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Commons Chamber

Volume 167: debated on Monday 12 February 1990

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House Of Commons

Monday 12 February 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Death Of A Member

I regret to have to inform the House of the death of James Harold McCusker Esq, the hon. Member for Upper Bann. I desire on behalf of the House to express our sense of the loss that we have sustained and our sympathy with the relatives of the hon. Member.

Oral Answers To Questions


Channel Tunnel


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a further statement on the progress of the Channel tunnel rail link.

British Rail and its private sector partner, Eurorail, are working to specify a route for the Channel tunnel rail link from Swanley in Kent to King's Cross. The aim is to introduce a parliamentary Bill for the project in November.

Is it the Government's view that the rail link represents a major national project that will benefit all regions of this country, encourage the use of the railways and protect the environment? If so, should not it be controlled and financed by a partnership of the Government, British Rail and the private sector?

It is clear that Channel tunnel rail services represent such a partnership, because £1 billion of British Rail money is being spent on the first phase of improving rail links, even before the matter of a new line arises. It is right that the new line should be a commercial proposition, because it will be in competition with the airlines., ferries and other private modes of transport. I do not foresee any need for a public sector subsidy, but it is an appropriate project for British Rail and the private sector to operate as a joint venture.

Does not the Minister agree that it would be sensible for British Rail to use the year that it now has to rethink its policy and use other methods, under which it could consider the comprehensive services that it offers? Does he agree that services to the north are not comprehensive and need further consideration?

British Rail and its partner are using the year to consider some of the measures that the hon. Gentleman suggested, including the route from Swanley to King's Cross. British Rail brought forward a comprehensive plan on links to the other regions. It offers about 3 million seats from the regions to Paris and Brussels and a comprehensive series of freight services from every part of the country. That is a good plan, but if the hon. Gentleman has proposals on how it should be modified, I am sure that the last full stop has not been put to it.

Is my hon. Friend aware that the prospect of Channel tunnel traffic hurtling along existing British Rail track in Bromley and elsewhere is horrific and totally unacceptable? Will he therefore look more closely and sympathetically than he has hitherto at the alternative proposals presented by Ove Arup and Partners, which provides for a national rail infrastructure with reduced environmental damage and disturbance?

British Rail believes that until the turn of the century the new Channel tunnel services will be accommodated on the existing system without disrupting commuter services, and it is important that they should be preserved. Together with its private sector partner, British Rail is considering whether extra capacity will be needed at about the turn of the century. Its private sector partner was chosen after competition, which included firms such as Ove Arup. Ove Arup's proposal includes making four tracks through much of Kent, which might be more environmentally damaging than the two tracks proposed by British Rail and its private sector partner.

Do the Minister and the Secretary of State accept that if we are to get the best economic advantage for Britain and the north, with the least environmental damage to London and the south, we should repeal section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987? That would allow him and the Secretary of State to reassess the alternatives, so that Britain's national interests are catered for rather than the private interests of the City.

That is a controversial proposal. Section 42 was approved by Parliament and enjoyed all-party support. That section stated that there should not be any subsidy to the Channel tunnel. The reason why that section was introduced and approved by Parliament was sound. Parliament did not want the Channel tunnel to undermine other forms of transport that had to get by without subsidy. What stands in our way is not just section 42 but its underlying principle, which commended itself to Parliament at the time.

I remind my hon. Friend that the fears for the Kent environment are very much alive. Will he, in his discussions with British Rail, ensure that British Rail does not backslide on the considerable measures that it has taken to protect the environment and which were built into its previously announced plans?

British Rail and its private sector partner are well aware of the immense importance that the Government attach to environmental protection. The requirement that an environmental impact study should be published at the time will be part of the process of introducing a Bill on this subject. I hope that that is of some consolation to my hon. Friend, who has been a champion for his constituents in this matter.

Greater Manchester


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the level of funding for Greater Manchester passenger transport authority for 1990–91.

The Government are making available to the Greater Manchester passenger transport authority £58 million in grant and credit approvals. We have given the go-ahead to the Manchester airport terminal 2, to the rail link to the airport and to the Manchester Metrolink light rail project.

I thank the Minister for that information. Will he consider the possibility of increasing that funding, by instructing British Rail to make a refund to Greater Manchester passenger transport authority, because of British Rail's failure to provide the service that it was contracted to provide during the past 12 months? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that during that period—the Secretary of State has made this point—trains have been late or cancelled and service in the Greater Manchester area has been totally inefficient? Does the hon. Gentleman further agree that a refund should be made to the authority and fares cut, not increased? British Rail should come up with the goods for paying passengers in Greater Manchester, instead of providing a poor-quality service.

I have to be rather careful on this subject. As the hon. Gentleman may know, if the PTA decides to pursue a case against British Rail for non-performance because it feels that BR has let the passengers down, that case will ultimately go to Ministers who might have to arbitrate. I think, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will understand if I cannot comment much on this point. Fares are a matter for the PTA. The £58 million in grant and credit approvals that has been made available to Greater Manchester PTA is a substantial amount, which will enable a significant range of passenger projects to go ahead.

Of course, there is lots of jam tomorrow for the British Rail passenger in Greater Manchester, but what about now? As the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, many trains have been late or cancelled and there is sheer, unadulterated misery for many commuters from Stockport and elsewhere in Greater Manchester. Has that arisen, as suggested in the press, because of the late delivery of Sprinter trains? If so, who is to blame? How did that happen? What is to be done about it? When can something be done?

My hon. Friend has done his constituents a great service in bringing their difficulties to my attention. I have great sympathy with those people in making difficult journeys. My hon. Friend identified one reason—late delivery of trains—but there have been unconnected reasons as well, such as delays in the work at Piccadilly station. It is not for me to attribute blame between the parties, but I am pleased to say that I understand that the class 158 Sprinters should be delivered in the spring and early summer, which should benefit my hon. Friend's constituents.

Electrification (Birmingham)


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects to announce his decision on the electrification of the Birmingham cross-city railway line.

I announced last week the Government's approval to the electrification and re-equipment of the Birmingham cross-city rail line.

Opposition Members are grateful to the Secretary of State for that announcement, hurried though it appeared to be. We accept, of course, that there is no connection between his decision and the Mid-Staffordshire by-election that is to be held shortly. Will the Secretary of State now consider the extension of the Walsall-Hendnesford railway line to Rugeley, preferably on or before 15 March?

I believe that the county council is strongly opposed to the proposal, and I understand that the hon. Gentleman's party is in charge of that council. I am sure that when he tabled his question two weeks ago he did not have the by-election in mind; nor, I think, did he have it mind to help the Conservative candidate and neither did I.

Did my right hon. Friend chance to see the evening paper last week? Blazoned across the front page was the headline, "Cross City Rail Joy". That, of course, was the result of the extensive £37 million modernisation programme announced by my right hon. Friend. Is not this a reflection of the hard work done by many Members of Parliament in Birmingham and the areas surrounding it—particularly that of our late colleague John Heddle, who was in the vanguard of the campaign to bring a modernised rail service to his constituents?

Birmingham Members, especially Conservatives, have certainly been very assiduous in pressing the case for inner-city improvement in Birmingham, and the rail link—along with the heartlands spine road—is evidence of the Government's commitment to inner-city regeneration.

Is the Secretary of State aware that the rail link from Nottingham to London would cost——

Yes. Is the Secretary of State aware that the link would cost a mere £95 million?

The link referred to in the question is, of course, entirely unrelated to the by-election. Will the right hon. Gentleman call on some of his colleagues in Nottinghamshire to resign their seat so that we, too, can benefit from an electrification similar to that which is now benefiting the people of Lichfield?

I thought that the question was a pretty feeble joke when the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) put it on the Order Paper. Conservative Members do not regard the Humber bridge as a desirable precedent, and therefore do not intend to follow it.

Civil Aviation


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement on the Government's competition policy with regard to civil aviation.

Our policy is to promote competition throughout civil aviation, with, of course, proper safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour. We have played a leading role in the European Community's progress towards a freer market in aviation.

I thank the Minister for the robust way in which he personally is pursuing the Government's important competition policy. Is he aware, however, that unfortunately Italy, Spain and Germany are not prepared to recognise the EC directive on competition? As a result British Airways, with its block, and Air France, with its anti-competitive arrangements with Lufthansa, are freezing out the smaller, independent airlines and preventing them from competing with the big boys. If we are not to see a repeat of the Laker episode—and we have already seen signs at Gatwick that that may be happening—what policy have the Government to help the smaller airlines to compete in Europe, especially with countries that will not support the EC directive?

Many of the points that my hon. Friend has brought up are very important; his remarks about competition policy must be addressed by the European Commissioner who has responsibility for competition. It is important that we put the user first. We must allow competition so that the passenger obtains the full benefit of what we hope will be a freer aviation market, which we hope will lead to cheaper fares in the long term.

I welcome the package of liberalisation measures agreed in Brussels on 1 December, but what arrangements are being made for the introduction of transitional arrangements between now and 1993—arrangements on which much of the growth in competition will depend?

