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Commons Chamber

Volume 175: debated on Tuesday 26 June 1990

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 26 June 1990

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions


Construction Inspectors


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what plans there are for increasing the number of specialist construction inspectors within the Health and Safety Executive.

In April 1990, the Health and Safety Executive embarked on a year-long recruitment campaign aimed at increasing the number of specialist inspectors in post across all disciplines, including construction.

Is the Minister aware that in 1988–89 there were 540 fatal accidents, mainly in the construction industry, and that it is believed that 90 per cent. of them could have been avoided? Will the Department get itself organised and do something to help to avoid such unnecessary deaths? Is the Minister further aware that many deaths could be avoided if the Department were determined to follow a proper recruitment policy?

I agree with at least some of what the hon. Gentleman says. He is right to draw attention to the fact that the "Blackspot Construction" report estimated that about 90 per cent. of fatalities were preventable, about 70 per cent. by management action. But the hon. Gentleman is wrong to assume that one can automatically reduce the number of accidents and fatalities simply by increasing the number of inspectors. The requests of the Health and Safety Commission have been met in recent years, but ultimately responsibility for preventing fatalities and industrial injuries must lie with those engaged in the workplace.

Will the Minister confirm that the Health and Safety Commission's plan of action has been returned to it by the Secretary of State, and is it connected with its bid for a further £7 million of funding? The Minister says that all its bids in recent years have been accepted. Will the present bid be met in full?

The Health and Safety Commission must discuss with my right hon. and learned Friend its plan of work. Those discussions have taken place and my right hon. and learned Friend has made it clear that sufficient resources to enable it to carry out that plan will be found from within our own resources, so the assurance that I gave the hon. Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) remains true.

Labour Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what was the total work force in employment in (a) the second quarter of 1979 and (b) the second quarter of 1989.

The work force in employment in the United Kingdom stood at 25.4 million in June 1979 and 26.8 million in June 1989, an increase of 1.4 million over the period.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that, during a similar period, the number of people employed in the Norwich area, in particular in the city of Norwich, increased by 5,000, coupled with a downward trend in unemployment in Norwich, particularly among women? Does he agree that all of that would be put at risk if the Opposition's policies were put into effect, and that they would have a particularly disastrous effect on East Anglia?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. There can be no doubt whatever that the policies that would be pursued by the Labour party would work not only to the detriment of my hon. Friend's constituents—very serious though that would be—but to the detriment of the country as a whole.

Before the Minister becomes too complacent about the statistics, may I ask him to bear it in mind that within the figures are concealed sectors such as textiles and clothing, which have been faced with massive reductions in the number of employees? For example, Courtaulds has recently been closing mills in the north-west of England. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman see that those who are negotiating on behalf of the Government, including through the EC, ensure that the multi-fibre arrangement is retained for at least another 10 years, bearing in mind how important that arrangement is if the textile industry is to remain on its feet?

Those matters are taken into account by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in the negotiations to which the hon. Gentleman refers. But the country has learnt increasingly in the past 11 years that the key to success is to adapt to change and not simply to preserve existing patterns of employment wherever they may be. That is the basis for the extra 1.5 million jobs that have been created since 1979, bringing the total to 27 million.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a higher proportion of the adult population of this country is in work than in any other European country? Does he agree that the greatest threat to the excellent figures that he announced this afternoon comes from some of the madcap socialist policies put forward by the European Commission and Mrs. Papandreou, which would simply make it more expensive and bureaucratic for employers to take on more employees?

My hon. Friend's analysis of the social action programme is entirely accurate. There is no doubt that those proposals would destroy jobs and make it infinitely more difficult for us to maintain the record of success that we have had for several years.

Does the Secretary of State understand—if I can help to persuade him, perhaps he will explain to his Back Benchers—that having a high proportion of one's work force in employment is not a sign of a developed, healthy economy? Britain is backward in that it has high numbers of young people who do not receive education and low levels of people in training. Labour's programme, which places great emphasis on those issues, will help Britain to catch up with the rest of Europe, rather than fall steadily behind, as it has done under this Government's policies.

I fancy that if there were fewer people in work in this country, the Labour party would not entirely welcome that. We can justly be proud of the fact that we have a record number of jobs here. It gives people the opportunities for employment and earnings that they want. It is shameful that the Labour party's policies would act to the detriment of those opportunities.

Employment Legislation


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what benefits he estimates have accrued from the changes in employment legislation over the last 10 years; and if he will make a statement.

By ending abuses of trade union power, such as secondary action and flying pickets, which disfigured British industrial relations for so long, our legislation has helped to attract massive overseas investment to this country, create record numbers of new jobs and reduce the number of strikes to the lowest level for more than 50 years.

Will my hon. Friend remind the public of the dangers of repealing that legislation and returning to the anarchy of trade union bosses and their flying pickets? Will he go on reminding the public that those are the policies that the Opposition want?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the fact that any conversion by the Labour party to the virtues of responsible trade unionism is extremely short lived and skin deep. My hon. Friend should bear in mind the comment that the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair) made in his letter to The Times yesterday. He glibly said that it would be wholly unfair to ban lawful secondary action.

Have the Government finally stopped abolishing wages councils? If they have, is it because they are ashamed of their actions? Might they restore the wages councils that previously existed?

I can well understand that, on a question that highlights the Labour party's deficiencies, the hon. Lady would want to talk about the wages councils, but perhaps we can talk about them on another occasion. The point that arises out of this question is that trade union reforms that the Government have introduced have been overwhelmingly popular with the public and are seriously under threat, as anybody who takes the trouble to look at Labour party policy in detail will see.

Labour Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment by how much unemployment has fallen (a) as a percentage of the total and (b) in numbers since June 1987.

Since June 1987, unemployment in the United Kingdom, seasonally adjusted, has fallen by about 44 per cent., and by just under 1·25 million.

Is not it somewhat strange that Labour Members find the undeniable fact that more people are employed in this country than ever before sad and the sign of an underdeveloped country? I fail to understand that. Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend will confirm that the figure that shows that our unemployment level is well below that of our European partners is more important. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) in seeking reassurance that the bizarre and restrictive schemes of the social aspects of the Labour party's policy and our record on job creation should be brought to the attention of our partners.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. With the exception only of Luxembourg and West Germany, we have the lowest rate of unemployment in the European Community. There is no doubt that the policies that have led to our success in job creation would be substantially more difficult to carry out if the social action programme were implemented. I lose no opportunity to point that out to my colleagues in the European Community.

Is the Minister aware that the demise of the threatened steel industry in Lanarkshire would produce unemployment figures that even he, practised though he is, could not fiddle? Does he recognise that if the steel industry in Lanarkshire were to go, unemployment in the area would be 33 per cent. among males, 13 per cent. among females and 25 per cent. overall? Perhaps he intends to try to fiddle those figures, but would not it be easier for him to make representations to his colleague at the Department of Trade and Industry and ask him to get off his butt and do something to save the steel industry?

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has made clear the Government's concern about the future of the steel industry, to which the hon. Gentleman refers. If the hon. Gentleman looks elsewhere in the United Kingdom, he will see that adjustments have taken place on a scale that has ensured that those parts of the United Kingdom that were most affected by closures in the steel industry now have a rate of unemployment that is lower than the national average. That proves that it is possible to adapt to change in a highly successful and effective manner.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the tremendous reduction in unemployment that we have seen in the west midlands owes a great deal not only to our legislative changes but to changes of attitude in the workplace, especially in manufacturing? Does he further agree that the co-operation of the workers to become multi-skilled creates not only a more flexible environment in the workplace but adds to the career potential of the workers? Would he like to add his good wishes to two companies in my constituency that this week received the Queen's award for export and technology? Those companies are Lucas and Yales and the workers deserve congratulations.

I am delighted to join my hon. Friend in congratulating the two firms to which she referred. She is right to identify the enhanced skills among our work force as one of the key factors responsible for our recent success. We want to build on what has been achieved over the years.

Safety Representatives (Building Sites)


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about employment of safety representatives on building sites.

Safety representatives make a valuable contribution to ensuring satisfactory standards of health and safety, both on building sites and in other workplaces.

Does the Minister accept that in Question 1, my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Blackley (Mr. Eastham) emphasised the appalling safety record on building sites and the need for action? In answer to that question the Minister said that he did not envisage the appointment of more inspectors. If he will not appoint more inspectors, will he make sure that there are safety representatives on all building sites and that they are there for the duration of the contract so that we can have an improvement in safety? That applies especially to management-only contracts and where there is a continuing changeover of subcontractors, because that makes the continuity of safety difficult and contributes to the high level of accidents and deaths.

I respectfully correct the hon. Gentleman in his recollection of what I said. I did not say that the Government were not prepared to appoint more inspectors, but that the mere appointment of more inspectors would not automatically ensure that there were fewer fatalities and accidents. The figures show that there are more inspectors in post in construction than the target. The hon. Gentleman makes a perfectly fair point in talking about the need to have special regard to multi-contractor sites. He will be aware that the commission has issued a consultative document about that and we shall be interested to see the response to it.

Does the Minister agree that if we are to have high safety standards in the construction industry, we must have proper training? Is he aware of the excellent work carried out by the construction industry training board in raising the standards of training in the construction industry? Does he further agree that the CITB has an important future role?

My hon. Friend is entirely right to make the point, made by Ministers on numerous occasions, that training is very much the key, and that also means training of awareness and getting over to workers the fact that in the end they have to be responsible for their safety, as do employers. That is an uncomfortable message and therefore one that Opposition Members wish to obscure, but it is true nevertheless.

Does the Minister accept that the report to which he referred earlier showed clearly that a large percentage of the appallingly high level of fatalities and serious injuries in the construction industry is due to lack of proper supervision and training in safety matters? If the hon. Gentleman cannot persuade employers, or many of them, to accept their responsibilities, will he consider giving more power to the safety representatives, so that they can stop potentially dangerous practices without going through the present bureaucratic process of filling in numerous forms while the dangerous practice continues?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of having to fill in some form or of going through a bureaucratic procedure to stop an unsafe practice. If the workers on a construction site or in any other workplace feel that something is unsafe, a single telephone call to the Health and Safety Executive will enable the matter to be dealt with at once. I do not accept that merely giving extra powers to safety representatives in a situation that may require a high degree of knowledge and expertise is the way forward. Where I can agree with the hon. Gentleman—I am grateful to him for giving me the chance to reiterate it yet again—is that management has the key responsibility, and it is wholly unacceptable, as the "Blackspot Construction" report made clear, that 90 per cent. of accidents were preventable, 70 per cent. by management action. That is a message that management must take on board and I accept it to the hilt.

