]The subsection enables the Secretary of State to introduce a statutory instrument to include emphysema and chronic bronchitis under that section of the 1979 Act, and thereby create a vehicle to pay compensation to quarrymen, ex-quarrymen and their widows, who have suffered so much.
Coal miners rightly deserve their compensation, which I hope they soon receive. But, please, let us not yet again forget the quarrymen.
§ 11.7 am
§ Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for this opportunity to raise a most unusual, but very important case from my constituency, which occurs in the small market town of Bungay, in Suffolk. The case highlights the problems that an individual might face when trying to obtain justice from a large organisation.
Mountbatten road, in Bungay, borders the open countryside, and the rear gardens of some of the properties look out over the countryside. However, there is no danger of green-field house building beyond those rear gardens, because behind them lies a hole—a pit, which is becoming larger every time it rains. The local media called it "a canyon in formation". It is not a joke for the residents—particularly Mr. and Mrs. Watts, who live in Mountbatten road—because the edge of that canyon has now crept up to their rear garden fence. Every time it rains, they fear that their rear garden may begin to disappear. Even worse, the situation is affecting the value of their home, which—like the other modern, detached homes in the road—they have been told is unsaleable.
How did the situation occur? The hole is an old sand and gravel pit, which lay undisturbed and overgrown for at least 50 years—some say 100 years—with its sides secure and covered by vegetation. The pit was not thought of as a problem by the planners when building the Mountbatten road homes, well away from the edge of the pit. Then, a few years ago, the Essex and Suffolk Water company entered the frame. The company supplies water to several parts of East Anglia, and these days, it is part of Lyonnaise des Eaux, a giant corporation of vast resources and reserves.
In the late 1980s, the Essex and Suffolk Water company needed to lay a new water main to supply the town of Bungay and had to cross land to the rear of Mountbatten road. Amazingly, the water main was laid around the edge of the pit, just a few feet from the rim. In October 1993, during heavy rainfall, a land slip occurred, with a quite spectacular result: 20 ft of large blue water main pipe was left suspended across the sides of the pit, which was becoming enlarged as the rain eroded it.
Essex and Suffolk Water reacted swiftly. It dismantled and rerouted the pipe—but where? It rerouted it around the edge of the newly enlarged pit, a few feet from the rim. That sounds amazing, but it is true. It is also true that, in September 1994, another heavy rainstorm caused another land slip, and we saw another aerial water main. Meanwhile, the canyon was becoming larger. I have seen photographs of the results, which created much interest among local people at the time.
The water company returned to the site and again rerouted the pipe—guess where? It again rerouted it around the rim of the newly enlarged pit, although with one difference. It did not bury the water main; it left the pipe lying on the surface and erected a fence around it to keep people away. One has heard of surface water; that was a surface water main. The water company has never said why it did not bury the pipe a third time, although I think that we can guess. There the water pipe lay until July last year.
My constituents, having complained unsuccessfully to the water company, came to see me. The obvious way forward to me was to have a site meeting in order to get senior people from the company down to have a look at what was happening. My first request to Essex and 291 Suffolk Water did not receive a positive response. It is the only time since I became a Member of Parliament that a written request has been received in such a way. My second letter induced the company finally to agree to meet its customers' elected representative on site. By the time we had the site meeting, however, the pipe had been moved, rerouted and buried in a trench on the other side of the field. The work was carried out in July in the middle of the crop-growing season, and involving paying a farmer considerable compensation for disturbing his crops. That was the end of the water pipe problem; the problem for the people of Mountbatten road is that the pit remains and is becoming larger each time it rains.
The water company accepts no responsibility and is refusing to carry out work to stabilise the sides of the pit. I and many others find that quite staggering. We are asked to believe and accept that digging a trench a few feet from the rim of a pit and then filling it in has no effect on the stability of the land around it. We are asked to accept that, after a pit had been stable for 50 years or more, its collapse within a few years of the pipe being laid had nothing to do with the laying of the pipe.
Despite a repeat performance, we are asked to accept that there was nothing wrong with the water company's engineering. We are asked to accept that there is no ground for wondering why the water company did not learn its lesson after its first attempt. We are asked to accept that the eventual relocation of the pipe on the other side of the field does not show that the original siting was completely wrong. I think that it is an admission by deed of the folly of trying to site a water main around the edge of a pit. That seems common sense to me, but I am only a lay person. A qualified consulting engineer engaged by Mr. Watts has, however, come to the same conclusion in a detailed report. Unfortunately for the residents, the water company has produced its own consulting engineer who refutes that report.
Other evidence is, however, beginning to emerge. The water company's engineer made some verbal comments in 1994 to the effect that he would be recommending repair of the pit. There is evidence that the water company approached the landowner in 1994 with a view to carrying out some repair work. In fact, the water company consultant's report in 1997 said:I still"—I emphasise the word "still"—believe that the pit can be adequately infilled and protected and retained.There is evidence that the water company originally wanted to put the water main on the other side of the field, but did not fancy dealing with the farmer with whom it has since had to deal. Still, the water company accepts no responsibility.
Is this a case for the Office of Water Services? Unfortunately, Ofwat's response to my constituent was that it had "only a limited role" to play in such matters. Its letter says that it has
no formal jurisdiction over complaints about pipe laying from work done prior to September 1989",even though the pipes were relaid in 1993 and 1994. To my knowledge, no one from Ofwat even bothered to visit the site. There is an issue about the apparent ineffectiveness of Ofwat in such a case. I welcome the 292 Government's review of the regulatory powers of such bodies and hope that they will take account of remarkable cases such as the one that I have raised.
Apart from the case, I am concerned about the way in which the water company handled my inquiry. I find that organisations are normally fulsome and open in their response to an inquiry from a Member of Parliament, if only to demonstrate that they have nothing to hide. That was not so in this case. The water company co-operated reluctantly and said as little as possible.
This case is the worst case of injustice that I have come across in the 11 months since I became a Member of Parliament. Essex and Suffolk Water is a large, prosperous and long-standing company which predates the Conservative privatisation programme and does not generally have a bad reputation in our area. In this case, it is walking away from its responsibility, acting cynically and failing to explain itself openly. People in my constituency face the prospect of their homes becoming worthless. They are not asking for compensation; they just want the water company to come back and stabilise the pit. I do not think that that is too much to ask.