My hon. Friend has raised an important point, relating to the whole question of progress towards a freer aviation market. As I said, such matters as takeovers and mergers must be dealt with by competition policy, and primarily involve my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. A number of cases are under consideration at present. However, there is nothing to stop the industry preparing for 1992 and its consequences.

Will the Minister give us an update about what he is doing to improve air transport from Greater Manchester, particularly from Manchester international airport, and tell us how the negotiations on getting routes across the north Atlantic are progressing?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State recently met the Secretary of Transportation in the United States and another meeting is planned in the near future. We are very hopeful and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we are exceptionally keen to see links from Manchester to the United States. We have done a lot of work to that end and we shall continue to work vigorously on that policy. I hope that we shall see a successful conclusion, as the hon. Gentleman was right to say that this has been continuing for some time.

Humber Bridge


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what is the current estimated deficit being carried by the Humber bridge board; and what plans he has to review the situation of the board.

The debt on the Humber bridge is about £342 million. We are working with the bridge board on financial projections that it will use to support its detailed case for Government assistance.

Does not my hon. Friend agree that the saga of the Humber bridge debt has gone on far too long and that that is illustrated by the fact that a debt next year of about £400 million is projected, with interest charges being clocked up to the tune of £1 a second? Everyone believes that the matter should be resolved, including the Government. Will my hon. Friend tell us what impediments there are to an agreement?

We are waiting for several things, and we hope to be able to make a decision in the not-too-distant future. However, my hon. Friend has been a champion of the need to resolve concern about the bridge, and he will be aware that we shall do what we can as quickly as we can, but he will have to wait a little longer yet.

Is not that an admission that tolls are not a success and that where they pay their way they cause great congestion, for example in Dartford, and where they do not pay their way, they force operators to raise tolls to such a level that they are a grave disincentive to local business, for example on Humberside and Merseyside? Is the Minister aware that the only alternative to raising tolls to such a level in Merseyside is an extra £10 per person on the poll tax? Surely it is time that the Government reviewed their policy on tolls and provided help for Humberside and Merseyside.

As I think everyone is aware, the Humber bridge was build by Barbara Castle to ensure a by-election victory for a Labour candidate in Hull. Typically, therefore, it was not costed properly and it will never make money. Therefore, the taxpayer may have to foot some of the Bill. That is not the sort of argument to which I am prepared to be party.

My hon. Friend the Minister must bear the £342 million in mind, but I hope that he will not allow that to become an overriding factor when considering the link road between the south and north of England——

Yes, via the Humber bridge. The last thing that we want is to subsidise the Humber bridge loss by having the link road run up the east coast of England when it should run parallel to the A1. I understand from the Secretary of State that it will take 14 years for the road to be opened after it has been agreed. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will not allow the waste of money with regard to the Humber bridge to stop us in the north-east of England from having our proper motorway.

My hon. Friend, as always, champions the cause of greater and better infrastructure for his constituency and for his constituents, in a manner to which we have become accustomed. He will know that the east coast motorway is being considered by a private consortium at the moment and we shall be interested to learn the results of that investigation. My hon. Friend would do well to press his case, as he normally does, and we shall do what we can to meet his concern.

Traffic Area Office, Cardiff


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport whether he will make it his policy to retain his Department's present traffic area office in Cardiff to ensure that matters involving Wales are dealt with in the Principality.

The importance of the Principality is such that I can confirm that I am retaining the traffic area office in Cardiff.

I welcome that lifting of the threat to the Cardiff office. It is obviously good news to us in south Wales, where the threat of closure was causing considerable worry. Does the Minister agree that traffic examiners form an important part of the service, and complement the work of the transport office in Cardiff? In view of the use that is made of them, will the Minister assure the House that traffic examiners' work will be continued and that it will stay under the direction of the office in Cardiff?

I am delighted that my decision has pleased the hon. Gentleman and all Welshmen. I cannot confirm all the details that he would wish, because we are still looking at the matter. We value the importance of the Cardiff office. When we finalise the plans for the whole Principality, I shall be in a better position to give him more details.

British Rail


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he next expects to meet the chairman of British Rail; and what subjects he expects to discuss with him.

I regularly meet the chairman of British Rail to discuss a variety of railway issues. The last meeting took place on 17 January, and I next plan to meet the chairman tomorrow.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State meets the chairman tomorrow, will he draw his attention to the inconvenience that is caused to the rail-travelling public by the often marginal twice-yearly changes in InterCity train services? Will he draw his attention to the fact that printed information about alterations to the timetable is often not available beforehand?

I shall draw those points to the attention of the chairman of British Rail.

Will the Secretary of State congratulate the chairman on the excellent advertisement about InterCity trains? However, when I travelled from Leeds yesterday on Intercity trains, the advertisement bore no relationship to reality. It would be helpful if we knew that trains are not going to run on time, that we must change at Doncaster and that we shall arrive in London an hour and a half late. The same thing happens going the other way. It would be a good idea if somebody told us that we shall be late for appointments.

I shall draw those points to the attention of the chairman. Included in the objectives that we have set for the next three years are not only financial but performance objectives, including punctuality and cleanliness. The results will be announced at regular intervals. The right hon. Gentleman will be able to see the improvements for himself.

When my right hon. Friend sees the chairman tomorrow, will he explain that, since 1980, the public service obligation grant that the Government make available to British Rail has never reached £1 billion? Every year since 1980, the West German federal railways public service obligation grant has exceeded £3 billion. Will my right hon. Friend explain to the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) that one reason why trains are constantly late is insufficient money for staff and for on-going improvements, to keep the service up to scratch?

My hon. Friend knows that I totally disagree with his diagnosis. I have not met any German transport Minister who is proud of the subsidy. They think that it is an outrage that the German taxpayer is forking out £3 billion a year to subsidise the railways.

Will the Secretary of State discuss with the chairman of British Rail his recent disgraceful comments on a radio programme two weeks ago, to the effect that long-distance commuters must pay an extra 40 per cent. on what are already among the highest railway fares in Europe? Does the Secretary of State think that such stupid and ill-informed comments will endear the Conservative party to commuters in the south of England who, for years, have made the silly mistake of voting Conservative?

The stupid and ill-informed comments have just come from the hon. Gentleman. As the hon. Gentleman knows, when my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) had my job a year ago, he announced that long-distance commuters, who represent 18,000 of British Rail's customers—less than one half of 1 per cent.—were receiving a discount of over 60 per cent. on their season tickets. They were paying less per journey than the cheapest discounted off-peak ticket. He felt that that gap should be closed, but he never said that they should pay 100 per cent. This year, on an annual basis, the cost of season tickets has been increased by 13·5 per cent. The hon. Gentleman should get a grip of the facts, stop relying on his prejudices and start talking sense.

When my right hon. Friend meets the chairman of British Rail, will he raise with him on behalf of my 12,000 commuting constituents the cleanliness of trains and their timekeeping? What will be the benefits to the Chelmsford to Liverpool street line as a result of the record investment that was announced by his Department into services on Network SouthEast?

I welcome the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), who shouted, "See you on Wednesday", to his first televised Question Time—the rest of us have been here three times.

I have good news for my hon. Friend: the whole of the Liverpool street signalling system is being modernised and work on his line, costing £19 million, is due to begin in the early part of 1991.

Transport 2000


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met representatives from the group Transport 2000; and what was discussed.

I had an informal and broad-ranging meeting with the chairman of Transport 2000 on 24 January, and I shall be meeting shortly representatives of a number of transport and environmental groups, including Transport 2000.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that reply and for his willingness to meet the group. At the meeting will he pay particular attention to the correspondence between the Minister for Roads and Traffic and Transport 2000 because the Minister has clearly not stated the real status and objectives of the road-building traffic forecasts? What does the Secretary of State regard as the objectives of traffic forecasting in relation to new road-building schemes?

It has never been the Government's policy that all traffic forecast demands must be met. In the White Paper "Roads for Prosperity", we spelt out clearly that it would be neither sensible nor economic to remove all congestion. Like all other programmes, the roads programme is governed by what the country can afford. That has always been the case and represents no change of policy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that many transport organisations, including Transport 2000, are increasingly concerned about the effect of road-building programmes on the environment and about the need for a better system of compensation for those affected? Following his most forthcoming answer last time he was top for questions and the answer from the Prime Minister the following day, which was surprising in some respects, will he consider publishing a Green Paper on compensation for those affected by road-building programmes?

I am sure that my right hon. Friend did not mean to imply that it was unusual for two Ministers in the same Government to say similar things on consecutive days. I should have thought that that was absolutely normal. We are aware of the problems caused by blight and compensation. I am in touch with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and I hope to have some news for my right hon. Friend in the not-too-distant future.

Now that the Secretary of State accepts that it is impossible to have a road-building programme to meet his Department's estimate of the projected demand for the use of private vehicles, does that mean that he accepts that we shall have to restrict use of the private car, especially in our cities? Does he still believe that that is an eastern European solution, or has he now had his talk with the Secretary of State for the Environment?

The hon. Gentleman is as opaque about his transport policy as the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) was about his rates policy at the weekend. The hon. Gentleman is a great one for exploiting disasters. He is never happier than when he is miserable and trying to make the rest of us miserable as well. In the next three years, we have programmes for roads amounting to £5·7 billion and programmes for rail, underground and public transport amounting to £6 billion.