Travelling People (Salisbury)


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about unemployment benefit claims by travelling people at his Department's Salisbury office.

I understand that there are 1,509 people claiming unemployment-related benefits at the Salisbury office, of whom 150 are registered as not having a permanent or fixed address. Claimants in that category are subject to the same rules and responsibilities for receiving benefits as anyone else who claims, including those of being available for and actively seeking work.

I have no wish to see the children of travelling people further disadvantaged, but will my hon. Friend have another look at the requirement that claimants should be actively seeking work, because it is increasingly difficult to explain to pensioners and low-paid rural workers why more than 100 hippies, who do not pay poll tax and make no contribution to society, can claim benefit all the year round in Salisbury?

My hon. Friend makes a fair point. As a Member with a rural constituency who has also been plagued by bands of brigands, I have considerable sympathy with what he says. It is relatively early days to know whether the actively seeking work provisions work. Clearly, those who have an interest in making them work to their advantage will try to do so. In the light of his experience, my hon. Friend may feel that the actively seeking work provisions are not having the effect that they should in particular cases, so if he wants to come and see me, I shall be more than happy to co-operate.

Labour Statistics


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will give the total unemployment figures and the rate of unemployment in May 1990, and May 1980.

In May 1990, the seasonally adjusted level of unemployment in the United Kingdom was 1,611,000, or 5.7 per cent. of the work force, compared with a level of 1,224,400 in May 1980, or 4.6 per cent. of the work force.

How can the Minister justify an economic policy that keeps unemployment low in and pumps massive wealth into the pampered English southern regions at the direct expense of the rest of the United Kingdom? Does not he know that the Low Pay Unit report shows that more than half the Scottish work force is on low pay at a time of high unemployment, and all that in one of the potentially richest countries in Europe? How can the Government call something that harms so many and helps so few an economic policy?

Unemployment in Scotland during the past year has dropped by more than 16 per cent. compared with a reduction in the United Kingdom as a whole of just over 12 per cent. Scotland is fully sharing in Britain's prosperity, which is a direct result of the Government's policies.

Has my right hon. and learned Friend noted that unemployment in Gravesham has more than halved since the most recent general election? Is not it the case that long-term unemployment has also substantially reduced?

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a proportionately greater reduction in the number of long-term unemployed even than in unemployment as a whole. I hope that Opposition Members welcome that.

Is the Secretary of State aware that in the Bolton and Bury travel-to-work area, 9,500 jobs have been lost in manufacturing industry over the past nine years? Is that good for the economy of the Bolton and Bury travel-to-work area?

As I said, if we are to continue achieving success, we must adapt to change. That has been happening in the area to which the hon. Gentleman refers, as it has in all other areas. One must examine all the unemployment figures to reveal the truth, and the true picture that has been developing is one in which every right hon. and hon. Member can take pride.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that in Scotland, as in other parts of the United Kingdom, the unemployment figures show clearly that more people are in work? The Governor of the Bank of England commented only yesterday how well Scotland has done in the transition from the old smoke-stack industries to today's modern industries, whereby people are much better off.

My hon. Friend is right. I never cease to wonder at the amount of time, effort and energy devoted by Opposition Members to denigrating the Government's record, when we ought to be debating policies that will help take the country forward on the most secure basis. On reflection, perhaps the reason why the Opposition do not want to discuss policies is that they know that theirs would work to the detriment of us all.

Low Pay


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many representations he has received concerning low pay for people under the age of 25 years following the publication of the last edition of the new earnings survey.

Since 1989, my right hon. and learned Friend has received 11 representations on that subject.

Is the Minister aware that since the Wages Act 1986 the United Kingdom has stood alone in not protecting young people on low wages, in contrast to our EEC counterparts? Is he further aware that young people are paid scandalously low wages in many parts of the United Kingdom? The Low Pay Unit has found some youngsters working for hairdressers earning less than half what they would if protected by the wages councils. When will the Government adopt the social charter to prevent young people being exploited in that way?

The hon. Gentleman has achieved a first today in managing to craft a question in which every single judgment that he made is precisely wrong. If he examines the evidence, he will find that the structure of wages councils, minimum wages, and all the other apparatus that Opposition Members like so well has the effect not of creating jobs but of destroying them.

Does my hon. Friend agree not only that a minimum wage would increase unemployment among the low-paid but that the best way of helping those people is to ensure that they do not pay national insurance contributions, as under the present Government? But they will if, by some mischance, a Labour Government are elected.

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that one of the effects of the draft directive on temporary work would be to ensure that 1·75 million low wage earners who do not pay national insurance contributions now would have to pay them. Apparently, that policy has the support of the Opposition—but it does not have the support of the Government.

Training In Work


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how he intends to increase the numbers receiving training in work.

The number of people in work receiving training increased by 70 per cent. between 1984 and 1989. The employer-led training and enterprise councils that are coming into operation around the country will actively promote measures to continue that encouraging trend.

Is the Secretary of State aware that according to the European Commission's 1989 labour survey, the United Kingdom has the lowest-skilled work force in Europe, with only 38 per cent. classed as skilled compared with the EC average of 63 per cent? Is he further aware that the National Council for Voluntary Organisations is quoted in today's issue of The Times as saying that it will have to axe thousands of training places because of Government cuts in training expenditure? Why do the Government still refuse to support the long-term future of this country?

I look forward to meeting the national council tomorrow, when I shall explain to it that the Government are spending some £2·7 billion of taxpayers' money in the current year on training, that we are seeing an increase in employers' contributions to training, and that the extent to which our work force is beginning to become well trained is increasing apace, and will continue to be enhanced as a result of the activities of training and enterprise councils.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the people who most need training are school leavers, who go into work instead of further education in one form or another? Will he consider making a link between employers' national insurance contributions and the level of qualifications that young employees manage to achieve while working for that employer?

My hon. Friend is known for his ingenious suggestions and that is one which we shall certainly consider, as we consider all suggestions to help performance in that area. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that young people who enter work receive training, and I am delighted that employers are increasingly recognising their responsibilities in that area.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that training organisations throughout the country are considering withdrawing from Government training schemes because of cuts in this year's budget, and will he deny that he has already agreed to cuts in next year's budget? When will he start to stand up for the interests not merely of his Department but of the future of training in Britain?

The hon. Gentleman's question is entirely inaccurate. Well over 90 per cent. of the recontracting exercise on employment and youth training has been completed. Possibly unlike the hon. Gentleman, I accept a responsibility towards those who have received training and are in need of it, but I do not accept responsibility for those who provide training, if they do not do so in the most cost-effective and efficient way.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that British employers are spending £18 billion a year of their hard-earned cash on training? Is not that encouragement by the Government much more effective than the compulsion offered to British employers by the Opposition?

The cost to British employers was £18 billion in 1986–87—the latest year for which we have full statistics. It has certainly increased since, and is a sign of the extent to which training takes place throughout the work force. Of course, we must do even better, but it is wrong to denigrate our present performance.

Skill Centres


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the progress towards the privatisation of skill centres.

The sales of the training businesses at 51 of the 60 skill centres plus the Skills Training Agency's head office, mobile training service, sales teams and colleges have been completed.

Is the Minister aware that very few people understand why the Government have given a few selected individuals £14 million of taxpayers' money to take away valuable skill centres, including the one in St. Helens, which have an asset value in excess of £100 million? Does the Minister agree that if a group of Labour councillors had attempted to give away public assets on that scale, they would probably have been had up for corruption?

It is not for me to comment on the possibility of Labour councillors being accused of corruption. The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong. If he studies the profits of the STA, he will see that it broke even only once in the past five years. In 1989–90, there was an estimated loss of £30 million. The tender was conducted properly after professional advice was given. The National Audit Office is carrying out its usual value-for-money audit, and I am perfectly satisfied that when it announces its findings they will show that the hon. Gentleman's suspicions are entirely ill founded.

Will my hon. Friend take the opportunity to condemn Labour-controlled Chesterfield city council for forcing the closure of its local skill centre?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. He has referred to one of the more unpleasant and nasty examples of a Labour-controlled council acting for wholly doctrinaire and political reasons, in this case, by refusing to extend leasing facilities to the new owners of a skills training centre simply because it disapproved of the act on political grounds. It would be difficult to find a more shameful example of political interests being put above the interests of those whom the training schemes are there to serve, but of course the Opposition will defend such action.

The privatisation of the Skills Training Agency is a public scandal. Why have £120 million worth of assets been given away, why has £25 million in sweeteners been given to the private sector and why was £40 million of employment training budgeted funding taken out and used to adjust the accounts and estimates of the Skills Training Agency? When will the Government pursue practical policies to improve our skills performance with the same enthusiasm as they pursue privatisation and profits for the very few?

The only scandal that emerges from this exchange is the hon. Gentleman's extraordinary inability to understand that an organisation capable of losing £30 million is not the sort of concern that can be sold for an immediate profit. The hon. Gentleman can scrabble round and cast aspersions as widely as he wants, using words like "scandal", but the sale represented a good deal for the taxpayer and a good deal for those who need training. The one thing of which we can be certain is that when the National Audit Office produces its report, the hon. Gentleman will not have the good grace to apologise to the House.

Training Schemes (Funding)


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will review the arrangements for the funding of training schemes.

Funding arrangements of training schemes are kept constantly under review.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in congratulating the many people who have worked hard to make a success of our employment training schemes? I acknowledge that some of the schemes may now qualify for fewer places as unemployment falls, but does my right hon. and learned Friend accept that that should not be the case in respect of disabled people and others with special needs? Will he ensure that, as the TECs formulate their plans, they will be required to provide funding for the adequate training of those people?

I am happy to join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who provide training places and to give him the assurance for which he asks. The guarantee of a training place for every 16 to 18-year-old school leaver who cannot find a job and for the longer-term unemployed and other priority groups remains in place. We are committed to that guarantee and it applies, in particular, to people who are disabled and have special needs. I confirm that the arrangements that we are making with the training and enterprise councils take full account of the requirement to meet those needs and discharge those responsibilities.

Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman examine some of the problems that have been thrown up by cuts in training budgets? For example, in Truro, trainees in information technology have been thrown off the course half way through and have not attained the qualifications for which they were half-trained. Similarly, special groups which have been trained by voluntary bodies—such as refugees, who clearly have special training needs—are finding that the number of places has been cut.