§ Sir Sydney Chapman (Chipping Barnet)
Before the House rises for its short Easter recess, I am grateful for the opportunity to raise two matters relating to foreign and Commonwealth affairs and one domestic matter for the Government's consideration.
I feel impelled to raise the foreign and Commonwealth issues for two reasons. First, I shared the pretty bitter disappointment felt in more than one quarter of the House that the Foreign Secretary did not make a statement after his visit to the middle east last month. A visit by a British Foreign Secretary to six countries is, on any account, an important visit. It was also important because the purpose of his tour was to revive the middle east peace process. Secondly, my Question 18 was not reached in Foreign Office questions yesterday and I was not able to catch Madam Speaker's eye to raise one of the matters in a supplementary question.
I should like first to raise the question of Cyprus. I very much welcome its application to join the European Union. Indeed, if conditions are right, I would like to see the EU considerably enlarged. Cyprus is well placed to join the EU, if only—but not only—because its economy is in very good shape. It is one of the very few countries that meets the Maastricht economic convergence criteria, which is more than can be said for the majority of the 11 countries that are hellbent on the foolish escapade of trying to start a single currency on the first day of next year.
My fear is that, as I think might have happened before on matters relating to Cyprus, the United States Government might intervene quietly—albeit behind the scenes—and, in order not to offend Turkey, which is of course a member of NATO, try to delay or, indeed, undermine negotiations on Cyprus. I very much hope that will not be the case. I should be grateful if the Leader of the House could appeal to the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister to use their good offices and considerable contacts with the United States President and Congress to ensure that that does not happen.
293 The second issue that I wish to raise is Syria. My question yesterday to the Foreign Secretary was listed at No.18 on the Order Paper, and I later received a written answer. I asked him to make a statement on his recent visit to Syria. He replied:
I had useful discussions on regional issues with President Asad and Foreign Minister Shara'a. We agreed on the need for movement on all tracks of the Middle East Peace Process."—[Official Report, 7 April 1998; Vol. 310. c. 198.]If I may say so, that is a classic parliamentary answer of its genre. It is presumably accurate; it gives me the minimum information; and, most certainly, it leaves me no wiser.
I wanted to find out from the Foreign Secretary what influence he had had and whether he had discussed with the Syrian Government the very constructive proposal by the Israeli Government that they would be prepared to move their troops out of southern Lebanon, provided that Syria could give some assurances that it would discourage terrorism from the southern part of Lebanon by Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.
I further wanted to ask the Foreign Secretary whether there was any response to the suggestion that I put to him at the previous Foreign and Commonwealth Question Time that, if Israel were to withdraw its troops from southern Lebanon, it would be a most satisfactory quid pro quo if the Syrian troops were withdrawn from the north of Lebanon. Again, I should be very grateful if the Leader of the House would communicate those points to the Foreign Secretary. If it is not possible to have replies to my questions at the end of this debate—I quite understand that it might not be—could the House have the information in the form of a detailed written answer from the Foreign Secretary; although, as I said, I should have preferred an oral answer?
The domestic matter to which I referred relates to possible changes to the parliamentary calendar. I have the privilege to be Chairman of the Select Committee on Accommodation and Works. In that capacity, I was moved to write last December to the Leader of the House, in her capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons, asking whether she could make an early statement on any changes that might be proposed to the parliamentary calendar.
The reason I did so was that there is some anxiety that, if the 10 to 12-week parliamentary summer recess were to be significantly changed, it might prejudice some of the necessary renovation and improvement works that we have to conduct in the Palace of Westminster. That in itself is not of paramount importance, but it is necessary to plan many months ahead.
With her usual courtesy, the Leader of the House replied promptly and said that she was circulating to other members of the Modernisation Committee my concerns on the matter. I understand from what she said a few days ago that there is going to be a further report from that Committee shortly after Easter. I do not know whether it will deal with the parliamentary calendar but, even if she cannot divulge in advance what the report is going to say, it would be extremely helpful to know as soon as possible that any changes to the parliamentary calendar—we are not here to argue whether there should be any—will not be put into practice before next year at the earliest, so that the planned works can go ahead as planned in this summer recess.
294 Once again, I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to raise these three issues in the House.
§ Mr. John Grogan (Selby)
I want to bring to the House's attention the advisory committee report—the Gordon committee report—on listed sporting events to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has promised a response soon after Easter. If implemented, the report would, among other things, threaten the future live coverage of domestic test cricket and future football world cup tournaments on terrestrial television.
It is my central contention that the Gordon committee report is a tremendous lost opportunity and that there are alternatives. Let us take a random example. Australia, the land of Mr. Murdoch's birth, passed a broadcasting Act—the anti-siphoning Act—in 1992. It lists 42 national and international sporting events which must by law first be offered to terrestrial television before being offered to subscription or pay television. That includes all Australia's international cricket, football and rugby matches, at home and abroad. Interestingly, it also includes our own FA cup final.
Down under, it is realised that it is not enough to nurture today's sporting champions in sporting academies, important though that is. It is also important to inspire future generations of sportsmen and women by ensuring widespread access to great international and national sporting events on terrestrial television.
If test cricket is de-listed in this country, we could find ourselves in an absurd situation. The next time that, for example, England wins the Ashes by beating Australia at, say, Headingley, there is no guarantee that the residents of Leeds will be able to watch that historic occasion live on terrestrial television. The residents of Sydney, if they so chose, would be able to sit up through the night and watch their team take a pasting.
It is live action that quickens the pulse. It is live sporting action on terrestrial television, available to all, that creates a great shared experience. Recorded highlights are important, and the Gordon committee has something to say about them, but they are essentially second best. They do not have the immediacy and do not give a sense of being there. Indeed, they are not watched. Other than "Match of the Day", recorded sporting highlights have minuscule viewing figures.
I shall highlight the effect that the Gordon committee might have on just two or three sports if its report is implemented. Let us first consider just two of the Gordon committee's arguments for de-listing domestic test cricket. The first is that terrestrial television services cannot or should not cover lengthy sporting events in full. I would contend that that is a judgment not for the Gordon committee or, indeed, for Parliament, but for the broadcasters themselves. In fact, terrestrial television broadcasters have a long history of covering these events in full. It is up to them to make the necessary judgment.
The second argument that the Gordon committee advances in favour of de-listing test cricket is that it is not a shared point in the national calendar, which is one of the criteria for listed events which the Government laid down for the Gordon committee.
