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Commons Chamber

Volume 201: debated on Friday 20 December 1991

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House Of Commons

Friday 20 December 1991

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]


Royal Regiment Of Wales

9.35 am

I beg leave to present a petition signed by over 33,000 people of south Wales protesting at the decision to cut the Royal Regiment of Wales Territorial Army strength in south Wales from eight to three companies. It asks the Secretary of State for Defence to reconsider the decision, in view of the valuable role played by the 4th battalion, not only in its duties but in a wide range of community activities:

Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House will support us by seeking assurances from the Goversnment that the Fourth (Volunteer) Battalion Royal Regiment of Wales is not disbanded and that Wales is not treated unfairly.

To lie upon the Table.


9.36 am

I beg leave to present a petition on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, North (Mr. Baker), signed by more than 200 of his constituents and some of mine, who are members of the Shafesbury Life Group expressing their concern at the licensing of the drug RU486, which remains an experimental drug with unknown risks to women. The signatories

"deplore the fact that this drug causes the death of unborn human beings, and we express our grave concern that it will damage women physically and psychologically."
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your honourable House, which is committed to upholding respect for human life and protection of the weak and vulnerable, will do everything possible to prevent the distribution and use of … RU486 … and any other drugs which … are produced with the deliberate intention of destroying innocent human life. And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

Business Car Taxation

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.— [Mr. Goodlad.]

9.37 am

I am pleased to have this opportunity to initiate a debate on the subject of business car taxation. As hon. Members will be aware, the motor industry is especially near to my heart, not only because I represent a constituency with a large car factory, but because the west midlands is largely still dependent on a successful and viable motor car industry in the United Kingdom.

It is relevant that I should draw attention to the news in the United States today that General Motors has decided to reduce its work force by 75,000 by closing 20 factories. That shows that there exists a difficult problem in maintaining viable car production in the quantities to which we have become used.

Revenue taken from the road user in the United Kingdom is nearly £20 billion a year, only a small proportion of which is spent on the roads. Those who say that the business car user does not pay his or her track costs should look closely at the total take from the motorist. It is abundantly obvious that the motorist pays a great deal for the track costs of running a car. Nor should one overlook the commercial sector, which also pays substantially for the privilege of running its vehicles on our roads.

In asking the Minister to look carefully at the way in which the business car is taxed, I shall deal with a number of areas which the Government should examine. I do not say that all of my suggestions should be adopted or that they offer a panacea to a difficult problem, but perhaps the Government should look carefully at how that sector of our business community, which is now well overtaxed, can be helped so that there is an immediate knock-on effect to resuscitate home market demand for cars produced in our factories.

I regret that help in any form for the business car user is unlikely to come from any other political party. The Liberal Democrats do not approve of such equipment for business use. I presume that they would like everyone to travel by bus or bicycle. Given the Labour party's recent track record when in government, I cannot imagine that it would try to tackle some of the anomalies of business car taxation that have built up in recent years. Labour's attitude to the business car is that it is a perk rather than a business tool.

For some 70 per cent. of those with access to a business car, it is an essential part of day-to-day business life. It is not a perk, a symbol of their position within a company, or a vehicle to drive home and to the golf club, but a business tool. The present taxation system, which was set up many years ago, fails to take into account the changing circumstances and the different emphasis on how the business car is used today. Some 55 per cent. of all car sales in the United Kingdom are to the business sector. I stress that figure because, without a buoyant and dynamic business sector, the British car industry is set for a difficult time. At present, our car industry is one of the most successful parts of our economic environment. In the past few years, our car industry's balance of payments deficit of £6 billion has been reduced to about £1 billion, which is a tremendous turnround. It is partly as a result of Japanese investment but mostly because some of our existing car companies, such as Ford and Vauxhall, have been able to export in substantial quantities. Eighteen months ago, Ford commenced exports for the first time in 12 years. The achievement of the industry in helping our economic progress is second to none.

May I issue a word of warning. Although the manufacturing sector of the United Kingdom car industry has been doing well, the retail sector is almost a disaster area, with home market demand down to about 1·5 million units a year. That is a considerable drop from three years ago, when it was well over 2·1 million. With a home market showing little sign of life, the way forward must be to consider a stimulus to return customers and fleet owners to the marketplace. In the recent past—the last Budget did not help—they have been subjected to swingeing increases in taxation which has caused a dearth of orders in the business car market.

Since the 1988 Budget, personal taxation on company car drivers has increased by 280 per cent., including the introduction of appalling national insurance contributions on company cars and fuel introduced in this year's Budget, against which some of us spoke vehemently. We fail to understand, even now, why business cars should be singled out for an NIC surcharge when desk-top computers, telephones or other essential tools needed for the operation of our commercial sector are not treated in that way. It has compounded all the problems and caused the business car sector to hold back from purchasing new cars.

I sometimes wonder whether we fully appreciate why we have a business car sector, as it is sometimes considered an unnecessary part of United Kingdom business life. Until recently, it did not exist in a comparable way in any other European country, but more and more European countries are now beginning to realise that the establishment of a proper fleet of cars for business use can result in increased efficiency for the company concerned and can cut costs. We are all in the business of more efficiency and productivity, and this country has a very good track record in managing the fleet car sector. Many other European countries now enjoy that position as a result of British know-how being exported to the rest of the European Community.

Industry and commerce are scattered throughout the United Kingdom. We have welcomed overspill towns and the redeployment of businesses, sometimes in areas where public transport will never be viable or efficient. Companies have plants all around the United Kingdom which require up-to-date maintenance and visits throughout the year, and it is the task of the business car to conduct that exercise. We also have one of the world's most efficient distribution systems because our representatives can visit every high street in the country, taking orders, discussing with companies their type of market and establishing further business efficiency throughout the land.

I cannot imagine the impact of a sales director turning up to seek business with a British Rail "Supersaver" or "Awayday" bargain ticket. It would not fit in well with the image that his company was trying to sell. Moreover, if he were using a "Supersaver" ticket, he would have to leave the town well before three o'clock to use the remaining portion of his ticket, so public transport is not a viable alternative.

Another factor that appeals to the business car user and fleet providers is that, by updating their cars frequently, they can buy safer and more fuel-efficient models. Regular servicing and decent insurance ensures that the cars on our public highways are well maintained and insured. If employees are asked to provide their own cars, they may encounter all kinds of problems. Quality standards in terms of safety and maintenance are likely to be overlooked as employees seek to make cost savings. Difficulties would probably arise over insurance requirements because individual as opposed to fleet insurance may make the operation of the car extremely expensive. If individuals had to provide their own cars, they would want an enhanced salary to compensate for the extra overheads. In addition, there would be the thorny problem of constantly trying to establish an adequate rate of return for the use of the owner's car. A satisfactory arrangement is never arrived at and everyone feels that he is not getting the best deal. It is far better, therefore, to provide a car for business use.

Given the present state of the business car market, taxation has become extremely excessive. As the Government start to draft next year's Budget, I beg them not to entertain the concept of increasing the burden of taxation on the business car sector. Will they please lay off it, because it has been singled out for penal rates of taxation in the past few years? If we want to maintain a viable car industry, we must introduce changes in the business car taxation system. If we maintain the present level of taxation, the prospect of the British car industry producing wealth, goods and employment in the next few years will be open to question.

I have no qualms about asking the Government to come down heavily on the perk car. There is no role for the simple perk. If that means taxing the perk car more heavily in any reform of business car taxation, I shall not object. However, I cannot for the life of me understand—nor can anyone else to whom I have spoken—why there is a difference in treatment between the self-employed and those who are employees. The self-employed are subject to schedule D taxation on the business car, but the employee is taxed under schedule E. Why cannot both areas of the business community be treated in the same way? I hope that Ministers will address that puzzle, if not today then at a later date.

Let us consider benefit in kind and especially the existing mileage limits. I am sure that hon. Members know that the present system has a cut-off at 18,000 miles per annum of business use at which there is a reduction in the tax payable on benefit in kind of 50 per cent. Some 47·6 per cent. of business car users drive fewer than 18,000 miles but more than 2,500 miles a year. Some 45·2 per cent. drive more than 18,000 miles a year. Some 7 per cent. drive only up to 2,500 miles a year. The last figure applies to the genuine perk car.

Thanks to leasing companies, which keep a careful check on the mileage done by contract cars, there is growing evidence that drivers deliberately use their business cars in the early part of the year to get over the 18,000-mile limit and thus to attract the 50 per cent. discount. The loss to InterCity must be considerable as drivers elect to use their cars to qualify for the 18,000 business miles per year figure. What could be more environmentally damaging than people saying, "I am going to use the car because I must clock up 18,000 miles to get the 50 per cent. discount"? In this day and age when we have green thoughts about everything, that is a crazy system to maintain.

It is also worth noting that people who drive round our cities may spend all day in their business car. They may be delivering or servicing computers, or servicing washing machines and will probably clock up only 12,000 miles a year. They do not benefit from personal tax reduction.

I remember debating the issue with my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury in the Finance Bill Committee and she said that such people should use a van so that they would not have to pay tax. That is an absurd answer. It is true that such people could use a van to go to some places, but that would only add to costs, because the user would still have to have a car. If he took his van home, there would be all kinds of problems about whether he was driving it for private use. I suggest that drivers who only do 12,000 miles around a city and who do not qualify for the reduction of taxation on benefit in kind may drive a private car to the works to pick up the van, use the van to drive back to near where they live to start their servicing work and in the evening go back home in the private car. That is very ungreen and complete nonsense.

I suggest to my hon. Friend that in the scale charges for benefit in kind, the arbitrary figure of 18,000 miles is complete nonsense. I know that many solutions are advocated by different people, which is one of my hon. Friend's problems. Everyone has a different solution to those matters and I am aware that my hon. Friend works under the great difficulty of having to listen to many representations.

It seems to me that there should be two categories. The first is the genuine perk car which should be clobbered fairly hard. After that, all business cars should receive a discount on benefit in kind taxation and there should be no mileage limit. To qualify for a discount, it should not matter whether a car is driven for 3,000 or 50,000 miles a year. That would stop some motorists seeking to do as many miles as possible to qualify for the artificial 18,000 mile barrier.

The scale bands at present are decided by the cubic capacity of engine size. That is complete nonsense and is as old fashioned as the horsepower rating which was once used to tax cars under the road fund licence. It is anti-environmental and discriminates against technical improvements. The present cut-offs are from up to 1,400 cc, from 1,400 cc to 2 litres and from 2 litres upwards.

As my hon. Friend knows, because I have talked about this in Finance Bill Committees on several occasions, the scale bands discriminate against the diesel car which is known to be more environmentally acceptable. By virtue of its engine system it has a to have a larger cubic capacity to get a similar power rating as a smaller-sized, petrol-driven car. We seem to be saying, "For goodness sake, do not worry about fuel economy of the car. Just go for arbitrary cubic capacity limits."

Vauxhall is building a factory at Ellesmere Port to make a new V-6 engine. The technology of that engine is very advanced and it is anticipated from early test results that its fuel economy will be especially attractive. However, as it is a 2·5 litre engine, it will find no use in the fleet car market, although its fuel consumption may be lower than that of a comparable 2 litre engine. What sense does that make in this day and age when we are anxious to ensure that the motorist carries out his environmental obligations? I hope that my hon. Friend will pay particular attention to stimulating a new regime for scale banding which is based on fuel economy.

I suggest that the present three bands could be replaced by new bands for cars that do up to 20 miles per gallon, cars that do up to 30 miles per gallon and cars that do up to 40 miles per gallon, although I should prefer four bands with the fourth band being for cars that do up to 50 miles per gallon. How would we arrive at the figures? Every car sold has to have Government fuel consumption figures attached to it. It has to be tested and the figures have to be prominently displayed. However, we cannot just take those figures. We could devise a better system which takes more into account the commuter mileage. We need to reduce as much daily commuter traffic as possible by arriving at touring fuel consumption figures.

The weekly magazine Autocar and Motor has formulated the figures over the years and it gives a useful guide to the fuel consumption characteristics of cars available in the United Kingdom market. The formula is arrived at by using 50 per cent. of the urban cycle, and 25 per cent. each of the 56 mph and 75 mph steady speed cycles which are already available, thanks to Government requirements. That would enable business car users to make a choice. If they wanted a more fuel-efficient car, we would reward them by placing it in a lower scale band so they would pay less tax.

If we are serious about reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions, such a scheme must be the way forward. We must not simply remain wedded to the idea that brute power cubic capacity is the be-all and end-all of internal combustion efficiency. It is not, and it is time that we redrew the scale charges to take into account improvements in technology and new forms of cars such as the diesel car.

My hon. Friend may say that it is a little difficult to start tinkering with the bands. The Government did that a few years ago when they were anxious to help British Leyland which had an engine that did not fit conveniently into the existing scale band charges. The Government moved the scale band charges so that the nationalised company's engine fell into the new category. There is no reason why something similar cannot be done again, but I hope that it will be based on touring fuel consumption so that the Government send a clear signal that they are serious about environmental matters and the company car.

Now I shall address corporate car taxation. The £8,000 writing down allowance has remained static since its introduction in 1979 as a luxury car limit. Even though powers were taken to enable the figure to be altered by statutory instrument, that has never happened. The average cost of a new car used for business purposes is now in excess of £10,000 and the major proportion of cars financed by way of lease and contract hire now falls within the £8,000 restriction.

As I have already said, Britain has an enviable track record of fleet management which has been exported to other European countries, yet in this case there is evidence that the Government's fiscal measures have not caught up with the changing pattern in the provision of cars for fleet use.

Now that the private usage of the business car is taxed in excess of its realistic value, the £8,000 luxury car limit has become an anachronism. The limit should be indexed or scrapped, because the compliance costs have become a considerable burden to businesses which must maintain two sets of figures to acknowledge real depreciation and the tax allowances after caculating the £2,000 per annum maximum limit.

The £8,000 restriction in deductibility of lease rentals must be addressed. The allowance does not apply to cars purchased outright or to those financed by other means such as bank loans. It applies exclusively to cars financed by means of leasing and contract hire. That is clearly unmitigated discrimination against the leasing contract hire business.

The car user's position is now being seriously affected by out-of-date legislation which is creating an unnatural situation in favour of purchase as opposed to contract hire for cars costing above around £12,000. Many users would prefer the administrative advantages of a hire agreement but are forced into purchasing due to the inequality of treatment of their car cost by the Revenue.