The hon. Gentleman will find that all those to whom he has referred have alternative facilities available to them so that they will not be disadvantaged. In ensuring that the taxpayer gets full value for money, and thus looking critically to ensure that the most cost-effective and efficient training is provided, we are absolutely clear that none of those in receipt of training should be disadvantaged in any way.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, by increasing the training budget no less than threefold in real terms since 1979 and by providing 450,000 places on employment training, the Government have allowed the resources to be used more effectively through the training and enterprise councils? Will he also confirm that the TECs will be able to change the current rule under which victims of widespread redundancies cannot enter into employment training schemes for 26 weeks?

My hon. Friend is right to point to the exciting future in training that the training and enterprise councils will be able to provide. They will, of course, have greater flexibility in dealing with those who suffer as a result of large-scale redundancies. But that is only one respect in which they will be able to provide improved training.

Youth Training


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement on the availability of youth training places in each local labour market.

My right hon. and learned Friend is satisfied that there are sufficient training places to meet demand.

How many training places for young people in the Wirral have been deliberately axed by Government policy? Will the Minister guarantee that every young person in the Wirral who wants a training place will have one?

I entirely accept the premise in the hon. Gentleman's comments. I repeat what I said a moment ago: my right hon. and learned Friend is satisfied that there are sufficient training places to meet demand. Those places must exist to meet the guarantee in the Wirral and elsewhere. Although particular trainers may not succeed in having their contracts renewed in successive years, that is entirely different from the guarantee not being met. If the hon. Gentleman knows of a case where a potential YTS trainee has not been satisfied by the guarantee, we want to know about it. Our concern in that respect at least is the same as the hon. Gentleman's.

Does my hon. Friend share my suspicion that much of the clamour for even more money to be spent on training, despite the amount having risen threefold since 1979, is union-inspired? After all, unemployment has dropped dramatically, the number of school leavers has decreased and trainers are desperately looking for customers. Is not it about time that we considered the amount of money that we are paying out?

It is a rather curious and conservative feature of the Opposition that they believe that no adjustment in training provision is necessary when there are fewer people to be trained. When we take account of the effects of demography, which means that there are fewer young people, and the fact that employers are prepared to take a greater share of the burden of training, we can certainly strike a better deal for the taxpayer and for the individual trainee.

Is not there a danger that the Minister is misleading my hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) and the House when he says that the Government can deliver the YTS guarantee? Is not the reality that the Government are cutting this year's youth training budget by 10 per cent? The outcome will be that the Government will either be unable to deliver the guarantee or will reduce the standard of training available to youngsters on youth training. The Minister must come clean: either the guarantee has been dropped or standards have been dropped. Which is it?

The yawning gap in the hon. Gentleman's thesis is that he does not accept that, increasingly, there are fewer young people to be trained. To be fair, that is not a mistake that the hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) made earlier. Between 1988 and 1993 the guarantee group of young people between the ages of 16 and 19 will have decreased by about 20 per cent. It is complete nonsense to say that it matters not how many young people are available to be trained or by how much the numbers decrease, and that the training provision must remain the same. That is not a sensible use of taxpayers' money.

Social Charter


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment what assessment has been made by his Department of the implications for job creation in the United Kingdom of the implementation of the measures contained in the European Commission's social charter.

The implementation of the social action programme would increase the burden of regulations on employers, impose new taxes on workers on low pay and deny workers legitimate opportunities for employment and earnings. It would put up employers' costs, damage the ability of firms to compete in world markets and destroy jobs.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that most people who work part time do so because they want to and that there is no point in smothering them in red tape and bureaucracy? Is the social charter absolutely necessary for the completion of the single market, or would the whole affair be better referred to the European Court of Justice, which has views on absolutely everything these days?

It is certainly unnecessary to have the social action programme to complete the single market. Although we hope to support some of the proposals contained in that programme, many of them would undoubtedly be damaging in precisely the way which my hon. Friend suggested.

Is not it true that, behind the rhetoric of the social charter, the provisions of health and safety at work put forward in EEC directives will mean an erosion of standards—often absolute standards—in United Kingdom health and safety legislation, such as section 14 of the Factories Act 1961? Its words would be replaced by the words "so far as reasonably practicable". Does not that mean a lowering of health and safety standards in our country?

The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that I shall do everything that I can to make sure that our health and safety standards are not lowered. On the contrary, I am keen that other European countries increase their standards of health and safety to match those in this country. That is one point that I shall make when the social action programme is under discussion.

Training Credits


To ask the Secretary of State for Employment if he will make a statement about the progress of the training credits initiative.

Thirty-three training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies have submitted outline proposals to operate pilot credit schemes. I have invited 17 of those to develop more detailed proposals by 27 July.

In consultation with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and other ministerial colleagues, I shall then select about 10 training and enterprise councils and local enterprise companies to set up and run credit pilots.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the training credit initiative is a world first that augurs well for the work force in this country in the climate after 1992?

Prime Minister



To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

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

I have been asked to reply.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is attending the European Council meeting in Dublin.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend care to advise voters at the by-election on Thursday in Acocks Green in my constituency what action they should take in a city where nearly half the population has still to pay its community charge, largely because of the Labour council's shambolic administration and failure to collect, where Labour councillors have openly urged non-payment, where they have threatened to open more council offices and close all grammar schools, and where bankruptcy beckons?

My hon. Friend makes his points very well by way of criticism of Birmingham council. The best advice that I can offer his electors is to vote Conservative because Conservative local government delivers good services and costs less.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

In a recent interview in a women's magazine the Prime Minister advised mothers with young children to take up part-time employment. When do the Government intend to create wealth and jobs in Scotland, in particular in my constituency?

The hon. Gentleman seems to overlook the fact that in his constituency unemployment fell by about 773 last year, and unemployment in Scotland fell by 1·5 per cent. to 8·1 per cent.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend take this opportunity to condemn the outrage of the bombing at the Carlton club last night, particularly as it appeared to be aimed at civilians and people who are not involved in Northern Ireland in any way? Will he remind the House and the nation that that is what people in Ulster have been suffering for more than 20 years and that one of the best ways to resolve the problem is continued international co-operation?

Of course I join my hon. Friend, as I am sure the whole House will, in condemning the dreadful brutality involved in the bombing in London last night and in expressing sympathy with all those who were injured. The whole House will agree that whoever did that dreadful act can be sure of one thing—we shall not be intimidated by violence. If the IRA was responsible, nobody should doubt the determination of the House to build good relations between the Governments, peoples and the communities that share the British Isles together. To that end, I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend said about the need for improved and steadily improving international co-operation on the widest scale.

Will the deputy Prime Minister accept my warm congratulations and convey them also to the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer on at last overcoming the Prime Minister's prejudices and securing Britain's commitment to economic and political union in Europe? Does he accept, therefore, that many of us hope that last weekend's press reports of his forthcoming exile to South Africa were completely unfounded?

I am content, of course, to accept the right hon. Gentleman's congratulations to the whole Government on the measured progress that we are making towards membership of the exchange rate mechanism. As for the fevered speculation about my possible translation to the South African or any other embassy, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will join me in referring those speculations to the press complaints commission that will be appointed as a result of the Calcutt committee report.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the Government will not seek to increase public expenditure by £50 billion, and confirm that such a course of action could lead only to higher prices for all, higher interest rates for all and higher taxes for all?

I confirm that no Conservative Government would dream of following the policies that my hon. Friend has described. The policies advocated by the Labour party would require a massive increase in taxation, probably on the scale of 25p in the pound on income tax. In contrast to the Labour party, we shall continue to finance our programmes honestly by taxation, not by ever-mounting borrowing.

While the Lord President is in the mood to speculate about economic matters, will he tell the House whether he believes that the Chancellor's proposals for a hard ecu will lead to a single European currency?

As the Chancellor said, they are perfectly capable of doing so. As the Prime Minister said in Dublin today, that is not inevitable, but they are perfectly consistent with that objective.

I am conscious of what the Prime Minister said in Dublin today; that is why I asked my question. According to the official report of her statement, she said that one day the pound might disappear. As she expressly ruled that out in the House last Thursday, may we be told when she changed her mind?

The points made by the Prime Minister in Dublin today are entirely consistent with those made by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week when he said that in the very long run, if peoples and governments so choose, the ecu could develop into a single currency.

The Lord President is right that the points made by the Prime Minister today are entirely consistent with the Chancellor's speech. However, they were not consistent with her answers in the House last Thursday. May I thank the Lord President for at least making it absolutely clear that the Government are in the same sort of divided shambles over monetary union as they are over the poll tax, changes in the health service and the new agenda that the Prime Minister announced on the hoof last Saturday morning?

The right hon. Gentleman should understand that our policies on the European monetary system, including our prospective membership of the exchange rate mechanism, are entirely consistent with the Government's anti-inflationary policies and are a total negation of the inflationary policies of the Labour party.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that many people throughout the length and breadth of the land are much heartened by the fact that London is currently hosting the international conference on the ozone layer and CFCs? Will he give the House the commitment that Britain, which has already reduced its CFC production by 50 per cent. in the past five years, will continue to make leading progress in this area, and that we shall try to take as many other countries with us as we can at the conference?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's tribute to the Government's actions thus far. We are, of course, determined to achieve global agreement on the strengthening of the Montreal convention and are working to that end at the conference. It is crucial to make progress in that direction not only for the sake of achieving a depletion of ozone, but to set an example of the way in which international progress can be made on these matters in other areas.

Is there any truth in the story that the Government are working on a scheme to modify the poll tax before the next general election?

As the hon. Gentleman and the House know every well, the Government are engaged on a review of the operation but not the structure of the community charge.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June 1990.

I have been asked to reply.

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

With Government spending on the arts up a full third since 1979, in real terms, and with a further 27 per cent. increase planned for the next three years, does my right hon. and learned Friend know why the Conservative party is still regarded as philistine by the Opposition? [Interruption.]

Would it help if our excellent and longest serving Minister for the Arts were given a seat in Cabinet with full responsibility for all arts issues, including the heritage, education, television and broadcasting? That would, incidentally, give him equal status with arts Ministers on the continent, with whom he will have increased contact as 1993 approaches.

I am glad that my hon. Friend was able to complete his question. I join him in paying tribute to the work done by the Government in promoting progress in the arts, ranging from the decisions taken last week on the film industry to the major decisions taken on the national gallery extension and the national library. I join him in paying tribute to my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts, who is a former Parliamentary Private Secretary of mine. It would give me great pleasure to see him join me in the Cabinet, but that is a matter for the Prime Minister, not me.