By its very nature, cricket is an event that builds up over time. It operates at a civilised pace, and a test series is an integral whole. For example, no one could argue that 295 Botham's century at, I think, Headingley in the 1980s, which turned around the test series at that time, was not a unique point in the national calendar. It is something that people enjoyed and to which they look back, but it built up over time. There was a dynamic in that test series. Some people say that some test matches should be listed and others should not.
Had the English Test and County Cricket Board had its way, and had only the Lord's test match been listed because it was, in the board's view, a "society event", terrestrial television viewers could have seen England lose heavily at Lord's, but would have missed the unique moment at Headingley, which would be absurd. I do not think that the argument about a shared point stands up.
It is important to remember that pensioners in particular watch cricket test matches on television. Half of all people over 65 tune in at some point over the summer.
No one is suggesting that these events should be given away by the sporting bodies. There is a regulatory mechanism in operation. The Broadcasting Act 1996 gave the Independent Television Commission the responsibility, if necessary, to decide fair prices for these events.
If we de-list, the immediate effect would probably be that some test matches would stay on terrestrial television, but others would not. However, terrestrial television and its viewers would definitely get second best, as they have done with next year's cricket world cup. The England and Wales Cricket Board sold the primary rights to Sky, and the BBC had to negotiate for secondary rights. Most of England's games in the cricket world cup next year will not be on terrestrial television, even though the event is in England.
That brings me to football. We are all making cross-party efforts to bring the 2006 football world cup to England. If the Gordon committee report is accepted, as few as five or six games may be broadcast live on terrestrial television—the final, the semi-finals and the games featuring the home nations, those being shown only in those home nations.
The broadcasting rights for that world cup have already been sold to a German media entrepreneur, Mr. Kirsch—it is the first time that the European Broadcasting Union has lost the rights to the world cup—and Mr. Kirsch is on record as saying that he will sell all he can to the highest bidder. The domestic political row that would erupt if few games could be shown on British terrestrial television, despite the large sums of public money that would no doubt go into the bid, would dwarf the current row in France about tickets for this year's world cup tournament.
It is worth remembering that the Gordon committee says that Scottish games should necessarily be shown live only in Scotland, so if—as is also the case in a few weeks' time—Scotland played Brazil in the 2006 world cup, that game would be shown live in Scotland, but not necessarily in England. I do not think that Scots living in England would take too kindly to that, and there would probably be massive cross-border movements that weekend. If we accept the Gordon committee report in respect of the football world cup, the only people who will be better off are Mr. Kirsch, who holds the broadcasting rights, and those—presumably satellite television companies—to whom he sells the rights.
296 Finally, there is rugby, which was completely neglected by the Gordon committee report. This year is the first that some of the five nations matches have not been available on terrestrial television and the viewing figures have plummeted. At the very least, the committee should have considered listing the rugby world cup. The committee insulted the game of rugby league: the rugby league authorities asked for the challenge cup final to be listed, but the Gordon committee dismissed their views and said that rugby league was not significant, except in a few parts of the country. I remind the committee that the London Broncos were in the semi-finals of the rugby league challenge cup final only a few weeks ago, so a London team might have been playing in the final.
In summary, there are three reasons why the Government should turn down the Gordon committee report. First, the report ignores the views of viewers and those of the sporting grass roots. Secondly, we are dealing with monopoly suppliers—there is only one test series and one world cup. Monopolies cannot be trusted, and have to be tightly regulated in the public interest. Thirdly, massive sums of public money are at stake: over the past three years, cricket has received £50 million from the lottery and a great deal of money is going into the world cup. It is remarkable that the Gordon committee chose not to list live coverage of the Commonwealth games, given that £100 million is going into the Commonwealth games to be held in Manchester in 2002.
I have received many letters on this subject, so I shall end my speech by quoting from one, from the secretary of Bishopthorpe cricket club in my constituency, Andrew Copeland. He speaks for many ordinary cricket clubs in this country when he says:
Bishopthorpe Cricket Club are unanimously against any removal of International Cricket from listed status. We believe that at a time where organisations like Bishopthorpe CC, the local sports authorities and the government should be encouraging the next generation to be more sports orientated that attempts to boost viewing figures should be made, not reduce them. Instead we seem to allow simple commercial pressures to dictate the situation and the result is that only a privileged few can view these events.We have a Government of the many, not the few, so I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, when he makes his decision, to kick the Gordon committee report into touch.
§ Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent)
There are several topics relating to my county of Kent that the House should address before it adjourns, but I shall deal briefly with only a handful.
First, there is the channel tunnel rail link. I have no qualms about returning to that essential matter at a time when the Government are seriously considering what should be done. There is a powerful argument that the economic case for the link has not been made and that it should be done away with altogether. That would delight my constituents, who have to bear the costs of blight and construction disruption. However, if we are to go ahead with the link, for goodness' sake, let us build it as it was decided by Parliament, in total, now.
The idea that the link should be built in bits, starting with the bit that is least needed—the section passing through Kent—and putting on hold indefinitely the bit that goes through London, is totally absurd. Almost as absurd is the notion that we should return to British Rail's 297 discredited proposal that the line should turn left and go into Waterloo. If there is a justification for the channel tunnel rail link, it is that it would link the rest of the United Kingdom to the channel, so to accept the proposal that it should turn into Waterloo—again, for an indefinite period—while east London continues to suffer interminable blight is absolutely out of the question.
I am deeply concerned by what I understand is the current activity of Railtrack, which is going around parishes in Kent re-examining the evidence given to the Select Committees in an attempt to discredit that evidence, so that environmental safeguards can be thrown out of the window, which would be absolutely disgraceful. Ministers have assured us that, if the link goes ahead, the environmental safeguards decreed by Parliament will be honoured in full, so any attempt to do the opposite would be both discreditable and in contempt of the House.
Secondly, my county is suffering to a wholly unreasonable extent from the astonishing gap between the duty on liquor and tobacco in Britain and that levied across the channel. Constant representations to the Conservative Government on this matter failed, but the problem is becoming worse and the gap is widening. As we foretold, it has become an outrageous invitation to crime: crime relating to the smuggling of liquor and tobacco is increasing all the time, and the police are aware that gangs are moving in and becoming increasingly violent. There is something extraordinary about a Government who are committed to reducing crime but whose policy is, in fact, encouraging it.