I welcome the enactment of section 61 of the Capital Allowances Act 1991 which removes the previous area of doubt in the interpretation of the 1990 Act as it applies to the HP case. My acute concern about the discriminatory treatment of leasing nevertheless remains. That serious anomaly is long overdue for review in order to avoid the proliferation of hybrid schemes which attempt to circumvent the problem.

On several occasions Ministers have committed themselves to the general principle of fiscal neutrality and the avoidance of artificial distortions in the tax system. The rental disallowance is such a clear case of discrimination against the leasing contract hire business that, in equity, its retention cannot be justified.

Another anomaly is the £19,250 price barrier, which has also remained unchanged for years. Unless it is moved upwards technological improvements cannot be featured in the modern company car. Nowadays, with anti-lock braking systems costing about £1,000 to fit in the average car and better security, the challenge of fitting cars with such essential devices—anyone who has driven a car without a skid brake will know that it should be a standard fitment on all cars—and keeping company cars under the £19,250 price barrier is becoming well nigh impossible. Are we therefore to say to the business car sector, which accounts for 55 per cent. of car sales in the United Kingdom that we are sorry but we do not want it to fit the latest technology because it is too expensive? No, we should raise that figure, certainly by 10 per cent., in order to encourage greater technical improvement in the average company car.

The non-deductibility of VAT is another strange anomaly. We understand that the Government take the view that there is a trade-off for the undertaxation of the user's benefit arising from private usage, which may have applied not so long ago, but does not now. There is surely some opportunity for about 50 per cent. of VAT to be deducted from the company car in line with other European countries. That is one way in which the manufacturing sector could be stimulated. It would be a major step forward if businesses were allowed some deductibility of VAT.

But a word of warning to my hon. Friend. There is much fashionable talk that the vehicle excise licence should be scrapped and passed on in the cost of fuel. In principle, that is not a bad idea, but doing it instantly in one fell swoop would be disastrous. It would throw up all kinds of anomalies, pain and anguish throughout the country. The Government could allow the £100 vehicle excise licence to wither on the vine during the next few years so that it becomes less and less important. They should not sweep it away in one go or it could result in an unwelcome backlash in the marketplace.

Finally, I should like some reduction in the special car tax. I should like that to go in one fell swoop. It may not be possible, but I could not sit down without making a further plea for the special car tax to be considered as a candidate for reduction in order to help the United Kingdom car industry.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is more than a little sympathetic to some of the points that I have made, because she has said as much on previous occasions. I do not expect all my proposals to be embraced and carried out, some perhaps, but I hope that the Treasury will start thinking along some of the lines that I have suggested on behalf of the industry. That would be more than welcome and would send out a clear signal that the Government recognise the role of business car users. They have an important role to play within the community. Their jobs, which require business cars, provide wealth and employment, principally in the west midlands but also in the British car industry generally which employs nearly 1 million people.

10.6 am

I welcome the opportunity to reply to the range of interesting points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). As the House knows, he has considerable expertise in and knowledge of these matters and is a valiant campaigner on behalf of the United Kingdom motor industry and the west midlands motor industry in particular. Such was his eloquence and such is his detailed knowledge of the matter that I shall have to be fairly brief in replying to his separate points.

The Government have no quarrel with a number of fundamental assessments made by my hon. Friend. First, we fully recognise the key importance of the motor industry to the United Kingdom's manufacturing base and to national prosperity. We have a successful motor industry and our policies during the past 12 years have played no small part in that.

At the end of the 1970s, the motor industry illustrated everything that was going wrong in our industrial life. It was overmanned, strike-ridden, to a large degree nationalised and, for the most part, had an unattractive product range. However, since then the position has been transformed. The industry has seen huge productivity gains, it has much more harmonious industrial relations and it produces superb cars, the qualities of which are constantly sung by my hon. Friend and his colleagues in the west midlands.

The British car industry is growing. The United Kingdom is seen as a good place in which to build cars. Motor analysts continue to predict that United Kingdom car production will reach the 2 million mark by the late 1990s.

I would not argue with my hon. Friend's point that the recession has brought difficulties for the car industry. He is right to draw attention to the important role played by the business car in Britain. There is no doubt that the business car is an integral part of modern business. Many businesses could not operate efficiently without cars. Of the total stock of 20 million cars, it is estimated that 5 million are owned by businesses and 3 million owned by individuals are used on occasions for business purposes.

For a variety of reasons, not least that in the past they were very much undertaxed, company cars tend to be more prevalent in the United Kingdom than in other EC member states. That is why it is important to consider carefully the tax regime which applies to them.

My hon. Friend will not be surprised when I say that I can make no specific comment this morning on his suggestions for the forthcoming Budget—clearly, I cannot anticipate what my right hon. Friend the Chancellor might wish to do in his Budget next year—but I assure him that my right hon. Friend and I and other Treasury Ministers will continue to listen carefully to representatives of the car industry as we lead up to next year's Budget.

The Government's broad policy thrust on the taxation of benefits in kind is to ensure neutrality in tax treatment between payments in cash and payments in kind. I know that my hon. Friend opposes the concept, as do the Government, of a business car simply as a perk. The car scale structure, which has been in place in broadly its current form since the mid-1970s, has served us reasonably well. However, it is no part of that structure to tax the business use of company cars; merely their private use. The structure of the tax bands recognises the difference between high business mileage and the so-called perk car.

It is never difficult to point to anomalies, because there are only five categories of car tax scale. However, there is simplicity and certainty in the current regime. My hon. Friend mentioned national insurance contributions on company cars. It was sensible to tackle cars in the light of the Government's overall aim of obtaining neutrality between cash and benefits in kind because cars represent about three quarters by value of all benefits in kind. National insurance contributions also apply to payment by gilts and will be extended to unit trusts and equities. Therefore, cars are not being singled out.

My hon. Friend suggested that car scales should be banded by reference not to engine size but to fuel economy. That would not necessarily remove the kind of anomalies for which the current scheme is criticised. It might lead to more anomalies and, given that the main policy aim is to tax the value of cars to individual drivers, fuel economy would not necessarily be the best way to achieve that. My hon. Friend is enthusiastic about diesel cars and raised the matter in our debate on the Finance Bill last year. In reply at that time, my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary explained that the car scale bands cover a fairly wide range of cars and that there were no compelling reasons for distinguishing diesels. My hon. Friend was right to speak about the increase in efficiency of diesel engines and he also spoke about the development of an engine at Ellesmere Port. I shall not dare to enter the fierce environmental debate about the relative merits of diesel fuel and unleaded petrol.

My hon. Friend spoke about cars costing more than £19,250. Such limits are closely examined every year in the budgetary process. He questions the different treatment of taxpayers in schedules D and E. I do not entirely accept that there is a fundamental difference between the two, because for self-employed taxpayers the individual costs of each car are apportioned between private and business use for tax purposes. That is what used to happen for schedule E and the change to scales is mainly to simplify administration and to save arduous record keeping. The substantial discounts that are available for increasing business use give a fair approximation of the individual apportionments within schedule D.

The £8,000 limit on capital allowances is also kept under review, and we are aware of the concern about the effect of these restrictions. My hon. Friend suggests that the 18,000 mile threshold should be reduced. It is, of course, a broad brush threshold in the way that it affects differently those whose mileage is mostly in urban areas and those who have large distances to travel for business purposes. It is kept under review, but it works tolerably well.

My hon. Friend also spoke about the VAT input tax on cars. That has not been recoverable on company cars since the start of VAT in 1973. Most company cars have some private use and if the VAT on their purchase were fully recoverable, a system would have to be introduced to tax the private use and the subsequent sale of the car. That would complicate the administration of the tax.

I reiterate that the Government take seriously the interests of the car industry. I cannot make any commitment about what the Chancellor will decide to do in the next Budget. We shall consider the serious points that have been made in the debate and in the many meetings that the Chancellor and I have had with the car trade. The Government's main concern has been to increase the level of company car scale charges with a view to obtaining parity of tax treatment between those paid in cash and those paid partly in cash and partly in kind.


About 85 years ago, a business partnership developed which some would have said was the ideal combination. It was almost a business marriage made in heaven, because it was between a Mr. Royce and a Mr. Rolls. Mr. Royce was an inspired engineer, a man of great ability who understood not only how to create a very important and efficient motor car but how to maintain its quality. He also knew that his customers would appreciate that. Mr. Rolls had a car sales shop in London, and they created a building which became synonymous with everything that was best in British engineering. When people talk about quality they say, "This is a Rolls-Royce product," and they are unaware of mentioning anything unusual.

My constituency faces one of the most frightening aspects of the development of the recession in Great Britain. Many companies have faced difficulties, but the Rolls-Royce motor company has always succeeded in returning large profits because, throughout the world, its customers valued each Rolls-Royce and were prepared to buy new models with only minor changes and to commit themselves to large sums to guarantee a first-class product.

That was not really surprising, because the first Mr. Royce charged a great deal of money for his car. The original cost was £900, and Rolls-Royce cars have not become any cheaper. The cars maintain a high standard of hand work. It was not just the coachwork that was important to the customer but the quality of the engineering. Many people were trained as Rolls-Royce chauffeurs and it was customary to find details of such training added to qualifications for a job. Unless people understood the Rolls-Royce, they would not be taken on to look after one of these special motor cars.

It is important for the House to understand the difficulties that face Rolls-Royce and especially what is happening to my constituents. When Rolls-Royce was broken up, the aero engine division formed a separate company and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars was floated and became a profitable concern. Not only do our royals have Rolls-Royce cars in their stables, but Rolls-Royce cars used to be the accepted form of transport for ambassadors and the heads of industry. That should still be the practice, because it incorporates an image of the United Kingdom.

However, Vickers took over Rolls-Royce in 1980. It is a traditional engineering company and, during my time as a Member of the House, it has not only had a direct involvement in defence engineering but has received over the years a substantial amount of taxpayers' money in terms of research and development. Vickers' corporate ethos is different from that of the car company, and it was obviously aware of that, because it took over the services of Sir David Plastow, who joined Rolls-Royce as a young man.

When Rolls-Royce began to produce a large part of Vickers' profits, one hoped that that contribution would be appreciated. However, the recession totally changed Vickers' attitude to one of its hitherto most profitable and constructive manufacturing units. That became clear less than a year ago, when Vickers Precision Engineering—another part of the group—faced real difficulties in my constituency.

With little concern being shown for the unions or the work force, immediate changes were made to that company's work patterns. The principle of first in, last out, was jettisoned without consultation or any attempt at explaining to the work force why it had been done. Many employees found themselves treated with scant respect and little understanding.

I know that, because I made representations to Vickers' management in respect of workers at a particular foundry. It was made clear to me that those workers' loyalty, preparedness to adopt new techniques and understanding of the need for flexibility would not deflect the management from their intention to close that foundry. That was a clear sign of Vickers' new attitude towards many of its engineering units.

What subsequently happened to Rolls-Royce was horrendous and totally irresponsible. When the recession first hit the company, it was obvious that it would grow more severe. The present management has a great deal to answer for in the existing situation. For a long time, there was a feeling that being a member of Rolls-Royce management was something of a soft option. Only a few years ago, the company had not only full order books but a waiting list, with some customers having to wait years to obtain the model that they wanted. Customers in many parts of the world were prepared not only to go on the waiting list, but even to pay a deposit to be able to join it.

There was no question of management having to go out to sell its product all over the world. In effect, it stayed at home and the world came trundling to its door. The result was an incredibly frightening inertia and an increasing inability to understand that, marvellous though the product was, it had to be sold—particularly in countries adopting new engineering and anti-pollution techniques and other innovations.

Rolls-Royce management eventually acknowledged those trends and was prepared to make product changes—but did not recognise the signs that, in future, the company would not have it all its own way, but would need to invest heavily in research and development and invest continually to develop its overseas markets.

It is noticeable that, since the war, there have been only five new Rolls-Royce models. It is not a car that alters every year—and it was that very stability and purity of line that attracted many customers in the past. They understood that they were buying a high-quality car, and did not seek superficial changes to its trim, or new bows fitted in inaccessible places, just to prove that they had purchased the latest model. Rolls-Royce's customers were content in the knowledge that the car's quality represented value for money.

Unfortunately, that is no longer true. Eventually, there were clear signs that the company was in severe financial difficulties, with overseas sales dropping noticeably. Management began to talk about work force cuts, and then imposed a three-day week.

My real complaint about the company's management is that it reacted in the most incredibly panicky way to a situation that is not entirely unusual, and which one can expect to change for the better when the country begins to emerge from the present appalling recession.

With the start of the three-day week, it was also made clear to the work force that there would be until Christmas several weeks of restraint, during which it would be required to work only a number of hours—and that over the Christmas holiday there would be a long lay-off, which would be economic from the company's point of view. The work force was prepared to accept that, because it believed that the new year would bring not only an increase in work but a return to a stable throughput of cars.

There has been tremendous co-operation with Rolls-Royce management at every level of the unions. Unfortunately, that may have been misinterpreted not as sensible flexibility or acceptance of the pressures on the company resulting from the recession, but a weak-willed inability on the part of the work force to understand the economy. Certainly there was no sign that management would, for its part, exercise tolerance and be similarly prepared to negotiate changes rather than impose them.

In the 1970s, Rolls-Royce was in considerable difficulties at one London plant, which had work force troubles. There were strikes, and clear signs that the unions at the Mulliner Park Ward factory, whose members were producing high-quality, customised vehicles, were ready to fight their corner with intransigence. That has never been true of the work force at Crewe.

I emphasise that, because a high-quality product relies on the quality of the work force that produces it—the two are directly linked. One cannot produce a motor car of such a standard by machine and assemble it like a Meccano set, with pieces bought in from small factories in the west midlands. There may be an upturn in the sale of popular cars, but customers throughout the world willing to pay the kind of money that is asked for a Rolls-Royce do not want a popular car off the production line that has been manufactured by a series of robots—even though such cars may be in their company fleets and be owned by members of their own families. Such customers buy a Rolls-Royce because they know that a substantial proportion of the car has been handmade.