Is the Leader of the House aware that 35 years ago today—known as South African Freedom Day—at Kliptown, near Johannesburg, the African National Congress adopted its freedom charter which declares, among other things, that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, irrespective of race, creed or colour? Does the Lord President of the Council endorse those statements and can he guarantee that his Government will support all measures to make South African Freedom Day a reality rather than a campaigning objective?

I am grateful for the opportunity to agree with the hon. Gentleman. The entire House shares the objective of bringing apartheid to an end at the quickest possible pace. We believe that the best way to help the African National Congress is by retaining our influence with the South African Government and that that means maintaining a measured relaxation of pressure in response to change. The whole House will be glad that in Dublin today the European Community has endorsed that approach, welcomed the steps taken by President de Klerk and intimated that it is willing to relax pressure in response to change of the kind that we would all welcome.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that when it comes to interest rates, inflation rates and exchange rates, membership of the exchange rate mechanism cannot do for the United Kingdom more than we are prepared to do for ourselves?

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that membership of the exchange rate mechanism is very far from being a free ride. It would be a reinforcement of the kind of policies that are natural to a Conservative Government but are wholly anathema to the Labour party.

Is the Lord President of the Council proud of the fact that the Telecommunications Act 1984 has opened the door to sexual pornography and all manner of moral corruption on the telephone, such as that which has been published today in the Daily Mirror?

The hon. Gentleman knows that that is only a very small aspect of what can be said about the Telecommunications Act. The whole House shares his affront at that sort of thing, which is being investigated. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join us on this side of the House in welcoming the immense liberation of industrial energy as a result of the Telecommunications Act.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Is the Lord President aware that the first stage of the Delors proceedings come into effect on 1 July, yet we are the only country that will not be participating in the exchange rate mechanism? Is not it a fact that the only consistency about the Government's policy towards Europe is its inconsistency?

I am astonished to hear that proposition being advanced by a spokesman for the Opposition, who for years have twisted and turned their whole attitude towards the European Community. It is the Conservative party, under successive Prime Ministers, which took Britain into Europe and achieved an increasingly important place for us in the Community. We are only glad that the Opposition have finally decided to join us in that endeavour.


To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 26 June.

I have been asked to reply.

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

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, despite the very welcome establishment of the European bank for reconstruction and development in London, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will be pressing, as she and the Government have been doing, for the completion of the single market on the important issue of establishing a common trade marks regime and the establishment of the trade marks office in Britain, ideally in London, to the benefit of the United Kingdom and Europe?

First, I agree about the importance of the common trade marks regime and, secondly, I confirm that for many years the Government have been supporting the objective of the location of the trade marks office in London.

Bombing (Carlton Club)

3.30 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker. I should like to make a statement about the explosion at the Carlton club, St. James's street last night. In view of the fact that that matter was raised on the Floor of the House last night, when the Lord President indicated that I would consider whether I should make a statement today, I thought that this was the right thing to do.

The explosion occurred at the Carlton club, 70 St. James's street, London, at 8.39 pm yesterday evening. Seven persons were injured by the blast and were taken to Westminster and St. Thomas's hospitals for treatment. None is in any danger, and three were discharged without being detained overnight. The injured include the porter of the club, a former Member of this House and now a Member of the other place, and two uniformed police officers. Our sympathies go to all the injured and their families and we wish them a speedy recovery.

The explosion has caused severe damage to the premises, the extent of which has yet to be fully assessed. Forensic examination of the scene is under way. The police believe that a large explosive device had been left in or near the doorway of the club. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but it appears to have been the work of the IRA.

The emergency services reacted with great speed, arriving within minutes of the explosion. I pay tribute to them. It should always be remembered that they face the additional hazard of injury or death from secondary devices designed to kill those who come to save life.

The House is united in condemning the attack. Following the recent one on Lord McAlpine's former residence, it does appear as though the IRA is being driven to attack different sorts of target. Whether it strikes at military or civilian targets, barracks or private homes, it is attacking democracy itself and it does not care who is killed or injured in the process.

The apparent change of tactics requires renewed vigilance on the part of everyone. The police, for their part, are constantly reviewing the means by which the threat, as it varies, can be met. I have this morning discussed developments with the commissioner and there is absolutely no doubt about the determination of his force, and other police forces in the United Kingdom, to continue to do everything possible to prevent such outrages and to track down the perpetrators. The House should be aware that much is done every day of the week to prevent, to deter and to combat terrorist activity, and most of it cannot be safely revealed. However, terrorists operate by stealth, surprise and with a callous disregard for life, and from time to time they may register what, by their perverted standards, they regard as a success. It is not something against which, in a free society, anyone can provide an absolute guarantee.

What is needed to support the efforts of the police is renewed and constant vigilance on the part of every citizen. I ask people to report any packages left in public places and suspicious behaviour by individuals. They must not be worried about troubling the police unnecessarily.

We have been here before with the bomb attacks against the public in the 1970s. They did not succeed then, nor will they now.

The Opposition utterly condemn the outrage at the Carlton club last night. We express our relief that no one was killed, and we offer our sympathy to those who were injured and our congratulations to the emergency services. We join the Government in making it plain that those who perpetrate such acts have no hope that their savagery will result in a change of policy. The more they use the bomb and the bullet in attempting to achieve their aims, the less likely is it that their campaigns will succeed. We support the Home Secretary's plea that while such threats remain we should all be more vigilant. In a free society it is never possible to provide complete protection against indiscriminate terrorism, but clearly we must do all that we can to reduce the chances of such criminal lunacy killing and maiming innocent men and women.

I have a question for the Home Secretary that he may regard as more contentious. Last night's outrage, like those which have gone before, was in part designed to achieve publicity for the cause that the perpetrators support. May I suggest to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that all of us—politicians, journalists and broadcasters—consider ways in which publicity can be reduced for people who are prepared to kill and to maim in order that their murderous deeds should be reported in our newspapers and on our television screens? Does the Home Secretary agree that we should be careful not to play into their hands in that regard?

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman's closing remarks. I thought long before making this statement, but the matter was raised on the Floor of the House last night and, as a result of the intervention of the Leader of the House at 10 pm, if I had not risen to make a statement today I think that many people would have wondered why. None the less, the point made by the right hon. Gentleman is extremely valid. We must be extremely reluctant to give unnecessary publicity to the perpetrators of such outrages.

I agree entirely with the right hon. Gentleman that we must stress throughout that, whatever the terrorists do, it will not lead to a surrender of democracy and a change in the policies agreed upon in this democratically elected House. The need for vigilance is obvious and there is much that every individual citizen can do to help the police.

The whole House will endorse what my right hon. and learned Friend said in response to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) about publicity for such mindless events. I am sure that the House will also join in the sympathy that my right hon. and learned Friend expressed to those involved, and his tribute to the police and to the ambulance and emergency services.

Is not the real tragedy of such terrorist outrages the fact that they are utterly pointless? They cannot possibly achieve their objective in a democratic society. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree with the speaker on "Thought for the Day" on the BBC, who said that the only effect of such incidents is to put the terrorists outside the ranks of humanity?

I think that such events harden our resolve in this place to stick to the policies that we believe to be right. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right to stress that point.

On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends I express our sympathy with those who have been injured and our admiration for the security services on their prompt and helpful intervention.

I reaffirm that the only news worthy of promulgation following such an episode is that of steadfastness of the British people—in keeping with the sterling lead set by those in the Province of Northern Ireland through 23 years of terrorism—in rebutting any suggestion that we should change our policies in the face of such outrages.

I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. Such barbaric acts have not forced on a democratically elected Government a change in policy in Northern Ireland and they certainly will not have that effect here. A statement of this sort serves another purpose, however—to remind individual citizens of the contribution that they can make. That also makes my statement today worth while.

The whole House will be pleased to know that Lord Kaberry, whom I saw a short while ago, is making a remarkable recovery from his ordeal with his usual courage and undaunted spirit. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that this despicable act only serves to strengthen the resolve to defeat terrorism in all who value human life, freedom and justice? Will he look into the measures that can be taken to improve devices to detect bombs and see that they are made as freely available as possible?

I shall reflect on what my hon. Friend said in the last part of his supplementary question. As each month and year goes by, one sees the development of new devices that help to prevent outrages of this sort. My hon. Friend echoed the sentiments of other hon. Members in saying that what has happened in the past 24 hours, and what has been happening in recent months, only reinforces our resolve.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for mentioning that our noble Friend, Lord Kaberry, has made a very good recovery. The porter at the club, Mr. Charles Henry, had an operation last night—he suffered head and other injuries from flying glass—and was put in an intensive care ward. Everyone will be glad to hear that he has since been moved into an ordinary ward and that his condition is stable. We wish him a speedy recovery.

On behalf of my party, I wish to express relief that nobody was seriously injured or killed in the explosion. Having said that, I hope that I shall not be misunderstood—I echo what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley) said about getting things in perspective—when I say that I do not remember a statement being made in the House when Corporal Maheshkumar Islania and his six-month-old child were killed, or when Private William Robert Davies was killed at Litchfield, or when Heidi Hazell, the wife of a British soldier serving in Germany, was killed. There are many occasions when our soldiers, policemen and civilians are killed in Northern Ireland.

It is important that we do not, because an incident such as this happens on our own doorstep, get things out of proportion. The terrorist is not a mindless animal. He calculates carefully the effect that his violence will have on the community. He never seeks justification. He seeks only to add terror to the community that we represent. We must not assist him by overreacting to his actions.

I have a certain amount of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman said. Before deciding to make this statement, I reflected on it, and it has given me an opportunity to warn. My officials looked up the precedents and I discovered that in 1986, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Sir G. Shaw) made a statement in the House when there was an explosion in central London in the British Airways office which resulted in an injury. It seemed to me that in view of the request made in the House last night, and that statement in 1986, it would not be entirely improper for me to make this statement today.

Order. I sense what the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. Maginnis) said meets the mood of the House. I shall take one more question from each side of the House and then we must move on.

Is it not, nevertheless, significant that the last organisation to bomb the Carlton club was Nazi Germany?

Indeed, I think that one can bracket members of the IRA who perpetrate such outrages with some of the worst villains of history.

As you, Mr. Speaker rightly interpreted the mood of the House and the needs and wishes of Parliament and the British people that today, tomorrow and the rest should be business as usual and we shall not be influenced by any bomb or bullet on the mainland or elsewhere, will the Home Secretary confirm that there was no warning of the bomb? Does that not add to the mindlessness of the event?

So far as I know, no warning was given. If one had been given, I think that I should have learnt about it by now.