I am especially glad that my local brewer, Shepherd Neame, whose action was thrown out at an earlier hearing at the insistence of the Solicitor-General and which was refused leave to appeal, has now been given such leave, largely thanks to the sophisticated intervention of the company's barrister at the short judicial hearing, one Cherie Booth.
I hope that the Government will address this enormous threat to Kent jobs and Kent security before the problem worsens. It is all very well to say that people benefit from the opportunity to import cheap liquor, but the same people will be deeply upset if their village pub dies because it cannot compete with an increasingly dishonest trade.
Thirdly, I wish to raise the question of the fruit industry. I have more acreage under top fruit and soft fruit than any other constituency Member of Parliament, but I know that people sometimes forget what an enormous industry the fruit industry is. In Kent, there are growers whose wages bill exceeds £1 million a year, and that sort of injection into the local economy is indispensable, yet the fruit industry receives no Government subsidy. It would be easy to grub out all the trees or remove all the strawberry plants and grow instead some heavily subsidised grain crop, which gave no local employment whatever.
The issue I urge the Leader of the House to take seriously is one that I have raised with the Secretary of State for Social Security. Fruit pickers are becoming almost impossible to get because the interaction between benefits entitlement and the wages of seasonal workers has become so complex. Many of the workers were housewives, who delivered their children to school and were happy to earn considerable sums by picking for 298 several hours before going away to collect their children. It has become impossible for them to take on the work because, if they are on any form of benefit, such as housing benefit, they not only lose it but cannot get back on to it. That is an important issue. The industry provides employment that is particularly valued by a large number of permanent and part-time workers and is worth many millions of pounds.
Finally, the reconfiguration of hospitals is another tremendously important issue in my constituency. The town of Faversham is particularly at risk from East Kent health authority's proposal to downgrade Kent and Canterbury hospital. More than anything else, we need an assurance from Ministers that, when the issue reaches them for consideration, as it surely will, they will give access to hospital care its proper place in the hierarchy of importance. Many studies have shown that the ability of families and parents to visit children, or families and friends to visit sick relatives, enormously assists the curative process. Sometimes, the fascination with high-tech machinery and specialist medicine has caused us to play down the enormous importance of accessibility. I hope that we can have some reassurance on that issue above all.
§ Mr. John Cryer (Hornchurch)
Like most hon. Members, I want principally to raise a constituency issue, which is road safety, particularly for children going to and from school. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mrs. Brinton) introduced the Home Zones Bill a few weeks ago to create zones in which pedestrians have priority over vehicles and in which the speed limit would be cut to 10 mph, which is a good thing.
I shall draw on a few statistics. In 1971, 70 per cent. of children aged seven walked to school. By 1990, that percentage had dropped to less than 10 per cent. The United Kingdom has probably the worst record in western Europe on child pedestrian accidents, many of which occur while children are going to and from school, and one in five peak-time journeys in this country are undertaken by drivers taking children to or from school.
I have become involved with two primary schools in my constituency that are trying to get pedestrian crossings built outside them. Ayloff's junior school is on the busy Southend road and has a fairly ineffective zebra crossing. I know from my experience that it is dangerous, as I was nearly knocked over on it during the election campaign. Perhaps my opponent was driving the car, but in any case I nearly came off the worst in the encounter. Scargill's junior school is also in my constituency—[Laughter.] I thought that that would go down well. The school has initiated a powerful local campaign to have a pelican crossing built outside it, as there have been a number of near misses.
The problem is that councils lack the resources and have to satisfy many criteria before they can build a crossing. Many councils, not merely Hornchurch and Rainham in my constituency but councils throughout the country, say that there must first be an accident—in some cases, a death—before they can build a crossing. Surely the argument should be that we should have crossings on busy roads before there are accidents and before children are hit by cars and, in my constituency, by lorries. Many heavy goods vehicles go through Rainham in the south of the constituency and many children are exposed to risk going to and from school.
299 I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is to enable councils to reduce the 30-mph speed limit in built-up areas to 20 mph without reference to central Government. That is an important step—or will be when it is introduced. That brings me to my fundamental point, which is that we must aim to make our streets safe again for children—I am sure that that is what the Government would like to aim for—so that they are not in danger from traffic.
The newspapers are full of news about paedophiles being released into the community, which is of understandable concern to many people. Children are at far greater risk of being knocked over by a car or truck than of being attacked by a stranger, yet we do not seem to have as emotional a response when a child is hit by half a tonne of flying metal. I would have said that that was something to get upset about. Clearly, parents who have been through that are emotional about it and think of road safety as an important issue, but people often get involved only when they are directly affected. I want that to change.
Local authorities need more resources for crossings, traffic calming and other measures that would make streets safer, particularly in constituencies such as mine. My local council of Havering can afford only a handful of traffic-calming schemes and crossings a year, and those usually result from deaths or injuries on the road. I also want some other changes, all of which would mean more investment and resources. That is crucial. We will not get change without more investment, and I want central Government to invest directly through local authorities in traffic-calming measures and new crossings.
I also want a return to the "fares fair" policy practised by the old Greater London Council. Perhaps the new Greater London Authority could introduce such a scheme under the new strategic transport authority. Under the "fares fair" policy 12 years ago, in a large part of London between 9 am and 10 am, roads that are now clogged were almost empty of traffic, apart from buses. That was far safer and far more sensible. It also made it far easier for people who did not have much money to get about or go across London, into the west end, central London or wherever.
We have to convince parents that children should walk or cycle to school, and many schemes are now in place. Sustrans—a civil engineering, pro-cycling charity—is involved in schemes with 10 local authorities and their schools to pioneer encouraging children to cycle to school, and I am told that it has made a big impact in a large part of the country, and in York and Leeds in particular.
Traffic control must be made a higher priority for the police. In my area, they have been involved in a number of exercises to crack down on illegal parking outside schools, which is an extremely dangerous practice. We must make traffic control a much higher priority for the police nationally, and provide the manpower on the street to deal with it.
Finally, on an international issue, the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) made an extraordinary speech. Essentially, he gave us a rationale for telling the European Commission to get lost and stick its economic policies, and for our pursuing our own micro-economic policies.
