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Commons Chamber

Volume 174: debated on Thursday 14 June 1990

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House Of Commons

Thursday 14 June 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Private Business

Associated British Ports (No 2) Bill ( By Order)

Order for consideration of Lords amendments read.

To be considered on Thursday 21 June.

Birmingham City Council (No 2) Bill ( By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [26 February],

That the Bill be now considered.

Debate, further adjourned till Thursday 21 June.

British Railways (No 2) Bill (By Order)

Medway Tunnel Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for consideration, as amended, read.

To be considered on Thursday 21 June.

As the remaining Bills set down for Second Reading have blocking motions, with the leave of the House I shall put them as a single group.

Cattewater Reclamation Bill (By Order)

Shard Bridge Bill (By Order)

Vale Of Glamorgan (Barry Harbour) Bill Lords (By Order)

London Underground Bill (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 21 June.

Exmouth Docks Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [29 March],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 21 June.

Great Yarmouth Port Authority Bill Lords (By Order)

Heathrow Express Railways Bill Lords (By Order)

Order for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 21 June.

London Regional Transport (Penalty Fares) Bill (By Order)

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question proposed [10 May],

That the Bill be now read a Second time.

Debate further adjourned till Thursday 21 June

Southampton Rapid Transit Bill Lords (By Order)

Port Of Tyne Bill Lords (By Order)

Orders for Second Reading read.

To be read a Second time on Thursday 21 June.

Oral Answers To Questions

Home Department

Remand Prisoners


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if his Department has any further proposals to bring forward regarding the treatment of remand prisoners.

On 3 May, in answer to a previous question from the hon. Lady, I referred to proposed changes in visiting arrangements and to pilot schemes to reduce censorship and to provide card phones for unconvicted prisoners.

We are also seeking, through the prison building and refurbishment programmes, to reduce overcrowding and to improve the accommodation in which many such prisoners are at present held. In addition, guidance is shortly to be issued on the limited mixing of unconvicted and convicted prisoners, subject to close supervision, to allow participation by unconvicted prisoners in a wider range of activities.

Although I am interested to hear some of the measures proposed, is not it the case that many remand prisoners are forced to share cells with three or more others, are forced to share with convicted criminals and are sometimes kept in their cells for up to 23 hours a day? As the principle of British justice is that someone is presumed innocent until proved guilty, is not this a disgrace?

I very much doubt whether many—if any—prisons run such impoverished regimes as the hon. Lady suggests. But it is clear that there is a problem which we steadily sought to address in the past decade and which we are within sight of resolving. Two thousand prison places have become available over the past two years, a further 1,600 will become available this year and there are 7,000 in the pipeline. Fourteen new prisons are being constructed, nine of which are local prisons or will take remand prisoners. Provided that there is no sudden surge in unconvicted prisoners, that puts us on course to resolve many of the problems. I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that it was about time that a Government came to power who were willing to put resources into the prisons, and this Government are doing that.

My hon. and learned Friend's answers are most welcome. However, does he agree that, whatever the conditions under which remand prisoners are kept, the worst part of their existence is the length of time before their trial? Do he and his colleagues have any initiatives to reduce the time before trial for remand prisoners?

Yes, Sir. In various parts of the country, courts are now subjecting themselves to the discipline of fairly strict guidance about the time in which certain stages of a trial should proceed. I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that there are twin problems. First, there is the number of people whom the courts—perfectly properly in most instances—decide to remand in custody and, secondly, there is the period for which those people are on remand. We want to ensure that there are no unavoidable delays in the administration of the justice system, and we are doing that.

The Minister is notorious for being able to slide off the point. He is aware that after the events at Risley in 1989 and after the prison disturbances in 1986 and 1988, strong recommendations were made for different treatment of remand prisoners. Why did not the Government react to those recommendations? Why did they do so little? Is the Minister conscious that Vivienne Stern, the director of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders, said that if only the Government had acted, Strangeways might not have happened?

That is a superficial and unfair analysis. The hon. Gentleman knows full well that the 14 prisons being constructed, nine of which will take remand prisoners, will make a massive contribution to solving the problem. If the hon. Gentleman wants to initiate a debate on these matters, we shall be only too happy to discuss them with him. If he promises me that he will spend the first 10 minutes explaining the dismal policies of the previous Labour Government, who cut prison building to the bone, I will listen to his second 10 minutes, when he will no doubt tell us how we should run the system now.

Prisoners (Drugs)


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will institute a policy of screening all prisoners on a regular basis for the use of dangerous drugs.

All new receptions are seen and interviewed by a member of the health care staff and are asked whether they have ever taken drugs. Indications of the use of drugs by injection are looked for at that time. We are considering whether some form of subsequent screening, whether for clinical or control purposes, should be introduced.

Has my hon. and learned Friend seen the study in the British Medical Journal of 26 May this year which showed that 66 per cent. of convicted drug addicts had found needles in prison and injected with them? Might not that contribute to riotous behaviour in prisons?

We certainly want to reduce the amount of drug taking in prisons, and I shall happily write to my hon. Friend explaining the large number of measures that we are taking to deal with the problem. I have not seen the survey to which he referred; I shall look at it. Of course, much depends upon accounts given by prisoners, whose reliability may be in question, and the thorough searches that we conduct in a number of establishments do not reveal anything like that picture. But we are by no means complacent.

I should point out to my hon. Friend that we are under pressure to improve regimes and to have more civilised visiting arrangements. The consequence of allowing visitors and prisoners easier access can be an increase in the risk of drugs being passed on. So we are damned if we do and damned if we do not. Nevertheless, we want to solve the drugs problem and we are taking steps to deal with it.

My hon. and learned Friend will be as aware as I am that it is common knowledge that drugs are freely available in most of our large prisons. There is a leakage. Whether it is through staff or visitors, or whether the prisoners bring drugs in, there is clearly a great security problem. Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that a thorough survey of the security of prisons in this respect would he advantageous?

I entirely accept what my hon. Friend says, although I think that it is easy to overstate the problem. More than 90 per cent. of the finds involve cannabis and only 3 per cent. heroin and cocaine. I assure my hon. Friend that I hold meetings to try to ensure that we upgrade our activity and that questions such as the extent to which visitors should be searched are under active consideration. We must be careful not to exaggerate the problem, although I am aware that running a disciplined prison is made all the more difficult if there is ready access to drugs. We must do something to ensure that that does not happen.

Birmingham Pub Bombings


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to have the results of the Devon and Cornwall police investigations into aspects of the Birmingham pub bombings case.

It is not possible at this stage to say when the Devon and Cornwall constabulary will be able to report on the results of its inquiries. I am sure that the whole House would want the inquiries to be as thorough as possible.

I am grateful to the Home Secretary for his reply, but, with the best will in the world, many of us are worried that we shall never see the report. The best that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can do, on the basis of a report that we shall not see, is to refer the case back to the Court of Appeal, whose record in this case we know: it dismissed serious new evidence when the case was last referred to it.

In contrast, we have the inquiry into the Maguire case, which appears to be collapsing in front of our eyes. Do not we need a full open inquiry in public into the case of the Birmingham Six, so that all the evidence can be properly reviewed?

The hon. Lady will know that I am always prepared to consider any new material that is offered to me which may relate to the safety of a conviction. That is why, when representations were made to me, I thought it right to put certain matters to the chief constable of the West Midlands, who in turn thought it right to call for the assistance of the Devon and Cornwall police. I do not think that the hon. Lady can say that I have been lax in any way in ensuring that there have been proper inquiries into these matters.

With regard to the Birmingham case, does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that most Conservative Members—and, I suspect, a number of Opposition Members—are heartily fed up with unsubstantiated claims of innocence and guilt? Does he further agree that if certain Opposition Members, notably the hon. Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin), have evidence about those who carried out the Birmingham bombings, they should make that evidence known to the appropriate authorities?

My hon. Friend will recognise that it is up to all of us to exercise responsibility in those matters. I have said what my responsibilities are and I believe that I am carrying them out.

On a matter which I know the Home Secretary accepts is related both to the initial question and to his answer, will he tell us, in the light of this morning's statement by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the May committee that he regards the convictions of the Maguires unsafe, what steps he now proposes to take on that and related matters?

I should tell the House that this morning counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions told the May inquiry that, in his view, the convictions of the Maguires and the others convicted of possessing explosives are unsafe and unsatisfactory. In view of that, I should say straight away that I do not believe that the convictions can be allowed to stand. The correct course will probably be for me to refer the case to the Court of Appeal, but I do not think that it is right to do that until all the submissions on that issue have been presented to the inquiry and Sir John May has had an opportunity to respond to them. Once I have referred the case to the Court of Appeal it will become sub judice and it would then be very difficult for the May inquiry to go into those matters any further.

Sunday Trading


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what representations he has received following the decision of Croydon magistrates to dismiss Sunday trading summonses; and if he will make a statement.

One representation has been received. The Government recognise that the interpretation of the judgment of the European Court is causing some difficulty, but this is a matter for the courts in the first instance. Since the defeat of the Shops Bill, the Government have made it clear that, while maintaining our previous views on the matter, we are prepared to consider reform short of total deregulation if a solution can be found which is widely accepted, enforceable, practicable and likely to command a parliamentary majority. No such solution has yet emerged.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply. Does he agree that the law on Sunday trading is absolute nonsense? Is he aware that 13 national opinion polls on Sunday trading have been carried out over the past two years and that 63 per cent. of the people want Sunday trading? When will we listen to the people? When will we get rid of this ridiculous and rotten law?