Bill Presented

Licensing Of Ticket Sales

Mr. Menzies Campbell presented a Bill to provide for the licensing of ticket sales for sporting events and entertainments and to make further provision with respect to the powers exercisable by local authorities in relation to such sales: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 6 July and to be printed. [Bill 168.]

County Councils (Abolition)

3.46 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to abolish non-metropolitan county councils; to transfer their functions to the other local authorities in their areas and, in some cases, to other bodies; and to provide for other matters consequential on, or connected with, the abolition of those councils.
I imagine that a great many of my right hon. and hon. Friends—those who remain—suspect that my intention with the Bill is to entertain them with the misdemeanours of Derbyshire county council. I am afraid that I shall disappoint them.

I shall resist the temptation to spend a full 10 minutes giving chapter and verse about how Derbyshire county council spends more on education than most counties, but gets worse results. I shall resist the temptation to spend too long telling the House how Derbyshire county council spent £2,000 on a party to celebrate the release of Mr. Nelson Mandela.

I shall also resist going into the full details of how Derbyshire county council behaves like a giant jobs agency for the National Union of Public Employees and has taken on an extra 8,000 staff in the past 10 years. I shall also resist explaining how the council rejected one low tender because it came in the wrong colour envelope.

I shall not go fully into the details of how the council's pension fund invested £305,000 in the failed Left-wing News on Sunday newspaper, before getting further embroiled with a former estate agent called Owen Oyston in a series of sleazy deals—including building a resort in the Soviet Union, dubbed by the county council leader as a millionaires' playground, which now looks as though it will never be built despite substantial investment by the council.

I shall not elaborate on the details of how a well-known Labour activist, a road ganger dismissed by the council for gross misconduct in the 1970s, was reinstated last year to a well-paid job showing Japanese executives around the county. I shall not go into details of how one defeated Labour county councillor was given a £40,000 per year council post, nor how another ex-Labour councillor was made a director of education at an even larger salary. I shall not go into too much detail—

My right hon. and hon. Friends tempt me, Mr. Speaker, but I shall resist.

I shall not go into too much detail about how a former Member of the House, Mr. Reg Race, was appointed as a £46,000-per-year county director, before the relationship turned sour and led to his resignation not long afterwards, when he was given a large golden handshake to buy his silence about the goings-on in the council.

Finally, I shall not ask the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) to enlarge on his comment that the aforesaid Mr. Race was
"sacked by Derbyshire county council because he was giving it the sort of information about its activities that its members did not want to hear."
I shall not develop those themes.

Order. If the hon. Gentleman is not going to do that, perhaps he will get on with what he is going to say.

I was about to explain that I do not intend to develop those themes because 10 minutes would be far too short a time to tell of all the idiosyncrasies and profligacies of Derbyshire county council. To use Derbyshire county council as a stick with which to beat other county councils, or as an example to justify their abolition, would be wrong and unfair.

In many ways Derbyshire county council is unique, untypical, the exception and way out on a limb. I wish to make a case for the abolition of the generality of county councils or at least to make a case for giving district, borough and city councils the right to opt out of county council control. In doing so, I should like to pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) and for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) who previously introduced Bills for unitary local authorities.

Unitary local authorities, replacing two layers of local government with one, would lead to more effective provision of services and greater accountability. As many of my hon. Friends know, the two-tier system which prevails in most of the country leaves many people confused and unsure about which council is responsible for which service and, just as importantly, for its cost. Education and social services could be far better provided at a more local level, especially as the increasing complexity of local government means that services which might logically have been run as large units could be better operated as smaller ones.

Abolition will also make life easier for councils. At the moment many of the most talented councillors have to split their time between two bodies, which adds to the difficulty of finding suitable people to be councillors, as most of my hon. Friends are aware. I accept that larger administrative units can be more efficient and can save on administrative costs, but the past 20 years have shown that that is not always necessarily the case, as evidenced by a recent report which showed that in some counties 25 per cent. of the education budget was spent on administration. I accept that some services such as transport would need to be run by larger bodies. Delegated county-wide organisations could best handle such services.

I know that some people doubt whether the boroughs and districts could handle this and they argue for the necessity of a higher tier of what they call strategic planning. I remind hon. Members about the GLC. I realise that many of my hon. Friends are racking their brains to try to recall exactly what the GLC was. People outside certainly have difficulty in remembering exactly what the GLC did for them. Despite all the expensive hype during the abolition of the GLC, few now mourn its passing and in general the London boroughs have made a very good job of taking over the services that the GLC once ran—[Interruption.] I accept that there are some exceptions.

That brings me neatly to the Opposition's policy on county council abolition. We all know that in recent years the Labour party has been trying to upgrade its image. Some say that it has achieved some success. Unfortunately, all too often that success is of a faltering kind and there is more to the image than to the substance. For example, we hear that the Opposition have come round to believing in markets after all, but they believe that the markets should be servants rather than masters, for which read, "We politicians will override your free choice when it suits us to do so."

The same applies to county councils. I am delighted that the Opposition have shown some progress by coming round to abolition. As always, however, they have ruined it by proposing in part to replace county councils with a regional tier of government which many people will see as super county councils with all the inherent faults of the current system magnified several times. The Opposition should realise that we need fewer tiers of government, not more. We already have the European Community and a national Parliament, as well as county, district and parish councils in most areas. We need to sweep away a layer of government, not add another which will inevitably become a platform for yet more empire-building and expense.

I urge hon. Members to support the Bill. It will not abolish counties, which will remain in place, but it will abolish county councils and bring local government closer to constituents, making it more accountable and helping it to deliver services more effectively.

3.53 pm

Yes, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill should be entitled "the Abolition of Derbyshire County Council Bill" because that is clearly the intention of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim). At every opportunity he seeks to attack Derbyshire county council and to denigrate its activities. I therefore wish to take this opportunity to defend the council and to argue against the hon. Gentleman's bill which, in any case, is inappropriate to the restructuring of local government.

Despite many attempts in the House, the hon. Gentleman has failed in his attacks on Derbyshire county council. He mentioned the pension fund, on which he had an Adjournment debate which turned out to be a damp squib, containing nothing that could be levelled against the Derbyshire county council. All the arguments were answered before the debate. Derbyshire county council runs one of the best pension schemes of any shire county.

Despite competition, Derbyshire county council, through its professionalism—not through the efforts of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)—attracted Toyota to Derbyshire. Conservative members were annoyed at Derbyshire county council's entrepreneurial professionalism which they think should be their preserve, but the council beat them at their own game. In addition, Labour won the Derbyshire county council election, despite its being targeted by the Conservative party with Ministers attending in droves in an attempt to achieve a Conservative victory.

The hon. Member for Amber Valley has adopted the Prime Minister's approach to the GLC and other metropolitan authorities such as South Yorkshire, which had the best transport policy in the country, both in terms of future developments and the environment. The policy is, "If you can't beat them, abolish them." The only advantage of such measures is that the Labour party has benefited from the arrival in the House of Members such as my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), with his previous experience on the GLC. If the hon. Gentleman's Bill were enacted, we would presumably see leading politicians from Derbyshire county council, such as David Bookbinder, in this House dealing readily and easily with Conservative Members.

Derbyshire county council has a fine record in areas such as education. It is top in its pupil-teacher ratio, and in special and primary education, and it comes a close second to Nottinghamshire county council in secondary education. Yet such provisions are now being attacked by the Government's poll tax. Any attack should be directed not at Derbyshire county council but at the Government and their stupid formula which, year after year, has attacked Derbyshire's grant. They have even introduced something called grant capping, which few authorities experience. Then the Government introduced the nonsense of the poll tax, from which some Conservative Members in Derbyshire have benefited considerably, making them free riders on the backs of others.

If Derbyshire county council and others were abolished, the services that they provide in a wide range of areas such as planning, highways and education, would have to be picked up by the district councils; yet the Bill does not provide for the reorganisation of district councils. District authorities which are perfectly capable of running services such as council housing would have a massive additional burden placed on them. That shows that the Bill is a deal of nonsense. It is not there to tackle the problems of local government or to restructure it. It is merely another example of cleverness on the part of the hon. Member for Amber Valley, in trying to attack Derbyshire county council. It is as clever as his other moves, which were also utter failures, when he also tripped up and fell on his face.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill order to be brought in by Mr. Phillip Oppenheim, Mr. Ian Gow, Mr. Robert B. Jones, Mr. Donald Thompson, Mrs. Edwina Currie, Mr. Michael Grylls, Mr. Teddy Taylor, Mr. Charles Wardle, Mr. Andrew Mitchell, Mr. Kenneth Hind, Mr. Nicholas Bennett and Mr. Gerald Howarth.

County Councils (Abolition)

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim accordingly presented a Bill to abolish non-metropolitan county councils; to transfer their functions to the other local authorities in their areas and, in some cases, to other bodies; and to provide for other matters consequential on, or connected with, the abolition of those councils: And the same was read a First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 6 July, and to be printed. [Bill 169.]

Opposition Day


Railway Policy

4.1 pm

I beg to move,

That this House condemns the Government's failure to produce a co-ordinated transport policy which would allow British Rail to provide a more reliable, safer, more efficient and better quality railway service to maximise its economic and environmental contribution to Britain; deplores the lost opportunity to provide a high speed, high quality, rail link to the Channel Tunnel, an essential requirement for the industrial areas of Britain, which requires a modern freight rail route of European standards; and calls on the Government to appoint a Commission to assess the various proposed alternatives for the link, its funding, and its extension beyond London.

After 10 years of the present Government's policies of privatisation, cuts in public subsidies, continual reorganisation and an anti-rail attitude, British Rail has produced the most expensive, least reliable, less safe, most congested, most uncomfortable and most under-invested rail system of any of the developed European economies.

It fails to make its potential contribution to reducing congestion and to relieving environmental damage, and to provide the necessary high-speed channel tunnel link, thereby reducing the possibility of carrying more freight from rail to road, and from road to rail. All that is primarily to be blamed on the impossible financial framework that the Government have imposed on British Rail and their ideological obsession with private ownership and private financing, so preventing the long-term development of British Rail's full potential, particularly with the arrival of the single European market in 1992.

This month marks 12 months in office for the Secretary of State. The present Government have appointed seven Secretaries of State for Transport, who have each shuffled through the door and changed bits of policy. I recall from previous occasions associated with our mutual former responsibilities for energy matters that the right hon. Gentleman served as Secretary of State for Energy for two years. Anyone who listened to last night's debate on electricity privatisation will appreciate how much of a mess he made of the policy of that Department. The question whether nuclear energy could possibly be part of privatisation was an issue between us then, when I told the right hon. Gentleman that it would be impossible to privatise the industry with a nuclear element. His response was to refer to me as an economic illiterate. If the right hon. Gentleman will read last night's debate, he may learn who was right and who was wrong.