I refer not just to the upholstery. Some of the media seem to believe that a Rolls-Royce is an ordinary car with some nice veneer and expensive hide seats. In fact, it is a very special car, because much of its engineering is handmade. People are quick to say. "How extraordinarily 1910—still to have a quality product made largely by hand."

That is a bizarre attitude to take. If one visits an expensive jewellers on Christmas Eve, one will find people buying high-quality products. They do not make those purchases because they imagine that those items have been turned out by a multiple jewellers' manufacturing flat unit in Birmingham—excellent though such products may be. Those customers will be looking for high-quality hand work and for something that will last them for as long as they wish to keep it. That has always been the type of product that Rolls-Royce has produced.

I return to the point that the work force at Rolls-Royce, apart from being highly skilled, is stable. It has given the management no problems in terms of consistent strikes, an inability to accept new working patterns or a refusal to consider the need for flexibility.

How is the work force to be repaid for its loyalty? Some of the families of those in the present work force have seen every male member working at Rolls-Royce—grandfathers, fathers, uncles and brothers. They were devastated when they were told suddenly during trade union negotiations that the company is in real difficulties and that it intends to impose new Japanese-style working practices.

If the House thinks that I exaggerate, I shall recount exactly what happened. With the company on a three-day week, and the unions having accepted a two-week lay-off over Christmas and the new year, negotiations began with the management. The unions knew that there would be a series of meetings. Without any consultation, however, the management decided that it would close down, as it were, and that it would go for 420 compulsory redundancies.

The unions responded by saying that they were still prepared to talk with the management representatives. They decided that they would offer alternative measures that would not make it less likely that the company would get the economic result that it wanted but would cushion both the work force and the factory against the worst of the consequences of the company's difficulties. In effect, the unions said "Change is best negotiated. Co-operation is won through consultation—the future by agreement."

The company had already imposed what was called a new green book. In effect, it was a one-sided agreement between the management and the work force. It then announced, in the most frightening and panicky move that could ever have been taken, that there would be 420 compulsory redundancies.

I shall tell the House how the management made the redundancies known to the work force. It should be remembered that the management is supposed to understand the needs of modern industry. What did it do? On the last Friday of the month, it suddenly decided that they would issue compulsory redundancy notices. It was so ill prepared that it was forced to use a series of motor cycle messengers and a manager in a Rolls-Royce to go round throwing the redundancy notices at the employees concerned.

When I say "throwing", I am not exaggerating. One man, who was working on the line, had his notice flung into the car on which he was working. That was followed by the man who threw it at him saying, "They've got you." Some employees received their redundancy notice in the post. Some ex-wives were given employees' redundancy notices. In some instances, employees were tapped on the shoulder and told, "Don't report back to work. Leave now and take your things."

The resultant chaos and deep emotional upset had never been seen before in my constituency. I am talking about people who had gone into Rolls-Royce to be trained as apprentices and who had remained there throughout their working lives. They found that everyone they knew was in the same situation. They were given a letter that suggested that they had a right of appeal and that they would have the chance to challenge what was described as an "evaluation" of their working abilities.

Those evaluations caused deep offence. I am sure that they will be the subject of complaints when many appeals are taken to the tribunal. Men who had city and guilds qualifications and many years of practical experience, and who were still comparatively young, were told by people who did not have the same engineering experience, "You are not capable of doing the job. You are not flexible. You cannot move from one place of work to another. You will have to go out on the stones."

The company's position soon became clear to those who were targeted. Some of them had a specific problem. For example, one man looks after his 81-year-old mother. He was told, "You must go because you are not flexible. You can't do night work." There were others who had had minor illnesses in the past. Many of the others who were targeted had one black side that stood against them—they were trade union representatives. That was the worst crime of all. When the compulsory redundancies were announced, 16 shop stewards went out of the door.

It was clear that it was the intention of Rolls-Royce to move from being a responsible, highly regarded and important manufacturer producing luxury cars to one that could be regarded as the worst sort of manufacturer of cheap goods. That has produced real agony in my constituency, and real anger. There were men in tears on the shop floor. Men came into my constituency office and it was clear that they were devastated by being given notice and by the savagery with which it had been done. They were entirely undermined, as were their views of themselves.

Why has the company found it necessary to behave in such a brutal and unimaginative way? Is it a company which has no future? Is the company so poor and have we become so much a third-world country that it has to be sold to the highest bidder, who preferably will be foreign and who will take over a high-quality name and sell the goods elsewhere in the world? Far from it.

One of the reasons for there being so much ill will within my constituency—I was amazed when I was told about this—was that, when the management was behaving in the way in which I have described, there was a growing waiting list for a new Bentley—the Bentley Continental—that will cost £160,000. It seems that the "gamble", as it was described in The Timeson 1 July 1991, has paid off. Customers have snapped up the first two years of production, placing deposits of £20,000 on each of the 600 Continentals. That has been done well before the first car will be made in November. Deposits alone have raised more than £12 million.

There is a strong suspicion in my constituency that Rolls-Royce is subsidising much of the redundancy costs through the pensions holiday that it has enjoyed over the past five years as a result of the Government's legislation. There is a worry that some firms plan to subsidise redundancy payments on the basis that they have made no contributions to pension funds. What could be greater cynicism that that?

There is a long waiting list for a new high-quality car, the Continental. The company has already taken many deposits. Rolls-Royce said, "If we were choosing a time to launch the Continental, it would have been difficult to pick a more turbulent period to do so." It then talked about sales in America and what has happened to the company because of additional taxation of 10 per cent. in America, and various other problems that have made real changes necessary.

Rolls-Royce has shed about 700 jobs at Crewe this year and a further 500 from the Mulliner Park Ward coachbuilding subsidiary in London. The result is simple. In December 1991, unemployment in my constituency was 4,276–7·9 per cent. That is an increase, from December 1990, of 47·3 per cent. That is happening because Rolls-Royce, British Rail Engineering Ltd. and a number of small companies are going under.

Rolls-Royce has contributed to that number for one simple reason. It said in public that it intended to move towards new Japanese-style work practices and that there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the move among the work force. I see astonishingly little sign of it. I believe that the work force has been betrayed. Its loyalty, its commitment and the many hard times that it has endured in the past have been totally ignored by the management, which thinks that in future it will be able to rip off not just its work force but its customers.

If we move towards a system under which many engine parts are bought in and much of the work that is presented to the customer is said to be acceptable simply because of the veneering, the coachwork and the upholstery, we shall soon find that the marketplace will begin to react. Rolls-Royce customers know what an engine ought to sound like. They know what quality they want. They will not continue to buy Rolls-Royce cars if they are not provided with the same quality of product as they enjoyed in the past.

What has been the Government's role? Some of the legislation has not improved the position. Furthermore, the Government have a great deal to answer for in their handling of the economy. We are in a deep recession which is going on far longer and is doing far more damage to our manufacturing base than was envisaged. There are those who would ask, "What is the loss of one major motor car company compared with the loss of so many of our high-quality manufacturing companies?" I would say in reply that Rolls-Royce has become almost an emblem of what is important to British engineering. It has trained generations of engineers. Rolls-Royce cars have been sold all over the world and have always stood for first-class quality.

Many German manufacturers seem to be better at making a profit than we are. They would be happy to take over this factory and its product. Yesterday, I was asked by Rolls-Royce representatives to speak to them because of their deep concern that the Prime Minister had been seen getting out of a Mercedes car at Maastricht. They were deeply affronted and upset about that. I do not see why that should surprise Rolls-Royce. If the company carries on as it is now, the Prime Minister will be seen getting out of a BMW. if not a Mercedes, and if he is not getting out of a BMW he may even arrive in a Fiat. If we go on for very much longer in this way, the Prime Minister will soon demonstrate his vision of a classless society by arriving in the smallest type of Japanese car.

Incompetent people, sitting in front offices, are not involved in manufacturing. They are not important to the people of this country, but without its work force Rolls-Royce would not exist. Who do the people sitting in front offices think is making their profits for them? They are being made by the men and women on the shop floor who have devoted their lives to this company but who have been treated with contempt by management which is totally unconcerned about their future, or the future of my constituency.

On the spirit of ecstasy—that very beautiful lady, synonymous in line and shape with all that is best in Rolls-Royce, who sits on my desk at home—shadows occasionally move. Sometimes it looks as though the spirit of ecstasy is weeping. In my view, she is weeping for the time when quality, commitment to the work force and, above all, responsibility were something that Rolls-Royce stood for. Those days may be long gone.

10.44 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs
(Mr. Edward Leigh)

I am glad to have this opportunity to reply on the important subject of Rolls-Royce, one of our finest engineering companies. I do not necessarily agree with everything that the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, but it is obvious that she speaks with great knowledge of these matters and with great commitment to her constituents. The whole House will therefore be grateful to her for bringing the company's problems to our attention.

The future of the company is a matter of great concern to us all, and the Department is therefore following developments very closely. As the hon. Lady said, the Rolls-Royce motor car is a symbol of British excellence. Without any doubt, it is the best car in the world. It represents our country well beyond our borders. Everyone recognises it for what it is—the product of British skill and craftsmanship. As the hon. Lady said—I have walked around the works in Crewe—it is not just a question of excellent design or good upholstery. Excellence in craftsmanship and engineering goes right to the heart of every component in the car. If hon. Members have any free time, I recommend that they visit that factory. It is a revelation to see just how excellent our engineering standards can be. The hon. Lady spoke in moving terms about that and I endorse everything that she said about this wonderful British product.

Rolls-Royce has enjoyed a decade of success. However, I am just as concerned as the hon. Lady that this company, which is a national institution, now finds itself having to tackle some very difficult problems. A series of events have occurred that have had a serious effect on the market for these luxury cars. World economic conditions, the war in the Gulf and tax changes in the vital United States market have combined to stifle sales. The hon. Lady may be relieved to hear that only last week the Secretary of State wrote to the United States Government about their swingeing tax on luxury cars. We await a reply. We are working with the European Commission on that subject. I assure the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State is concerned about the effect that that United States tax has had and we intend to take action.

I am grateful to the Minister for making that point. We are very concerned that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has not visited the Crewe factory and has not looked at any of the other problems that we have encountered. I hope that the Department of Trade and Industry will make representations with real vigour. The Secretary of State certainly does not seem to understand that there is a problem.

I can assure the hon. Lady that the Secretary of State has met the chairman of Vickers and is pursuing the matter with great vigour. She knows that our regional office has done a considerable amount of work. Mr. John Pownall, regional director of the Department of Trade and Industry in the north-west, has had a series of meetings with the Crewe development agency. At the most recent meeting, on 25 November. we offered the agency £40,000 of matching grants to meet half the costs of two projects, to help to develop a strategy for technology transfer and a business in the environment programme for firms in the borough. I hope that the hon. Lady accepts that the Department of Trade and Industry is taking steps to help. I am happy to visit her constituency to meet the borough council with her. It is most important that Department of Trade and Industry Ministers do not spend all their time in London, important though our responsibilities to the House are, but travel around the country, as I do almost every day of the week. I hope that that commitment will help the hon. Lady. I have already visited the works, but if I were invited I should be delighted to visit again.

Rolls-Royce is the last significant domestic car maker wholly owned by British interests and it is therefore right that the whole House should follow developments closely. Vickers acquired the company for £35 million in 1980. It was floated in 1973 after the collapse of its then parent aero-engine maker in 1971. City estimates of its current value vary between £250 million and £600 million. In the following 10 years, investment proved profitable and as late as last year—it is important to make this point, because it puts the debate in perspective—it made nearly one third of Vickers' £100 million profits. With the collapse of sales, in 1991 it will make an estimated loss of £60 million. Its problems are serious, but we hope that the parent company, Vickers, has the resources to overcome the problem; it is clearly seeking to do so.

A brief look at what has happened in the United States is a good, if unhappy, illustration of what Rolls-Royce faces. In a typical year, almost half the cars that it produces are exported to that country. In 1990, it assembled a total of 3,300 cars and, as usual, about 50 per cent. were exported to the United States. Compared with last year, sales in the United States have fallen by half this year. Overall, it seems that this year's total sales for Rolls-Royce cars will be some 50 per cent. lower than in 1990.

I hope that hon. Members will join me in understanding the difficult market conditions that all luxury car makers are facing and the need for them to take positive but difficult steps to secure their future. In the markedly changed circumstances in which Rolls-Royce Motor Cars finds itself, the company has been taking urgent and sometimes painful decisions to restructure its manufacturing operations and to bring costs into line with the new and much lower level of sales.

As the representative of the factory's workers, the hon. Lady dealt with the issue of job losses, which of course are regrettable at any time. I appreciate hon. Members' concern for the employment prospects of Rolls-Royce's work force at Crewe, but manning is a matter for the commercial judgment of the company and it would be counterproductive for the Government to try to intervene in the normal commercial processes. I do not think that the hon. Lady, despite her criticism of the company, suggested that we should do so.

Inevitably, companies sometimes have to adjust or rationalise their structure, employment levels or product lines because of changing market conditions. As the hon. Lady said, the work force has been cut by almost a third. Redundancies of more than 1,200 have reduced it to about 3,000. A three-day week is being worked and there will be an extended Christmas shut-down at Crewe. I am told that the work force is co-operating in the introduction of flexible working practices. The company is 10 weeks into a complete review of the business and how it can be made more efficient. It believes that those measures will reduce its costs by £640 million, and thus enable it to achieve a break-even point at an output of several hundred cars fewer than previously. One regrets any redundancies, but I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that, through no fault of the company's the market in the United States has collapsed.

Unfortunately, people have come to understand that redundancies, properly handled by union negotiation, are necessary under a Conservative Government. What they will never accept is the brutal ignorance of the manner in which these redundancies were made and the savagery with which all internal relationships have been destroyed. That is why so many union shop stewards had to go. The company will find it almost impossible to operate in the future.

I listened with great care to the hon. Lady's remarks on those matters and I have noted them. She will not expect me to comment on them now, but no doubt inquiries can be made later.

The decision as how best to safeguard the company is a commercial decision for the owners. Vickers plc, which has owned Rolls-Royce since 1980, should look at what avenues are open to secure a successful future for Rolls-Royce. It has said that it will examine all the options and make an announcement at the appropriate time. At this stage, I share the company's confidence that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars will recover from its present trading difficulties.