One or two of us, including my right hon. and learned Friend and I, sought to do that very thing back in 1985. I cannot help feeling that we would have avoided quite a lot of the difficulties that have since emerged had that Bill been permitted to become law. However, it was not and we are therefore in a situation not of our choosing. I have always said from the Dispatch Box that the criminal law has no place in the enforcement of who can buy what on a Sunday. We must accept that that is the law and live with the consequences. I hope that one of the consequences of the muddle that has emerged is that hon. Members will recognise that Parliament has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to put the law into a sensible shape and I hope that an opportunity will be found to do that without too much further delay.

Does the Minister accept that there is no muddle over this matter in south Wales? In my constituency this week the magistrate in Cwmbran successfully prosecuted B and Q for illegal Sunday trading. Does he accept now that there is no excuse whatsoever for do-it-yourself stores like B and Q openly to flout the law of the land? Will he urge the Attorney-General to take up this case on behalf of Torfaen borough council, as I understand that B and Q is going to appeal?

Happily, I am not the interpreter of the law of the land. But the hon. Gentleman's self-righteousness might extend to asking himself this question: why does he suppose that so many of his constituents thought it perfectly proper to shop on a Sunday? Does he really think that, whatever the law and its enforcement may be, which is not a matter for me, it is a sustainable basis on which to take British law into the last decade of the 20th century that we should have criminal penalties for people who simply want to sell legitimate household items to other members of the public?

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the determination to keep Sunday special is deeply rooted among the majority of people and that the Government's failure to appreciate that fact led to their difficulties with the Shops Bill? Will he now advise those who are seeking to subvert the law to wait until the Torfaen case, which was referred to the European Court of Justice and then referred back, reaches the stage of being subject to a judgment by a court of record?

The sadness of the present position is that, in all the debates on this issue during my time in the House —I have attended all of them—not one hon. Member has ever said that he or she accepts the Shops Acts as they presently are. Everyone has said that they want a change, but no one has been able to agree what that change should be. I inform my hon. Friend, who is an experienced lawyer, that of course the law of the land is the law of the land, but he knows that court judgments simply reveal the inconsistency in the law. That means that, sooner or later, Parliament will need to address the issue.

Notwithstanding that very flimsy answer, is the Minister aware that there is deep concern in the country about the Government's failure since 1986 to introduce modern Sunday trading legislation? Is the Minister further aware that the Government are now perceived by informed and responsible opinion, through their procrastination, to be encouraging an organised campaign of law-breaking? When will the Government face up to their responsibilities and urgently introduce new legislation? The country wants to know now.

We brought forward a solution that was not acceptable to the House—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman listen to my answer as I listened to his question? He knows that we made it clear that we would be prepared to consider solutions that fall short of total deregulation if those solutions were coherent and workable. Before the hon. Gentleman again speaks in the terms that he did, he might send to me, on however many sides of a piece of paper he chooses, what he thinks the answer is. The Labour party, which is in the pocket of the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers Union, has always known what it is against, but it has never known what it is in favour of.

My hon. and learned Friend will be aware that Conservative Members—[Interruption.]

Order. We often have to listen to things with which we are unhappy. We must listen to each other.

My hon. and learned Friend will need no reassurance from me that Conservative Members will not defend people who break the law. Given the comments of the hon. Member for Torfaen (Mr. Murphy) about the events in his constituency, does my hon. and learned Friend agree that the current law is not only totally outdated but is losing the respect of many retailers who wish to open on Sunday and millions of people who shop on Sundays and expect to have the right to do so in a free and civilised country? Will my hon. and learned Friend assure the House——

The sad fact is that the schedule to the Act contains a list of prohibited items that do not reflect the stock held by any shop. Therefore, it is almost impossible to think of any shop that is open on a Sunday and is trading lawfully. That is why I repeat that it is difficult not to sympathise with those who are trying to struggle with the question whether to enforce the law and what the law is when the law has not been modernised for 50 years.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman will look at the Order Paper, he will realise that there is another question on this matter. He must not seek to be selfish and try to get in every time.

British Summer Time


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what further representations he has received in respect of proposed changes to British summer time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Peter Lloyd)

Representations covering all shades of opinion continue to be received in response to the Green Paper on summer time. The results of the consultation exercise—[Interruption.]

Order. Let us settle down. This question is about British summer time, and it is Mr. Martyn Jones's question. Did the hon. Gentleman hear the answer?

I thank the Minister for repeating his answer. When the results of the consultation exercise are made known, I hope that the Government will continue to resist any changes to British summer time. Does he accept that such changes would badly affect rural workers in my constituency and in many other constituencies further north?

The Government are well aware of opinion in Scotland and the north because of the responses to the Green Paper and our regular contacts with the relevant Department at the Scottish Office. We shall, of course, bear all shades of opinion in mind. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State will be publishing the results of the consultation exercise and the Government's decision will depend on the general debate that follows.

Is my hon. Friend aware that if that change were to take place and we had summer time in the months of December, January and February, it would be absolutely disastrous for the construction industry? Is he further aware that I wrote the building industry's brief on this matter before the debate in 1971? I have not changed my views. The proposal should be strongly resisted.

We are very much aware of the views of the construction industry. What it urges is quite different from what other respondents have urged. The benefits and disadvantages of each aspect must be weighed carefully and then a judgment made.

Will the Minister explain the Government's difficulty over this matter? The Home Office has been considering this for more than two years now and the consultation period ended several months ago. Is the Minister aware that the dubious benefits of double summer time are outweighed by the undoubted inconvenience and possible danger to many people who live in different parts of the country?

The hon. Gentleman gives one view, but, as the results of the discussion paper will show, there are many different views depending on which element the respondent thinks is important. Difficult and detailed issues are involved, which is why my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State has given them careful thought over a considerable period. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we intend to publish those results before the longest day in the year.

Will the Minister take into account the fact that people involved in business and agriculture in Northern Ireland believe that he should resist any pressure to change the present practice? Will he also take on board the fact that not only is that belief shared by people in Scotland, the north of England and Northern Ireland, but that the original question was tabled by an hon. Member from Wales?

We shall take all those points into account. The right hon. Gentleman has underlined yet again the fact that there is a great variety of views on this issue, each of which has some validity.

Is my hon. Friend aware that a significant number of people believe that if we are to take the single European market seriously and compete in Europe, we should have the same time frame as Europe?

Yes, I am aware of that view, which some people hold strongly while others believe that it is less important.



To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent discussions he has had on international co-operation to combat terrorism.

In the past three months my right hon. and learned Friend has discussed international cooperation against terrorism with ministerial colleagues from Germany, France, Czechoslovakia, Portugal and Bahrain, and will be discussing it with colleagues in the Trevi group at meetings in Dublin later today and tomorrow.

Why has no one been prosecuted for the Lockerbie outrage, bearing in mind that the Minister's Scottish colleague, the Lord Advocate, promised some time ago that a prosecution would take place? What has gone wrong? People around the world want to know. What is happening? It seems as though the Government are turning a blind eye to an issue which is clearly important to us all.

What the hon. Gentleman says is a load of nonsense. Investigations are proceeding with great urgency. We are receiving a great deal of co-operation around the world and I have no doubt that in due time arrests will be made.

Does my hon. Friend consider that the fight against international terrorism is compatible with the removal of all border controls between nation states? Is he receiving support from his Common Market partners in resisting the dismantling of all border controls for that purpose?

We have made it clear that we intend to keep our border checks and we find that there is increasing sympathy and understanding for our view among our EC partners.

Are not open borders in 1992 and the continued assertion that the Government intend to dismantle all border controls incompatible with adequate controls against terrorism and the illegal movement of arms and drugs? So far, the Government have not told us of even one measure that they intend to take against the removal of barriers in 1992. All that they have done is to make platitudinous assertions.

We have made it clear that we intend to keep border controls and checks. We can do that in a way that is consistent with easy movement of EC nationals, who merely need to indicate who they are at the border checks.

Active Citizens


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what recent steps he has taken to help promote the concept of the active citizen.

My right hon. and learned Friend and I take every opportunity to encourage responsible and active citizens and businesses to make a positive contribution to their communities and to charitable causes, particularly through volunteering and charitable giving.

Will my right hon. Friend note the enthusiasm among Conservative Members for the concept of the active citizen, in particular the role that the active citizen can play in exercising his own responsibilities within the family and the community? The community neighbourhood watch scheme and the family can help the Government to reduce the appalling crime figures for juveniles of 15. Does he find that other Government Departments are playing their part in ensuring that the active citizen forms a central part of the Conservative party's next manifesto?