The right hon. Gentleman has managed to produce in 12 months at the Department of Transport the mess that it took him two years to create at the Department of Energy. He has done serious damage to transport and continues to do so, and that is part of our charge against him. While being concerned constantly with presentation, he has discovered that the reality is dealing with difficult policy decisions. One thing that is regrettable about the Secretary of State is the way that he runs away from public debate on television or radio and in the other media. The televising of Parliament has been enhanced by the fact that the public can arrive at their own judgment when they watch televised debates. The Secretary of State constantly lays down conditions: he wants to go on first; he wants the last word; he is not going to this studio; he wants to sit in a radio cab somewhere else.

Yes, as my hon. Friend says, on this occasion he is frit. He will never debate the issues.

This is the third transport debate that we have had in the House, and they have all been called by the Opposition, and not once by the Government wanting to debate their own policy.

I am pleased that the hon. Gentleman has given way. At least when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State appears on television, he makes sense. What did the hon. Gentleman mean when he appeared on BBC's "On the Record" and used the following phrase:

"if you provide on a bus a kind of camera that can catch people using modern technology and say, 'These lanes must remain free, 'cause we want to provide the bus … ' which already is 1 per cent. of the vehicle movements, carries 30 per cent. of the people … whereas with cars, they're 30 per cent. of the vehicle movements—only carrying … far less people in movement"—[Interruption.]

Order, Even I do not understand it. Will the hon. Member please come to the point?

I shall ask the hon. Gentleman a simple question—can he explain himself?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been called an idiot, and I was merely reading the hon. Gentleman's words from a transcript.

I am a little perplexed, as I thought that this was a railway debate, and I do not think that that has. anything to do with it.

It is quite clear that one does not want to give way to fools when we are dealing with serious transport issues. There seems to be a great deal of laughter from the Conservative Benches. For people who have to wait for a bus, a train or any other form of public transport in this country, it is not a laughing matter. I was offered the opportunity to debate with the Secretary of State on "On the Record". However, as I understand it, his policy is quite clear—he does not appear with the Opposition and there is no evidence that he has, in whatever office he has held.

Issues of public importance are best dealt with when people have the opportunity to debate them on the public media rather than in the House. The only chance that we get to debate transport here is when the Opposition table a motion, and if the hon. Member was provided with an opportunity to speak on such an occasion that might be it.

Clearly, my hon. Friend has touched Conservative Members on a raw nerve. I try to do justice to the Minister, but the reality is that he is not a free agent. In the press this morning, it was revealed that massive cuts will now invade the south-east to try to balance the books so that we do not need cash subventions. We are the only nation which does not have large cash subventions for the railways. Conservative Members know that, and they know that they are wrong; hence their ill temper this afternoon.

Yes, we are seeing more and more signs of a departure from policy and a move towards abuse—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Yes, abuse. There is no doubt about it. Abuse seems to take the place of debate with the modern Tory party. Conservative Members do not want to debate the issue; they merely want to abuse. They do not want to listen to the argument or to participate.

Transport is a critical matter. People want to change things and there is a fundamental difference of opinion between the two sides of the House on the issue. Unfortunately—this may seem peculiar coming from me—transport has become an ideological issue in this country. In Europe, public money and planning are not ideological issues, to be disputed between the left and the right, that happens only in Britain. Unfortunately, our transport system is suffering because of it. That is the reality of the transport debate, and I hope that we can deal with some of those arguments here today.

The question whether we can deal seriously with transport was brought home to me again this weekend because of Conservative abuse. I was addressing a transport conference in Nottingham about the electrification of the east midlands line, and the desirability of connections with the channel tunnel. When I got out of the conference, I was approached by the press, asking me about a speech made by the Secretary of State for Transport. I was asked nothing about transport issues—purely about the terms of abuse. The Secretary of State was appearing before the Tory ladies' conference. He is a real tiger when he appears before the women of his party. It is at Tory conferences that he gets a standing ovation and is prepared to debate with the people of Britain. On such occasions, he is a real personality.

It seems that I have been promoted from the rottweiler of the Conservative party conference to the political vulture of the Tory women's conference. If I am supposed to be a political vulture because I express my views on transport, I feel entitled to say that it is the Prime Minister herself who is to be found running from hospital bed to hospital bed followed by the cameras. I am not saying that that was necessarily wrong—merely that it did not lead the Secretary of State to make similar charges about the right hon. Lady going from accident to accident.

I greatly regret the Secretary of State's remark that I exploit personal grief. I refer the House to a letter to The Guardian from Dr. Jim Swire, who, as the Secretary of State knows, speaks on these matters for the United Kingdom victims' families. He made himself absolutely clear:
"Mr. Parkinson should know that our feelings are not the issue; the prevention of a recurrence is. He agreed an inquiry was necessary and then failed to launch one. Mr. Prescott has now also promised an immediate, comprehensive and independent inquiry into air security. We have no reason to doubt his word."
That is what the relatives want and that is what we are prepared to promise them. Dr. Swuire continued:
"We might as well allow the vulture Prescott to tear at the corpse of the Government's anti-terrorist position."
I am prepared to allow the relatives of the victims of the Lockerbie tragedy to answer for me the Secretary of State's cheap abuse.

Perhaps more relevant was the Secretary of State's remark about me, reported in The Sunday Times:
"He can't make the facts fit his case."
He was referring to safety in the railway industry. [HON. MEMBERS: "Come on."] It is our debate and it has to do with safety; indeed, the amendment tabled by the Secretary of State mentions the safety of the railway system. I want to bring to the attention of the House the fact that one cannot accept what the Secretary of State says in his parliamentary replies.

In his remarks about railway safety at the conference, the right hon. Gentleman referred to making the facts fit the case. He expressed his concern that I was not telling the truth about safety problems in the railway industry when I said that the number of deaths had increased. I tabled a number of parliamentary questions on the subject.

The railway inspectors' report showed that, in the four years to 1988, deaths on the railway system had increased from 355 to 693. That was a considerable increase and some terrible tragedies were taken into account in those figures. The trend had been noticed prior to that, however. That information prompted me to look at the facts concerning deaths and serious accidents in the railway industry and, again, I tabled a number of questions. I was anxious also to look at accidents involving railway staff, and was concerned to discover that, although deaths had fallen by a third, serious injuries had increased by nearly 30 per cent.

I tabled further questions, primarily because I was concerned about cuts in the safety inspectorate. The Secretary of State knows—he said it in his reply—that the safety inspectorate was at full strength until 1984 but since then the position has deteriorated. There were 17 in 1987 but only 16 in 1988, which meant that the inspectorate was under-represented by one third. In 1989, at the behest of the Fennell inquiry, the inspectorate's establishment was increased to 32 but, to date, only 24 inspectors are employed. The inspectorate is undermanned by 25 per cent. I was worried by the criticism of the railways in the Fennell report, which said that the inspectors were confused, did not know what their obligations were and had ignored their responsibilities. My inquiries into the railway inspectorate led me to the view that we should remove the inspectorate from the Department of Transport because it has failed to face up to its responsibilities. I believe that the Secretary of State is slowly having to accept that.

I was concerned about the figures in the parliamentary replies. Indeed, I was surprised by the figures provided by the Secretary of State, which were different from those that I had seen in the inspectors' report. I asked for the figures for 1979 to the present day. Ever helpful, the Secretary of State gave me the figures from 1974 to 1979 because he wanted to make a political point about Labour's record. I do not know whether Secretaries of State normally give more information than hon. Members ask for, but I could see that the Secretary of State was making a political point. He was also making a point of presentation, about which the Secretary of State claims to be an expert. He wanted to present the argument in a better way.

To that end, the Secretary of State gave us the figures for 1974 to 1979. According to him, deaths and serious injuries had increased by 13.1 per cent. under Labour while during a similar period under a Conservative Government, the figure had been reduced by 6.5 per cent. The Sunday Times reported the Secretary of State telling the Conservative women's conference that there had been a 40 per cent. drop in accidents. I am sure all hon. Members would welcome that if it was the truth.

I took the Secretary of State's figures to the Library because I found the figures for 1974 to 1979 most surprising. I did not ask for the figures that far back, because the classification base changed substantially in 1979. Indeed, the Library confirmed that. It is not possible to separate serious injuries from minor injuries for the period 1974 to 1979. The Secretary of State, or whoever prepared the figures for him, had calculated serious injuries at 11 per cent. of the total. Why is it an 12 per cent. guesstimate under Labour, while for every year after that period the figure is 7 per cent.? Something smells. Something is wrong. The figures do not fit the facts, as the Library confirmed this afternoon.

The Government do not fiddle the statistics in only one or two areas of policy. I have outlined my accusation about the Secretary of State's figures, which I asked the Library to check. Perhaps the Secretary of State cannot be aware of all the figures. I am prepared to accept that, although he has often said in the House how he is intelligent and has an ability with figures and that the Opposition do not understand them. I will give the Secretary of State some figures to consider now.

With regard to the figures for deaths and accidents, the Secretary of State's first fiddle was that the guesstimate of 12 per cent. should have been 7 per cent. on average. That would have reduced the Secretary of State's figure of 13.1 per cent. to 8.4 per cent. The second fiddle was the underestimate of the deaths for 1979 to 1983. I have checked the inspector's report and the figure is not 153, it is 157. The former figure is favourable for the Secretary of State's argument.

The third mistake with the figures for 1974 to 1979 arose because the population figures were taken into account. I am not sure what those population figures are because they are not spelt out. However, I suspect that the Secretary of State has not considered the qualifications in the statistical changes. Those should have been considered if the Secretary of State wants to get into the political argy-bargy about what happened under Labour as opposed to what happened under the Tories. I am concerned about the trend in deaths and accidents, and not about political points.

The Secretary of State should have considered the way he handled the statistics. If he had done that, his mistakes might have been evident to his accountant's mind. In his written answer to my question, the Secretary of State gave the percentage expressed as a proportion of 1,000 deaths. Is he really trying to tell the House that for the period about which I am interested, the number of deaths was 5·9 per 1,000? That is wrong. The real figure is 0.59. He overestimated the figure by 10 times the amount. The Library confirmed that point.

In his question, the hon. Gentleman asked:

"how many railway staff have been killed or suffered major injuries for the period 1979 to 1983 and 1984 to 1988; and what they represent as a proportion per 1,000 railway staff employed."— [Official Report, 24 May 1990; Vol. 173, c. 294]
My reply was prepared for me by my Department in good faith. I trust my officials, and I stand by them. I will have the figures looked at. However, my point is that the proportion of deaths and major injuries per 1,000 was 5.9, not the proportion of deaths alone.