The hon. Lady referred to speculation that Vickers might want to dispose of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars. There has been speculation in the press that there might be an outright sale or that an outsider might take a substantial shareholding. Companies such as BMW, Ford and General Motors have been mentioned. For the time being, that is only press speculation and the House would be wise to treat it as such. The important point that I want to convey is that Vickers is confident that Rolls-Royce Motor Cars will recover from its present trading difficulties. However, changes in manufacturing methods and working practices may have implications for employment.

The company's commitment to produce the highest-quality cars for the long term is shown by the fact that, despite a difficult year for sales in 1991, expenditure on research and development is being maintained at a similar level to that in 1990. The hon. Lady mentioned research and development. If the company is to retain its competitive edge, it must maintain expenditure on research and development.

Rolls-Royce, in keeping with its reputation for technological excellence, has continued to innovate and refine its products. For example, fuel consumption has been improved by more than 25 per cent. in the past five years.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars also manufactures the Bentley marque. Bentley has achieved much of the company's success, and some 60 per cent. of the company's sales are under the Bentley badge.

Employment prospects for the work force are naturally tied to the continued commercial success of the company and its technology. I have already confirmed my confidence in Rolls-Royce's future.

Despite what has been written by motoring journalists, one could hardly contemplate assembly outside this country being successful without the loss of one of the essential attractions of the car—its unique Britishness. To reassure the hon. Lady, I refer to the trade mark issue, which is important. Rolls-Royce plc, the aero-engine maker, owns and licenses the Rolls-Royce Motor Cars trademark, but Vickers plc owns the company. Under the original licensing agreement, Rolls-Royce plc retains the right to withdraw the use of the name Rolls-Royce in whole or in part if the car business is sold to a foreign buyer. That right extends to areas other than ownership—for example, quality—and Rolls-Royce plc regularly monitors the licence. That is an important protection which the hon. Lady did not mention.

I stress that one of the essential attractions of the car is its unique Britishness. The continuing manufacture of Rolls-Royce cars in Britain is thus of prime importance. I hope that the main assembly facility at Crewe will therefore have an assured future. That future may involve some type of partnership or collaboration, because the cost of development is high. However, as I have already said, what option to follow is a matter for the owner——

It being Eleven o'clock,MR. SPEAKER interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).

Fisheries Council

11 am

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. David Curry)

With permission, I would like to make a statement on the outcome of the Fisheries Council held earlier this week.

I attended the Council of Fisheries Ministers on 17 and 18 December, together with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, Lord Strathclyde.

I undertook to the House to fight for the application of the Hague preference, mackerel flexibility, better fishing opportunities, where they could be obtained within the bounds of scientific advice, and alternatives to the current eight-day tie-up rule. We achieved all of these.

On the tie-up rule, we were faced with a Commission proposal for 200 days. Some restriction is necessary to conserve the stocks, but we secured agreement that there should be a choice between this year's requirement for eight consecutive days tie-up each month and an option for vessels to tie up for 135 days in total, on the same catch criteria as last year. The exact details of this are for us to work out, so that we can ensure the flexibility which was missing from this year's arrangement.

We shall also be able to give fishermen the choice of using more selective gear instead of all or part of their tie-up obligations. We shall need to put proposals to the Commission under the same procedure as this year. We shall do so early in the new year and the new rules will come into force on 1 February 1992.

These measures, combined with the improvements in technical conservation measures which are being introduced from next June, will be important in safeguarding the cod and haddock stocks which are so important to our fishermen, while covering the range of interests of the United Kingdom's industry much better than this year's rules.

We not only secured the flexibility to take western mackerel east of 4 deg. west but, for the first time, secured agreement to take the full quantity provided for in the Community's agreement with Norway. This will greatly help our fishermen, who have faced considerable difficulties because of the changed migratory pattern of the mackerel, by enabling them to take up to 36,370 tonnes, which is 15 per cent. of the United Kingdom quota in the eastern waters. We successfully resisted the Commission's proposal for national allocations for the western horse mackerel stock.

We succeeded in securing the Hague preference as on the basis of last year. This year it will apply to North sea haddock, and west of Scotland saithe and whiting. If the Commission does not achieve a modest increase in the total allowable catch in consultation with Norway, we shall also have a Hague preference for North sea cod. Following the negotiations at the Council of the 49 TACs of interest to the UK, 14 will increase compared with 1991, 18 will decrease and 17 will remain the same.

In the North sea, taking into account the Hague preference, the demersal opportunities will be very much the same as in 1991, with a small increase in haddock, a drop in saithe and a marginal reduction in cod. Flatfish opportunities will be reduced, reflecting chiefly the passing of the very abundant 1987 sole year class. A new TAC was introduced for North sea nephrops, but was not allocated between member states.

In the west of Scotland, two quotas increase, six are reduced and six stay the same. In the Irish sea, with minor changes in the whiting TAC consistent with the science and with quota exchanges with other member states, higher quantities of cod and whiting will be available to our fleet in 1992. The increase in the nephrops TAC will also be very welcome. In the channel, we achieved better TACs for cod and whiting and for some flatfish than were proposed, as well as the usual quota exchanges with the Netherlands. Overall, we have achieved some welcome changes for every part of the many and varied fisheries around our coasts. No transfers or swaps were concluded with Denmark.

The fishing industry will, I hope, recognise that we have secured a good package on its behalf. Processors will welcome the relaxations on autonomous tariff quotas and tariff suspensions on certain fish imports which are vital to their businesses. Consumers should also benefit from the greater availability with reduced import restrictions.

We have worked hard to secure a good package. We have achieved this. Early in 1992 we shall enter further consultations with our industry on special measures we could take to improve the conservation of the fish stocks of importance to us.

It is fair to say that we welcome many aspects of the arrangement that the Minister obtained in Brussels, in particular the flexibility of days in port and the reduction from 200 days to 135 days. We also welcome the gear option which is to be negotiated, although it is a shame that, as last year, that option was not resolved at the same time at the Council of Ministers, so that fishermen would know where they stood and what was available to them. We also very much welcome the fact that Denmark did not get the 400 tonnes of cod from the United Kingdom allocation which it received last year.

The main problem is that, although this deal is, I think, by far the best that could be obtained in the present circumstances, I do not see how it will meet the target of a 30 per cent. effort reduction on fish stocks in United Kingdom waters. In that respect, although it meets the requirements of this year, it is a sticking-plaster deal which does not provide a long-term framework for stability. When will the Minister make an application for aid to the relevant budgets in the Community for decommissioning grants to restructure the fleets and give some long-term stability?

Will the Minister also apply for aid from the social fund to assist the communities that will be affected? On that point, will he press his hon. Friends to try to resolve the dispute between the Government and the Commission about the application of those funds? Will he also take note of Mr. Marin's comments about fisheries enforcements and the fact that it is up to individual states to ensure that the rules are kept? Will the Minister consider enforcement in this country and the fact that there has been fairly widespread breaking of the rules? In that conection, will he consider a pilot scheme for the satellite tracking of fishing fleets?

It is a sad fact that cheating has occurred in this country, as it has in all member states. Some fishermen say that they cheat because they have no choice—that they are driven to it by economic circumstances and by the level of fish stocks and the pressures on them. The fact that fishermen are driven to do that does not excuse it, but it underlines the Government's failure so far to match effort to available fish stocks and to ensure a long-term future for the industry. When will the Government deal with that problem and introduce the long-term planning and policies needed to ensure that this country has a sustainable industry?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's congratulations on the package. The reduction to 135 days is welcome, and the gear option will be obtainable on the same basis as last year, in that the regulation is the same. We must be fair and say that, with a 135-day tie-up taken across the year and taken in fairly flexibly—we must work out the detailed arrangements—the requirement of the gear option is likely to be somewhat less than it was in the current year. I was also pleased that we did not conclude what I called a "Christmas bonus" for Denmark with a small allocation of cod—I thought that this year we would keep it for ourselves.

The conservation element of the package has to be seen in the light of a series of measures. The package contains the reduction in the TACs, which is in itself an element of conservation. The package of the eight-day tie-up was more onerous. The problem is that if we ask fishermen to do something that they do not consider reasonable—even using that word somewhat flexibly—we shall not get conservation at the end of the day. They are driven to the point at which anti-conservation results.

Therefore, although some people may say that the package is liberal, it is better to ask fishermen to observe the rules thoroughly on something that is reasonable. My appeal to the industry is that many of the arguments at present are about illegal landings. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) has raised that issue several times.

There is much talk in the fishing press about that subject and about cheating. Nobody could argue that this package drives fishermen to cheat; it has introduced the very elements of flexibility for which the fishermen asked. If fishermen cheat, misreport and take deliberate decisions not to obey the rules, the inevitable result will be that, in future years, scientists will advise us to have a more restrictive package. We would then be back to the position of tying up the industry in red tape, which is not the way to progress.

Inevitably, the hon. Member for Glandford and Scunthorpe mentioned decommissioning, as he finds the package fairly congenial. He knows that we are having discussions with the industry on an overall package of conservation measures, of which decommissioning could form an element. The package is sensible and sets our relations with the industry on a stable and sensible base. Given our recent success in obtaining the safeguards against Norwegian salmon and the rapidity with which we dealt with the outbreak of paralytic shellfish poisoning that threatened shellfish exports from Scotland, I think that the industry can regard the Fisheries Department as having worked extremely well on their behalf.

Order. The House knows that today is a private Members' day. I shall allow questions on the statement to continue until 11.30 am and hope that, in that time, all hon. Members present may be called to speak.

There are a number of aspects of the package that are welcome, and the Minister should be congratulated on his achievements, particularly the fact that he has managed to obtain the full quantity of mackerel allowed in the agreement between the Community and Norway. I know that that will be especially welcomed by the pelagic fishermen in my constituency. While none of us thought that the package would result in something as bad as a 200-day period, we were realistic enough to know that the period would never be totally eliminated. There has been a significant reduction in the number of tie-up days and, as the Minister said, the flexibility allowed will be helpful.

How many vessels of nations other than the United Kingdom will be affected by the tie-up rules? Did I understand the Minister to say that the new proposals on the gear option are to be the same as this year's? Will he reassure those who are sceptical about the gear option that it will not prove to be a loophole but will be properly enforced? Will he comment on the disappointment felt about the west coast TACs?

Finally, like the hon. Memberr for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), I must mention decommissioning. As we go from year to year, anxiety is felt within the fishing industry every December about the threat and reality of tie-ups, and such worries will continue until we have a decommissioning scheme. The industry has responded reasonably warmly to what the Minister has achieved, and relations between the industry and the Government are perhaps better now than they have been for a long time. Will the Government take this opportunity to talk constructively to the industry about a well-targeted and well-resourced decommissioning scheme?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his kind words. He has always been fair in his observations on the fishing industry. It is true that the package is a good deal for his fishermen and those based in the islands, particularly western land mackerel flexibility. Whichever boat is caught, the criterion remains the same: 100 tonnes and 40 per cent. over the same reference period. It is up to the member states to apply to the Commission for derogation, which the Commission will deal with under a series of criteria, one of which is the extent to which the fishermen might expect to take their quota. Certainly, we expect Danes to be caught under these rules in the Skaggerak and Kattegat unless they can prove to the contrary.

The words on which the gear option is hung—if I may use that phrase—are the same as last year. That does not mean that the gear option as such would necessarily be the same as last year. We must ask questions of and make representations to the Commission. I outlined to the Commissioner in a statement in the Council the sort of options that we might want. I asked him to say whether he agreed on the sort of ball park area, and he said yes, so we shall get those gear options. However, many boats that have taken up the gear option this year will not find the same necessity to do so next year.

It was an extremely useful exercise, as people fishing with 110 mm nets gained practical experience and found that the nets had greater conservation benefits than they thought and the quantity of catchable fish was greater than they had thought. I hope that some boat crews will ask for a gear option of 120 mm. I know that some Shetland fishermen would seriously contemplate that as a feasible option.

As for the Government's relations with the industry, they are co-operating closely with it, having conducted a series of meetings and are currently discussing a conservation package. We all know what elements that package will contain, and I shall meet representatives of the industry early in the new year to see how we can advance the package.

May I join other hon. Members in welcoming the more flexible package that the Minister has achieved and which the industry can live with? Does the Minister recall that, apart from one year and small marginal changes this year, TACs have been reduced every year since they were introduced? Is he aware of the pressures on stocks? The problems relate not just to minimum size; the quality of fish now caught is much poorer than it was some years ago.

What long-term studies are the Government undertaking to find out why the stocks are under such pressure and whether the problem is due simply to overfishing or whether there is some serious form of pollution in the breeding grounds that is gravely affecting the stocks? We must have a longer-term plan and study the problem, or we shall merely stagger from crisis to crisis, year after year.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's point about the quality of fish. One reason why we were anxious to obtain a cut-off date of 1 August for western horse mackerel stock was that the fish caught are of a much higher quality in the latter part of the year. The fishing is carried out for human consumption, using freezer trawlers, and the catch often goes straight to Japan. The Commission is producing a report on the industrial fishery.

One achievement contained in the package was to reduce significantly the industrial by-catch in cod and haddock fisheries. The Commission is committed to bringing forward a report on the effect of the industrial fishery. The House will know that none of us likes industrial fisheries, and we believe that fish should be used for human consumption. The package should go some way to ensuring that.

I join the welcome for the flexibility of the package. As one who represents a constituency in which 25 per cent. of jobs depend on the fisheries industry, I can say that not a single tear will be shed for the ending of the infamous eight-day consecutive tie-up rule, which was always potentially life-threatening.

As for the retention of the 40 per cent. option on the TACs for cod and haddock, does the Minister recognise that the people who suffered most last year under the eight-day tie-up rule have again been targeted? Why was not total flexibility implemented, so that effort limitation could have been spread evenly across the Community and throughout the United Kingdom? How will the Minister nominate the 135-day rule, and how will it be policed? Will any——

We shall write to the industry shortly asking how it would like the 135-day rule to operate—whether it would like it in quarterly chunks and what notification procedure should be used. We were willing to see an amendment in the 100 tonnes and 40 per cent. rule to widen its scope, but our proposal was not backed by a majority, so we were not successful.

I also congratulate the Minister on the successes in the package. Will he ask his colleagues in the Scottish Office to consider the implications of the package for the west coast nephrops fleet? I still believe that a weekend ban on nephrops fishing on the west coast would be effective and desirable.