I agree with my hon. Friend. Never before in British history have so many of our fellow citizens been involved in voluntary activity. The figure is now about one in four of all our citizens aged over 16. My hon. Friend referred to the neighbourhood watch scheme. Those who run such schemes in this country are the largest group of volunteers anywhere in the western world and they should be commended. Certainly, my right hon. Friends in other Government Departments are keen to promote the concept of the active citizen. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science is doing exactly that with local management of schools. I pay tribute to all parent governors who are helping with the local management of schools.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the greater accountability brought about by the community charge will give a significant boost to the concept of the active citizen? In cases such as the recent arson attack on a school in my constituency the cost of repairs will fall on community charge payers throughout the borough. We therefore all have a major incentive to do what we can to prevent crimes of that nature.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I hope that he agrees that we must also diffuse to ordinary people in their communities as much power and control as possible over their lives. We are doing that through local management of schools and by giving tenants more rights to control their own lives, and we intend to continue the process in future years.

Birmingham Pub Bombings


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what steps have been taken to recover the 2,000 or so non-material statements which were not made available to solicitors acting for the six men convicted of the Birmingham pub bombings.

It has not been established that any relevant evidence concerning the case of the Birmingham Six is missing. Representations about this possibility are among the issues which have been raised by the solicitor acting for the convicted men. I have passed these to the chief constable of the west midlands police, and they will be investigated by the Devon and Cornwall constabulary.

May I put it to the Home Secretary that although we all lose things from time to time—the Labour party just lost three elections, but our losing streak is now finished—losing 2,000 statements really seems a bit much? A pack of playing cards on which Dr. Scuse carried out his tests and pages clearly torn out of a notebook have also been lost. It seems either that the police are terminally careless or that a cover up is going on. The Secretary of State recently had to eat some words in relation to the Maguire case, and he will have to eat some words in the case of the Birmingham Six before long.

I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said, which was that it had not been established that any relevant evidence in the case of the Birmingham Six was missing. In fact, the alleged failure of the prosecution to tell the defence about the existence of none-material statements was considered by the Court of Appeal in 1987. The allegations are now being considered by the Devon and Cornwall police.

In respect of the Maguire case, which was raised by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), can my right hon. and learned Friend tell us on what basis the conviction is thought to be unsound? Can he confirm that there is no question of any improper activity by the police?

That is my understanding, but I only learnt about the matter this morning. I must read with care the submission made by counsel for the Director of Public Prosecutions. My understanding is that he submitted that the convictions were unsafe and unsatisfactory on the basis of the possibility of the accused having become innocently contaminated with traces of explosives.

Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the collapse of the Maguire case this morning makes it two out of three in the cases that I and many others have, for the past seven years, attempted to draw to his attention as examples of miscarriages of justice? Would not it be best to learn some lessons and hold a public inquiry into the Birmingham Six case, and one which commands public confidence? Should not that scandal be brought to an end once and for all? Does the Home Secretary accept my fear that some of the Birmingham Six may die in gaol, as did Paul Giuseppe Conlan, one of those arrested in the Maguire case? We want to avoid that happening.

The hon. Gentleman should be pleased that when submissions were made to me that there was new evidence which should be investigated because it might cast doubt on the safety of the convictions, I asked the chief constable of the west midlands whether he would help, and he called in the Devon and Cornwall police. I cannot imagine what the hon. Gentleman is complaining about. Indeed, we might have progressed more quickly with the inquiries if he had revealed many months ago the names of those whom he said were responsible for the bombing.

If public inquiries are to be held, can there be one into every atrocity committed as a result of the IRA's shoot-to-kill policy?

I am bound to say that, like the hon. Gentleman, I have often thought that it would be nice to see on television every now and again a documentary highlighting the appalling atrocities committed by the IRA and the terrible damage that has been done to life in Ulster, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland and mainland Britain.

May I bring the Home Secretary back to the crucial question, which is the status and reputation of justice in this country? Does he not understand that the submission by the Director of Public Prosecutions to the May committee inquiry this morning, and his own wholly proper reaction to it, further increase pressure for a new, thorough and objective inquiry into the convictions of the Birmingham Six? Sooner or later, that new inquiry will have to be held and it would do the Home Secretary's reputation a great deal of good if he set it up here and now.

If the right hon. Gentleman thinks about the matter for a moment or two, I think that he will agree that I am right to say that I shall consider carefully what the May inquiry says about the forensic science evidence in the Maguire case and I shall take fully into account any implications that it might have for the safety of other convictions. The reliability of the forensic science evidence in the Birmingham Six case was fully examined in 1987.

Remand Prisoners


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the current number of remand prisoners held in police cells; and what the figure was one year ago.

On Wednesday 13 June there were 887 prisoners held in police cells in England and Wales, compared with 218 people on 13 June 1989; 825 of them are being held in the north-west of England and are in police cells as a result of industrial action by the Prison Officers Association at some establishments in the north. I am most grateful to the police for their assistance in this matter.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. I am sure that we are all grateful to the police, although hon. Members who have fewer policing hours available for policing their constituencies must be concerned about the situation. Will the Minister get together with the POA as soon as possible to find a solution to the problem?

A meeting took place between Home Office officials and representatives of the POA in the north-west today. I have yet to receive a full report of the outcome. Obviously, at a time when the prison service is striving to cope with the aftermath of Strangeways and when we have announced a major refurbishment of that prison, as well as seeking to honour our commitments to upgrade other prisons, it is dreadful that as a result of industrial action we are having to pay the police service £180 per night to accommodate prisoners when there is plenty of room in the prisons in the north to accommodate prisoners there, where they should be.

I thank the Minister for his contratulations to the police and I join him in congratulating the Greater Manchester police on the tremendous job that they have been doing in looking after remand prisoners since Strangeways. Is he aware that it is totally unacceptable for the police at police stations such as those in Stockport to have to go on looking after remand prisoners? It is also totally unacceptable to the prisoners and to their families. Will the Minister make it clear that this state of affairs cannot continue and that we must achieve a situation in which those remand prisoners can go back to prison and the police stations can get back to their normal functions?

I am in the happy position of agreeing with absolutely every word that the hon. Gentleman said. That is why we have sought to persuade the POA to accept a common-sense solution. For example, Preston prison—one of the major prisons in the north—has a certified normal accommodation of 428, but there are barely more than 300 prisoners there at present. Industrial action is preventing the spaces being filled. The public and the House will not understand if it takes much longer to resolve these problems.

Sunday Trading


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will introduce legislation in the light of inconsistent judgments on Sunday trading cases now coming from the courts; and if he will make a statement.

I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Evans).

In the search for a compromise, will my hon. and learned Friend pay particular attention to the needs of garden centres, the purpose of which is widely recognised as being recreational? Will he bear in mind that some garden centres do as much as 70 per cent. of their business on Sundays and that without Sunday opening they would be forced to close? Does he appreciate that there is great concern in that industry about the continuing uncertainty?

I well appreciate all the points that my hon. Friend makes, and she is absolutely right.

Will the Minister accept that many shop workers are saying loud and clear, "You already take our Saturdays for work—you are not going to get our Sundays"? Will he further accept that shop workers will not believe any offers of protection which may be held out to them by the Government, who have a shocking record of stripping protection from shop workers in relation to wages, hours of work and other matters?

The hon. Lady should, in all conscience, recognise that the world has moved on since the clays of Mr. Polly and that in reality several million of our fellow citizens—including, I suspect, a good many of us—regularly have to work Sundays but that we manage to do so while having perfectly normal, decent and sensible family lives and being able to follow our religions. All retailers who advocate a change in the law say that it has never been difficult to find people willing to work on Sundays, particularly when supplements are paid.

Crime Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what is the level of crime in (a) England and Wales, (b) each member country of the European Community and (c) the United States of America.

According to the recently published 1989 international survey of crime, the overall risk in England and Wales of being a victim of crime is a little below the average for western Europe and much lower for violent crime than in the rest of Europe. The risk is lower than in the United States, Canada and Australia. What matters to our citizens is, quite rightly, crime here.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that those figures show that high crime levels are a worldwide problem, and that we in Britain are tackling them more effectively than other countries? Does he acknowledge, however, that there is no cause for complacency here, particularly in the light of the disturbing and countrywide crime rate figures for the first three months of this year?

Those figures will probably not be published for another two weeks. No other part of Government expenditure has had more money devoted to it than the police, where there has been almost a 60 per cent. rise in expenditure in real terms in the past 10 years. There are 15,000 more men and women working in the police service, and with better equipment than ever before. Happily, the recent international survey to which I referred shows that confidence in the police is higher in this country than in any other western European country.

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today. This evening I shall be hosting a dinner in honour of Sir Sonny Ramphal, secretary-general of the Commonwealth.

Will my right hon. Friend consider the possibility of the Government establishing a Select Committee charged with the responsibility of examining the cost to the nation of the pledges and commitments made by Ministers and other hon. Members?

As my hon. Friend knows, Ministers have to lay their estimates before the House and overall Government expenditure is given in the Autumn Statement, as is the detailed public expenditure survey ahead. It would be a good idea if other people making proposals for extra expenditure also had to lay their costings before the House—including Opposition Members, who recently made 80 new spending pledges in their new document.

Is the Prime Minister aware that this morning's decision by the Cabinet on the rail link to the channel tunnel means all the misery of prolonged planning blight for the people of Kent, and is a betrayal of the economic and environmental interests of the whole country? When the Prime Minister looks at the problem, as she will have to do again, will she recognise that mixing public and private investment works well for the other countries of Europe, so why does she wish to prevent it from working for our country?