Disabled People


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what measures he is taking to improve mobility of the disabled.

We want all concerned to recognise and cater for the needs of this important sector of the community. Our plans are set out comprehensively in the document "Transport and Disability: A Statement of Aims and Priorities".

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. He will be aware that access for disabled people to London's buses and the Underground leaves a great deal to be desired. What has been the response to his Department's initiatives on the design of buses to enable access for the disabled? Will he undertake to ensure that in the massive rebuilding and refurbishment that is under way on London Underground, access for the disabled is kept as a top priority?

As ever, I have worked closely with the disabled persons transport advisory committee which was set up by my Department in 1985 to advise us on such matters. It has produced guidance for the elderly and disabled on the use of buses in particular. My hon. Friend will be grateful for the knowledge that I am about to impart to him: most of the advice that has been received is about simple, cheap and effective ways to help people, and they are being widely adopted. His point about London Underground is well understood. My hon. Friend the Minister of State is working hard on the matter and we shall do what we can to meet my hon. Friend's point.

Will the Minister consider the wretched state of Stratford station in east London? Is he aware that it is a busy junction of British Rail, Central and Docklands light railway lines? The tripod barrier makes it almost impossible for anyone to pass through, whether disabled or not. Then there is almost a half-mile walk to the platform. The waiting-rooms have not been decorated since the second world war and the lavatories do not work. Such conditions would not be tolerated in a station in the west end of London, so why should the people of east London tolerate them?

Clearly, the hon. Gentleman knows the stations in his constituency better than I do. I understand that Stratford is due for redevelopment shortly.

I am sorry, but the hon. Gentleman is wrong. Stratford station is due for redevelopment and access for the disabled will be taken into account when that redevelopment takes place.

Is my hon. Friend aware that most buses and minibuses are still largely inaccessible to severely disabled people? Can he give the House an idea of the progress being made in bringing new designs into use?

My hon. Friend speaks with considerable authority on matters relating to the disabled. He is a member of my advisory committee, and who better. I confirm that I am working extremely hard, with all the Ministers in my Department, to ensure that access for the disabled is a high priority.

Integrated Transport Policy


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans his Department has to present an integrated transport policy to Parliament before 1992.

We are pursuing a balanced policy, with record levels of investment over the next three years, to improve all aspects of the transport system.

That sounds absolutely marvellous. Is not the difficulty that the outgoing chairman of British Rail has given a clear warning to the Government about the levels of investment in both line and rolling stock required for 1992? Is he aware that road users want more traffic taken off the roads and put on the railways and that airport congestion could be eased if there were an improved railway system and fewer short-haul flights? That is why an integrated transport system is needed.

The only countries in Europe with a fully integrated transport system that we have located are East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia and Russia. Their electors do not seem terribly impressed with their integrated transport systems or with the people who tried to develop them.

M1, West Yorkshire


To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects the M1-M62 link road in west Yorkshire to be started; what it is projected to cost; and if he will make a statement.

Civil engineering consultants have recently been appointed to investigate possible route alignments for this new link road. Subject to the completion of statutory procedures, construction work could start in the late 1990s.

The initial estimated cost is £54 million.

My hon. Friend's statement will be widely welcomed by local Members of Parliament and councillors of all political parties who lobbied his predecessor in favour of the scheme last year. Instead of building a dual carriageway to alleviate traffic congestion in west Yorkshire, may I suggest a motorway? May we have an assurance that environmental considerations will be taken fully into account when planning the scheme and that every opportunity will be provided for local residents who will be affected to have their say?

My hon. Friend has pressed his case strongly with my predecessor and since. I am grateful, as I am sure his constituents are, for his skill in doing so. He will know, as everyone on this side of the House does, that we are highly committed to environment matters in relation to building new roads. For example, we plant more trees than any other organisation except the Forestry Commission.



To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will make a statement about future improvements to the M25.

We propose to widen the M25 to dual four lanes. We shall also issue soon an action plan for the motorway following up the recent consultants' review which will propose a range of further improvements.

Although I congratulate my hon. Friend on his proposals to improve the M25, which is Britain's longest traffic jam, may I suggest that by the 21st century they will be inadequate? Will he consider building a son of the M25, an outer M25, to relieve the congestion on that motorway?

I am sure that my hon. Friend did not mean to suggest that somehow the M25 was bad news. It is extremely good news. It is, by definition, a victim of its own success. Many people in villages on either side of it who suffered from congestion and environmental disadvantage before it was constructed are considerably better off. My hon. Friend's points about the improvement of the M25 are well taken, but he will understand that if it passed through his constituency, he might take a different view.

The Arts

Arts Funding (West Midlands)


To ask the Minister for the Arts when he intends to meet the director of West Midlands Arts to discuss what effect the uniform business rate may have on arts funding in the west midlands.

I have no plans to do so. The Arts Council is looking into the effects of the change on a sample of its clients among arts bodies nationwide and I am asking it to keep me informed.

Is the Minister aware that many people are worried about the impact of the poll tax on the many arts buildings that do not have charitable status? Is he further aware that the main public library in my constituency faces a rate increase of 24 per cent. and that the main headquarters library in Stafford faces an increase of 55 per cent? Does he see that as a poll tax on reading?

The question is about the uniform business rate. The hon. Lady will realise that under the new law and rules an arts organisation that is a charitable body will receive up to 80 per cent. mandatory relief and that it is within the discretion of the local authority to give relief on the remaining 20 per cent. If an arts organisation is not a charitable body, it is subject to the normal law, as are all other businesses in the area. Obviously, it is impossible to have a clear picture of how the rate will affect different arts organisations in the area.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the uniform business rate will have a bad effect on many craftsmen in the west midlands and elsewhere, and that many craftsmen's shops and artists' studios are being significantly uprated? Will he promise to discuss this matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment?

I acknowledge the importance of the growing number of craftsmen in this country. A considerable number are classified as business people and to that extent will be subject to the new rules and regulations. I will discuss this issue with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Evironment, but if they are classified as businesses they should not be treated as exceptions.

The Minister should not be so complacent. He should examine the position in the west midlands and elsewhere. It is not good enough to come to the Dispatch Box and say that he is not sure how the uniform business rate will affect the arts. He should find out. That is his job and he should do it.

The Department of the Environment estimates that, after the introduction of the uniform business rates, small businesses and businesses as a whole in the west midlands will pay less rate. Of course, it is impossible to be precise. Some arts organisations that are businesses will find that the amount they have to pay has declined, whereas others will find that their charge has increased. The important point about which we have to be absolutely clear is that organisations that are classified as charitable bodies will be in no worse a position. Indeed, with local authorities having full authority to give complete relief, they should be in a better position.

Public Lending Right


To ask the Minister for the Arts what he intends to provide for public lending right in the next financial year; and to how many authors this applies.

Funding for the public lending right in 1990–91 is £3·5 million. The registrar forecasts that approximately 15,500 authors will receive payment in February 1991.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that our authors deserve generous support, and does he have any plans to increase support in the near future?

It is very important that we continue to support authors through the public lending right for their contribution, through the library system, to public reading. In 1988–89 I was able to increase the budget by 27 per cent; in 1991–92 I should be able to increase it by 29 per cent; and in the following year, under the three-year funding rule, I shall be injecting an extra £250,000. The fund remains very strong and is making a contribution to authors whose work is of much value to the public.

Is the Minister aware that this kind of money goes to people whose faces fit? There is something that I should like him to consider seriously. Many of the people who were made redundant from the mining industry in Nottinghamshire have become writers. Those people need some encouragement, so the Minister should get off his backside and put some money in their direction. He should stop looking after Front-Bench Members who are writing books.

The hon. Gentleman's performance gets more dramatic every time he speaks. Last time I recommended him for a drama award; I think that this time I shall recommend him for a book award.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Minister promised me a drama award last time, but I have not yet received it.

A neutral panel is considering the matter.

It is impossible to be precise about the varying effects. Some will gain, whereas others will lose, but it is absolutely clear that those with charitable status will not lose.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that one author who will benefit from this measure is Mr. Salman Rushdie? Is it not time for everyone in this country and elsewhere to accept the ancient saying:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that matter. I join my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in condemning most strongly the threat to Mr. Rushdie, which has been renewed recently. I endorse every word that my hon. Friend has said. One of the cardinal principles of our democracy is freedom of expression. It is a principle which we must uphold to the last.

Local Government Act


To ask the Minister for the Arts what guidelines exist for arts funding bodies that seek advice on section 28 of the Local Government Act.

In July 1988, the Arts Council, in conjunction with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations—[Interruption.]

Order. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) has had his question. He need not discuss the matter across the Chamber.

In July 1988, the Arts Council, in conjunction with the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, issued guidance on section 28 to arts organisations and other voluntary bodies. At the same time, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment issued guidance to local authorities.