Will the Minister respond to the question by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) about social fund money from the Commission for the restructuring of the fleet and the possibility of funding along the lines now available for the coal and steel industries and, potentially, for the textile industry?

We have a consultation on the nephrops fishery, and a weekend ban is one of the items on which we are asking the industry to give its views. I will raise funding matters with my right hon. and hon. Friends.

Will the Minister confirm that all he hears from west Cumbrian fishermen is that they want a decommisioning scheme and fair treatment under the Hague preference? Will he confirm that they will still be penalised under the Hague preference as a result of the package that he has negotiated? Can the Minister tell me why we can decommission land to stop the production of agricultural products but we cannot decommission boats to prevent fishermen from fishing? Why is there inconsistency in the Government's view of these matters?

I assume that the hon. Gentleman is referring to the effects of the Hague preference in the Irish sea. If we get the Hague preference, the Irish do, too; the two go together. We have tried to achieve a proper mean. In the last half-year period, we have operated on the same basis under the Hague preference as we did last year. It is a difficult issue.

Most of the industry talks about decommissioning, but, as a result of our talks, it is increasingly recognising that effort control and limitation go with decommissioning as part of a package, and that has made it a much more sensible dialogue.

Will the Minister say something about the detail of the increased flexibility in the package, which is welcome? When will we know exactly what is and what is not allowable? Will the Minister now consider the availability of compensation because there is to be an increase in the number of restricted days and therefore a decrease in fishing opportunities? Few other industries in the country have a statutory prescription on their earning capacity. Either the EC must come forward with per diem compensation, or unemployment benefit or family credit should be extended to fishermen who are denied their opportunity to work.

On flexibility, we will consult the industry on how it wants the scheme to work, and that discussion will include such matters as refits, the necessity to come into port, breakdowns and so on. As the rules stand at the moment, a day in port for any reason whatever counts against the 135 days. We shall have to ask the industry how it wants the scheme to work.

On compensation, I must emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that very few boats in practice fish for more than 230 days a year. Those that need to do so may well be able to benefit from the gear option. I do not see any scope for compensation.

My first reaction was to think, "Thank God the eight day tie-up rule is to be thrown overboard." When the Minister was in Brussels, did he consult the report that is being prepared by Community officials on the current circumstances of the industry? I believe that that report is part of the gradual process leading up to the mid-term review.

Two important issues arise: the first is industrial fishing and the second is the concept of relative stability by which fixed percentages of traditional fishing opportunities are maintained. May I urge on the hon. Gentleman the need to reject the Spanish demands about an incursion into that relative stability? It must be adhered to and surely there must be a complete ban on industrial fishing.

The Commission is to produce a report on industrial fishing by the middle of next year and I hope that, following that, we can begin the process of eliminating it. The report on the mid-term review was not brought forward to the Council meeting, but the hon. Gentleman can be assured that, when it is, I shall argue that we believe that the principle of relative stability is an important part of the policy and should remain.

May I congratulate the Government on their speedy and effective action over the so-called shellfish ban? Will the Minister undertake to examine very soon the consequences of the package on the village-based fishing industry? In particular—as the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is here—will the Minister encourage his Scottish Office colleagues to take an early and favourable decision in respect of the proposal for improved fish handling facilities and safety at Pittenweem harbour in my constituency?

I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for his remarks about the shellfish ban. The Ministry and the Scottish Office acted very quickly and that great threat to the industry has now been eliminated. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland has heard what the hon. and learned Gentleman said about his constituency.

May I say a word about the fish processing industry? The industry generally welcomes the flexibility that the new tie-up arrangements have brought, which should lead to some stability and continuity of supply. Some concerns remain, however. The first is the amount of industrial fishing; some 4 per cent. of the haddock quota is to be applied for industrial purposes—mainly fishmeal production. Given the pressure on stocks, I appreciate the Minister's comments on that.

Another cause for concern is the suspension of the import tariff, which appears to institutionalise or formalize imports as the main source of supply for the fish processing industry. About 75 to 80 per cent. of fish processed in some of the larger factories is imported, but small businesses account for a large proportion of the industry and two or three-person businesses cannot afford imported fish and the facilities required to handle it. What proposals does the Minister have in respect of those small firms?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that a by-catch for the industrial fishery—other than an absolutely genuine by-catch—is unacceptable. I do not believe that there should be an industrial fishery if we can possibly avoid it. That is why we argued that people pursuing the directed whiting fishery should not be able to count that as a derogation against their days. We were successful in that and the directed whiting fishery does not constitute a reason to be excused days of the tie-up. We do not like that fishery; we do not believe that it actually exists.

I said that I was willing to accept some liberalisation of tariffs because of the processing industry. There was some tariff liberalisation and the hon. Gentleman will know that, from 1 January 1993, the EFTA agreement will come into force and there will be a further significant liberalisation, which should help the processing industry. That will not, of course, include the main pelagic species, which are particularly sensitive to our industry, especially in Scotland.

All this good will and congratulation is becoming very depressing, so may I open on a sour note and express the disappointment felt by the Scottish Fishermen's Federation at the cuts in white fish quotas on the west coast? Why was that issue not more successfully prosecuted? Having said that, I join in the cautious support for the view that the greater flexibility of the 135-day ban represents an improvement on the current rigidities of the eight-day tie-up rule.

Now that this measure and the TACs for next year are agreed upon, will the Minister address the question of where we stand on the social measures that are supposed to accompany the conservation policies? I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman tunes into Scottish radio, but in the past week, Lord Strathclyde has offered several winks and nods to suggest that a decommissioning scheme is now a genuine prospect. Is there any substance in those suggestions, because that is the big question still to be answered in Scottish fishing communities before the general election?

Where do the Government stand on compensation for fishermen who are edged out of their livelihoods as a result of the agreement? Surely there must be a social dimension.

Finally, will the Minister take steps to differentiate between fact and fiction on the issues of illegal landings and "black fish"? There is no point in the House asking the Minister questions about what has been presented as a conservation agreement if that agreement is being breached on the scale suggested by some reports. We must have the facts and then, if justified, action commensurate with them.

I am grateful. The Scottish Fishermen's Federation described the deal as

"better news than we expected".
Coming from the SFF, that is positively euphoric.

The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations was somewhat more enthusiastic. Mr. Charlie Dawson said:
"This is fantastic news. It sounds like a good deal and is exactly what we asked for. There could be dancing in the streets of the North-east."
I do not wish to refer to "The Cloggies", but if there is dancing in the streets, I hope that I may be invited to participate. I look forward to Scottish reserve breaking occasionally into similar forms of enthusiasm.

Our relations with the industry are extremely good, both north and south of the border, and we hope to pursue those good relations constructively for the benefit of the industry.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the west coast and the Irish sea. In the Irish sea, our swaps with the Dutch and the Irish largely offset the Hague preference and that is a bonus. The Irish sea is in a bad state in conservation terms. My officials have made contact with the Irish Government, and I am in contact with the Irish Minister, with a view to examining some sort of joint approach to the Irish sea and deciding how we can tackle the genuine crisis in stocks.

I have replied to questions on the social measures. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's concerns. As for illegal landings and so on, we shall have the maximum enforcement effort. That is an enormously expensive effort and, as I have explained before in the House, we cannot man every boat at every port 24 hours a day. It would not be feasible to try to do that. We do better than any other member state.

It is important, on the basis of the agreement, for the industry to realise that it is its job to make sure that fisherman does not steal from fisherman, which is what a lot of the issue is about. Otherwise, the stocks and the fishermen lose at the end of the day, and we would end up with a return to the sort of dirigiste measures which nobody likes, which are not effective, which are not in the interest of the fishermen and which ultimately also defeat conservation.

University Hospital Of Wales

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.

I should say to the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), that his debate will go on until noon, and the Chair will then call the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen), whose debate will continue until 12.30 pm.

11.32 am

I am glad of this opportunity to discuss the matter of the medicentre at the University hospital of Wales. I have referred to the issue three times in speeches in the Chamber. I also raised it in the Welsh Grant Committee last week. I make no apology for raising it again, and I shall continue to raise it for as long as necessary.

My objective in securing the debate is to persuade the Secretary of State to call in the application for the medicentre. I understand that the Secretary of State's powers to call in a planning application are contained in section 77(1) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990. That provision appears to be so widely drawn that the Secretary of State can call in any planning application. Clearly, it would not be practicable for him to be able to do that, so there must be criteria.

The 1986 White Paper on the subject gave the best definition of the criteria to be used by the Secretary of State for calling in a planning application. The White Paper was published as a response by the Government to a report by the Select Committee on the Environment which pressed the Government to use their call-in powers more frequently. I fancy that the Committee must have been enduring the same sort of frustrations that I feel in relation to the medicentre at the University hospital of Wales. The 1986 White Paper said that decisions on calling in should be taken in the light of the circumstances of each case; that the Secretary of State must not fetter his discretion by the rigid application of any particular policy; that it should involve matters of more than local importance; and that it should apply where the local authority should not to be entrusted with the decision. It went on to refer to departure applications where the development was a departure from the structure plan.

On all grounds, there is an overwhelming case for the Secretary of State to call in this application. However, before outlining that case, I must impart an understanding of what else is going on at the University hospital of Wales. I shall comment on the relevant powers involved and how they are being used by South Glamorgan council, for the way in which it is being done is as important as anything else.

In a parallel case, Mr. Roger Knight, city planning officer for Cardiff city council, was so moved as to describe what South Glamorgan council is doing as being
"an abuse of the planning system."
He said that in the context of Corpus Christi school, and there are other examples occurring now in Cardiff. Apart from Corpus Christi school at Cyncoid, there is the Gardenhurst day centre at Penarth and the centre at Sully in the Vale of Glamorgan. They are not uncontroversial matters. The reverse is the case.

The Gardenhurst day centre is being taken forward despite considerable local objection in Penarth, not least because it is intended to place the day centre in the wrong place for the elderly who are expected to use it. The centre at Sully has members of the Vale of Glamorgan borough council up in arms, saying that what South Glamorgan council is doing is wrong, that it is not the planning authority and that it should not be acting as such. Corpus Christi school in Cyncoid, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Grist), is another contentious matter. As well as parents being opposed to it, my hon. Friend has lodged objections with South Glamorgan council and Cardiff city council.

I am anxious that the Minister should be aware of the climate of opinion in Cardiff over those issues. The medicentre is not an isolated example. It is certainly not an example of the harmonious use of processes better to achieve a development that everybody wants. It is more another case of something being rammed through despite local objections.

As I said, it is also necessary to understand what else is going on at the University hospital of Wales. It is a large, fine teaching hospital with excellent staff who make a great contribution and who are constantly increasing and improving the health service in Wales. They are a great asset to my constituency, as they would be anywhere, but, much as they are of benefit to all my constituents, I fear that the hospital is the cause of significant problems for its immediate neighbours, numbering perhaps 10,000 people.

Our problems are mainly traffic, parking and pollution. The hospital was sited on the heath about 20 years ago and no special provision was made for traffic to and from it. There has been the inevitable increase in traffic over the years, but that has been exacerbated by the expansion in the health service at the hospital.

In line with traffic, parking has steadily increased, so much so that it has overspilled out of the hospital confines. It now affects many roads around the area. Local residents have not been able to park outside their homes and have often not been able to get into their driveways. It has become necessary again to impose a parking control zone on roads around the hospital, a development which was long fought for by Councillor Tony John, whom I congratulate on his efforts.

Possibly the greatest problem that local residents have had to endure has been that of pollution. That is the most emotive issue, concerning what has been emitted from the stack of the incinerator at the University hospital of Wales under a blanket of secrecy and Crown immunity. Complaints have been legion, involving deposits that local residents have found in their homes, on window sills, on cars and generally in the environment around the hospital.

We hoped that the situation would improve this year as the result of the provision of a new incinerator at the hospital, but, instead, the local community has been horrified to learn of a plan to incinerate not just the refuse from the University hospital of Wales but the refuse from practically every other hospital in South Glamorgan. After the community's experience of emissions from the hospital, there has been the greatest protest about that proposal. Letters have been written and petitions signed by virtually every neighbour living near the hospital.

The objections to the proposal have been led by local councillors, and I am pleased to report that Cardiff city council has refused planning permission for the development. I note that in considering the incinerator proposal, South Glamorgan council argued that it would have involved 20 round trips a day on weekdays and six round trips on weekend days. That obliged that council to tell Cardiff city council that the county council objected to the planning application on highway grounds and that the proposal would result in an unacceptable increase in the use of the surrounding road network.

If those problems were not enough, we have a newer problem—the noise of fans at a new boiler house. That is giving rise to renewed complaints from the local community.

As a response, the elected representatives, including myself, have been pressing for more parking and a new access for the hospital from Eastern avenue. I was heartened in October when I led a delegation to see representatives of the health authority. We came away with the commitment that there would be new parking at the University hospital of Wales and a new Eastern avenue access, but we were told that that could not happen for a least two years, at the earliest.

In an attempt to achieve a better understanding between the health authority and its neighbours—by then the health authority was admitting that it had not been a good neighbour to those living around the hospital—I urged a process of consultation. That was accepted by the health authority. A meeting was held last month and was attended by 300 local residents. We feel that consultation should be a two-way process. On that occasion, it was not a meeting of minds. Instead, it was more like trains passing on opposite tracks. That was not consultation and it has done nothing to improve the reputation of the health authorities among the local community. It is now the general view that those new proposals should wait for at least two years until the promised improvements are in place.

The medicentre application is for a two-storey building measuring 36,000 sq ft, 27,000 sq ft of which would be lettable. It will be 40 ft high and situated near residential properties in King George V drive East and one of the nurses' homes. It will occupy one of the last few open spaces within the site of the University hospital of Wales. It is intended that it will employ about 100 people connected with medical research, but no commitment guarantees that any, let alone all, of those 100 people will be involved with medical research. The project is clearly commercial. The national health service should certainly not be expected to pay or to subsidise the development and, if enough tenants involved in medical matters cannot be found, I can only anticipate that any commercial tenant prepared to pay the rent will be accepted.