The right hon. Gentleman will recall that clause 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 precludes subsidy for international travel, and the Labour party agreed to that clause at the time. Subsidy is therefore precluded. The joint venture was seeking nearly £2 billion of additional finance for Eurorail—£500 million in Government grant, extra British Rail investment of nearly £400 million, mainly in commuter services, and a £1 billion soft loan, on which repayment of interest or capital would not even start until the year 2010. As I have said, such subsidy was precluded by clause 42.

Is the Prime Minister so inflexible and myopic as not to understand what every community and every industrialist in Britain understands—that when circumstances change, a realistic Government should change their policy? When the French are already building their fast rail link, why is the Prime Minister not even planning ours?

That is another quick £2 billion, just like that. Yet the right hon. Gentleman claims to be responsible. It is absolute nonsense. In fact, nearly £2 billion of public investment has already been committed to tunnel-related transport services in our estimates and in expenditure. I will give the House the breakdown. We plan to spend £600 million on road schemes to allow access to the tunnel, and British Rail will invest more than £1·3 billion on passenger and freight services to and from the tunnel. That is legitimate expenditure and it is being made.

The Prime Minister is seeking to mislead everyone again. Will she not admit that of the sum that she says is committed to railways, £1 billion will be paid for entirely by higher fares being charged to users of Network SouthEast, who already suffer grossly inadequate services at very high cost? Will she not also admit that none of that maintenance work—for that is what it is—begins to provide an alternative to the fast rail link that is necessary? I ask the right hon. Lady again: when other countries mix public and private investment to provide a proper modern international rail link, why is she preventing our people from having the same advantage?

The Government are making a greater investment in railways than there has been for 25 years. We have committed and are spending £2 billion of public investment on roads and railways to the channel tunnel. It is not maintenance—it is much more than that, if the right hon. Gentleman will care to look. Out of the blue and in the right hon. Gentleman's usual casual way, he has committed another £2 billion without costings—justifying the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, East (Mr. Sayeed).


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

I refer my hon. and learned Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Will my right hon. Friend give some thought this afternoon to the plight of British hostages in the Lebanon? Would it not be helpful to their cause and to the peace process in the middle east if Britain and Syria were to patch up their quarrel and agree to resume diplomatic relations? Is it right that we should continue without proper representation in that very important country?

My hon. and learned Friend will recall the very serious circumstances in which we broke off diplomatic relations with Syria, when we could have lost a whole aircraft full of people over London had the bomb that it was meant to carry gone off. There was complicity with the Syrian embassy in the attempted placing of a bomb on that aircraft, and we cannot ignore that. Any country that can exercise influence in achieving the release of hostages should exercise it. The taking and holding of hostages is totally uncivilised. We have publicly thanked Iran and Syria for the part that they played in achieving the release of American hostages. The central issue is the release of hostages that should not be held by any nation.

While the Prime Minister is on the subject of expenditure, does she realise that there cannot be any greater indictment of her Government's priorities than that they are prepared to contemplate spending £3,000 million saving their skins over the poll tax but cannot find one tenth of that sum to invest in a decent high-speed rail link for Britain's future?

I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman listens to any previous reply. We are precluded by legislation from spending on an international rail link. As to expenditure, we have already committed £2 billion to roads and railways to and from the channel tunnel. A statement will be made on the community charge, but I assume from the right hon. Gentleman's comment that he feels no sense of guilt about very high-spending local councils who put up their community charges to an enormous amount—most of them Labour or Liberal.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Will my right hon. Friend welcome the easing of tension between the Soviet Union, Lithuania and the other Baltic states? Does she agree that that welcome development has much to do with the steady pressure applied by the British Government—and other western Governments—to both sides? Will she continue to work hard to bring both sides together for a peaceful settlement in the Soviet Union and the Baltic states?

I discussed that problem with President Gorbachev and the Lithuanian Prime Minister, Mrs. Prunskiene, and we have frequently had questions about it in the House. Britain, the United States and other European countries have steadily made known our view that those states are entitled to independence and self-determination, and President Gorbachev has agreed to that.

It looked as though a real blockage was developing in relation to some of the semantics. That was a great tragedy, as obviously it is important to get practical talks and negotiations started. I believe that that is about to happen, and it is a welcome development. Both sides are to be congratulated on removing the blockages, and I hope that the process comes to fruition.

Will the Prime Minister tell us what replies she has given to those who petitioned her yesterday on behalf of people living in the Ravenscraig area?

As the hon. Lady knows, the position on Ravenscraig was governed by a statement made by British Steel. It undertook to keep the strip mill open until 1989, and that date has now been extended to 1991. As for the main mill, British Steel said in its prospectus that if it no longer had any use for the mill it would be offered to a private buyer; I do not think that the position has changed.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Does my right hon. Friend agree with United States Secretary of State James Baker that the tension in the middle east is as high today as it was in 1967? Does she share his view that the conditions for talks with the Palestinians laid down by the new and extreme Israeli Government need to be changed? Can she assure the House that the British Government will do all that they can to support the American Government's efforts to start some form of talks without delay?

Yes, I believe that my hon. Friend is correct. We are doing all that we can to persuade the new Israeli Government to start talks with representative Palestinian people. We are also joining others in pointing out that Soviet Jews who leave the Soviet Union—and we have urged for years that they should be allowed to leave—should not be settled in the occupied territories or in east Jerusalem. It undermines our position when those people are settled in land that really belongs to others.

What is the average rate of inflation in the European Community, excluding Britain? When does the Prime Minister expect British inflation to achieve the European average? Will she tell the House that it will not happen in October, and that Britain will therefore not join the exchange rate mechanism then, as it will not have met the conditions that she has laid down?

The average rate of inflation in the European Community is about 5 per cent. If Britain's figure were calculated on the same basis, it would be 6.5 per cent. The conditions for Britain's joining the ERM were laid down at Madrid, and they are precisely the same now.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 14 June.

Is it not clear that the socialist policies being foisted on Britain by Commissioner Papandreou, under the terms of the social charter, which requires employers to give a part-time employee all the perks and benefits available to full-time workers, will have a devastating effect on employment and on Britain's 6 million part-time workers? Will my right hon. Friend continue to resist those job-destroying proposals?

Order. Questions are to be answered by the Prime Minister and not by hon. Members on Benches below the Gangway.

I agree with my hon. Friend—the Commission talks in one breath about subsidiarity, and by its actions puts on a whole new load of bureaucratic rules and regulations which are not needed, which would be highly damaging to those who work part-time and would put increasing costs on employers. What the Commission is proposing would be a barrier to jobs, a barrier to business, would cost a lot of women who want to work part-time their jobs, would mean increased national insurance contributions for those who work only a few hours a week, and generally would be damaging to business and people alike.

Business Of The House

3.30 pm

Will the Leader of the House tell us the business for next week?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Sir Geoffrey Howe)

The business for next week will be as follows:

MONDAY 18 JUNE and TUESDAY 19 JUNE—There will be a debate on a Government motion to approve the Defence Estimates 1990 (Cm 1022).

At the end of Tuesday remaining stages of the Greenwich Hospital Bill [Lords].

Ways and Means resolution relating to the Caldey Island Bill.

WEDNESDAY 20 JUNE—Progress on remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].

Consideration of Lords amendments to the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill.

Resolutions relating to the Finance Bill.

THURSDAY 21 JUNE—Completion of remaining stages of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill [Lords].

FRIDAY 22 JUNE—Private Members' motions.

MONDAY 25 JUNE—Opposition Day (15th allotted day). There will be a debate on an Opposition motion, subject for debate to be announced.

Will the Leader of the House reconsider the Government's proposals for the further consideration of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, which is scheduled to go into Committee on 19 June, as that will leave perhaps only 10 sitting days for consideration of a Bill of 60 clauses and seven schedules? It contains a controversial series of proposals, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, as it covers such issues as conveyancing, legal structures, licensing law, divorce law and the law on charities. Is not it clear that the Committee is unlikely to have sufficient time to give full and adequate consideration to all those important matters? Will the Leader of the House withdraw the Bill and reintroduce it in the next Session of Parliament, when the House will be more adequately able to consider all those important measures which affect so many aspects of life in Scotland?

Does it concern the Leader of the House that it is apparently becoming increasingly profitable for Ministers to fall out with the Prime Minister? Is not it time that the House had the opportunity to debate the increasing flow of former Cabinet Ministers into highly paid posts in recently privatised industries? That phenomenon is unlike anything that has ever happened before—[Interruption.]—for one thing, no other Government have privatised industry in the way that the Government have done. Secondly, no Ministers in previous Governments have been so closely involved with such a process as the Ministers in this Government have been. As there are rules governing the behaviour of civil servants, why should we not, in the public interest, have an opportunity to debate the matter in Governmen time? In the interests of the reputation of good government, I ask the Leader of the House to provide such an opportunity.

Has the Leader of the House seen the recently published study on urban prosperity in the European Community? It shows that the Government's policies for Britain's towns and cities are failing. Is he aware that only four British towns and cities are included among the top 50 positions in the study: Brighton—Labour—Norwich—Labour—London—mainly Labour—and Edinburgh—Labour? Does not that show that it is nonsense for the Government to claim that Labour is not managing efficiently the affairs of our towns and cities?

Does not it also put a big question mark over the Government's proposals—that we shall soon have to find time to debate—to rate-cap authorities that are trying to administer many important policies that affect those who live in the towns and cities of this country? Will the Leader of the House therefore ensure that when we come to consider the budgets of authorities that may be poll tax-capped we shall have ample opportunity to do so?