300 After a terrific speech about manufacturing industry, and textiles in particular, he then concluded that the Commission was a wonderful thing and that we should stick by it. If I live to be 150, I will never understand the mentality of the Liberals, who mount such terrific attacks and critiques of the European Union only to end up saying that it is a great and wonderful institution, and that we should stick with it.
A large number of Tory Members went along with the Maastricht treaty—one or two of them even negotiated it. They went along with it, supported it, signed it and voted for it—this incredible, right-wing, Euromonetarist stream of poison that we are having to live with—and now they hold up their hands and say, "It's nothing to do with us. We are all opposed to it." The news of which Conservative Members are perhaps unaware is that the time to oppose a treaty—or tear it up, which I would have done—is before it is signed. It is a little late to start wringing one's hands afterwards and saying, "It's a terrible thing; I am sorry we signed it, but we were duped," which is what former Prime Minister Mrs. Thatcher seemed to say about the Single European Act.
In the early 1970s, we were taken into the European Union by the Conservative Government without any mandate from the people. It took a Labour Government to hold a referendum. Those who campaigned against membership undoubtedly lost that referendum because Harold Wilson, the then Prime Minister, decided at the last minute to support the Common Market, as it was then. According to the Government's publication "Britain's New Deal in Europe", that U-turn was based on a number of promises—principally that there would be no European exchange rate mechanism, so there would be no threat to jobs, and, secondly, that we would have a veto over any policies that we did not like.
Those two elements have both gone out of the window. We have had the ERM disaster and we are heading towards a single currency, and Mrs. Thatcher signed away the veto in the Single European Act, something which I shall never understand in a million years. She now tries to claim that she had nothing to do with that, which is extraordinary.
The EU is an entirely anti-democratic institution, in which there is little or no accountability. Certainly in the European Commission there is no accountability. It has no register of interests. At least the House has a Register of Members' Interests in which Members have to record their relevant interests. Commissioners and their staff can be wined and dined by big business and given all sorts of freebies, but there is no record of that. In the end, that can influence policy. Directives which fly out of Brussels are the product of lobbying by big business. The idea that the EU is based on some sort of democratic ideal of a united Europe is nonsense. It is propaganda from beginning to end.
I am not a little Englander; I am an internationalist. That is why I oppose the single currency and the EU. I am glad that the Government are committed to holding a referendum within the next five years, but I should like to see it held now. If that happened, unlike 20 years ago, the noes would win.
§ Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)
I have four brief points to raise before the House adjourns for the Easter recess. The first concerns solicitors. The House is full of solicitors and I have many friends who are solicitors. We all know that they like self-regulation. But I have been disappointed by the procedures in place to examine complaints against them.
One particular case with which I have been dealing has been going on for more than two years. I reported it to the Solicitors Complaints Bureau, which is now the Office for the Supervision of Solicitors. It has gone from there to the ombudsman on three occasions. The ombudsman has disagreed with what the original body had to say and, at the end of it all, nothing has been achieved. Therefore, I, as a layman, am against self-regulation for solicitors.
My second point concerns the regulations governing the safe carrying of cargo on lorries. I have had many complaints about the sort of goods that are carried on lorries on the A13 and the A127 in my constituency, all of which I have taken seriously. I had not expected to be the victim of a near-fatal accident this week, which would have caused a by-election—about which no doubt some would have been pleased.
I was on my way to visit someone in hospital and I was driving behind a huge lorry carrying a vast amount of timber. With no warning at all, a great wooden support flew off the top, coming towards my windscreen like an arrow. I thought that my time was up and that I was about to meet my maker. The object met the centre of force, which I am big-headed enough to claim might have been me, but instead of going through the windscreen, it bounced on top of the car. I gave chase, but the huge articulated lorry did not stop. I eventually got its number and am dealing with the matter.
Having examined the regulations governing the carrying of loads by lorries, I do not believe that the law is satisfactory. Given what the Labour party has done to the value of the pound, these are tough times and we need more exports, and I have no desire to do lorries out of any work, but as a near victim I think that we must be much more careful in securing loads.
My third point concerns education, particularly with regard to Essex county council and Southend borough council. I listened carefully to what the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) said about the Conservatives who have run Essex county council since 1 April, but he is not giving the House the full picture. I had a meeting with the new administration last night, and the Labour and Liberal parties should be thoroughly ashamed of the way in which they have left the council's finances.
Matters are even worse than that, however. The hon. Gentleman should not hark back only to 1 April and Conservative control. His row must be with his own Government. As a result of what happened on 1 April, the council had a pernicious settlement, and all sorts of cuts have had to be inflicted on the good people, which is certainly not what the Conservatives want.
For example, the Labour Government gave the council extra money for education but cut funding for other matters. It received only a half percentage point increase, much lower than the rate of inflation. The Conservatives are in a difficult situation. I rejoice on behalf of Southend because its primary schools will receive 13.6 per cent. more in cash than last year, as compared with 5.7 per cent. for Essex county council.
302 The School Standards and Framework Bill is causing havoc in my constituency. I am inundated with representations. There are three grammar schools in my constituency of Southend, West and one in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). The regulations for the ballots of local residents, if they go forward, are a disgrace.
For example, Southend would have an electorate of 50,000, whereas other areas, such as Chelmsford and Colchester, would have much smaller electorates of fewer than 10,000. The ramifications are obvious. Grammar schools in Southend offer places to 24 per cent. of local children, constituting a far less selective intake and catering for a far wider socio-economic background than the super-selective schools in Chelmsford and Colchester, although I have nothing against them.
My schools are worried about their settlements. Many are grant-maintained. A wonderful special school, St. Christopher's, has a substantial amount of lottery funding, about which I am pleased. But my grant- maintained schools are worried about how money will be allocated in future.
Moreover, the idea that the abolition of the assisted places scheme will result in the reduction of class sizes in my constituency is nonsense. Since we have had a Labour Government, all classes have grown in size. Westborough school has 800 children in its primary school.
My final point concerns Parliament. I have listened carefully to what has been said about the BBC, but hon. Members should open their eyes to what is happening. The Leader of the House had a brief exchange with me on the matter on Monday, but since 1 May the House of Commons is being destroyed. That is why our proceedings are not being reported. We no longer have a Prime Minister; we have a President. Every Wednesday we have a presidential address lasting half an hour. I have never heard such sycophantic questions in all my life as those put by Labour Members, who say, "The sun is shining, Oh Great One. It is marvellous and it is all thanks to the Labour Government."