Some 89 car parking spaces are to be provided, but there are already doubts about whether those will be adequate for the number of people using the medicentre. The planning application admitted that there was no intention to provide car parking spaces for the customers of the medicentre or for anyone else visiting it. Most incomprehensible is the idea that the traffic generated by the medicentre would be acceptable, because much more traffic will be generated by the centre than the incinerator. When Cardiff city council's planning committee considered the mater, it cited South Glamorgan council's opinion on the earlier matter of the incinerator as a ground for refusing the medicentre. For South Glamorgan council to argue otherwise is inconsistent or, some might suggest, hypocritical.

It is little wonder that when the city council came to a conclusion on the medicentre, it made a strongly worded condemnation that
"South Glamorgan Health Authority be advised that … Cardiff City Council … is strongly opposed to the principle of developing one of the few remaining open areas within the University Hospital of Wales … until such time as an alternative … access/egress via Eastern Avenue … together with comprehensive car parking arrangements has been produced."
Furthermore, it asks that the director of administrative and legal services write to South Glamorgan council on the use of procedures under regulation 4 of the Town and County Planning General Regulations 1976. That request is most important.

There is a certain familiarity about what the city council's planning committee recorded on the medicentre. It is almost exactly word for word what South Glamorgan's committee had said about its concern about the few remaining open areas within the hospital. At the environment (highways) sub-committee of the county council on 24 October 1990, it was recommended that
"a letter be sent to the Chairman of the Health Authority drawing attention to the problems created by the hospital, recommending that parking provision therein should be significantly increased, if necessary by using the area currently under consideration for a Medi-park development".
So important did the county council regard the medicentre that it was suggested that the area should be used for car parking. Again, there is an element of inconsistency or hypocrisy in that.

It has been suggested that the matter is urgent, but it is not new. The application has been hanging around for well over a year. The first application was made to Cardiff city council on 13 August 1990, but only two things have changed since then. There are now to be a few more car parking spaces and the name on the application has changed. It was originally made by South Glamorgan health authority whereas now it is being made by South Glamorgan county council.

The matter is regarded in Cardiff as a sham, a con and a disgraceful device. It is just a way of getting round the previous intention of Cardiff city council to object strongly to the proposal. People within both councils are expressing their misgivings, but, inevitably, those within South Glamorgan council cannot speak out. A legally qualified council officer has given a serious private warning in a personal note to one of the councillors. He said that what is meant by "carrying out the development" is not clear, but that he doubts whether merely handing out the RDF grant would constitute carrying out the development. He suggests that the county solicitor should confirm that the county council has no interest in the land and that South Glamorgan council does not intend to carry out the building work in a contrived way. He concludes that if South Glamorgan or any other health authority carries out the development purporting to rely on that deemed South Glamorgan planning permission, there will be no permission for the development, and the city council, as the local planning authority, could take enforcement action.

Those important questions have been pursued by Councillor Tony John, who raised them at the South Glamorgan council meeting on 12 December and asked what South Glamorgan council meant by "carrying out the development". He asked whether it was merely passing over the subsidy, but he has received no answers on those important questions.

I am glad that after much lobbying, I was able to persuade my hon. Friend the Minister at least to consider calling in the planning application. In the meanwhile, I thank him for issuing a direction to South Glamorgan council not to determine that application. The planning application was not considered at the planning and public transport sub-committtee on 11 December. Instead, at the South Glamorgan council meeting on 12 December, plenary powers were granted and the resolution was:
"The County Council intends to see this development take place and authorises and instructs the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Chairman of the Economic Development and Strategic Planning Services Committee, to so determine the planning application to give effect to this intention, should the Secretary of State decide not to determine the planning application himself."
That gives power to the very person who made the application. It originally came from the chairman of the economic development committee and he will now determine it. Would that any commercial developer were in that position of being both applicant and he who decides the planning permission.

Meanwhile, substantial objections have been expressed by me, the city council, local councillors in South Glamorgan council, Councillor Tony John and, as would have been reported to the sub-committee on 11 December, from residents of 219, 216, 8 and 2 King George V drive, 8 and 9 St. Anthony road, 30 and 75 Rhydelig avenue, 33 St. Benedict crescent, 20 St. Agatha road and 20 St. Angela road. None of those objections has been considered and there has been no pretence of considering any of them.

That fact has been confirmed. The county planning officer, Mr. Peter Cope, wrote to me on 17 December and told me that that application was not considered at the planning and public transport sub-committee on 11 December but that the resolution that I have quoted was passed. That was a most improper way to deal with such an important matter. The only consideration that appears to have been given was behind closed doors. The Labour group that controls South Glamorgan council has taken a political decision to force the development through in contradiction to the way planning is normally dealt with in Cardiff. Cardiff city council, which determines 99 per cent. of planning applications in Cardiff, maintains that not one of the political parties will ever put a party Whip on a planning application. It is a point of principle among the recognised planning authorities that no political decisions will be taken, but that is not the case for the Labour group of South Glamorgan council, which has total contempt for the objections. There is no chance for those objections to be considered. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State does not call in the application, the council has already granted plenary powers to allow it to go through. It will be a disgrace if the views of all local residents and elected representatives are ignored.

The grounds for calling in the application are that it should include matters of more than local importance; it could be a departure application; and the local council should not be entrusted. It is patently obvious that it must be called in, because only in that way will the objections be heard. Clause 77(5) of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 authorises an opportunity for a public inquiry to which I recommend my right hon. Friend to submit the matter. The local council should not be entrusted because, by its behaviour, South Glamorgan council has forfeited its right to be entrusted with the matter. Clause 77(2B) allows for calling in a "class" of applications. My right hon. Friend could make that "class" all the applications that South Glamorgan council is considering.

It is a departure application because in the development plan, the area is designated as the hospital's use of open space. By no stretch of the imagination is the proposed development a hospital; it is a commercial development. I understand from the consultation paper which has been published that not only substantial departures from the development plan but all departures are supposed to be referred.

Above all, it must be a matter of more than local importance when it is clear that there is a process of abuse of powers as cited by the city planning officer. It is part of the climate and this is far from being the only example. It is a gross abuse that decisions are being taken politically behind closed doors. It is a grave abuse in that legal opinion suggests that the decision is a fiction that can be resolved only by the enforcement action of the planning authority. It must be a great abuse that there is not even a token consideration of objections.

All in all, there is the strongest case. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister cannot respond today to my plea for the application to be called in, but I ask him to allow appropriate time to reflect maturely on all that is involved. I know that the three ward councillors, Clive Milsom, Peter Donnelly and Granville Tatham, will probably want to make representations to my hon. Friend, as will Councillor Tony John, who represents the area on South Glamorgan council. Councillor Bernard Rees, the leader of the Conservative group on South Glamorgan council has wanted to come to the Welsh Office to meet my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State about the matter. There is the greatest disquiet that unless my right hon. Friend calls in the planning application, the abuse of the planning process will continue.

11.50 am

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones) on securing the debate, which is much prized. It is an example of his assiduous, hard-working and caring role as a constituency Member that he has raised this matter which he feels is of great importance to his constituents.

My hon. Friend has raised a number of points in relation to the town and country planning process. It will be helpful to set them in the context of the legislative framework which we have applied for many years. I know that my hon. Friend will understand that I can make no comments about the merits of the proposal which is the subject of our debate or about the case for calling it in for determination by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That would prejudice his consideration of the current application for a call-in and might also prejudice his consideration of the matter if it is called in. As a consequence, I will confine myself to the facts as I understand them. However, my hon. Friend can be assured that I have listened attentively to what he has said and his points will be considered carefully before a decision is made on whether the application should be called in.

Parliament has made local planning authorities responsible for day-to-day planning control, including the determination of planning applications and the initiating of enforcement action. For most categories of development, the local planning authorities are the district councils, but county councils also have limited functions as planning authorities.

Whatever reservations there may be about individual decisions from time to time, the basic premise that most planning decisions should be taken locally has never been seriously challenged. Local authorities are generally best placed to exercise the discretion that Parliament has judged appropriate in taking planning decisions. Development plans drawn up with public consultation provide an important framework. Central Government publish general advice on a wide range of planning issues through planning policy guidance notes and circulars. However, we believe that unless there are exceptional circumstances, it is for people with local knowledge to look at individual proposals and to decide them in the way that best meets local requirements.

My hon. Friend does not, I think, dissent from that, but he has questioned local planning authorities' deciding planning proposals that they themselves have originated and in particular the position of the county council in relation to the district council. Again, that is not a haphazard system, but one which our legislation has recognised for many years under successive Governments. If elected local authorities are fit to draw up development plans and to judge the vast majority of planning applications, it would be odd to say that they were not fit to judge their own development proposals. It is, of course, right to require them to adopt certain procedures to ensure that the public and the full range of interests represented by the authority have the opportunity to contribute to the consideration. The regulations provide for this in certain circumstances and we are considering how to improve the detail of the procedures. As I have already said, day-to-day planning control is for local planning authorities and it is not the role of the Secretary of State to become involved in that as a general rule.

However, there are two circumstances in which Parliament has seen a role for the Secretary of State. The first is in relation to the need for an applicant who is aggrieved by the decision of the local planning authority on his application to have a right of appeal. In practice, the great majority of appeals are now decided by inspectors appointed by the Secretary of State for that purpose.

Again, I think that the great majority of hon. Members would not dispute the need for a right of appeal. Nevertheless, there are people who argue that local planning authorities' decisions best reflect local circumstances and should not be overruled by the central Government or their appointed planning inspectors. That is a point of view which I understand, but which I should not commend against a background in which Parliament, when removing the unfettered right of a land owner to develop his land as he wished, thought it right to enable a land owner to get a second opinion if the local decision on his application was adverse.

Others argue that if developers have the right of appeal to the Secretary of State against a local planning authority's decision, so should other interested parties. That argument minimises the fact that it is the local planning authority's role to represent the general public interest. The more practical implication is that if such a wide-varying right of appeal existed, the likelihood is that the whole planning system would become totally bogged down.

The second circumstance is that planning legislation has given the Secretary of State the power to take applications out of the hands of local planning authorities and to decide them himself. It is quite clear against the background that I have described that it was intended that it should be an exceptional power and that it should be used only when there are no other ways in which the individual applicant may consider the case himself through the planning process. There is always a danger that if the regulations are overused by the Secretary of State, he will find that his business and duties in planning will become bogged down.

Regulations provide that if local planning authorities are minded to approve a proposal, but judge that it involves a material departure from the provisions of the development plan, they are required to refer the matter to the Secretary of State for him to decide whether he thinks it fit to call in the matter for his own decision.

It is possible for the Secretary of State to direct that a certain category of development should be referred to him if local planning authorities are minded to grant permission. Such a direction has been issued, for example, in respect of a large-scale retail shopping development. The Town and Country Planning (Shopping Development) (England and Wales) Direction 1986 applies when proposals include areas of gross shopping floor space of not less than 250,000 sq ft or 23,325 sq m. The Secretary of State may receive representations in the light of which he may decide to require a particular application to be referred to him for decision.

Successive Governments have adopted the policy that individual decisions should be taken out of the hands of local planning authorities only if they raise issues of more than local importance. It follows that decisions to call in will not be frequent. It also follows that in looking at whether to call in, Ministers do not consider the planning merits of the proposal, but only whether the kind of issues that need to be decided are more appropriate for consideration in a wider than local context by the Secretary of State. I should make it clear that when it is decided to intervene in a local authority's own proposed development, the local authority is required to apply to the Secretary of State for planning permission. The kind of questions that might be asked in the context are whether the proposal could have wide effects beyond the immediate locality, whether it could give rise to regional or national controversy and whether it could conflict with national policy.

I turn, briefly, to the case of the medicentre proposal at the Heath hospital, Cardiff about which my hon. Friend is concerned. The proposal is being processed by South Glamorgan county council under regulation 4 of the Town and Country Planning General Regulations 1976. The project consists of a high specification, purpose-built research centre on land within the site of the University hospital of Wales.

My hon. Friend made certain representations about the proposal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in the course of a discussion last month. Following further approaches from my hon. Friend, a direction was issued to South Glamorgan county council on 11 December requiring it not to approve the proposal until the Secretary of State had had more time to consider whether to call in the matter for his own determination.

I emphasise that in taking that step, we have not formed any view on the planning merits of the proposal. What now needs to be established, in accordance with our usual policy, is whether the proposal raises issues of more than local importance or whether the matters in question justify a departure from the policy that matters of local importance should be dealt with by local authorities.

I assure my hon. Friend that we look forward to receiving any further written representations that he has in addition to the cogent case that he has put before the House today. Such representations will be considered as quickly as possible in deciding whether we should call in the application. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important constituency point. I look forward to receiving further representations, if he has any, in addition to his important arguments today.


11.59 am

I am pleased to have obtained this debate on the important and serious matter of the increasing use of knives in crimes of violence. Christmas is a time of celebration and joyfulness, but there is no doubt that during this time someone, probably more than one, will become over-exuberant, a knife will flash and someone will die. Christmas will be spoilt not just for those involved but for their friends and relatives.

People should not carry a knife at any time and particularly not at Christmas. We have recently seen the horrendous stabbing in Walthamstow which resulted in the death of Sergeant Alan King, a popular Chingford policeman. Police Constables Simon Castrey and John Jenkinson received terrible knife injuries in a similar incident. The Government have expressed their horror at such attacks on the police, but they also need to act.

I planned this debate before that terrible murder. On one occasion, I was cycling with my wife at Whipps Cross when I saw two 14-year-olds with their bicycles. One of them got out the ugliest looking knife that I have seen to cut a piece of string or something on his bicycle. It was a matter of horror to me and my wife that such a young lad could carry that knife. I cycled off quickly, but when I discussed the matter subsequently with my wife she said that to carry a knife was not uncommon nowadays. She cited the example of a model boy from an impeccable family down the road, who I hope will have a golden future, who apparently always carries a knife for his own protection. It is horrific that youngsters should think that that is necessary. The Minister is a little older than I, but when I was a rough and tough lad, we would never have dreamt of carrying a knife and nor would he. It is shocking that that ethos should exist now.

There has been a big increase in the use of knives in crimes of violence. I have asked parliamentary questions about the illegal sale and possession of knives and I was told that 150 people were prosecuted in 1988 for having in a public place such an article with a blade or point and in 1989, it was 2,018—a huge jump. In 1990, a total of 903 knives were seized at ports, airports and other points of entry and in 1991 that figure had risen to 2,082.