I understand that the hon. Gentleman does not intend to be in the House next week. That may explain the length of his interrogation this afternoon. As for the first matter that he raised, the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill is an important measure which is currently under consideration by the Standing Committee. I am advised that the Committee will so organise itself as to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised. However, I note the hon. Gentleman's point and I shall reflect on what he said

As for the appointment of former Ministers to the chairmanship of privatised companies, it ought to be clearly within the hon. Gentleman's recollection that it has never been the practice, under successive Governments of either party, to prevent former Ministers from accepting appointments in areas where they have expertise. It is difficult to see the distinction in principle between the appointments of which the hon. Gentleman has spoken and the appointments of, for example, Lord Robens as chairman of the National Coal Board, Lord Marsh as chairman of British Rail, Lord Beswick as chairman of the British Aerospace Corporation and Lord Glenamara as chairman of Cable and Wireless. The only distinction is that they were appointed to the chairmanship of industries in the public sector that were a great deal less efficient than the privatised industries that are now available to the country.

As for the hon. Gentleman's last point, it is notable that a number of the cities to which he referred—for example, Edinburgh and Brighton—have had long periods of Conservative rule, which no doubt contributed to their present good condition. It is also notable that a number of cities in this country—I note, for example, London docklands at one end and Glasgow, the European city of culture, at the other—have undergone a positive revitalisation during the last 10 years, of which this country can be proud.

Order. I remind the House that this is an Estimates Day, the second of the rare occasions when we have an opportunity to debate Select Committee reports. Moreover, after business questions the Secretary of State for Transport is to make an important statement. Therefore I shall allow business questions to run until 4.15. Hon. Members who are anxious to question the Secretary of State for Transport about his statement will, I hope, impose upon themselves a self-denying ordinance during business questions.

My right hon. and learned Friend will recall that on 29 March he said that such were the issues raised by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill that the House should have the opportunity to arrive at its conclusions on a free vote. Can he now categorically tell us that that promise obtains for the rest of the Bill?

The Bill was introduced as a measure dealing with embryology and not with abortion issues. When it was introduced it was made clear that the key clause on research or no research, on which we offered alternatives, would be the subject of a free vote. When the possibility of the Bill's being widened to include abortion arose in the House, it was made clear, and still remains the position, that matters relating to embryo research or abortion that are matters of conscience will be subject to a free vote.

One matter on which it makes sense to invite the House, with the help of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, to conclude the debate, is whether we give the Bill a Third Reading. It was introduced as a Government Bill and will be the result of intense deliberation by the House on the questions urged upon it by my right hon. Friend and others, so it would be foolish for us to neglect passing the Bill on to the statute book when we have completed our considerations.

Regarding the proposed establishment of a Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs, has the Leader of the House had an opportunity to consult the Chairman of the Select Committee on Procedure, following his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) last Thursday?

I have not yet taken that opportunity, but I shall bear in mind the point raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the House is pleased that he has responded to the Procedure Committee's report on European legislation with a White Paper? I congratulate him on that, but it is not enough; we need a debate. We have been promised a debate. Can he tell the House when that will be, and will he consider whether the debate should be on an affirmative motion and not simply a take-note motion?

As my hon. Friend is aware, I have had a number of discussions with right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and I hope to announce a debate on the matter in the very near future. Of course, without commitment, I shall pay respect to his observations about the form of the debate.

Like the rest of us who observed the exchanges at Prime Minister's Question Time, did the Leader of the House notice the Prime Minister's frustration that section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987 was tying her hands and undoubtedly preventing her from providing much-needed funds to the high-speed rail link? Given the fact that the Government have a large majority in the House and that such a measure would get a fair wind from the Opposition, will he set a day aside next week for a simple, one-clause Bill to repeal section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act?

I did not get the impression that that was the ambition of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. If hon. Members wish to explore the matter in more detail, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport will answer their questions.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend expect the embryo research and abortion clauses of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to be taken on the Wednesday or Thursday? Does he agree that, if there is any timetable problem about the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, the divorce provision could well be dropped?

The precise allocation of business will be for the Business Committee, but the hope is to divide the two topics between the two days.

Will the Leader of the House think again about his answer to the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine)? He is putting a three-line Whip on a Government Bill which deals with life issues. That has far wider implications than he has realised in terms of the Labour party's position on these matters. Will he please reconsider that decision and not proceed on that basis?

Once again, I am glad to have the opportunity of disabusing the hon. Gentleman and the House of an entirely false impression about the way in which the Bill is being handled. First, it is not the function of the Leader of the House to prescribe whipping arrangements for either side of the House. Secondly, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary made it clear that matters relating to embryo research or abortion, that are matters of conscience, will be subject to an entirely free vote, as indeed they were. The only question on which there can sensibly be whipping is whether the House of Commons, having spent a great deal of time in orderly debate on the matter, should carry through to the statute book the result of that work. The first part of the Bill, which deals with embryology, is a Government Bill; the second part of the Bill is, in effect, a House of Commons Bill and it is not unreasonable to expect that Bill to be carried through to the statute book.

May we have an early debate on the important subject of religious education in schools, bearing in mind the serious shortage of religious education teachers and the importance of teaching children the difference between right and wrong? That would also enable the apparently illegal syllabus in religious education of the former Ealing Labour council to be discussed and ordered to be changed. It does not mention God, the Bible or Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, which are required to be at the centre of this crucial subject.

My hon. Friend always has the skill to make his business question almost a mini-debate in itself. He has ventilated the subject with some skill.

May we have a debate before 29 June on crowd safety at pop concerts? On that date, there is to be the biggest concert of the year, with more than 100,000 young people expected to hear such aging figures as Paul McCartney and Elton John. We should at least be concerned to see that people are safe when they get there.

I am not sure whether the hon. and learned Gentleman will be among the audience there. He would be a man of comparable vintage to the stars he has named. I cannot promise a debate on that topic in the near future.

I do not wish to overburden our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. However, will my right hon. and learned Friend fill the cup of London's happiness by bringing our right hon. Friend back shortly to make an announcement on the central London rail study, including the Hackney-Chelsea line, which we hope will come south of the river through Wandsworth, and on the public transport elements of the London assessment studies?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has answered questions on both topics in the fairly recent past. He may or may not be in a position to answer such questions this afternoon. If not, I am sure that my hon. Friend will find another opportunity of pressing him on both points.

Will the Leader of the House arrange an early debate on the cash crisis facing the education service? Is he aware that many schools, including those in my constituency, are facing a cash crisis as a result of inadequate budgets under the local management scheme? Budgets are being returned, teachers are being threatened with the sack and there is a real danger of many schools literally running out of money before the end of the financial year. What are the Government doing to ensure that our children's education is not put in jeopardy in that way? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange an early debate so that the Secretary of State for Education and Science can be told of the reality facing many constituencies?

The hon. Gentleman will, no doubt, recall that the amount of money per head being spent on children's education is now higher than at any time in the past. He will also remember that the change in school management was intended to secure—and will secure—increasingly efficient use of those resources to achieve the exact objectives he has in mind. He will find the point more elaborately explained in the speech by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the National Association of Head Teachers a couple of weeks ago.

May I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on agreeing to reflect on what the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) said about the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill? I speak as a member of the Committee on that Bill and as a supporter of the great majority of its provisions. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that in light of the excellent speeches on Second Reading by my hon. Friends, the timetable for the Bill is unreasonable and that it would be far better if this important measure were considered next Session by reasonable people over a reasonable time and at reasonable hours?

I am still hopeful that my hon. Friend—some of whose remarks I appreciate—will play his part in helping the Committee so to organise itself that it can complete its business in the present Session.

Will the Leader of the House consider my question last week on separating the poll tax orders that must be laid? I notice that they are not down for debate next week, so they could be put down for the week after. My understanding is that the orders may be brought together in two groups. That would be a negation of democracy, both centrally and locally. It would be a kick in the teeth for people such as those in my constituency, where the music centre has closed, 24 teachers have been sacked, two old people's homes have been closed and all the services have been cut. Is not it right for each order to be debated for an hour and a half in the House and for the House to make a decision on each?

I have not today announced any arrangements for debating charge capping. Any proposals on that matter are best left for discussions through the usual channels.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that we have not had a debate for some time on the workings of the Foreign Office? Does he agree that the cost of the Foreign Office is very low, given the service that it performs? It has one: of the lowest votes of any Government Department. Its activities at home and abroad are vital to the country and I hope that they will not be curtailed in any way.

I am glad to endorse the tribute paid by my hon. Friend to the efficiency and importance of the Foreign Office. I am sure that, in due course, we shall have a debate on foreign affairs and that my hon. Friend will be able to repeat in more detail the glowing observations that he has made.

What are the chances of a statement next week on the stalled Cabinet review of the poll tax? I am happy to leave it entirely up to the Leader of the House to sort out whether such a statement should come from the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for the Environment or from the Chancellor, but it would at least give 1·25 million people in Scotland and 10 million people in England and Wales the opportunity to discover precisely the sort of poll tax that we are not paying.