What is going on is ridiculous. We have the youngest Prime Minister this century, yet his voting record so far is 5 per cent. That compares with 30 per cent. for my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) and my noble Friend Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. The Leader of the House argued that the Prime Minister has many important duties. His two predecessors were under enormous pressure with equally important matters to attend to, but they thought that this place was important and they came here to vote regularly. What is going on is a disgrace.
In addition, there is the problem of the behaviour of some Ministers. In particular, I mention those from the Department of Health and the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. A number of Ministers—not all—who leap to the Dispatch Box are insulting in what they say. When it comes to correspondence, Ministers are now too grand even to sign their own letters. They "pp" letters all the time and fudge answers to questions. They are very discourteous. We have always used first names in correspondence in the House, but they now use surnames and sign the letter, "Yours sincerely".
Is it any wonder that correspondents feel that our deliberations are no longer worth reporting? We have destroyed the United Kingdom and will end up with an 303 English Parliament. It is all the fault of the Labour party. Since 1 May last year, it has set about destroying this Parliament, which is the centre of the greatest democracy in the world.
The Government report matters outside the House before giving us the courtesy of reporting them here. That was demonstrated by the deliberate leaking and over-egging of the Budget. I hope that we will hear no more nonsense about a lack of reporting. The answer is in the hands of the Labour party, and I hope that it will begin to take the Chamber seriously again.
§ 12.1 pm
§ Mr. Gordon Prentice (Pendle)
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) has left me very little time. I agree with his first point about solicitors. The legal profession is shot through with any number of restrictive practices and it is one of the last great institutions crying out for reform. In the few minutes left to me I want to deal with that matter, specifically the selection of Queen's Counsel and other judicial appointments.
Before the election, the Labour party said that it would take a sledgehammer to the legal profession. In a document published in 1995 entitled "Access to Justice", we said:
An incoming Labour government will formally refer the legal profession to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission … so that existing structure and practices can be tested by reference to their ability to meet consumer needs.We have a packed legislative programme and I do not criticise the Prime Minister or the Lord Chancellor for putting this on the back burner, but at some stage it must be brought forward. We cannot allow the legal profession to regulate itself; it is very much against the public interest.
Tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, 50 or so barristers will be celebrating. It will be jackpot day for them because they will have been appointed QCs. With that appointment, they will enjoy an immediate elevation in status, stratospheric earning powers and a distinction to which many of them may not be entitled. I say that because the manner in which QCs are appointed is obscure; it is not transparent and depends upon informal soundings taken from senior members of the judiciary, senior academics and so on. It is impossible for lay people such as myself or other members of the legal profession to understand fully why some people are preferred and others are not.
The greatest number of applications made in the past 10 years by one individual, who was subsequently successful, was 15. One can only sit one's driving test five times and take one's degree once—perhaps it is twice now. One cannot sit A-levels 15 times. It is astonishing. The highest number of unsuccessful applications is 25, but the Lord Chancellor is not prepared to put a cap on it. He is relying on informal soundings from the judiciary. I would find it more encouraging if, having asked for those informal soundings, he got a 100 per cent. response rate. In fact, 37 per cent. of the senior judges could not be bothered to reply. When I asked the Lord Chancellor about that, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Hoon), who understood my concern, said that there were no plans to urge a higher response rate.
304 When the QCs come to the House of Lords, as they will, to get their letters patent—I believe that that is what they are called—they undergo an investiture ceremony. They are all kitted out in a costume which consists ofbuckled patent leather shoes, silk stockings, breeches, a gown, lace around the wrist, white gloves and a shoulder length bell bottomed wig.As the Lord Chancellor gives the new QC the grand patent of precedence as one of Her Majesty's counsel, he says:To all to whom these presents shall come, Greeting. Know Ye that We of Our especial grace have constituted, ordained and appointed our trusty and well belovedJoe Bloggs, or whoeverone of our Counsel learned in the Law.Once a QC, always a QC. It is an indefensible system.
In yesterday's edition of The Lawyer, which is in the Library, there are four pages criticising the system. Peter Reeves from the Adam Smith Institute published a compelling pamphlet on the system entitled: "Silk cut are Queen's Counsel necessary?"
He is against the continuation of the institution and calls for a free market in the law and a unified legal profession where those who are skilled in advocacy or in a particular area of the law will be recognised as skilled practitioners by the market, which is what happens in every other sphere of life. We do not have Queen's architects, dentists or shoemakers, but we have Queen's counsel. It is a restrictive practice that should be done away with.
§ 12.5 pm
§ Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire)
The hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice) has obviously not heard of the royal warrant.
It is always a pleasure to take part in this debate because it gives hon. Members an opportunity to let the bees out of their bonnets. This morning we have had 17 speeches covering a wide variety of topics. I am delighted that most of those who contributed to the debate have heeded the remarks by the Modernisation Committee and are present in the Chamber for the reply. It is not inappropriate, in view of the presence of the President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons to say that I was particularly glad that the last report of that Committee stressed the importance of hon. Members being in the Chamber if they have contributed to a debate. I hope that those who are not here—unless they have a good reason—will make every effort to be here in future to hear the reply to the debate.
We have covered a range of topics. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) began by talking about the scourge of chlamydia and the need for the Government to take action. Everything she said was entirely reasonable and right. I am sure that she will agree with me, as I am agreeing with her, that one would hope that young people in this country would begin to exercise a little more restraint in sexual practices, because the one sure way of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases is not to engage in promiscuous conduct.
We had two speeches on rate capping in Derbyshire; one in the inimitable style of the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and one from my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin). They had slightly differing views on the issue, but they were united in believing that it was regrettable that the 305 Government took the action that they did. The hon. Member for Bolsover believes that it is still in the balance, and I trust that he is right. He agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for West Derbyshire that it would be a waste of money to re-bill the electors of Derbyshire at a cost of, as I understand it, £500,000.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) spoke with force and fervour about the anti-dumping levy on unbleached cotton, not a subject on which I was previously well rehearsed. He made a good case. However, there was a certain ambivalence in his conclusion when this champion of the European Commission, having castigated its action, said what a wonderful group it was.
The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) spoke about school transport in Essex; my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) later gave a slightly corrective interpretation of that account. I cannot pretend to be an expert in Essex politics, but I agree that it is important that those who live in rural areas, especially children who go to denominational schools, should not be placed at a disadvantage.