I do not want to say that there has been a huge leap in the past year or so, because that would not true, but there has been a big leap since 1980. For example, in 1980 in the Metropolitan police district there were fewer than 2,000 cases of the use of knives in offences of violence against the person and 1,240 cases where knives were used in robberies. By 1987, those figures had shot up to 2,870 cases of the use of knives in offences against the person and 4,630 cases where they were used in robberies—a huge increase.

The figure have dropped a little since then, which I welcome. That drop was a consequence of a campaign against the use of knives in mid-1988 and the effects of section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988. But with the new ethos to which I have referred of youngsters carrying knives, allegedly for their own protection, there is a real danger that there will be another explosion of such crimes.

In 1989, it was estimated that sharp instruments were used in one in three aggravated burglaries, one in five robberies, one in 17 offences of violence against the person and one in 100 sexual offences. Knives and sharp instruments are the most common weapons used in homicides and account for one third of all homicides.

An article in The Independent on Sunday on 19 May clearly substantiates my point about the danger of an explosion in knife violence. The article was headed
"Death by Stabbing: the new British way of life".
It said:
"Knife attacks are on the increase, with more young men carrying blades.,"
It talks of anecdotal evidence in 1991 that the carrying of knives is on the increase among young people and it quotes Detective Chief Superintendent Roger Stoodley, who works in east London, as saying:
"I have never known so many people to be carrying these weapons."
Barrie Irving of the Police Foundation is quoted as saying:
"There is much evidence that more people are going out with knives. There is a lot of threat and counter-threat in the pubs and clubs. Much of it is display. The knife is produced as the young man slips into a role that has been established in his mind by videos and that sort of thing."
A serious problem already exists and it is becoming even greater. The Government's response has been inadequate and that is why I initiated the debate. I do not say that in party-political terms, because the Government's objective is the same as mine. They want to see the elimination of the use of knives in crimes of violence, but their approach is that the law is adequate to deal with the problem and that nothing needs to be changed. In a parliamentary written answer I was told:
"The sale and possession of knives is subject to a number of controls … There will be practical problems in seeking to apply more general restrictions on the sale and purchase of knives which have a variety of legitimate everyday uses."
The answer refers to the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 and ends by saying:
"The Government have no plans to introduce further legislation in this matter."—[Official Report, 2 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 3.]
When I asked about local amnesties, I was told:
"It is for chief officers of police to consider whether offering opportunities for disposing of offensive weapons would be a worthwhile crime prevention initiative in their own force area."—[Official Report, 11 December 1991; Vol. 200, c. 436.]
Again, the Government are saying that the procedures are there and nothing further need be done. I challenge that. I accept that we do not want to become involved with domestic cutlery and important workmen's tools such as Stanley knives, but there is other action that the Government should take.

In the face of the dreadful attacks on police officers, the Home Office should have put together an urgent review team which should have incorporated other Departments and put forward a package of measures. I hope that the Minister will take that suggestion on board.

I want to put forward some suggestions for inclusion in such a package of measures. I acknowledge that not all will be appropriate, but some will be. For example, there is a case for a further restriction on the sale of knives and for licensing shops. I know that that is not supported by the Association of Chief Police Officers or by shopkeepers, but there is a case for saying that shops should be licensed.

In November 1980, my hon. Friend the Member for Dewesbury (Mrs. Taylor) said:
"It is vital that we ban offensive and useless weapons. I say `useless' because people buy them for only one reason, which is to injure or, at the very least, to threaten other individuals. We feel strongly that weapons of this kind have no place, so we support measures to ban them or prohibit their sale."
The key point is that if the knives are used for one purpose and do not fall into the category of domestic cutlery there is a case for a ban. There is certainly a case for enforcing the law more strongly to prevent under-age people buying such weapons. In that same debate my hon. Friend said:
"The proposal that weapon sales be banned completely to people under the age of 16 should stay on the agenda. The Minister is aware that the peak age of offenders is 15 and that it is boys of that age who commit the vast majority of street crimes and crimes involving intimidation or offensive weapons."—[Official Report, Fifth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. 10 November 1988; c. 4.]
Butterfly and gravity knives are already banned and there is a case for extending that. I have some information about knives for sale by mail order. I have an advertisement for CIA survival knives which states that it
"is a superb high tech fibreglass filled nylon construction knife which weighs just 20 gm…due to its double edge, spear point and double fluted reinforced spine, tremendous plunging power—it can literally be driven straight through a telephone directory (remains undetected by airport metal detectors)".
Another one is advertised as a "sabretooth survival saw" and it again is said to be able to pass unnoticed through metal detectors. The advertisement says:
"when you need that 'extra edge'.
An advert for a CIA letter opener says that it can be driven by hammer through ½ in plywood. The OSS sleeve dagger is said to be
"Specially designed to be concealed on arm or leg, especially during body search."
The advertisement says that it is supplied only to military personnel, but these are general adverts and I doubt whether that is the case.

Such weapons should be banned and there should be tighter control on their manufacture and import. The police should be protected by body armour. Research is being carried out on that, but it should be speeded up and it should not be left to police officers to buy such body protection. That should be the job of the Home Office. We should consider the supply of metal detectors and the regular retraining of police officers to enable them to deal with knife problems.

Police are often delayed through having to seek permission to enter places such as shopping malls, and the law needs to be enforced in pubs and clubs. Penalties should be reviewed. At the moment the punishment is up to six months' imprisonment and/or a £2,000 fine. That is to be increased and perhaps there should be an increase in the sentence for hardened criminals going out with a criminal purpose and carrying a knife. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 could be strengthened.

There should be a concerted programme to change the knife-carrying ethos in schools. The Minister should get his oar in with the Minister for Health who is carrying out a review in conjunction with the mental health tribunal. We do not want to see more knife carrying by people who are mentally ill, although that clearly affects a minority of community care cases. Search powers should be reviewed and should be exercised where there are reasonable grounds. Perhaps random spot checks could be carried out in the same way as breathalyser tests.

Above all, there should be a knife amnesty with knife banks not just outside police stations but elsewhere. Local authorities could be brought into that and such an amnesty would need Home Office funding and improved publicity. There is a case for implementing Labour's policy aim of a crime prevention council and a crime management foundation to undertake independent research. I hope that the Minister will consider that package of measures to stop people carrying knives and to change the ethos. Knives affect all our civil liberties and can even affect the ultimate one. I give way to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby).

12.17 pm

I take it that the hon. Gentleman also has the consent of the Minister.

Yes. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) for allowing me to speak in this valuable debate. As the House knows, I am parliamentary adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who represents the Police Superintendents Association, cannot be present at the debate and wishes to be associated with what I have to say.

As the House knows, a terrible situation faces our country. No fewer than five police officers have lost their lives in the past decade as a result of attacks in which knives have been used. A further 17 officers have lost their lives as a result of being shot, crushed or injured in some other way. In the last couple of weeks we have heard about the tragic death of Sergeant Alan King and Detective Constable Jim Morrison and we have seen the terrible injuries inflicted on their colleagues.

As the hon. Member for Leyton has said, the common factor in many of these assaults is the knife. I have one or two suggestions to add to those advanced by the hon. Gentleman in an attempt to alleviate the problem. First, the Home Office should mount a national publicity campaign using all available media to warn parents and young people of the dangers of young people carrying knives. It would remind them that young men who carry knives and youngsters who take them to school may lose their temper and find that one stab is enough to kill a school mate or a police officer.

Such a campaign should be mounted by the Home Office and not left simply to chief constables. Parents should be reminded that they have a responsibility and that they can be fined and required to pay compensation for acts committed by juveniles. The campaign should remind young people of the severe custodial sentences that are available for this type of crime. I should like to see the Home Office introduce what is called the side-handled baton. That is longer than the standard truncheon and would be useful to police officers who patrol alone at night because it affords additional protection against all kinds of assaults, excluding of course, assaults using firearms.

I hope that the Home Secretary will set up a working party jointly with the Police Federation of England and Wales. It represents 125,000 officers in what is unfortunately only too truly the sharp end of policing. I hope that the Home Office will review the stop and search powers. Those powers were conferred under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and replaced those under the Vagrancy Act 1824. In the opinion of the police, those powers are not adequate. The Act does not give a constable power to search a person or a vehicle or anything in or on a vehicle unless he has reasonable grounds for suspecting that he will find stolen or prohibited articles.

That restriction was introduced because of the concern expressed about the old Vagrancy Act and the sus laws. The Home Office and the House must strike a balance between preserving the liberty of the citizen and protecting the lives of police men and police women who are the only protection available to ordinary citizens against people who carry knives and who will stab and kill without regard for the misery that they inflict on their fellow citizens.

12.19 pm

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on his success in securing this debate and thank him for raising the disturbing and important question of the use of knives in crime. It has been brought to the forefront of our minds in a most horrible way—by the recent series of shocking attacks on police officers in London, which resulted in two officers being killed and two others receiving terrible injuries.

I am sure that the House joins me, the hon. Member for Leyton and my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) in expressing deepest sympathy to the families of the officers who so tragically lost their lives in the course of duty. We also offer our best wishes to those who were injured, and trust that they will make a full and speedy recovery. Those incidents are a salutary reminder of the dedication of police officers to protecting the public.

The hon. Gentleman referred to an apparent increase in the number of offences involving knives, and I will examine the figures that he gave. I know that some were provided in parliamentary answers from the Home Office. Statistics on the misuse of knives are not readily available, because misuse is categorised under other offences, such as assault. In 1989, however, S1 division conducted an ad hoc survey of notifiable offences between 1986 and 1989 in which sharp instruments and knives were used.

Not all forces responded to that survey, but the results suggested that the percentage of notifiable offences involving the use of sharp instruments and knives fell during the period surveyed. The hon. Member for Leyton makes the point well that we could benefit from better statistics.

Details of the types of knives used in crimes are not generally available either, but ordinary kitchen and craft knives are believed to be the most commonly used in attacks, rather than the kind that the hon. Gentleman mentioned as being advertised. The hon. Gentleman wants additional controls on knife sales. Following the recent series of knife attacks on police officers, there were calls from the Police Federation for further restrictions on the sale of knives. While I appreciate public concern about misuse, I do not see how additional controls on sales could offer an easy or practical solution. I do not believe that licensing shops, for example, would help in practice. However, I shall reflect further on the hon. Gentleman's suggestions.

There are, of course, existing controls on the sales of knives. Certain types of knives that have no legitimate use—such as flick, gravity and butterfly knives—are banned. If any other knife identified by its construction as being suitable for banning comes on the market or enters the country in some way, of course we will readily and rapidly consider adding it to the controlled list.

Banned knives all have distinctive mechanisms that can be defined in law. It would be difficult to distinguish between items that have legitimate everyday uses in the home and workplace, such as kitchen and craft knives, and other types—for example, commando-style daggers—that might be considered undesirable.

It must be recognised that knives are a common feature of everyday life and that, in the wrong hands, almost any bladed or sharply pointed article is potentially a lethal weapon. The Government take the view that imposing further restrictions on the sale of knives would not generally be practicable. However, as I indicated, any particular knives that enter the country or come on the market will be examined to establish whether they can properly and effectively be added to the controlled list. The Government's approach has been to tackle the misuse of knives by tightening the law on possession of knives in public.

The hon. Member for Leyton asked about further legislation. Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 makes it an offence to possess a bladed or sharply pointed article in a public place without good reason. That Act also places the onus on the knife carrier to show that he had good reason for possessing it in public.

That measure was aimed at tackling the menace of the casual carrying of knives on the streets to which the hon. Member for Leyton drew attention. It certainly appears to be used with good effect by the courts. In 1989—the latest date for which figures are available—there were more than 1,500 convictions under section 139 of the 1988 Act. It supplements the Prevention of Crime Act 1953, which makes it an offence to carry an offensive weapon in public without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. That offence, unlike the section 139 offence, requires proof of intent to cause injury on the part of the knife carrier, and tough penalties are rightly available to the courts. The maximum penalty is two years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine.

The Government also introduced powers, under section 141 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, to ban offensive weapons as specified by means of statutory instruments. Butterfly knives and a range of martial arts equipment were banned by that means and the Government are ready to take further action if other types of weapon become a problem.

The Government believe that the measures I have outlined provide the police and the courts with the powers and penalties to deal with those people who carry knives. As the hon. Member for Leyton knows, the maximum penalty for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm is life imprisonment. A life sentence is mandatory if an attack leads to death and is categorised as murder.

The hon. Gentleman referred also to a knife amnesty. As he rightly suggested, there is great scope for local initiatives to increase awareness, particularly among young people, of the dangers of carrying knives and offensive weapons and to encourage the safe disposal of those weapons. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Metropolitan police launched such a campaign on 9 December, which involves providing specially adapted bins near police stations where people can deposit knives. I hope that that campaign, which continues until 19 January, succeeds in taking substantial numbers of weapons out of circulation. In 1988, when such an amnesty was held in east and south London, some 1,400 knives were collected.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge, who speaks from great knowledge of such matters, urges more public awareness. An amnesty campaign is one way in which police forces can draw a great deal of local attention to the threat of knives and what can be done about it. He is right that parents as well as young people should know the dangers, and I will refer my hon. Friend's suggestions to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge talked about side-handled batons. As he knows, we would be prepared to consider arranging for a scientific evaluation of any equipment that might assist in public order control if the chief officers request it. The offer is there and is open to senior police officers if they believe that such batons would be of advantage to their forces.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge would like a review of police powers of search. He referred to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, which stresses that there must be some objective basis for reasonable suspicion if somebody is to be searched, such as the individual's behaviour or information received. It cannot be supported purely on the basis of personal factors.