There is no question of any stalling of any review. My right hon. Friends' consideration of the operation of the community charge is proceeding in the ordinary fashion and the outcome will be disclosed in clue course.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend any news to give us about when we may have the reform of the private Bill procedure and when the excellent recommendations of the Joint Committee on Private Bill Procedure may be implemented?

I hope to be able to tell the House something more substantial about that next week.

Will the Leader of the House consider further the need for a statement on the position of former Cabinet Ministers who have taken posts in private companies? One former Minister had dealings with a company—recently, while he was a Minister—and has now become its chairman. Is the Leader of the House aware that many people regard that as scandalous? We need guidelines for former Cabinet Ministers along the same lines as those for senior civil servants who leave the service, which have not been the subject of any controversy.

I repeat that it has never been the practice, under Governments of either party, to prevent former Ministers from accepting appointments. I repeat that there is a list of distinguished ex-Labour Ministers who have moved on to preside over nationalised companies, while others have taken jobs in the private sector.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the Montreal protocol meetings, to be held in London and hosted by Her Majesty's Government, are likely to prove a crucial test of the true environmental policies of most major nations? Please may we have a debate on the subject before the meetings take place, so that the Government are aware of Back-Bench feelings?

I cannot promise a debate on that important subject at a particular time, but I shall bear my hon. Friend's question in mind.

Does the Leader of the House accept that his twice-repeated assertion that the Standing Committee appointed to deal with the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill should "so organise itself" represents a dereliction of duty by the Government? The Government are demanding one of two things of the members of the Standing Committee: either we shall be faced with all-night sittings during June and July or we shall have severely to curtail discussions not only of the provisions of the Bill but of other aspects of law reform in Scotland that we may wish to raise under the long title.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman undertake not only to have discussions through the usual channels but to meet representatives of the Scottish National party and the Liberal Democrats to discuss the implications of the Bill and the possibility of taking it away and introducing separate legislation in the next Session so that we can deal with these issues as they deserve to be dealt with?

It would not be normal for me to engage myself in managing the procedures of this, that or any other Standing Committee, however important its work may be. I have already undertaken to reflect on the point that has been raised, but I maintain my belief, on the basis of the advice that I have received, that it should be possible for the Committee so to organise itself as to ensure that the Bill is properly scrutinised.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend able to tell the House how long it would take to describe those qualifications which Lord Glenamara possessed before his appointment as chairman of Cable and Wireless? Is it really the case that he was not able to distinguish one end of a cable from the other, either at the start or at the end of his term of office as chairman? Is not it a source of great satisfaction to my right hon. and learned Friend that the new chairman of Cable and Wireless has been appointed from the private sector and not by one of his right hon. Friends?

My hon. Friend's observations are always entirely apt. It is a source of pleasure to Conservative Members, and more importantly it is a source of encouragement and benefit to the nation, that a competent chairman should be appointed to a privatised company of that kind. However, as we consider the proximity of experience, it is interesting to reflect that Lord Glenamara had been Postmaster-General before becoming chairman of Cable and Wireless.

Has the Leader of the House seen early-day motion 982 about the poll tax and the franchise which shows that there is a shortfall on the electoral register of 600,000 people as a result of the operation of the poll tax?

[That this House notes that under a universal franchise there has correctly been a close correlation between the numbers of people on electoral registers within Great Britain and the estimated equivalent population of those who are 18 years of age and over; is therefore shocked to discover that since the introduction of the poll tax and the interconnections that subsequently exist between electoral and poll tax registration, on the above basis there are over 600,000 people missing from the current and recently used local government electoral registers in Great Britain; further notes that under-registration, is unevenly distributed and that there are certain alarming pockets of non-registration including the parliamentary constituency of Finchley where the electorate fell by 4·6 per cent. between 1988 and 1989 and has fallen by a further 3·9 per cent. in the past year; also notes that the overall decline in electoral registration has not occurred in Northern Ireland where the poll tax has not been introduced; and therefore concludes that the poll tax is incompatible with the operation of a universal franchise and should be abolished forthwith because any attempts to amend its operation cannot overcome its fundamental characteristic which is one of undermining a universal franchise by placing a de facto tax on electoral registration.]

May we have a debate about the state of the franchise, and can that debate include concerns about expatriate votes so that a fraud squad can be set up to stop electoral fraud in this country?

I am glad to take this opportunity to remind the hon. Gentleman that the arrangements for the registration of expatriate votes were introduced and carried through the House with the express approval of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) wants to amplify further upon the virtues of that provision, it has been arranged for him to have an Adjournment debate on the subject next Friday.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend reflect on the answer that he gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart)? This plea comes from the hon. Member of this House with more hours in Standing Committee than any other hon. Member. My right hon. and learned Friend will realise that the distances that we travel and the size of our constituencies place enormous demands on Scottish Members. Consequently, those of us who wish to debate that important measure properly, fully and adequately, believe that there is not enough time left to do so.

I am sure that the House will be able to judge how far to acknowledge and hail my hon. Friend as the Stakhanovite of the Scottish Standing Committee. I will continue to reflect, with his encouragement, as I have already undertaken to reflect after the encouragement of other hon. Members.

Will the Leader of the House reflect on the fact that we are to have a debate on defence on Monday and Tuesday? As things are moving very fast, particularly in Europe, and as the estimates White Paper is now really dated, and as we understand that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement has been devilling away in the Ministry of Defence and has produced his own defence review, would it not be in the interests of the House for that to be published and available to all hon. Members so that we can debate the subject adequately and anticipate the cuts to be made by the Government before the Opposition make their own cuts?

The hon. Gentleman is a little impatient and is trying to make now the speech that he wants to make in next Monday's or Tuesday's debate. He will have an opportunity to hear my hon. Friend the Minister of State for Defence Procurement as well as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in next week's debate.

In the business statement last week, my right hon. and learned Friend said that he hoped shortly to be able to announce a date for a debate on the Police (Amendment No. 2) Regulations. As he has not announced a date today, when does he expect to do so?

I can confirm that in my next business statement I will announce specific proposals for a debate on those regulations.

Will the Leader of the House make arrangements for the Secretary of State for Defence to make a statement regarding matters at Coulport and Faslane? More than 40 men have been denied security passes, and one of my constituents, who is completely innocent of any security breach, has been denied a job and been made unemployed for more than six weeks. That man is desperate to resume working not only for this country but for his family. Will the Secretary of State come to the House and make a statement on that appalling state of affairs?

I certainly cannot promise a statement on the matter. The Defence Secretary will be top for questions on Tuesday of next week as well as taking part in the defence debate on two days of next week.

I refer my right hon. and learned Friend to his answer to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine). He will be aware that the Government earned great respect for the arrangements that they made for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill. My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware also that the Government earned great gratitude not only in the House but in the country. Whichever side wins, if there is not a free vote on a Bill that will contain provisions that may be deeply repugnant to the wishes of hon. Members, the respect that the Government have so justly won will be needlessly jeopardised.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her tribute to the way in which we have been able to organise that debate. That fortifies me in the conviction that, having been able to organise it with the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House, it is important that the conclusions of such a wide-ranging debate, which were clearly the outcome of very careful deliberation by a large number of hon. Members, should be placed on the statute book if possible.

Is the Leader of the House aware that I share the deep concern that was expressed by his hon. Friend the Member for Tayside, North (Mr. Walker) about the Commitee proceedings on the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill? I ask that question because, if the Bill were passed with sensible amendments, we could provide for major developments in child care law in Scotland, especially the provision of treatment of victims of physical and sexual abuse. Although I want no delay in the enactment of such legislation, it requires deliberate and careful concern and scrutiny. I again ask the Leader of the House to take on board the concern that was expressed today.

I have nothing further to add to what I have already said on that topic.

With further reference to the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Bill, has my right hon. and learned Friend had time to read clause 46? If he has, as a lawyer he will have seen that it proposes to give the police greater powers of entry to registered clubs than they already have for public houses. May I advise my right hon. and learned Friend that there is no evidence that that clause should have been introduced and that there is great concern that such a provision might subsequently be introduce in England?

I am not sure whether business questions is the best time to offer me advice on the contents of a Scottish Bill. In so far as my hon. Friend's observation was valid, I shall try to take note of it.

Will the Leader of the House find time to review the legislation relating to the protection of historic monuments and our country's heritage? I am deeply concerned that the 12th-century St. Quentin castle at Llanblethian near Cowbridge, which is an area that is familiar to you, Mr. Speaker, and to the Leader of the House, is in danger of being lost for ever because the landowner is using current legislation to run rings around the Welsh Office. The latest proposals to protect that monument are the eighth since 1974. If we do not take action, we shall lose that monument and, I am sure, other historic monuments throughout the country.

I am sufficiently conscious of the value and importance of Llanblethian castle. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's point to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales.

Many hon. Members use St. Stephen's entrance to gain access to the Houses of Parliament. St. Stephen's Hall and Central Lobby are often crowded with visitors and, welcome though those visitors are, they none the less sometimes get in the way. In the past few months when coming in to attend Divisions I have collided twice with members of the public. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at whatever arrangements there are to ensure that hon. Members have unhindered and unencumbered access to this place?

I find it difficult to judge imediately the relative importance of my hon. Friend's access to the House and his continued contact with the electorate.