But it is expressed as a proportion per 1,000. I shall not prolong the argument—[Interruption.] I can do so if Conservative Members wish. The information is in the railway figures. It is 10 times the number of people who died or were seriously injured. It is a simple statistic. Conservative Members should look at the facts. The Secretary of State says that a mistake may have been made—clearly, it has been. British Rail has written to him and protested that the numbers appear to be 10 times greater. The Secretary of State may not know about that. He should ask Sir Humphrey—he might be able to tell him.

The Secretary of State concentrated on a party political presentation rather than on the real issue—deaths and accidents. He is often loose with the interpretation of data in the House. When he wanted to say that the channel tunnel was not important, the proportion of freight went from 20 per cent. to 7 per cent. Mr. Morton, the channel tunnel chairman, was furiously trying to raise money in Japan. The Secretary of State told him that it was an insignificant amount of freight. There are many such examples, and they are not helpful to politics. If the Secretary of State is to change those things—[Interruption.] I have made the relevant point, and I hope that the Secretary of State will look at it.

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is unsavoury to make party political points out of accident figures. On accident ratios, does he agree that all the evidence demonstrates that it is far more dangerous to travel by road than by rail? Is not that a good reason for investing in rail? Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the latest figures that are emerging from West Germany show that it is 24 times more dangerous to travel by road? Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, in this country and in the European Community, we need the proper collation of statistics on an equal basis so that we can make a better quality of judgment?

I entirely endorse what the hon. Gentleman has said. That is why I want the railway inspectorate out of the Department and a common approach to independent statistics, so that we can make proper judgments. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I was concerned about the wholesale indictment of the railway inspectorate in the Fennell report and the reduction in the number of safety inspectors, which has long been a Government policy. That is a signal that, for the Government, safety is not as important as it was. That is the issue. It is not right for us to cut safety. If we do that, we shall pay the consequences in deaths and injuries. It is a simple point, but it is critical.

Does my hon. Friend agree that an important statistic in assessing the safety of British Rail is not just accidents and injuries to staff and the public but the number of near misses, in particular the overshooting of red lights? Will my hon. Friend confirm that those matters have increased in recent years and are very worrying?

Yes, I confirm that. We are all worried. I am sure that the Secretary of State is extremely concerned. The Department is conducting some studies of those matters. However, they are also connected with fatigue. Another lesson from the inquiry is that, if workers are worked for far too many hours because other employees have been sacked—as British Rail has done—and we try to compensate with a smaller work force, there is less vigilance and safety and the possibility that such incidents will increase. Fatigue is a major concern for bus drivers, train drivers, pilots and so on, and we must be concerned about it.

It was unfortunate that, at that same conference, the Prime Minister announced her great transport initiative—toll roads exclusively for lorries. Would not it have been great if she said, "It would be nice to do something about rail"? That was her first statement on future transport policy—yet again, a road solution—when she had already sabotaged the channel tunnel rail link.

I do not intend to reiterate the arguments that I have put in previous debates about the cut in the quality of services. The consumer body for the railway service made it absolutely clear—I have the relevant quotes, but time has been taken up by interventions [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I have tried to allow as many hon. Members as possible to intervene.


My response to the quotation about whether the quality of the service has deteriorated, is that it clearly has. The Secretary of State often refers to investment—no doubt we shall hear a lot more about it today—so I must advise the right hon. Gentleman that the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission made it clear, when comparing the investment made by the Labour and Tory Governments at 1985–86 prices, that that investment was far better under Labour than under the Tories.

I shall not ignore the fact that more money is going into the railway system. However, the right hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that the average age of the equipment in 1979 was 19 years. Once that equipment is 27 or 28 years old, it begins to get clapped out and investment decisions cannot be put off. I hope that we can all agree that capital investment decisions have been affected under both Labour and Tory Governments because the Treasury takes a short-term attitude to capital investment in British Rail.

The tragedy for the Government is that the profile age of the capital equipment was about 28 years. That means that it had to invest, because the equipment could not keep going any longer. Therefore, I readily accept what the Secretary of State says about the current investment rate being the highest for 25 years. Indeed, the last time it was really high was in 1955, when the same thing happened and the equipment had to be replaced because it was totally clapped out.

In 1981, the British Railways Board issued a warning to the Government:

"A crucial decision has to be taken soon about the future of British Rail. BR must be prepared to take either the path of progress by re-equipment and modernisation, or that of decline through a gradual but deliberate run-down of the system. We cannot continue as we have done in the past. We are reaching the dividing of the ways."
The Government's answer was to bring in Professor Walters, slash the public service obligation from the 1983 levels at a loss of about £2 billion to BR and, through its financial framework, to make it much more difficult for British Rail to make adequate provision of services and proper investment. The Government ignored that need, saying, "We will cut your public services. We will give you higher rates of return. We will make that much more difficult to achieve. We hope that, when we have done that you will sack more workers, sell more land, privatise the sector, and make up the difference." Basically, that is what British Rail did, and that is how it ran its finances.

When the Secretary of State tells us about investment, I hope that he will tell us how much of the investment is provided by the Government. Conservative Members often tell me that the Government have put money into the railway system, so I hope that they will tell us what proportion of investment has come from fares and how much has come from the Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will not tell us how much investment the Government have sanctioned, because legislation requires them to give that sanction. I want to know how much the Government have actually given. That is the key question. Because of this system, the passenger is taking the strain, not the British Rail system.

The Government's attitude has created real problems. The financial framework has caused considerable difficulties. Today's edition of The Guardian provides further examples. We see that the public service obligation target for the south-east region might have to be reduced and that it is hoped to eliminate it by 1992. That will mean higher fares. Because the corporate review assumed that growth would be twice the rate that it is, and that property prices would be higher than they are, British Rail is now facing a financial crisis. In the next month, it will make further great losses and will be unable to meet its financial targets. Once again, it will be on the financial rack and no doubt the Government will come along and change the corporate plan. The Secretary of State knows that, when he announced the corporate plan, I said that it could not work, that there would be financial difficulties and that he would have to review it. I shall wait, and then I shall again say, "I told you so."

Although the Secretary of State need not take any notice of me because many other people are saying the same thing, he should consider whether there is any substance in those arguments and if there is, he should heed them. The Secretary of State fails to listen to any arguments—

No, I shall not give way again—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] No, I shall not give way.

That is why we legitimately charge the Government with being Tory luddites towards high-speed rail. I often hear the Secretary of State talking about the train grand vitesse as if we do not understand it. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has been on a TGV—we have only just managed to force him on to the railways in Britain—but I was on a TGV only last week, yet again, and can advise him that travelling at nearly 200 mph is an impressive experience.

However, I must now shock the right hon. Gentleman by telling him that that train carries post and high-value freight. The Secretary of State should understand that that train does not only carry passengers. It carries freight of considerable value. The Secretary of State often says that we do not understand that. However, when he made his decision about the tunnel, he denied us the opportunity of achieving a high-speed link this century.

If the Secretary of State cannot accept our criticism of this country's infrastructure, I refer him to what was said by John Banham at a conference that I attended. The Times reported:
"An image of Britain paralysed by traffic jams, scorned by its continental counterparts and isolated economically on the edge of Europe was outlined yesterday by John Banham"—
hardly a Labour party member. The Times reported John Banham as saying:
"The government had to overcome its 'allergy to strategic thinking' and begin work on a national transport strategy, backed by public funds, if Britain was to avoid entering the 21st century with 'the worst transport infrastructure in northern Europe.'"
John Banham could have taken that from "Moving Britain into the 1990s." We said it 12 months ago. Even the CBI, therefore, makes the same criticisms about Britain's transport system as we make.

When the Secretary of State came to the House to make that statement—

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. [HON. MEMBERS: "This is organised; it is cheating."] This is an Opposition day, but is it acceptable for the Opposition spokesman to speak for 29 minutes without outlining one aspect of their policy?

The hon. Gentleman ought to know that that is not a matter for the Chair.

The hon. Gentleman was a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department at one time and knows all about discipline in the Department of Transport.

Since we have been so right on many issues, I hope that the Secretary of State will listen to us on this occasion, so that we do not have to keep on saying, "We told you so." The Secretary of State made a statement last week about why he could not accept the joint project. He made it clear, as did the Prime Minister, that £1.9 billion would be needed to subsidise the project. When one inquires into that figure, however, one finds that £400 million is accounted for by terminus costs and improvements at King's Cross to cater for express trains from Kent. That is part of the developments in the south-east and ought not to be charged against Eurorail. A further £310 million is for freight trains. That cannot legitimately be charged to Eurorail. Then, £700 million is for the rolling-stock at Waterloo and for the rolling stock to take passengers and freight to the north.

The Secretary of State told the House that repayment would not be due until 2010. I accept what he said about that. However, he did not tell the House that the total amount would be repaid on that date. The debts will not start to be repaid from 2010. Will the Secretary of State confirm that all the money, plus interest payments, will be paid in 2010 and that the debt repayment will not just begin in 2010? That is important to the financing of such a crucial project.

The £500 million deficit between estimated revenue and the amount that Eurorail has provided is almost wholly due to Government intervention. They demanded a private partner. British Rail could have started this project two years ago. When they insisted on a private partner for British Rail they demanded that the rate of return should be 18 per cent. instead of 8 per cent. That adds to the cost when assessing whether a project will be profitable—a point that was made by Bob Reid. He pointed out that one can borrow at 8 per cent. from the Treasury.

When the Prime Minister was engaged in electioneering during the Kent county council elections, she said, "Don't worry: vote Tory; we'll build tunnels and your environmental concerns will be looked after." Such a costly tunnelling operation for the line would certainly cost more than £500 million.

The Government say that they do not believe in intervention, but by their own actions they scuppered the project. Therefore, Britain has been denied the opportunity to invest both private and public money in a high-speed link. In its editorial, The Daily Telegraph—hardly a militant in the Labour party—said:
"In isolation, a refusal to commit public funds to support a project that is ultimately expected to benefit private shareholders may sound rational. But this newspaper sees the decision as an example of the muddled thinking which has bedevilled the Government's transport policy in recent years."
The article concluded by saying:
"For the time being, however, it is dismaying to note that Mr. John Prescott, Labour's front bench spokesman, has sounded considerably more convincing than his government counterpart in his analysis of the transport issue this week."
I am not inclined to blow my own trumpet, but it was nice to read that in The Daily Telegraph.