Is it possible for one company to act within the law by being funded by local authorities to perform a play with a homosexual theme, and at the same time act against the law in the sense that the local education authority decides that the play is unsuitable for showing in its schools? If not, can the Minister have a word with his colleagues in Tory-run Kent county council, who, when offered the chance to host Britten's "Death in Venice", played by the publicly funded Glyndebourne touring company, decided that it was unsuitable for showing in the Kent and Sussex schools festival—possibly because it breached section 28? Other Tory authorities do the same. Surely the principle needs to be established, and everybody should be allowed the most liberal interpretation of it.

The only basis upon which section 28 can be flouted is if a local authority sets out an intention to promote homosexuality. I have no evidence that Kent county council in any way demonstrated that intention and there is no evidence to suggest that it was flouting that law.

Arts Funding (East Midlands)


To ask the Minister for the Arts what proposals he has to increase funding for the arts in the east midlands.

The funding of arts organisations is a matter for the Arts Council. In 1990–91 its grant to East Midlands Arts will increase by 10 per cent. and, taken with its direct spending in the region, amounts to a total of nearly £5 million.

Is the Minister aware that last week the board of directors of the Haymarket theatre announced losses of £500,000 in the past year? Is he also aware that the board will be meeting tonight and that it will make 13 employees of the theatre redundant? Will the Minister arrange for his officials to speak to the directors of the theatre to see whether the Government can provide funding to enable those jobs to be saved?

I am aware of the important role of the Haymarket theatre in Leicester and the surrounding area, and in 1988 I had the pleasure of visiting the theatre. It has a high reputation, but I realise that it has acquired a deficit of some size. It is up to every management to cut its coat according to the cloth available. I understand that the Arts Council has increased its financing for that theatre next year by 7 per cent. and, of course, funding comes from local authorities and other areas. Once the management has cut its coat accordingly I hope that it will be possible for it to ensure that the theatre moves forward to produce its normal high-quality work.

Civil Service

Women Civil Servants


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service how many women are employed in the Civil Service as a whole; and what proportion this is of the total so employed.

There are 265,000 women in the Civil Service. That constitutes 45 per cent. of all staff.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) and I believe in the innate superiority of women? Do not the figures given by my right hon. Friend show that no rebuke should be delivered to the Minister for the Civil Service? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that those figures could equally well have been achieved without the equal opportunities legislation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is right to pay tribute to the ability of women in the Civil Service as much as anywhere else. Given the total size of the Civil Service, it is right and good that nearly half our civil servants are women. However, at the senior levels—in the top grades—only 6 per cent. are women. But an increasing number of women are coming in under the high fliers scheme—just under 50 per cent. are now recruited from that scheme. I am sure that in the 1990s, with full equality of opportunity—I believe that that is what my hon. Friend is stressing as so important—more women will come to the top.



To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what recent representations he has received from Nottinghamshire regarding matters within his responsibilities.

I thank the Minister and his colleagues for their intervention in the relocation of the Inland Revenue to Nottingham. Will the Minister commend the efforts of the county council in securing that relocation, particularly the chairman of its finance committee, Councillor Paddy Tipping? Will the right hon. Gentleman keep an eye on liaison and co-ordination between Government Departments and public bodies during relocations so that the difficulties that arose in this instance between British Rail, the Inland Revenue and landholdings do not recur?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and glad that a sizeable number of civil servants are moving to the Nottingham area—including not just the Inland Revenue, with more than 2,000, but the Driving Standards Agency headquarters which is to open in, I think, April with about 100 staff. I note what the hon. Gentleman says and I am glad that the pace of relocation from the south-east to other areas is quickening, and that larger numbers of civil servants are moving to other areas.

Senior Professionals (Secondment)


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what further steps he is taking to encourage the secondment into the Civil Service of industrialists and other senior professionals.

More exchanges have taken place in recent years and the Government are determined to continue the upward trend.

Why, of the 12 competitions held for the agencies set up by the Government, has only one outsider been appointed, Mr. David Beeton, to the Royal Historic Palaces Agency? There are also two directors-designate who will come from outside the Civil Service. Conversely, how many of the First Division Association have been seconded to industry?

I cannot give a precise answer on the latter point. In the past 10 years the number of exchanges between the Civil Service and the private sector and commerce has almost doubled. In addition, there have been 500 exchanges between the Government and the non-commercial sector, including local government. We want to encourage that. The Government's policy is to encourage open competitions for the appointment of chief executives of agencies. We want to select people on their merit and get the best possible people to serve in those posts. There have been a number of open competitions but, as my hon. Friend said, only one non-civil servant been selected for the job. That does not mean that others may not be selected in the future.

Trade Unions


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met representatives of the Civil Service trade unions; and what subjects were discussed.


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service when he last met trade union representatives from the Civil Service; and what issues were discussed.

I met members of the National Union of Civil and Public Servants on 29 January to discuss physical security of Government establishments.

When the Minister next meets union representatives, will he give them a guarantee that those agencies which there is no immediate intention to privatise will remain in place for a minimum of five years to provide both stability and prospects for those working in them?

Although I do not know whether it is right or wrong to set a time scale—I shall reflect on that point—the Government's policy is clear. Our first priority is to assess whether a service of Government is better suited to privatisation. If the Government decide that that is not so, the next option is to consider whether it should be an agency. It must be assumed that, in most circumstances, it will remain an agency for the foreseeable future. However, that does not preclude privatisation in the longer term.

Is the Minister aware of the huge uncertainty and concern of people who are notified that their jobs are to disappear in Southend and be transferred to Liverpool or who are told that their services are being privatised? Does the Minister agree that it would be helpful and in the interests of good industrial relations if everyone so affected was issued with a sheet of paper explaining what will happen to their pension rights and security of employment and what employment rights they have? Should not the Government set an example to private employers to tell employees about their rights and obligations if their jobs are affected because of Government policy?

I am very much aware that a considerable number of officials—particularly in Customs and Excise—work in my hon. Friend's constituency. I will convey to my noble Friend the Paymaster-General, who is in charge of relocation policies some of my hon. Friend's views. I shall reflect carefully on his points. Several movements are taking place in Customs and Excise. Some headquarters are being moved out of London to Southend, and a greater number of staff are moving to areas outside the south-east. As my hon. Friend knows, that is part of the Government's policy to encourage relocation wherever possible.

When the Minister reflects on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher) will he also reflect on the advisability of giving a guarantee to all civil servants who find themselves in agencies that are liable to be privatised that they will be retained in the Civil Service by being transferred to another part of it?

The hon. Gentleman always misunderstands what the agency system is about. If the Government decide to establish an agency rather than privatise an organisation, the officials in that agency remain part of the Civil Service. There is no question of a change in their status. The hon. Gentleman's question is misleading; I am glad to have this chance to reaffirm the position.

When my right hon. Friend last heard from the Civil Service unions, were they able to congratulate him on the first high promotion of a female part-time civil servant, and, secondly, on the introduction of two days' paternity leave for civil servants whose wives have babies?

I am glad to tell my hon. Friend that the number of women part-timers in the Civil Service has risen to 12 per cent. of the complement. The fact that we have much more flexible employment policies and encourage part-timers is attracting more able women to serve. Over the past few years I have been surrounded by very able female advisers, many of whom have been part-timers.


To ask the Minister for the Civil Service what recent meetings he has had with Civil Service trade unions; and what items were discussed.

I refer the hon. Member to the reply that I gave earlier to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher).

As the Minister has been discussing the privatisation of parts of the Civil Service, would it not be a good idea if the Government, for the first time, allowed the Civil Service unions to hold a ballot on whether their members want to take part in a privatisation scheme?

The hon. Gentleman must agree that the most important factor is how whatever service we are considering can be most effectively managed for the country. If the Government take the view that it can be more effectively managed through privatisation, that is one road. If the hon. Gentleman wants a better use of our resources—it is taxpayers' money—he will accept that the other route to more effective management is to create agencies. Both routes are based on the criteria of good value for money and the best use of resources.

South Africa

3.30 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth affairs if he will make a statement on Government policy towards South Africa following the release of Nelson Mandella.

We warmly welcome the release of Nelson Mandela. He symbolises the aspirations of millions of South Africans for a non-racial democratic South Africa.

Since Mr. de Klerk became president, he has transformed the policy of the South African Government. He has initiated a series of steps including the commitment to abolish much of the remains of so-called petty apartheid, the unbanning of political organisations and now the release of Nelson Mandela. All these steps have been demanded time and again by the British Government, by the international community and by the House. Taken together, they create a completely new climate in South Africa—a climate in which dialogue can begin about the massive task of dismantling apartheid peacefully. This new climate presents a decisive challenge to those, black and white, who wish to maintain the old orthodoxies of confrontation.

We urge the African National Congress, the Pan-Africanist Congress, the Inkatha movement, the various white parties and all other political organisations in South Africa to rise to this challenge, end violence, and enter negotiations.

It is vital to send a signal to the white community that President de Klerk's steps will find a response from the international community. That is why the British Government believe that it makes sense to stop discouraging investment and tourism in South Africa.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, having consistently called for the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela for many years, we in the Labour party express our profound satisfaction that he is no longer in prison? We emphasise that he should never have been in prison in the first place. We welcome his release and other recent steps taken by President de Klerk. We trust that successful negotiations will soon begin to bring about a South Africa with a vote for every man and woman on a common roll.