My right hon. Friend the Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) made an almost musical plea for the Bournemouth symphony orchestra. As one who has heard that orchestra and knows of its professional excellence and something of its wonderful work, I totally endorse his plea.
I also endorse the plea by my hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers), who spoke about the need for the Ministry of Defence to offer redundant equipment to museums before consigning it to scrap. He made an extremely powerful case for the museum at Priddy's Hard—I hope that Ministers will heed that, and that the right hon. Lady will be able to refer to it when she winds up.
The hon. Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) made a plea for a bypass for Ashby. All those who know that historic town will realise that a bypass could bring great benefits and relief, as has happened in other cases. I hope that the Government will listen to what he said.
I also hope that they will listen to the consistently powerful plea by the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) for industrial workers, particularly quarrymen, who have emphysema. He has a worthy track record in the House, and I was extremely sad to hear him suggest that this might be his last Parliament. Perhaps he aspires to be the Prime Minister of Wales, or whatever that creature will be called in the assembly. I cannot wish him luck, but I can say that I have enjoyed his company and that I shall personally be delighted if he stays here for many more years. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Blizzard) made a local plea, but, as he is no longer here, I shall not refer to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) made an extremely important point about the failure of the Foreign Secretary to make a statement following his recent very important tour of the middle east. Yesterday, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg) made a most interesting point of order on this matter. In her response, Madam Speaker made it plain that a change of policy was not necessary for a proper report to be made on a foreign tour of great importance. I hope that that will 306 be the last time that our Foreign Secretary, who represents us all, will return from a foreign tour without addressing Parliament.
I should add at this point that I was very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West referred to the disturbing tendency of Ministers to seem to neglect the House. Nobody can criticise the Prime Minister for not being here today, and I am sure that I speak for all hon. Members in wishing him well in his important work in Northern Ireland—we are all most anxious to see a just settlement there. I am disappointed, however, that he spends far less time listening to speeches in the Chamber and voting than any of his predecessors not only in my 28 years as a Member of Parliament, but, I believe, in this century. All parliamentarians—the hon. Member for Bolsover is one par excellence—must share that view.
The hon. Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) made an interesting speech about the broadcasting of sporting events. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) seemed to want the channel tunnel to be filled in, but, accepting that that was not likely to happen, he made a powerful and cogent plea that the link be built properly and immediately. He talked about fruit and hospitals—perhaps there is a connection.
The hon. Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) spoke interestingly about road safety. I should say how good it is to see his mother, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), next to him on the Bench. It is almost four years since Bob Cryer died so tragically, and we all still very much miss him—it is good to have two members of the family here today. In the hon. Gentleman's remarks on Europe, he showed that he was a chip off the old block, as I have said before.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West then gave a robust omnibus speech, such as he typically makes in these debates.
Five hon. Members, I think, talked about the BBC. I was delighted that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody), who is a considerable parliamentarian, made the BBC the sole subject of her most powerful speech. I know that there is concern throughout the House about the cavalier attitude of the chairman and governors of the BBC. Many of us believe that the BBC is violating the spirit of its charter in deliberately reducing its audience for a public sector aspect of its work that is specifically mentioned in that charter—broadcasting the proceedings of Parliament.
The way in which the BBC treated Madam Speaker's letter to the chairman was particularly discourteous. The letter, which she sent on Monday, is in the Library for all hon. Members to see. She wrote:on your own admission, the transfer of Yesterday in Parliament to Long Wave only is likely to halve its audience and the move of The Week in Westminster from Saturday morning to Thursday evening will cut its audience from 700,000 to 300,000. It is difficult to reconcile this reality with the rhetoric of your commitment.As I said to you on 17 March, my concern is that the BBC is overlooking its duty as a public service broadcaster to educate as well as to entertain, is marginalising parliamentary broadcasting and is in effect seeking to withdraw from its commitment to the democratic process.Those are powerful words, and I think that Madam Speaker fulfilled her historic role in so speaking for the House. I hope that, even at this late stage, the chairman—with whom I shall be having lunch in about half an hour—will listen to what she said, as what the BBC is doing is not good enough. 307 As the hon. Member for Bolsover said, many hon. Members—including him and me—have supported the BBC through thick and thin and have taken pride in it. I agree that the BBC now seems to pander to the lowest common denominator. As he said, it cannot take its support in Parliament for granted. The BBC would be ill advised to assume that, when licences are discussed and charters come up for renewal, the House will feel that it can support it in the future as it has in the past. I believe that, in saying that the BBC is in grave dereliction of its duty, I not only echo the words of Madam Speaker, but speak for all hon. Members.
We have had an interesting debate, as we always do on these occasions. It is always difficult to respond to so many speeches on so many diverse topics, and I apologise to those hon. Members whose contributions I have not adequately acknowledged, but it is important that the Leader of the House has her chance to respond—I am trying to stick to my promise on timing. I conclude, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by wishing you and the whole House a very happy Easter.
§ The President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mrs. Ann Taylor)
As the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said, it is difficult to reply to all the diverse points that have been raised in the debate. As he said, 17 Adjournment debates have been rolled into one. If I do not cover all the points, I shall, of course, write to hon. Members. I do not mean that as a discourtesy, nor do I complain about the number of matters that were raised, as I believe that the past two and three-quarter hours have been a very good use of parliamentary time—many individual hon. Members have been able to speak about issues either of direct concern to their constituents or of wider concern.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), who opened the debate, talked about the impact that chlamydia can have on the lives of many women. She rightly said that there was a great deal of ignorance about the problem and that more could be done. She will know that the Department of Health has set up an expert advisory group on the matter, which will report in the near future. Ministers will consider whether to establish pilot studies, which she mentioned, and whether more work should be done on education programmes. My hon. Friend mentioned an article in a women's magazine that highlighted the problem. Such articles can serve a useful purpose in educating people about health dangers. More could be done along those lines.
The hon. Member for West Derbyshire (Mr. McLoughlin) referred to the BBC and raised an issue to which I shall return. He talked also about the situation in Derbyshire. I think that he was absent from the Chamber when my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) talked about Derbyshire. It might have been beneficial to the hon. Gentleman that he was absent during my hon. Friend's speech. My hon. Friend gave a vivid account of an Adjournment debate on Derbyshire that took place some years ago. That debate was interrupted, shall we say, to put it politely. Perhaps "wrecked" would be a more accurate description. During that Adjournment debate my hon. Friend was raising the issues to which the hon. Gentleman referred today.