With reference to the question of the hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery) on the procedures to be adopted when debating the Government's response to Procedure Committee's report on EEC legislation, does the Leader of the House agree that a vote to approve such a response would not give him the opportunity to choose those aspects on which he will table amendments and would decide holus bolus on all its proposals? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that many hon. Members will be grateful for the fact that no fewer than 10 motions on the Orders of the Day relate to EEC documents, some of which are due to be considered in Committee? Will the Leader of the House tell us which orders will be considered in Committee next week.

I take note of the advice offered by the hon. Gentleman and, in so far as it differs from the advice offered by my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), I shall reflect all the more enthusiastically on both pieces of advice. I shall try to meet the hon. Gentleman's request in relation to his second point in one way or another, but I cannot undertake to do so precisely in the way that he asked.

As the whole of tomorrow may be taken up with the second debate this week on the dreary subject of the Common Market, rather on the much more interesting subject of Church and state, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange for a debate next week on the subject of the Church and its relations with the state?

I take note of the somewhat frustrated way in which my hon. Friend expresses himself, having drawn the debate that is likely to take second place tomorrow. He may find that his expectations are not entirely unrewarded, but I cannot give him any promise in that respect.

May we have a debate next week on Lord Justice Salmon's report on the standard of conduct in public life, which was made to the House in 1978 and is still waiting for a debate? We could link that to the standard of conduct of Cabinet Ministers who take part in and vote on legislation but then line their pockets with lucrative jobs, leading companies that have been privatised. Many people regard that as outrageous and scandalous. The Government could then invoke any criticism that they might have and Opposition Members could invoke their criticisms of the way in which former members of the Tory Government have continuously abused their positions by gaining jobs for the boys which are lucrative beyond the dreams of most people in this country.

I come back precisely to the point that former Labour Ministers, of whom the hon. Gentleman was once one—[Interruption.]—incidentally, it is astonishing to look back on that—have all taken such jobs and there is no significant difference in principle.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend help the House by stating whether he is contemplating guillotining any part of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill next week?

My hon. and learned Friend has omitted to recollect that the two days' proceedings next week are taking place under the terms of the timetable motion that was commended on most sides of the House some months ago.

Well, then, let us have a debate on outside earnings generally. Let us talk about pensioners, disabled people and others who are on means-tested benefits and who, if they earn any money from outside employment, lose those means-tested benefits in line with the extra money that they have made. If those pensioners and others have to lose money because they are making money through another form of employment, that rule should apply to those ex-Cabinet Ministers, of any Government, who are lining their pockets as a result of the job that they held. If ex-Cabinet Ministers cannot make ends meet on £26,000 per year, that is a poor lookout for the pensioners and others who have to struggle every week.

In the hon. Gentleman's phraseology, let us have a debate, but not in the form of a speech at business questions. He might have the opportunity of raising the topic during the next Opposition Supply day.

Great anger has been generated by the school transfer procedure chaos in my constituency and, indeed, elsewhere in Northern Ireland. Therefore, will my right hon. and learned Friend the deputy Prime Minister provide time next week to debate that vital issue so that justice can be done for many boys and girls who have been denied a grammar school place as a result of the new system?

Justice in this matter is as important in North Down as in every other part of the kingdom. I cannot promise to offer an opportunity for a debate in the immediate future.

The Leader of the House will be aware that the English law reform proposals were contained in a separate Bill whereas the Scottish proposals were lumped along with licensing, divorce and other matters. With his Back-Bench Members in revolt, does it not strike the right hon. and learned Gentleman as odd that in order to get the Bill through he might have to use Tory Members who sit for English seats to crush Labour Members who sit for Scottish seats?

There will be no question of anyone crushing any hon. Members in any way on the matter. I hope that a reasoned and well-ordered debate will take the matter to its conclusion.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend refer back to the exchanges that took place during Prime Minister's Question Time about the creation of a new Select Committee? Given that the number of spending commitments made by the Labour party appears to have declined from 140 before the last general election to 81, will my right hon. and learned Friend speculate on how many spending commitments there would be in the next Labour manifesto if they won the coming election and whether they would include a commitment not to staff the boards of nationalised industries with former Labour Ministers?

Will the Leader of the House give consideration to finding time for a debate next week on the implementation of the Shops Act 1950? Perhaps he would be good enough to read the extracts from Home Office Question Time to find out what the Home Secretary said about implementation and the difficulties that we face? I gathered—I have checked to find out whether it is true—that he was giving licence to B and Q and others who have threatened to continue to open on Sundays, despite a case that was resolved in Cwmbran magistrates court only on Monday of this week. It is necessary to ensure that Ministers, who are here to uphold the law, as we are here to make it, should not encourage B and Q to break the law. We are continually told by the Prime Minister that we should not blatantly break the law by striking or deciding not to pay the poll tax. Why is protection given to B and Q and others who blatantly break the Shops Act 1950?

The hon. Gentleman referred to the case in Cwmbran magistrates court. He will be aware that there has been another case in the High Court. Taken together, those cases illustrate the problems associated with the present unsatisfactory state of the law on Sunday trading. He will also be aware that the Government invited the House to accept legislation that would have removed many of the difficulties. That was not acceptable to the House. The Government's position remains clear. We are prepared to consider alternative methods of reform which are likely to be acceptable to all who are interested and concerned The difficulty so far has been finding exactly that balance.

Channel Tunnel (Rail Services)

4.14 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the proposals for a new high-speed rail link to the channel tunnel.

The opening of the tunnel in 1993 will provide a major new business opportunity for Britain and for British Rail. Let me first dispel any doubts that we intend to invest in the infrastructure required to service the tunnel fully from the day that it opens. For British Rail, investment in tunnel services will be the largest that it has undertaken this century—more than £1 billion on passenger and freight services. Orders have already been placed for a common fleet of high-speed passenger trains, owned jointly by the British, French and Belgium railway companies, that will link London to Paris in three hours and to Brussels in two and three quarter hours. In addition to the half-hourly services between those three capitals, BR plans through trains from the regions offering 3 million seats a year.

Work has started on improving the track between London and Folkestone and on the new passenger terminal at Waterloo. Last month I announced approval for new electric freight locomotives that will haul channel tunnel freight at speeds just as high as those on the continent. More than two thirds of rail freight to the tunnel will come from outside the south-east and BR is planning through services and freight depots throughout the country. We plan to spend more than £600 million on tunnel-related road schemes, which is about the same amount as the French Government. When the channel tunnel treaty was signed, we undertook that BR would meet the demand for passenger and freight services when the tunnel opened, and those commitments are being fulfilled.

The railway investments will cater for demand in 1993 and for several years thereafter. In the case of freight, there is ample capacity in the south-east outside the commuter peaks. However, all the traffic forecasts show that growth in demand for international rail passenger services and domestic commuter services will eventually outgrow the capacity of the present system. That is why we asked British Rail to examine how best to increase that capacity when the time came. We made it clear that the investment in international services would have to be commercially justified, just as it would be in ferry, in air or in other competing services.

Last November, British Rail selected Eurorail from a field of eight private consortia, and announced its intention to pursue the possibility of forming a joint venture to operate the international services and to construct a new line. Since then, it has identified measures that substantially improve the commercial prospects of the international passenger business. Despite those improvements, the forecasts submitted by the joint venture showed that its costs were likely to exceed its income by a wide margin. To meet that gap, the joint venture first required a capital grant of £500 million towards the use of the line by commuter services. Secondly, British Rail would need to invest up to £400 million, mainly in commuter terminals. Thirdly, it proposed a low-interest deferred loan of £1 billion, which in the case of default would rank below all other creditors.

I have given careful consideration to the case for a capital grant. We have never ruled out capital grants for improvements in commuter services where they are justified on cost-benefit grounds. I made that clear in the new objectives that I published for British Rail last year. The new line would indeed bring significant benefits to commuter services, but unfortunately the benefits to commuters were not sufficient to justify both the investment by Network SouthEast of £400 million in its own facilities and grant of £500 million towards the use of the new line.

The loan of £1 billion represents public investment already made in international rail services up to 1993, and taken over by the joint venture. The joint venture would get the benefit of that expenditure, but would not make any repayments or pay any interest until 2010. The House will now recognise that the total sums of public expenditure involved are far greater than the £350 million that has been widely but erroneously reported. In the event of cost overruns, the political reality would be that there would be great pressure on the Government to increase their already substantial contributions. I have therefore informed the parties that the proposals that they have made are unacceptable.

In the light of that, British Rail and Eurorail have agreed that there is not a basis for carrying forward the project in the private sector at this stage. The Government remain very grateful to Eurorail for the considerable effort it has put into the development of the proposals, and for the expertise it has shown. BR has informed me that it will continue to work with Eurorail in the development of international services.

The financial case for a new line will improve as demand for travel grows. I have discussed this with BR's new chairman, and British Rail remains eager to proceed as soon as the project is viable. How soon this will be depends, among other things, on the benefits the new line can bring to commuters.

I have already approved investment of more than £400 million on new rolling stock and improved infrastructure for services on the north Kent lines. British Rail has plans for further rolling stock investments of £300 million to £400 million for the rest of the Kent commuter services. That will radically improve the services from Kent.

If demand continues to grow, even more capacity may eventually be needed and British Rail and Eurorail have shown that a new line could transform the slow commuter services from north and mid-Kent by halving journey times. I am not yet satisfied, however, that they have found the best solution and I am therefore asking British Rail to complete its studies with the aim of maximising the benefits to international passengers and commuters alike.