Is the right hon Gentleman aware that although Mr. Mandela is no longer in prison, he is not a free man? He cannot live where he chooses. He has no vote. For him and for the rest of the non-white majority in South Africa, that country continues to be a prison and it will be until apartheid and the police state are completely dismantled.

Does the Secretary of State recollect the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Kuala Lumpur last October.? The Prime Minister signed up—to use her phraseology—a statement which affirmed that the:
"justification for sanctions against South Africa"
"to abolish apartheid by bringing Pretoria to the negotiating table and keeping it there until that change was irreversibly secured".
As that objective to which the Prime Minister put her signature has clearly not been achieved, how can she call for relaxation in sanctions—particularly the ban on direct investment, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred?

Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that the ban has been responsible for one third of the 100 billion rand of losses to the South African economy caused by sanctions over the past four years? It is by far the most effective sanction. Is not that precisely why the Prime Minister wants to end that sanction?

Mr. Mandela has called for sanctions to be maintained. Should we trust the British Prime Minister, whose every action has been to prop up apartheid, or should we pay heed to Mr. Mandela, who has given more than 27 years of his life fighting the injustice of apartheid?

The world has made its choice, and that is why the Prime Minister is isolated in the United Nations, isolated in the Commonwealth and isolated in the European Community. It is no thanks to her, but with all thanks and praise to Mr. Mandela and the millions of other Africans fighting for justice, that apartheid is doomed and will be destroyed.

It is characteristic of the right hon. Member not to say a word of recognition about the courage shown in the steps that Mr. de Klerk has taken.

The sanctions that were introduced in 1986—and some of them will continue—by the European Community were aimed explicitly at bringing about a national dialogue. Mr. Mandela has said that he believes that national dialogue is liable to begin within days. If we do not recognise the courage behind the steps that have been taken—and that I hope will be taken, in response, by the other side—we would not be doing the right thing. The House is owed an explanation by the right hon. Member, on behalf of his party, whether its policy is to step up mandatory sanctions. If that remains its policy, Opposition Members are, as usual, completely out of touch.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is a lot of support from Conservative Members for what he has said, and especially for his welcome for the release of Mr. Mandela?

If we hope for the survival of Mr. Gorbachev should not we equally hope for the survival of Mr. de Klerk, as long as white majority rule continues?

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Opposition appear to be too obtuse to understand that there is a serious danger of a Right-wing backlash from some elements of the white population—possibly among the Afrikaners or even among the security forces, which could be accentuated if there is no recognition given by the outside world to the dramatic and imaginative steps that President de Klerk has announced?

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend, and I find it depressing that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has used his eloquence to try to get a dialogue going in the Arab-Israel conflict, and has expressed enthusiasm for and welcomed the Soviet Union into the community of nations, but he is so blinkered that he cannot see the window of opportunity here, and the possibility for real progress in South Africa. To let that slip by sticking in the old tired positions would be a terrible waste of opportunity.

Does the Minister accept that yesterday some of us were simply appalled when we found that the first words that the Prime Minister could bring herself to utter on the momentous release of Nelson Mandela were about increasing British investment in South Africa? Will he try to get her to understand that the best way to secure British investment in South Africa is to pay more attention in future to the views of the ANC and other movements that are pressing for the future of democracy in that country? While President de Klerk is, of course, to be congratulated on the brave steps that he has taken, does the Minister accept that South Africa cannot be treated as a normal state until the legal entrenchment of apartheid is lifted?

The right hon. Gentleman is wrong on one point. The Prime Minister's first words were an expression of delight; which, I am sure, is shared by all hon. Members; at Mr. Mandela's release. The right hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that South Africa is at the beginning of a long process. We say that surely we must recognise—as we are trying to do in relation to the Soviet Union and the Palestine Liberation Organisation—that those who wish to sit down and negotiate need our support. If we do not provide any response at all the right hon. Gentleman will surely blame us when the white backlash sweeps de Klerk away.

While recognising that risk and the reality of what my right hon. Friend says, may I ask him whether he should not differentiate between the relaxation of some sanctions now unilaterally by Britain and the encouragement worldwide of doing away with sanctions overall? The Government have made subtle and positive contributions to bringing about what has happened in South Africa. Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that the Government will continue their subtle handling of this matter?

My hon. Friend is right. Those who are opposed to dialogue in South Africa know very well the position of the British Government. That is why white extremists have been shooting at the British embassy in Pretoria. As my hon. Friend says, our approach remains careful and, I hope, subtle. We want to see de Klerk's position strengthened because, as Mr. Mandela has said in the most eloquent language, de Klerk stands honourably for dialogue.

On this momentous occasion of historic importance, which has brought great joy to millions of people throughout the world, will the Minister reflect on what has been happening over the weekend in relation to Government policy? Does he recognise the great hand of reconciliation that has been offered by Nelson Mandela? Does he recognise that the pillars of apartheid remain in place and that Nelson Mandela has said that until those pillars are substantially removed and there are substantial negotiations, sanctions must stay? Instead of always talking about offering carrots to President de Klerk, what about offering a little comfort and support to the people of South Africa instead of the contemptible, craven attitude that we get from the Dispatch Box?

All the people of South Africa, black and white, need our support and hands from both sides have been reaching out for reconciliation. The steps that we have taken are to support that process and I am sure that we are right so to do.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that Mr. Mandela's support for the continued armed struggle is a chilling reminder that, regrettably, violence is still a part of African National Congress policy? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the lifting of sanctions will ensure the prosperity of the black South African and that it is only under such conditions that the world can reasonably hope for peaceful reform and meaningful change?

At his press conference this morning, Mr. Mandela spoke about the need for peace and said that he foresaw dialogue soon. We should surely concentrate on what he is saying and on such elements of the present situation. We should be seeking to support that hope of reconciliation.

The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) was one of the most notorious apologists for the South African regime.

Will the Minister explain why the Prime Minister has simply refused to recognise that the pressure of the international community and the liberation movement in South Africa brought about the release of Nelson Mandela and the removal of the ban on the ANC? Will he make the strongest possible representations to the South African Government on how their security forces are completely out of control? Many of its members, perhaps the large majority, are clearly sympathetic to the forces of the ultra-Right and the Nazi terror groups that want to assassinate Mr. Mandela and refuse to recognise the advances that must be made in that country.

The hon. Gentleman is well known as a spokesman for consensus and moderation. He is right that the Government have found it necessary—with, I am sure, the support of the House—to make protests again and again about the behaviour of the South African security forces. The hon. Gentleman was not fair in his remarks about yesterday's events. Mr. Dullah Omar, one of the pricnipal organisers for the Mass Democratic Movement at the large march and demonstration yesterday, did not blame the police for the violence that occurred. He said that he was not satisfied with the security arrangements made by the organisers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the South African Government could not have run the risk of releasing Mr. Mandela—his release is welcome—if President Gorbachev had not withdrawn his support for militant revolutionary forces in central and southern Africa? Will he congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on the contribution that she and former President Reagan made by standing up to the imperialist advance in Africa which has been halted? Thanks to its being halted, the chances of fruitful dialogue have increased.

My right hon. Friend is right. The completely transformed relationship between East and West and this country, the United States and the Soviet Union has contributed—many other things have also contributed—to the change in atmosphere. We are well aware that the advice of the Soviet Union to the ANC, the South-West Africa People's Organisation and other organisations in southern Africa has been to seek dialogue and peace.

Will the Minister reconsider his remarks about the white backlash sweeping away President de Klerk? Should not he be more positive in his approach to the liberal whites and the black majority in South Africa? Were not his earlier remarks very unfortunate?

If I spoke with urgency, I meant it. The person who is under most immediate pressure from his constituency is President de Klerk, which is why it is right that we should signal to him that there are benefits for his constituency in going down the road to peace and dialogue.

Will my right hon. Friend encourage, in every international forum that he attends, a full and generous response from the international community to the fundamental changes that have taken place in South Africa, and which need to take place in the future? Does he agree that the hopes and aspirations of the black community in South Africa will be best served by peaceful and steady reform and not by a headlong rush into what may be a very dangerous period?

The challenge facing all sides is to transfer the most powerful economy in Africa to its rightful owners—all the people of South Africa—under a proper constitution and without revolutionary chaos in the process. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about that. The steps that have been taken by Mr. de Klerk, which have transformed the situation away from the simple certainties of the past few years and to which we are already seeing a response from Mr. Mandela, deserve our wholehearted support.

Is the Minister aware that it will have been noted that he went out of his way to praise the courage of President de Klerk but said nothing about the courage of the tens of thousands of people who struggled for a generation to bring about yesterday's historical event? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Prime Minister is widely regarded in this country and abroad as a fifth columnist for apartheid? In her headlong rush to drop sanctions before there has been a word from de Klerk about bringing down the fundamentals of apartheid and about one person, one vote, is not she—like collaborators and fifth columnists throughout time—exposed as redundant, marginal and out of step?