308 Both my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman mentioned that Derbyshire county council has 28 days in which to make representations. I am sure there will be strong voices from both sides of the House on this matter. I am absolutely sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions will consider the issue extremely fairly.
The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) raised the anti-dumping levy, an issue that he has brought to the attention of the House at business questions. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government believe that in this instance the Commission has taken an unfortunate decision. We believe that there is some evidence with regard to justification for imposing the measure but we think that insufficient account has been taken of the views of member states about the direct impact on local companies.
The United Kingdom will be doing all that it can to maintain the majority against the levy, to which the hon. Gentleman drew attention. There is still some way to go. I can understand why the hon. Gentleman feels that the levy is damaging a firm in his constituency. I can give him the assurance that Ministers are well aware of the problems and are trying to raise them with the Commission as well as trying to minimise the impact that the levy will have.
My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (Mr. Hurst) talked about home-school transport in Essex, in a succinct and telling way. He described clearly the pressures that there will be on some families in his constituency. My hon. Friend also explained the change of boundaries, which is probably important for people in the area to understand. When there are changes of boundary, it sometimes takes time for people to understand the changes in control. I hope that Essex county council will listen to what my hon. Friend has to say. It is clear that some of the specific problems in some villages or with denominational schools are pertinent to his constituents. I am sure that they will be pleased that he has spoken up on their behalf.
The right hon. Member for East Devon (Sir P. Emery) referred to the Bournemouth symphony orchestra. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) said that he had had the privilege of hearing it. I cannot make that claim, but the Government are concerned to hear that Devon county council has indicated at such short notice that it intends to withdraw its funding of £100,000. The timing of this is probably an extra problem that the orchestra has to face. I am sure that Devon county council will listen to what the right hon. Gentleman has to say. He did, of course, get the opportunity to advertise for funds. He did not quite give the phone number and address to which funds should be sent, but he certainly made the plea carefully.
The hon. Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the millennium Portsmouth harbour project. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Ministry of Defence believes that museums such as those that he mentioned have an important role to play. I know that the hon. Gentleman has written to a Minister at the MOD. I think that he can expect a reply soon. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that every request will be considered sympathetically. If the Ministry can help, I am sure that that help will be forthcoming.
309 My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Leicestershire (Mr. Taylor) drew attention to the bypass on the A511 that he wants. I think that the A15 and the A511 come together in his constituency. My hon. Friend will know that this is a scheme for which Leicestershire county council is the highway authority. The council has indicated an intention to start works in 1999. Any bid for Government support for the scheme will be considered following the submission, which will not be until July. I cannot comment in more specific detail on the application for the bypass.
My hon. Friend's points about the impact on local people were well made. It is a fact that road problems can have an effect on children going to school, on local employment and on issues such as tourism and buildings in Ashby. My hon. Friend raised some important points.
The right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) raised the important issue of compensation for quarrymen and gave a graphic description of the problems that have arisen. The right hon. Gentleman's real concern was evident in what he said. I know that Ministers are aware of the problems, and I will ensure that they know that the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the matter today.
The hon. Member for Chipping Barnet (Sir S. Chapman) raised the issues that I think he hoped to raise at Question Time yesterday. He found that he could wind them into this debate. I make no complaint about that. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary answered the question—I thought reasonably—why there was no statement after the middle east visit. The hon. Member for South Staffordshire echoed the hon. Gentleman's comments. It is not possible to make a statement on every occasion. I think that we must rely on the judgment of Ministers, if there has not been a change of policy, when it is wise to make a statement and when it is not.
I think that the hon. Member for Chipping Barnet wanted to raise the question of Cyprus yesterday. We welcome the opening of the Cyprus-European Union accession negotiations. We are hoping that rapid progress can be made, but that is obviously dependent on certain conditions. The hon. Gentleman referred also to Syria. I shall pass his "supplementary" on to my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary so that he gets the extra information that he wants.
Speaking on behalf of the Select Committee on Accommodation and Works, the hon. Gentleman talked about recesses. I shall be as forthcoming as I can about recess dates. However, he will understand that this is a very busy Session. I shall bear in mind his point about the Committee.
My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan) talked about listed sporting events. He will know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport is involved in widespread consultations and has met Ministers. I am sure that many have been lobbied on sports such as cricket being included in the list. My hon. Friend's point has been well made.
The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe) spoke about the channel tunnel rail link. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that my right 310 hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister has kept the House well informed of what has been happening. The link is important and work is going ahead as a matter of urgency to try to resolve the situation, which clearly affects the hon. Gentleman's constituents and many others. My right hon. Friend made a statement as soon as the crisis arose, and I think that he should be commended for that. He is clearly working extremely hard to get answers.
As for beer-running and Customs and Excise, the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent will know that we reversed some of the cuts in Customs and Excise officer numbers. Putting that to one side, we want to crack down on alcohol and tobacco fraud and smuggling. There will be some announcements later in the year on other things that could happen.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer) referred to road safety. I think that we all realise that a vicious circle often arises when parents are too frightened to send their children to school on their own—that is walking to school—and therefore use their cars to take them, which puts more cars on the road. My hon. Friend raised a serious issue that concerns many people.
The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) raised a series of issues, some of which affect his constituents; others were of a wider nature. I refute what he said about attitudes to Parliament. I was pleased that the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman said that it was right that the Prime Minister should be in Ireland today. I hope that that is something on which we can all agree.
On the BBC, my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) spoke about the letter that the Speaker had written, and, indeed, the attitude of the whole House on this issue. My hon. Friend's speech probably united everybody in the Chamber. It was forceful, which is what I would expect from her. I am sure that all of us would want to review the arrangements and monitor them ourselves. The BBC has said that it will review the matter in 12 months, but for many hon. Members, that might be too long to wait. The House will ask questions of the BBC about how many people listen to these programmes. I personally—
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The subject of the next debate is of particular importance to hon. Members from constituencies throughout the United Kingdom, but particularly from Wales. Two or three infantry divisions are under threat. We should have more time in which to debate that issue. Many hon. Members from throughout—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. That is not a matter for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman must know that. He is in fact taking time out of the limited amount that is available. It is the hon. Gentleman who secured the Adjournment debate who has the privilege of leading it.