This further work will concentrate on the options for the route from the North Downs to Waterloo and King's Cross, with its efficient connections to the rest of the country. I have considered carefully the views expressed in the House and elsewhere about alternative routes. On the face of it, they are unlikely to be better financially than the Eurorail proposal or to offer a better deal for commuters.

But the new chairman of British Rail is determined to satisfy himself on that and has commissioned a report by consultants on the proposals for routes to King's Cross via Stratford. There seems to be general agreement that any service will need to terminate at King's Cross. In our view, nothing in this statement invalidates the benefits to British Rail of the House proceeding with the King's Cross Bill.

A major civil engineering project of this kind, through this densely populated part of England, is bound to cause great concern to the people who live there. We owe it to them to minimise the uncertainty and to see that, where they suffer financial loss, there is proper compensation. Between the North Downs and the channel tunnel there is now broad agreement on the right corridor for the new line and considerable effort has been put into designing an environmentally acceptable route.

There will need to be further consultations on the engineering details and a full environmental report will be published. But I am satisfied that it would now be right to safeguard that section of the route by planning directions. I therefore propose to consult British Rail and the local authorities about that. British Rail's compensation scheme will continue to apply to the whole of the route published in September 1989.

I began by confirming our commitment to invest in the infrastructure needed to make sure that we reap the benefits of the channel tunnel when it opens in 1993. I have also explained how we propose to carry forward the work needed to plan for increases in capacity. Some argue for vast and premature expenditure that would not be economically justified. International rail services are certainly of growing importance, but there are many other needs for improvements in transport infrastructure, including better public transport services within Britain, improved motorways, better access to airports and ports and better air traffic control.

The Government's aim is a balanced transport policy which allocates investment where it will bring the greatest benefit. Within that framework, we have approved the largest railway investment programme for over 25 years, the largest underground programme for over 20 years, an increase in the road programme and approaching £2 billion worth of investment in the infrastructure to serve the channel tunnel. I commend these policies to the House.

Today is a sad and bad day for Britain, for it is the culmination of months of indecision caused by the Government's lack of strategic planning, which means that Britain will enter the 21st century with an inadequate 19th-century railway link. We are to spend about £1 billion of British Rail money over four years, compared with the French, who will spend £1 billion every year for the next 20 years to extend their far superior high-speed rail network. That is the result of the Government's anti-rail, anti-passenger attitude. It will condemn Britain to the economic periphery of Europe and ensure that Britain suffers serious disadvantages in the single market after 1992.

Britain's prestige has been damaged. It will not join Europe's fast developing high-speed rail system this century. The decision represents the worst of all worlds. It perpetuates the continuing worries of planning problems, environmental blight and wasteful congestion in the south-east, while denying the economic advantages for Scotland, Wales and the northern and midland industrial regions. That emphasises the Government's isolation in failing to grasp the strategic importance of high-speed, 200 mph plus, railway systems.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that, despite his and the Prime Minister's fancy fiddling with figures on the public cost, contested by Eurorail, the Government are expected to provide approximately £400 million out of the total project cost of £3 billion? Is that not in line with the Government's policy of using small amounts of public money to generate far larger private finance and provide transport infrastructure, which is precisely the way the European high-speed rail networks in Europe have been financed?

Does the Secretary of State accept that there has been unnecessary and intolerable delay in the decision to construct the channel tunnel rail link due to the Government's interference—forcing British Rail to seek a private partner, without insisting that the matter be open to tender? Why was it not put to competitive tender, which is exactly what British Rail must now do three years later?

Is it not true that the Prime Minister, because of her fears of the residents of Kent before the 1989 Kent county council elections, rightly promised extensive tunnelling to limit the environmental damage? However, she did not say where the money would come from, thus turning a profitable project into an unprofitable one. By putting her party's electoral concerns before the long-term interests of Britain, the Prime Minister has condemned the people of Kent to another decade of uncertainty and blight.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that the extra £1 billion will not increase the line capacity in the south-east network, where some trains will be restricted to 50 mph in some places, and be paid for by the passengers? Does he believe that an extra 16 million channel tunnel passengers can travel on the existing, most congested, Network SouthEast, and not effect commuter lines?

Will the Secretary of State establish—he should seriously consider this—a committee of experts to examine all the available route options, as I suggested eight months ago? He rejected that then because it would cause delay. Such a committee could review all the technical details and report in about six months, allowing the Government to make a political decision about the route of a future high-speed line.

While such a review was under way, would the Secretary of State reconsider his objection to my proposal to abolish section 42 of the Channel Tunnel Act 1987, and take into account the aviation and shipping concerns that were considered at that time—especially as the Government have given nearly £50 million in section 8 grants since 1980 to the rail freight industry, including to its international services, and a subsidy, on the ground of environmental protection. That is exactly the same reason that now demands that public money be provided for the channel tunnel rail link.

Is the Secretary of State aware of the European Commissioner's statement on Monday 4 June that, once there was a demand from the British authorities, the Commission would look "favourably and positively" at a request for financial assistance, such as that given to other countries to help construct channel tunnel rail links? I hope that the Secretary of State will not continue to block the European infrastructure fund, which could assist us in that development.

Does not the Secretary of State accept that the failure to break the ideological logjam preventing the use of public money will mean that the Tory Government will go down in history as the Luddites of Europe for failing to join the technological revolution in high-speed rail travel and for failing to be aware of the need for a transport policy that actively requires Government involvement?

Labour is committed to a high-speed dedicated rail route from the channel tunnel to London, and beyond to Scotland, to relieve congestion on our overburdened roads and in our overcrowded skies, guarantee environmental protection, and give maximum economic advantage and support to British industry to enable it to compete successfully in the European markets of the 21st century.

I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman's points in the order in which he raised them. He spoke with amazement about the fact that the French Government are planning to invest £1 billion a year in their rail system.

We are planning to spend more than that—£3·7 billion in the next three years, with a continuing programme to follow.

We are spending more than the French.

The hon. Gentleman keeps repeating the ridiculous canard that the regions will be denied access to freight. If he had listened to the statement instead of repeating, parrot fashion, his prejudices, he would have heard me answer that point. I said that the freight trains are ordered, the depots are being decided, and that there will be through freight services from the regions to meet 70 per cent. of the demand—70 per cent. of the freight capacity of the tunnel. The regions will have the most modern electric freight trains, running at the same speeds as continental trains. Will the hon. Gentleman please stop repeating the nonsense about the regions in some way being at a disadvantage?

The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening when I spoke about the costs involved. I have seen the directors of Eurorail, and these figures are entirely agreed by them. There is a demand not for £400 million overall, but for a grant of £500 million, a deferred loan that would rank below any other creditors of more than £1 billion, and investment by British Rail of another £400 million. To support the project, Eurorail is asking for £1,900 million. Will the hon. Gentleman please take an arithmetic lesson and start revealing the facts?

The hon. Gentleman's second point was that the Government are delaying the channel tunnel. As he knows, we are getting on with the job of being able to service the tunnel from the day on which is is opened, and huge sums are being invested. There is no shortatge of capacity for freight. The blockage is not due to problems in getting freight to the tunnel; the capacity of the tunnel itself is limited.

I expect the tunnel to be fully used. If it were a port now, its capacity would make it our 12th biggest port. Clearly we cannot direct all our plans towards servicing the tunnel; most freight will not go anywhere near it, but will leave the country by the traditional routes.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East talked about £1 billion of capacity. In his own muddled fashion—I observed that he confused the Leader of the Opposition as well; that is a more difficult job, by which I intend no compliment to the Leader of the Opposition—again mixed up fares with investment. The £1 billion that is being invested in capacity in the south-east comes from British Rail, not the customers.

I have no interest in the hon. Gentleman's committee of available experts——

The hon. Gentleman should stop talking about himself: it is a very bad habit.

I have no interest in the hon. Gentleman's committee of available experts, and nor has the House. These decisions are for Government, who are answerable to Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman referred to section 42. I hope that he has told his friend Sam McCluskie that subsidies will be given to the competitors—to the union that sponsors him. The hon. Gentleman used to argue forcefully for section 42; now he denies it.

The other night we saw the hon. Gentleman's piece de resistance on television. He was explaining to a bemused world that if only Britain sanctioned the European infrastructure fund the freight could be paid for—[Interruption.] I have read the transcript. It is there—all £15 billion of it. The infrastructure fund is likely to be £80 million for all the 12 members of the Community. The hon. Gentleman's plans would involve pre-empting that for 175 years, assuming that our Community colleagues were happy to see us subsidising our rail. Like the rest of his ideas, this is half baked, ill thought out and economically illiterate.

Order. So that I can call as many right hon. and hon. Members as possible, I ask for single questions today. If by chance a double question is asked, it would help me greatly if the Secretary of State would answer only one part of it.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that participation in any joint venture must depend on the terms? To those who listened carefully to what he said this afternoon, it is clear that those terms are far less favourable than has been suggested in the press, and would be unfavourable to the Government in relation to private investors. That being so, does he agree that it is right to examine alternatives—as this plan is obviously not a starter—and, meanwhile, to protect the interests of those affected by possible blight along the route?