I do not agree with the extravagance of the hon. Lady's language. The importance of the events in South Africa should not be underestimated. It is easy to imagine this opportunity being lost because we do not rise to the scale of the events but stick to the old rhetoric—that is the danger which faces us. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is as determined as any of us in the House to see the destruction of apartheid. We need, therefore, to get negotiations under way quickly, and that is what Mr. de Klerk is doing. Hon. Members have paid tribute many times to those who have suffered and who continue to suffer under apartheid. It is worth thinking of those people in South Africa who are not alive today and who could have contributed to this process of peace. If Mr. Steve Biko were alive today, he would contribute to the process of reconciliation and negotiation.

I welcome the call by my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary for a measured response to this historic event. That response should be co-ordinated to the maximum extent with our European Community partners, the Commonwealth and, in particular, the United States, which has taken a strong line on sanctions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that sanctions were imposed not for the release of one distinguished and courageous leader from prison but to help bring down a system that was seen as unjust by the international community?

My hon. Friend is right—the objective of the House and of the world is the destruction of apartheid. It is vital to get negotiations going. In 1986, the Council of Ministers reaffirmed

"the urgent need for a genuine national dialogue"
in South Africa and proposed various sanctions to bring that about. We believe, as Mr. Mandela clearly believes, that that national dialogue is about to begin.

Order. I remind the House that this is a day for private Members' motions and that an important statement is to follow this private notice question. I shall call two more Members from each side, and then I am afraid that we must move on.

The Minister of State referred a number of times to giving "signals" to the present regime in South Africa. Is not the concern throughout the House, including that of the hon. Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend), about the fact that the Government are contributing to confusing signals? As the right hon. Gentleman is a strong advocate of a common foreign policy in the European Community, will he assure us that the British Government will not take a position with the Council of Ministers whereby it seeks to withdraw any sanctions at this stage? Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is no parallel between the democratic movement in central and eastern Europe and the changes in South Africa? The South African regime is based on institutional racism. That is qualitatively different from any other lack of democracy worldwide.

The lack of democracy in Stalinist Russia was built on institutionalised persecution of the population by a so-called vanguard. The institutional racism of South Africa is an equal or greater evil. Both are evils, and we should welcome the destruction of both.

The hon. Gentleman asked me about the European Community. We will discuss these matters with our partners, but we do not believe that it would be right at this moment to send no signal to the South African Government.

I give the warmest possible endorsement to my right hon. Friend's analysis and the sentiments that he expressed. Does he agree that the three greatest dangers now are the extremism of the extreme Right, the extremism of the extreme Left and the extremism of the extremely stupid? In the light of the analysis of sub-Saharan Africa in the recent report of the World Bank, would not it be extremely stupid to go along the lines suggested by Mr. Mandela and strengthen sanctions when, as my right hon. Friend said, the South African economy is the powerhouse of the whole of sub-Saharan Africa? That is what we must now recognise and support.

I find my hon. Friend's analysis rather attractive. The present circumstances have their parallels: the extremists on both sides sometimes end up in the same position. I have never been able to understand why it should be thought that damaging the economy of South Africa further would bring about any progress at such a juncture.

My hon. Friend asked about Mr. Mandela and sanctions. Mr. Mandela has made it perfectly clear that he is a loyal member of the ANC, and the view that he has expressed is ANC policy. No one imagined that he would change ANC policy overnight, and there was no surprise whatever when he took the stance that he took.

Is the Minister aware that the Prime Minister's view—reflected in his answer—is open to a wholly different interpretation: that apartheid is a system of economic exploitation, made possible by the denial of political rights, and that the profits from it accrue to foreign investors, many of whom live in this country? The Government's opposition to sanctions has been motivated more by a wish to preserve the economic interests of their business friends than by any interest in the Africans themselves.

Not for the first time, the right hon. Gentleman has the wrong conspiracy theory. If he wants to examine the way in which economic pressures are affecting the position, he should recognise that it is perfectly clear that those who want dialogue and fundamental change in South Africa are now to be found among South Africa's business community. They know that without the use of all the country's resources—including both blacks and whites—the economy will begin to be damaged, and they are a force for progress.

Let me follow up what my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Sir Ian Lloyd) said about the World Bank report. There is only one democratic country in the whole of Africa, and that is Botswana. We can see Namibia becoming independent next month, and we have high hopes of freedom in South Africa. Will the British Government then press for the abolition of the one-party state in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania?

The World Bank report makes depressing reading. The great prize in southern Africa is a peaceful transition of Africa's most powerful economy to its proper ownership—ownership by all South Africa's people. We believe that Mr. Mandela wants that, and that Mr. de Klerk is entering on the great task. We welcome what Mr. de Klerk has done, and for that reason we support him.

Electricity Privatisation

3.57 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about electricity privatisation, the publication of the draft regulatory licences for the industry and the non-fossil fuel obligation.

Good progress continues to be made in preparing the electricity supply industry for vesting on 31 March. The House will be aware that the second commencement order under the Electricity Act 1989 was made at the end of January. Today I am taking another important step towards completing the restructuring of the industry.

I have today made available to the House copies of revised drafts of the licences to be issued to the successors of the Central Electricity Generating Board and area electricity boards, which were initially published on 10 January 1989. The revised drafts take account of the commitments made during the passage of the Electricity Act, and of consultations since the original drafts were published. Other licensees will receive licences based on those drafts, but tailored to their particular requirements. Regulations are being laid today setting out how to apply for a licence and the details of the application procedure. The exemption order identifying those who will not require a licence is also being tabled today.

The principal changes in the draft licences published today are in the conditions dealing with price control, security of supply and the transition to a competitive market. The revised conditions are explained in detail in the explanatory notes that accompany the licences.

The average price for all customers supplied by the public electricity supply companies will be controlled by an RPI-X+Y formula, where Y represents the actual costs to the companies of purchasing the electricity supplied. Customers taking more than 1 MW will benefit from the competition in supply that will be introduced by privatisation. I expect many of them to enjoy price reductions. It may take some time for customers to gain experience of the market and negotiate terms. I have therefore sought an undertaking from the industry that it will use its best endeavours to offer a one-year real price freeze to customers taking more than 1 MW.

Customers taking less than 1MW will benefit from an addition to the price control. Although the industry has yet to propose a final figure, I see no reason why the average price to these customers should rise by much more than the current rate of inflation this year. The price control should prevent any further real increases before the end of March 1993. Indeed, the public electricity supply companies could well be able to offer some real price reductions to these customers in this period.

I believe that the combination of these controls will be more effective than the yardstick price control proposed in the original draft licences. Altogether I do not expect the average price for all customers to rise in real terms this year.

All these expectations on prices allow for the effect of the fossil fuel levy, which I intend to set for 1990–91 at a rate of 10·6 per cent. on the value of final sales. I expect the rate of levy to decline significantly over the next eight years. I shall shortly be laying regulations under which the levy will be established and collected.

I also intend to lay at the same time an order setting the initial non-fossil fuel obligation for the public electricity supply companies. The intention of the obligation is not only to ensure that existing and committed nuclear plant in England and Wales is contracted for; it is also to encourage the development of commercial renewable energy sources. Around 300 projects have been put forward to the area boards in response to that policy. The Government have been extremely encouraged by this response and wish to ensure a full contribution from renewables to the NFFO. Given the size of the response, it has not been possible to assess all those projects fully by the time the initial order needs to be made.

Accordingly, the initial order will cover only nuclear capacity. I intend to allow a further two months for the area boards to complete their negotiations with renewable operators and I shall then lay a second order relating specifically to renewables. That will ensure that renewables projects can be assessed fairly and a proper contribution obtained.

The initial order will, therefore, amount to some 8,000 MW or so in total for the period 1990–91 to 1997–98. As I told the House on 9 November, the Government will review the prospects for nuclear power in 1994. Decisions about the level of the obligation beyond 1998 will be taken then.

Returning to the licences, the conditions on security of supply have been amended to ensure that all suppliers meet the current standards of security, except where their customers choose otherwise. Suppliers may meet that condition by becoming members of the new electricity trading pool that is being established since the price of electricity in the pool will include a capacity charge that reflects the value of secure supplies to customers. Suppliers will have economic incentives to ensure that sufficient generating plant is available. I believe that that approach will provide secure supplies more effectively than central planning by a monopoly supplier.

As for competition in supply, the licences now incorporate provisions to implement the decisions announced on 29 September 1989. Those provide for an orderly and stable transition to a fully competitive market by allowing other suppliers to compete with the area supply companies for customers taking more than 1 MW at the outset, for customers taking more than 100 kW after four years, and for all customers after eight years.

The licences, therefore, contain corresponding transitional constraints on the premises that such competitors can supply. If they apply for licences to supply customers falling within those restrictions, I will look to the Director General of Electricity Supply to advise me on whether such licences should be issued.

Although I shall be disposed to act in accordance with the restrictions announced on 29 September, I accept that I will need to exercise discretion to deal with particular circumstances that already exist or may arise. Such cases will be considered on their merits. The licences also contain transitional limits on the extent to which National Power and PowerGen can engage in direct sales to enable competition in supply and new supply arrangements to develop.

The arrangements that I have set out today mark the successful achievement of another stage in this privatisation. When the new companies are vested on 31 March, this country will have the most competitive electricity supply industry in the world. I know that those in the industry are keen to be privatised to respond to the new challenges and to rid themselves of the dead hand of the public sector. I am sure also that the public will welcome the benefits of competition and will seize the opportunities to invest in the new companies.