The Government's two-year delay has damaged out prestige and made it more difficult for British Rail to move into the 21st century. The way forward must be to review all the options. I asked the previous Secretary of State for Transport the same question 18 months ago and was told that that would cause delay. There is, however, to be a review of all the options, so there will be further delay. It is a pity that the Government did not take any notice of what we said 18 months ago.

On section 42, the Secretary of State said in his last statement to the House, that there would be no subsidies and that I was a firm advocate of that policy. I hope that he will withdraw those comments when he has checked the facts. I asked for evidence of that, but his Department failed to produce it. I can explain why—there was no debate on section 42 as such; it simply passed through both Houses, for a number of reasons. I was not involved and it is incorrect to say that I was. I believe that there should be a review of section 42. I assume that public money is now becoming available because section 56 was mentioned at the conference, when it was suggested that there was a possibility of using it to help in the channel tunnel investment. Are we already witnessing public money coming along, with a review of the alternatives of King's Cross and Stratford?

The Secretary of State made great play of the fact that, according to him, I said on "Newsnight" that Labour's alternative of taking the high-speed link to Scotland would be financed by the infrastructure fund. He knows that to be untrue, because he has the script. If he would like me to quote it, I will. I did not say that it would be financed by the fund. I said that, if we were prepared to support the building of an enlarged fund—which we are—more resources could come with the support of Ireland, Belgium and France because they want a high-speed European link. Britain would be in the same position in relation to the infrastructure fund as the French are to the agriculture fund. We could then begin to do it.

Nobody knows what would be the costs of that link. Even the Government do not know, after years of studying the cost of the connection from Folkestone to London. That is why I advocate a review of the financing—wherever the money may come from—of the environmental damage, and of how we can improve the commercial viability of the link, the recommendation for its structure and ownership and the best connection to London. Those are the criteria that could be involved in a new link, and I hope that the Secretary of State will reconsider.

I am bound to say that it is beginning to appear as though the Government are adopting the Labour party policy that we have advocated for the best part of two years—that is reviewing the options, reconsidering public money, considering the EC structure fund and studying the possibility of introducing high-speed trains, as defined in Europe, with speeds up to 200 mph. The Government's policy on that is a total failure. They fail to understand the potential of a high-speed rail system. It offers the greatest potential to help us to reduce congestion; to reduce the ever-increasing environmental damage to our system; to provide a fast, safe, modern transport system for passengers and freight; and to take British Rail into the 21st century.

That is necessary for Britain, not only so that it does not remain geographically on the periphery of Europe, but so that it gets into the centre by the provision of high-speed links. If the Government fail to provide that, as they appear to be doing, this century, the next Labour Government—who are surely on their way—will ensure that it does happen. Indeed, we are actually planning now to ensure that it is brought about.

4.37 pm

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:

"congratulates the Government for pursuing a balanced transport policy involving record investment by the public and private sector in every aspect of the nation's transport systems; recognises that this is the only way to give the customer more choice and a better quality of service; applauds the Government for the high priority it gives to all matters of safety; welcomes the contribution that the Channel Tunnel can make to improving links to the Continent of Europe and the £2 billion of investment in road and rail which will ensure the tunnel is fully serviced from the day it opens in 1993; commends the Government's support for the development of high speed trains which will be jointly owned by Britain, France and Belgium and which will operate in all three countries; commends British Rail for developing plans for high speed freight services from all parts of the United Kingdom to the tunnel; and calls on the Opposition to cease its policy of denigrating Britain.'."
It would be a relief to everybody if the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) stood by what he said he would do today and stopped constantly appearing on the television the moment after an accident, trying to blame it on something he calls "cuts". I shall tell him what prompted my remarks on Saturday, and it might actually interest him to know that many people recognised what I was referring to. The Labour party's document states:
"The tragedies of the 1980s—Zeebrugge, Lockerbie, Clapham, Kings Cross—are symbols of a government which has put cost cutting before people's lives."
This is a disgraceful allegation. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Lockerbie incident is under investigation by the police. It involved a terrorist bomb, which was probably put on a plane in Frankfurt. The hon. Gentleman has already made up his mind.

Dr. Swire is a reasonable man and he wants a public inquiry. He believes that the hon. Gentleman shares his desire, but the hon. Gentleman has already said in the Labour party document that he does not need an inquiry because it is all down to cost cutting by the Government. That is a disgraceful slur and I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw it.

Inquiries have not been conducted into the tragedies of Lockerbie and the Marchioness, but all the other inquiries pointed to the inadequacies of the Department of Transport and the cuts that contributed to the deaths. That is what we said in our report.

The hon. Gentleman just demonstrated that he tries to turn every tragedy into a party political matter and to cash in on it.

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the television programme in which he appeared when I meant to say that it was a radio programme. I recorded a similar programme a couple of nights later. During the programme the hon. Gentleman said in response to a question on the infrastructure fund:
"Britain's infrastructure is so bad we would get the majority of claims upon it and therefore we'd be a bit like the French with the Common Agricultural Fund."
In other words, we would get all the money out of it. Later the hon. Gentleman went on to say that the route up to Scotland would cost between £10 billion and £15 billion depending on what route was decided upon. He said:

"I think that the Community will be quite prepared to give it as a European infrastructure of a … quite a proportion of that."
I do not know quite what that sentence means as, in common with most of the hon. Gentleman's sentences, it does not finish. As I understand it, he acknowledged that his plans would cost between £10 billion and £15 billion. He said that quite a proportion of that cost could come from the infrastructure fund, but at that time the fund stood at £40 million. Last week, the Council of Ministers unanimously agreed to an ad hoc fund for another three years totalling £80 million. The final amount has yet to be settled, but that sum was the Commissioner's ambition. If the hon. Gentleman expects to receive quite a proportion of a fund totalling £80 million only, it is clear that £10 billion will account for many, many years of the accounts of that fund.

The hon. Gentleman is sponsored by the National Union of Seamen of which he is extremely proud and he speaks out for it. That union was violently in favour of section 42. At that time, did he disagree with his union? In the recent debate the hon. Gentleman said that he had changed his mind. Does that mean that he was never in favour of section 42 or that he previously supported it, but no longer?

So the hon. Gentleman did support section 42, but he has changed his mind. I thank him for acknowledging that.

Can my right hon. Friend clarify whether we have had a clear statement from the Opposition on transport? We have not had such clarification from the Opposition. Are we to assume that the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) and for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) are speaking as the paid hacks of the National Union of Seamen and the National Union of Railwaymen? There appears to be no clear distinction between their remarks on behalf of those unions and the Opposition's transport policy.

That is a matter for the hon. Gentlemen.

This is the fourth debate that we have had on the railways in the past four months—three of them have been initiated by the Opposition, as the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East reminded us. Railways are an important part of our transport infrastructure, but, unlike the hon. Gentleman, we accept the need to keep their contribution in perspective. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the railways carry 7 per cent. of our freight and 8 per cent. of our passengers. We want to see those percentages grow and we are giving substantial backing to that end. Even if those percentages doubled—that would require huge investment and cause huge problems—it would still mean that 86 per cent. of our freight and 84 per cent. of our passengers would use other means of transport.

We recognise the contribution that the railways can make, but, unlike the Opposition, we are not obsessed about that. We are not unbalanced in our attitude to the railways. We see the railways as an important contribution towards solving our transport problems, but we do not consider them as the answer to those problems—that is the impression that the hon. Gentleman gives the whole time.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the percentages quoted are typically misleading and are, unfortunately, the sort of statistics that have emanated from the Department of Transport for too many years? The figures on freight include local deliveries, milk floats and all sorts of deliveries that are carried on the road, with which the railways would not and could not compete. We are talking about the contribution that rail freight could make at the heaviest end of the freight market over long distances. Given the right hon. Gentleman's palpable ignorance, he should be told that as his Department has, in the past 10 years, twice increased lorry weights and once increased lorry speeds, it is not surprising that the rail freight business is now facing a financial crisis.

Even if we doubled the percentages for rail freight and rail passengers, 86 per cent. of our freight and 84 per cent. of our passengers would still travel by other means of transport. Those figures are accepted and are comparable with the figures for other countries.

I shall not give way as I want to press on.

My second criticism of the Opposition is their reluctance—

No, not at the moment.

My second criticism of the Opposition is their reluctance to say anything good about this country and anything bad about others. The implication is that Britain in general and British rail in particular are totally out of step with other countries.

Recently I was looking at Railway Gazette International and I read about a railway system that is looking to reorganise itself. The article said:
"The chosen management matrix mirrors British Rail's sector structure of five businesses that has stood the acid test of survival in a fully deregulated transport environment … The changes spring from a management audit by four consultants completed last September and concluded that insufficient attention was being paid to economic realities, that trains were run with little concern for profit".
That railway organisation, which is looking to model itself on British Rail, is SNCF. It has decided that it must move towards an organisation similar to British Rail and to start to put economies first.

I also read about another railway company much admired by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley). It has appointed a commission to look at the intractable problem of the long-term financial stability of its railways. We are told:
"The model chosen has leanings towards the business sector approach pioneered by British Rail".
The article said of that much admired railway system:
"Can it be that"
the chairman's team
"is at last getting a hold on the dinosaur?"
That is what is happening in the German railway system. The French and German railway systems do not regard British Rail as a joke, but are modelling their management structures on it.

The European Commission does not think that the Government's transport policy is wrong. We are in the process of creating a common market in transport and in road, rail, air, and sea transport Britain is taking the lead in promoting liberalisation. A vital part of the Commission's transport policy is the removal of subsidies that distort competition while recognising their acceptability for social reasons in special circumstances. The Commission is not planning to see Europe with a huge range of heavily subsidised railways. So the Commission is planning to follow precisely the policy of the Government—[interruption.]—of eliminating subsidy and concentrating it on areas where there are special reasons for it.

I urge the right hon. Gentleman to recall the words in the Government amendment, which commends

"British Rail for developing plans for high speed freight services from all parts of the United Kingdom".
That aspect applies in particular to my part of the north-west because, if the channel tunnel is not used and developed properly, it will be a disadvantage rather than an advantage to us. It will place us further from the centre of Europe if its lines are not developed through to the north-west. The freight depot in my constituency concerns me most, as the right hon. Gentleman is aware. We do not want to remain on the periphery, but we fear that we may become even more peripheral as the tunnel proceeds. We want to be integrated into the railway network of the whole of Europe.

I was about to deal with the channel tunnel and discuss the point that the right hon. Gentleman raised.