I thank the Secretary of State for his statement. I realise that my first point is not a matter for him, but will he confirm for the benefit of my Scottish colleagues that a statement on what is to happen to the electricity industry in Scotland will be made in the House?

The Secretary of State told us about his amazing RPI-X+Y formula, but there must be a more important definition of Y. Everyone in the country will want to know why it is necessary for there to be any electricity price increases. Will he confirm that price increases are quite unnecessary and are needed only to fatten up the industry for privatisation? Is it not the case that, over the past three years, coal prices have gone down by 6 per cent., electricity prices have gone up by 12 per cent., the generating board's profits have gone up by 90 per cent., and the new coal contract envisages further reductions in the price of coal? So why is it necessary to have any price increases for consumers?

The Secretary of State is an accountant and he is usually fairly precise, but his statement was rather vague about price increases to be faced by major industrial consumers in particular, such as the special steels industry, the chemicals industry and paper and board mills. Will he guarantee that he will not handicap those companies by enormous price increases in the run-up to 1992? What will be the increases for domestic consumers in future years?

Will the Secretary of State confirm that a nuclear levy of 10·6 per cent. means that nuclear power costs must now be at least 40 per cent. more than the cost of electricity produced at conventional stations? If that is the case, why does he insist that the most expensive stations on the system provide the base load while the cheapest power stations on the system are not run all the time? Surely that is the reverse of common sense.

I hope that the Secretary of State will forgive my colleagues and me if we do not comment on the licences, because we have had the details only since 3 o'clock and we have not had an opportunity to consider them in detail. However, do the licences place an obligation to supply upon the two main generating companies? If not, how can there be any guarantee of security of supply? Will the licences promote energy conservation by the distribution companies? Will they require the generating companies to install equipment to clean up flue gases, or is there truth in the rumour that the right hon. Gentleman is allowing the generating companies to wriggle out of their obligation to clean up flue gases? In other words, is it true that he is willing to accept them continuing in their present dirty ways, as they have for the past two decades, to make the industry more attractive to private purchasers?

We welcome the news that there are many applications for renewables, but will the Secretary of State reconsider the position and allow combined heat and power to be included in that category, and thus give it the boost that it needs?

Finally, will the Secretary of State confirm that everything in his statement amounts to his putting privatisation first, and that the interests of industrial consumers, the balance of payments, the environment and domestic consumers are all being put second to the requirement that has been placed on him by the Prime Minister, which is get the industry sold off as quickly as possible?

The hon. Gentleman asked me 10 questions. He is right that his first question—about Scotland—is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and I shall certainly put it to him.

The hon. Member then talked about price increases and about fattening up the industry for privatisation, as he put it. He must make up his mind fairly soon about whether we are fattening up the industry for privatisation or selling it for a song. The fact is that we are doing neither. We intend to privatise the industry at a proper and fair price. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to what I said about price increases, he would have heard me say that I did not expect that on average there would be any price increases in real terms and that prices would stay the same in real terms. I shall not quote the Labour party's record on electricity prices as there are plenty of other questions to answer.

The hon. Gentleman asked me not to be vague about large users of electricity. I certainly shall not be vague and I have said that I expect the industry to offer terms to the large users and to any user over 1M W of consumption and to keep the price increases to the RPI for the current year. Thereafter, they will be in a position to negotiate freely for prices within the market and I know that a number of them are already setting about that task.

The hon. Gentleman's fourth question related to domestic prices. I have said that customers below 1 MW will have the benefits of the overall price control and of regulation. I see no reason why their prices should increase by much more than the rate of inflation this year, although the area boards have not yet made their proposals. The price control formula will ensure that price rises are limited so that there will be no real increase in prices for the next two years. As I have said, they are maximum figures, and the area boards could well do better for many of their customers.

With regard to the fossil fuel levy that I announced, the hon. Gentleman is misleading the House if he states that it is an additional impost on electricity consumers. Consumers pay for the cost of nuclear power in their bills at the moment. The levy simply brings the matter out in the open, as set out in the Electricity Act 1989, and there will be no increase in the price of nuclear power as a result of the change. The levy will still be there, but, at 10·6 per cent., it is less than a lot of people thought, and it will decrease over the next eight years.

On the question of the obligation to supply, or the security of supply, I believe that the present arrangements under the Electricity Act are better than the previous bureaucratic arrangements of the Central Electricity Generating Board. Under the Electricity Act, the area boards are required to offer terms to any customers in their area and that offer will be backed up by the licensing conditions and by stiff financial penalties. Therefore, they will have a clear legal obligation to contract for sufficient supplies to meet the requirements in their areas.

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the important matter of energy conservation. He should remember that over the past 10 years there has been a substantial improvement in energy efficiency in Britain. While there has been a 20 per cent. increase in gross domestic product, we have used the same levels of energy. We expect that to continue. It is very much in the consumer's interest to pursue improvements in energy efficiency. Several proposals in my statement will improve energy efficiency further. First—

The hon. Gentleman's hon. Friend asked me 10 questions and I have not finished answering them. If he does not like it, he should speak to his hon. Friend about it.

The overwhelmingly important factor in efficiency of energy consumption is to create competition in generation. The area boards will have a responsibility to encourage energy efficiency and will draw up codes of practice.

The Government stand by their commitment to ensure that the European convention on flue gases, to which we are signatories, is met. Proposals will be made to do that in the most effective and efficient way possible. Negotiations on the most effective way will include desulphurisation retrofitting of electricity stations. In some stations, it will not be necesary because of the planned changeover to gas. Negotiations with the industry are being held now. I confirm that the Government are fully committed to the European directive. The industry will be fully committed to any environmental matters that arise out of the Environmental Protection Bill currently going through the House.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras asked me about renewables and combined heat and power procedures. We did not include CHP power stations in the renewables. We believe that CHP proposals can provide some of the most efficient forms of electricity generation. There will be a great incentive for builders of electricity generating stations to use those principles wherever appropriate. In the initial period, most CHP proposals will come within the proposals for own-generation, which will be free of the fossil fuel levy. Builders of power stations will benefit from that.

The hon. Gentleman is wrong about privatisation. The purpose of privatisation is to provide customers with a better deal by encouraging competition in electricity generation. It can be seen from the date of my statement that that has already begun. At the end of the transitional period all consumers will benefit.

Order. The House knows that I always endeavour to look after the interests of Back Benchers and give them at least as long as Front-Bench Members. However, I ask hon. Members to put their questions succinctly so that we can get on with the business set down. This is a private Members' day.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that it was not long ago that the Labour party forecast price increases after privatisation in excess of 20 per cent.? Now Labour Members grumble that prices will increase at the level of inflation, something which the Labour Government did not achieve. Will he accept the thanks of consumers for the steps that he has taken to stabilise electricity prices after privatisation? Will he confirm that as competition brings itself to bear in the electricity supply industry there will be a downward presure on prices in the longer term?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In the last five years of the Labour Government, the price of electricity increased by 6 per cent. in real terms for industrial customers and 5 per cent. for domestic consumers. A stabilisation in real terms is a substantial improvement on the record of the Labour party. As competition is seen to work, there will be a downward pressure on all prices.

Will the Secretary of State deny that for the past 12 months and for some time ahead every quarterly domestic electricity bill will be at least £10 higher as a result of the preparation for privatisation? Will he further deny that the sale price for the industry compared with its asset value will be so low as to make all other privatisations look responsible?

No, I do not accept that. On average, prices will not increase over the whole range. The electricity industry will be privatised at what will be seen to be a fair and proper price.

Although I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, which shows that privatisation is well on target to meet the proposed timetable, which is excellent news for domestic electricity customers, does he agree that heavy industrial users have short memories? In the past five years of this Government industrial electricity prices have decreased by 10 per cent., whereas in the last five years of the Labour Government they increased by 6 per cent.

I have provided a cap for large industrial users in the first year. Afterwards they will be able to negotiate prices in a competitive market. Many expect to benefit from price reductions.

Does the Secretary of State agree that his statement today is so important and significant for consumers and the electricity industry that it should be the subject not merely of a statement but of scrutiny and debate in the House? In his carefully worded statement he said that he would not expect prices to rise above the rate of inflation. Many consumers will see that as faith, hope and charity because he is not in a position to guarantee that that will happen. Many knowledgeable people in the industry believe that prices will increase substantially. Does the Secretary of State agree that many consumers see as most important, not the question of competition, but the security of supply? We do not want the lights to go out.

The hon. Gentleman can speculate about prices. I have given the House the information as best I can and the figures I gave are accurate. It is interesting to remember how wide of the mark previous speculation has been, and I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman is wide of the mark, too.

I recognise the importance of the security of supply. As I pointed out, the arrangements that we are making now are better than existing arrangements whereby the security of supply or the obligation to supply is a planning decision for the CEGB. Under the new arrangements the area boards must offer terms to the customers in their area. Those terms and the generation for which they have contracted is backed up by licences. It will be a licence condition that the suppliers contract for adequate supplies and there will be severe financial penalties if they get it wrong. That will provide the security of supply that we all want and expect to see at a better, more economic cost than previously.

While I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his clear statement, may I refer to the non-fossil fuel obligation? It is important to bear in mind the size of the nuclear industry arid not to wait until the review in 1994 when it may be too late. Nuclear power stations must be built and we must have an ongoing research and development programme. Unless that is done, the country could be in great difficulty with its electricity supply.

I appreciate my hon. Friend's long-term concern and interest in the nuclear industry. We have organised the industry with Nuclear Electric and a good level of management to ensure that our substantial nuclear capacity is used to best advantage in the interim period. Meantime, it is right to give a degree of certainty to what will happen in the short term. That is why I said that we shall review the prospects for nuclear power in 1994. but remain committed to a long-term role for competitive nuclear power. Between now and 1994 we shall be giving a considerable amount of thought, and, if necessary, devoting a considerable amount of research, to establishing the best way forward after that.

As I am sure the Minister accepts, we welcome the identification of the role of renewables, which he has emphasised. Can he tell us more about how renewables projects will be assessed fairly and properly, as he said they would be? He referred to the dead hand of the public sector, but he has had to use that so-called dead hand to maintain the life of the nuclear industry. How does he propose to deal with the older Magnox stations in respect of which decisions may have to be made before 1994? Can he say precisely how he intends to undertake the review in 1994?

I do not know that I can say anything further in reply to the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. However, the first two points that he makes are important. As I have said, about 300 renewables projects have been put forward for consideration. These extend right across the range of all the sorts of renewables that the hon. Gentleman and others will be aware of. They amount, in total, to a capacity of between 1GW and 2GW—a substantial improvement on what we have at the moment. It would be idle to pretend that they are all likely to be developed sufficiently to be included in the obligation. We want to see whether these projects, with the financial assistance of the obligation over the period, appear to have a viable future. If so, we shall give them every encouragement.

With regard to the Magnox stations, the position is quite simple. Subject to the overriding safety considerations of the nuclear inspectorate, the life of some Magnox stations may be extended somewhat. That is what we shall seek to do. It may be that in some cases additional expenditure will be necessary. The first consideration is safety, but if the life of a station can be extended we believe that that would be a good idea.

Now that my right hon. Friend, for very sensible reasons, has arranged a transition period, during which it will be necessary to restrict free competition, can he give us an assurance that he is satisfied that, with regard to investment intentions, new independent producers will have the same incentive during that period? If not, he will not get the benefit of diversity of supply and genuine competition at the end of the transition period.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We are very anxious indeed that a sufficiently large number of independent projects should come forward. We know of about 20 that are being considered at the moment. We believe that the publication of the licences, which will give potential investors in independent generation more detail about how to proceed, will bring forward further projects. It is important that potential investors should know that they will be very welcome to become suppliers. So long as they meet the technical requirements, there is no reason why they should not be part of a highly competitive and expanding generating business.

Why does not the Secretary of State recognise that, in the private sector, energy conservation and the development of renewable sources of energy will always come second to the profit motive? Would not it be in our best interests, in terms of energy and environmentally, for this important industry to remain in the public sector?

I should expect the hon. Gentleman to say something like that, but it does not fit very well with the facts. We have a non-fossil fuel obligation. In particular, we are obliged to encourage renewable sources to play their part during the initial period—while they are being established. I think that that is the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question. We have set up the machinery, and it appears to be working even better than we thought it would. At some stage the hon. Gentleman will regret what he has just said.

As the propaganda war about the privatisation of electricity gathers momentum, does my right hon. Friend agree not only that industrial users have benefited greatly from our management of electricity supply, but that domestic consumers, householders, can be grateful? Is it not the case that, over the past five years, they have benefited from an 8 per cent. decrease, in real terms, in their electricity bills, whereas during the last five years of the Labour Government they suffered an increase, in real terms, of 9 per cent.? Whom should the householder trust with the management of electricity—the present Government, or the Opposition, who, when in office, raised prices?

My hon. Friend makes his point extremely well. The privatised electricity supply industry will greatly benefit the consumer.

Will the Secretary of State clarify whether the price increase, which he described as not being a real one, includes the nuclear or fossil-fuel levy, call it what one will? Can he assure the House that the nuclear levy will not increase when the first costs of decommissioning start to come through?

The indications of the prices that I gave include the fossil fuel levy, which must be paid. The levy will put Nuclear Electric in a cash positive position for the first eight years of its operation and, during that time, fossil fuel will be on a declining path. The company will be able to meet all its obligations during that time, including decommissioning costs.

Does my right hon. Friend recall that during the passage of the Electricity Bill the non-fossil fuel obligation was universally branded by the Opposition as a device for the perpetuation of nuclear power? Does he agree that the range of options for renewables that have now been introduced not represent only a direct contradiction of that belief, but an indication of the extent to which the process of increasing the supply of renewables has been helped by the privatisation process?

The process of privatisation appears to be working extremely well with regard to renewables and will be beneficial to the environment. In about two months' time I intend to lay the order about renewables, but I should make it clear that it will relate to the initial tranche of renewables. We have reserved an additional 600 MW for further renewable projects after that time. If that allocation does not appear to be enough in the light of experience, we shall give serious consideration to increasing it still further.

Surely the truth of the matter is that when the Government decided to set forth on their privatisation of electricity after the general election the first thing they needed to do was to allow the industry to increase prices massively to fatten up the enterprise. The next thing the Government did was to allow the industry another 8 per cent. in accordance with the RPI and then to announce that they would allow the nuclear section of the industry to be subsidised to the tune of about £10 billion with the decommissioning of the Magnox nuclear reactors. Now the right hon. Gentleman has told us that the next price increase will be based on two variables—minus X plus Y. He has told us what Y is, but he has not told us what X is. My guess is that X represents the electoral factor in the run-up to the next general election.

The hon. Gentleman, as usual, goes wide of the point. I know that the hon. Gentleman watches such things carefully and I advise him to watch some of the statements made by his hon. Friends the Members for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) as to exactly what they would do to the coal industry should they ever have the opportunity. The hon. Gentleman should consider those statements carefully as that would be a more productive use of his time. Y equals input costs, X represents cost savings through efficiency. It is a minus figure.

It is welcome to hear that price increases to the domestic consumer will be contained, at least in the next two years, within the rate of inflation. From the taxpayers' point of view, can my right hon. Friend tell us whether substantial sums will be required to write off assets before privatisation occurs, as they were for the water industry? If not, what will be the position?

There may be some slight increase in domestic prices this year, but for the next two years after that they will be contained in real terms. For the figures for the privatisation of the company, my hon. Friend will have to wait until we produce the prospectus. We are in the process of producing balance sheets for the companies before privatisation. We shall ensure that the assets are sold at a proper and realistic figure.

Order. The House knows that I have an obligation to protect private Members' business. I shall call three more Members from each side and then, I regret, we shall have to move on.

I echo the earlier plea for a separate Scottish statement. This is an extremely important matter, and I see that there is a Scottish Office Minister on the Treasury Bench. Will the Secretary of State obtain confirmation from the Scottish Office that such a statement is intended and thus avoid the suggestion that one hand does not know, or is not in tandem with, what the other is doing? Is not the truth of this afternoon's statement that all the tough political decisions are being postponed beyond the latest date of the next election? Why, in the transitional period, has the Secretary of State not found room for incentives for energy efficiency? Will he explain what he meant by this statement, which occurred among a lot of ministerial gobbledegook:

"The licences, therefore, contain corresponding transitional constraints on the premises which such competitors can supply."
May we have that in English?

I shall pass on to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the request for a statement on Scotland. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not a matter for me.

With regard to the juicy extract that the hon. Gentleman gave from my statement, I meant that, because there is an eight-year transitional period for the introduction of competition, for the first part of that period, customers with more than 1 MW of consumption will be free of all restraint. At the end of four years, the limit will be reduced to 10 kW. Thereafter, there will be no constraint. During that period, there must be a regulation to stop anybody supplying electricity to those areas that are the exclusive purview of the area boards. The regulations cover that.

The hon. Gentleman says, "A free market". He should consider how this will benefit the coal industry during that period.

In response to the remarks of those Opposition Members who wear their environmental credentials on their sleeve, will my right hon. Friend confirm that 34 per cent. of the principal greenhouse gas—carbon dioxide—comes from coal-fired power stations? Will he confirm that there is nothing in his statement to prevent the nuclear workers in my constituency from making their contribution to addressing this environmental problem?

My hon. Friend is right. A substantial amount of the greenhouse gases that are produced from power generation in this country come from fossil-burning power stations. Nuclear power stations have a substantial advantage over that. Nuclear power has one big disadvantage: it is required to pay the cost of disposal of its waste. The disposal of the wastes of the fossil fuel generators is part of the problem that we have to tackle in the near future.

I ask the Secretary of State a slightly hypothetical question: is it not fair to say that, if nuclear power were cheaper. the coal mining industry, and the mining industry generally, would be asking for a nuclear levy to help them in their difficulties?

I do not normally answer hypothetical questions, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point. We are dealing with the real world in which nuclear power is more expensive than fossil-generated power. It is possible to get the price down to a competitive rate, and I shall do everything that I can to deal with the problems.