When the codes of practice were revised recently in response to strong pressure from the police, the guidance was made slightly less restrictive by removing the statement that reasonable suspicion should be no less than the suspicion required to effect arrest without warrant. I shall take back to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary what my hon. Friend has said. As there has recently been a revision of codes, I am bound to say that my right hon. Friend may feel that the time is not right for a review. Current powers do not allow for searches that are based on a policeman's hunch that someone may be carrying an illicit article, or for blanket searches that are carried out in a particular area or among particular groups. Legal changes in that direction would, I believe, attract widespread criticism on the basis that unjustified interference with blameless citizens was being sanctioned. I should say to my hon. Friend——

Bible (Teaching)

12.30 pm

As we come to the great season of Christmas, throughout the country schools and churches have been celebrating with their festivals, especially those of nine lessons and carols. There is the great ninth lesson, the Christmas gospel, which recalls the opening words of Genesis:

"In the beginning was the Word."
My theme is yes, but what word? If someone is unlucky and goes to the wrong festival, the lesson will not open with the words that I have quoted. It will start with something like that which appears in the version set out in the New English Bible:
"When all things began, the Word already was."
That is a real catchy number to start such a lesson. I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will be fortunate enough to have the Authorised Version, which contains the passage:
"There came wise men from the east to Jerusalem."
The same passage in the New English Bible reads:
"Astrologers from the east arrived in Jerusalem."
That is just like Russell Grant on a package tour. Then we have the angels saying to the shepherds:
"Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes."
The unlucky person will have instead:
"You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth."
The angels then sing:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men."
That has been changed in the Revised Standard Version as follows:
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased."
In the New English Bible we find these words:
"Glory to God in highest heaven and on earth his peace for men on whom his favour rests."
Try asking angels to sing those words.

A vicar in Battersea told me the other day that when he went to the church festival of Christmas at the local primary school—one of the schools within his parish—there was plenty of Father Christmas and jingle bells, but not one reference to Jesus. He was told that such a reference might cause embarrassment to some of the pupils. If we ask children or students to recite their favourite passage or line from the Bible, we tend to get some pretty blank looks. I believe that the reason for that is that when the Bible is used in school or in church it is nearly always in the form of a modern version, which is entirely unmemorable and unpoetic. It is not surprising that phrases do not stick in the mind.

Yet we are talking about some of the greatest passages in English literature as well as one of the great ways of teaching in the Church. There is, however, an exception. Very few schools get away with teaching the Lord's prayer in anything other than something like the traditional way. The first line—
"Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name"—
has not yet given way in children's parlance to
"Our Father in heaven, may your name be hallowed",
"Our Father in heaven. may your holy name be honoured."
Children the world over still repeat:
"Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil."
They do not repeat:
"Do not bring us to the test, but save us from the evil one",
"Do not bring us to hard testing."
That sounds like something that they might have at the end of term or something done by an adult working in a steelworks. It is not something that will bring them to the Church and to Jesus.

So often one hears words that have a vague resemblance to something that one knew in the past, but it is not until one looks up the original that one realises what it was. For example—
"And you, like the lamp, must shed light among your fellows, so that, when they see the good you do, they may give praise to your Father in Heaven."
That does not immediately strike one as resembling
"Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in Heaven."
Recently I attended a church service where a passage was read that went this way:
"May you always be joyful in your union with the Lord. I say it again: rejoice! Show a gentle attitude towards everyone. The Lord is coming soon. Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking Him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus. In conclusion, my brothers, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honourable. Put into practice what you learnt and received from Me, both from my words and from my actions."
Sure enough, last Sunday in my own church we had a different version that sounded a little more familiar:
"Rejoice in the Lord always;"—
it started all right—
"again I will say, Rejoice. Let all men know your forbearance."—
I began to get puzzled—
"The Lord is at hand. Have no anxieties about anything,"—
that did not sound quite right—
"but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
That gave me the clue. It was a passage that one knew but without the poetry:
"Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsover things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there by any praise, think on these things."
I recall that passage because it was recited week after week at my first school and it was recited at the end of term service. Just as one learnt a poem a week at that school, so one learnt the poetry and the music of biblical passages.

The way that words come is important. There was the famous occasion when King Charles I was told that the Bible had been printed without a vital word, the word "not". The nation was therefore exhorted to commit adultery. That cost the printer some £3,000 and the confiscation of his press. I sometimes wonder whether we should not do the same with some recent translations. It is good to have translations and commentaries to help our understanding, but I believe that we must keep the original poetry of the Authorised Version.

One could choose many examples. For example—
"When I was a child I spoke like a child, thought like a child, reasoned like a child; when I grew up I finished with childish things. At present we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but one day we shall see face to face."
Something has been lost from the original, which was:
"When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face."
Those are the words that stick in one's memory. In the Gospel according to St. Matthew we read:
"Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness."
In the New English Bible we read:
"Set your mind on God's Kingdom and His justice before everything else."
It does not even sound terribly good English. We can also contrast
"Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"
"Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious of itself."
According to the New English Bible, the same passage reads:
"Each day has troubles enough of its own."
Mrs. Dale's Diary—here we come, but not the Authorised Version.

We know about the mote that is in thy brother's eye and about the beam that is in thine own eye becoming the speck of sawdust and the great plank, according to the New English Bible, and about the Revised Version and the Good News Bible both having specks and logs.

The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps one of the great pieces of literature and of the Bible. The translation that one often hears in churches and schools is not.
"blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven"
but "how blessed", which is totally pointless; the metre is gone. Churches and schools change
"blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted"
"how blest are the sorrowful: they shall find consolation."
That sounds like somebody going down to the local after a Chelsea defeat.
"Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth"
"how blest are those of a gentle spirit"
that sounds a bit wet—
"they shall have the earth for their possession",
which is a bit too literal.
"Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled"
"how blest are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail:",
which seems pointless,
"they shall be satisfied"—
I suspect all too easily.
"Blessed are the merciful"
"blest are those who show mercy: mercy shall be shown to them."
That is pointless: only the poetry has gone.
"Blessed are the pure in heart"
"how blest are those whose hearts are pure."
"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God"
or, in the New English Bible; sexism reigns:
"God shall call them his sons."
The Good News Bible says,
"happy are those who mourn",
which is not what the authors of the Bible were trying to say.

There are many great pieces of literature. Arthur Bryant wrote about the period of Elizabethan England leading to the Jacobean succession. He said:
"At the moment when England's merchants and seamen were carrying her"—
"life and influence into every ocean and continent, her writers were creating, out of a formerly rude vernacular, a literature, not only potentially, but already in achievement, as great as any yet known to history, even that of ancient Greece. Three contributions of supreme literary genius … One was the liturgy of the Anglican church, the other the authorised version of the Bible published under James I in 1611 … The third was the plays of William Shakespeare … Distilled by English scholars and divines from the successive translations and versions of the past century, it became natural for English men and women of all classes—including the humblest and least educated—to laird their speech and thought with its phrases and analogies."
That is the reality. One did not have to be a genius to appreciate the genius of the Authorised Version; it was picked up and it became part of one's daily life. Just as Vulgate became Tyndale's version, which became the authorised version accompanied by commentaries by J. B. Phillips and translations such as Revised Standard, the New English Bible and the Good News Bible, so Holinshed's "Chronicles" became Shakespeare and Lamb's "Tales", but Shakespeare remained; the Authorised Version did not.

The Church of England is in danger of destroying its liturgy and contribution to English literature, the King James version of the Bible. Churches and schools will ensure that they survive only if they are familiar to succeeding generations, just as Shakespeare is. It is read in the original; nobody thinks of putting on a modern language version of Shakespeare and I hope that they never do. Modern dress, maybe; modern staging, maybe; but the words will carry on.

The same is true with classical music. There may be the odd "Boston Pops" or "Nutrocker", but the real Beethoven and Haydn were introduced to generation after generation and children are learning the originals today, just as they are learning the original of Shakespeare.

I shall use Shakespeare to sum up what I am seeking to say in this short debate about the three pillars of literature—the liturgy, the Authorised Version of the Bible and Shakespeare. I hope that those in authority in Church and state will think of the passage in Hamlet where Hamlet talks to his mother about his father and his stepfather and compares the true father with the fake stepfather. He says:
"Look here, upon this picture, and on this: The counterfeit presentment of two brothers. See what a grace was seated on his brow: Hyperion's curls; the front of Jove himself; An eye like Mars, To threaten or command; A station like the herald Mercury, New-lighted on a heaven-kissing hill; A combination, and a form, indeed, Where every god did seem to set his seal."
The passage continues:
"Could you on this fair mountain leave to feed, And batten on this moor?"
I hope that the Minister will recognise that passage from his Stratford connections. It goes on to say:
"I must be cruel, only to be kind."
I am not seeking to write off with scorn the translations, many of which are worthy and many of which are good, in parts, but we must protect Shakespeare's language or it will die. We must also protect the Bible or that will die and my message to the lords of Church and school is "May they hear this prayer and let the cry of pain of those who mourn the joy and genius of the Authorised Version come unto them."

12.46 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Alan Howarth)

The House should be grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) for raising this subject. This week we have debated important issues but none more important than this. The issue to which my hon. Friend has drawn our attention is the disinheritance of the children of our generation in consequence of the fact that too few teachers or clergy are nowadays accustomed or disposed to use the Authorised Version of the Bible and the 1662 Prayer Book.

Under the law there must be provision for the religious education of all registered pupils at maintained schools, and pupils must have the opportunity to take part in a daily act of collective worship at school.

In their study of English under the national curriculum pupils are required to read
"some of the works which have been most influential in shaping and refining the English language and its literature."
The Authorised Version is proposed as one of those works. So the study of the Authorised Version need not be confined to the catacombs of our educational system. Indeed, there are considerable numbers of teachers—just as there are of clergy—who believe that it is the natural and right thing to do to use the Authorised Version and the 1662 Prayer Book.

Two years ago the then editor of The Spectator, Charles Moore, and the Prayer Book Society offered a prize in memory of Thomas Cranmer, to be competed for by schools whose pupils would recite passages from the Prayer Book. The finalists came from seven schools widely spread, and I understand that a more recent competition enlisted yet more schools. That shows that teachers in all parts of the country still love Cranmer's prayers and believe that children should learn passages of great writing by heart.

The first competition was drawn to the attention of the nation by virtue of a remarkable speech delivered at the presentation of the prize. It was a brilliant and impassioned defence of Cranmer, of the elevated use of language and of the necessity of tradition. The speech contained the following words:
"What we have to ask ourselves, it seems to me, is whether, by making the words less poetic you really do make them more democratic. Isn't there something rather patronising about the whole assumption? Banality … may be accessible for all, but so is a desert."
Those words were spoken encouragingly by a person whom we may expect in due course to be the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

I said that our children need not be disinherited, but my hon. Friend has pointed to the very real danger that many of them will be.

We wonder sadly why so many people repudiate their spiritual heritage. Elements of the explanation no doubt include the excessive pretensions of scientific rationalism, the deracinated character of a society endlessly unsettled by technological change, the cultural disintegration and anomie promoted by the mass media, the perversion of liberalism which rejects the principle of authority, the diffidence of those whom we might expect to exercise authority, the expectations cultivated in political prospectuses, the aesthetic nihilism fashionable in our age, the reductionism of modern philosophy, and the perennial tendence of human beings to bite the hand that has fed them. Perhaps, however, we can draw some bleak comfort from recognising that the hatred of beauty and tradition, and the sense of spiritual loss are not new. After all, the 1645 Prayer Book was made illegal and replaced by a directory of public worship. In 1655 Jeremy Taylor found himself driven to write:
"In this sad declension of religion the supplanters are gone out, and are digging down the foundations."
In the previous century, William Tyndale was driven out of England; copies of his translation of the New Testament were rounded by and burnt by Bishop Tunstall. Tyndall was strangled by order of the public authorities in, of all places, Brussels.

I might be tempted then to suppose that the confusion, to put it no lower, that characterises the language of the New English Bible reflects a state of affairs no worse than that of the 16th and 17th centuries. But it is dismaying to read the translator's preface to the 1961 New Testament which reads:
"In doing our work, we have constantly striven to follow our instructions and render the Greek, as we understand it, into the English of the present day, that is, into the natural vocabulary, constructions and rhythms of contemporary speech … since sound scholarship does not always carry with it a delicate sense of style, the Committee appointed a panel of literary advisers, to whom all the work of the translating panel has been submitted."
For one thing, the translators seem unaware that prose is not the same as speech. However, the most depressing factor is the dissociation of functions between scholars—"literary advisors"—and clergy—what a falling off from Lancelot Andrewes and the combination in him of such great learning, spiritual depth and literary genius.

Our modern egalitarians do their own cause a disservice in seeking to displace the Authorised Version. The Bible—in a version that compelled the imagination through its linguistic excellence—was once the common culture of our country and other English-speaking countries. In that time, the simple and the scholarly could equally be sages. Allen Bloom has described it by saying:
"My grandparents were ignorant people by our standards, and my grandfather held only lowly jobs. But their home was spiritually rich because all the things done in it, not only what was specifically ritual, found their origin in the Bible's commandments, and their explanation in the Bible's stories and the commentaries on them, and had their imaginative counterparts in the deeds of the myriad of exemplary heroes. My grandparents found reasons for the existence of their family and the fulfilment of their duties in serious writings, and they interpreted their special sufferings with respect to a great and enobling past. Their simple faith and practices linked them to great scholars and thinkers who dealt with the same material, not from outside or from an alien perspective, but believing as they did, while simply going deeper and providing guidance. There was a respect for real learning, because it had a felt connection with their lives. This is what a community and a history mean, a common experience inviting high and low into a single body of belief."
A change in American life may be seen to have been under way by the time Mrs. Scott Fitzgerald made her critical assessment of Ernest Hemingway's prose style as "pretty damned Biblical".

It is estimated that in 1611 about 6 million people spoke English; now perhaps 600 million do. But the grandeurs of the 1611 Bible and the 1662 Prayer Book could again be possessed by them as their heritage. The following phrases, of crystalline beauty, are from Tyndale's New Testament of 1534, carried forward into the Authorised Version:
"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you."
Teachers can be confident that Tyndale's precise, simple English is entirely accessible and capable of being appropriated by those whose language is the English of today.

The following are phrases from Tyndale's translation of the Gospel according to St. Matthew:
"With God all things are possible … The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak … The burden and heat of the day … The salt of the earth".
They are modern English.

Tyndale, after all, translated from the Koine, the ordinary Greek of day-to-day transactions. His genius was to render the directness of that usage in the rhythmic and candenced English of the Renaissance, the language that was Shakespeare's immediate inheritance.

We do not insist that Shakespeare is rehashed in a modern translation. Shakespeare still pierces and moves those large numbers of people who read him and see his plays. The language of the Authorised Version is for the most part easier than Shakespeare's

But the great thing is to grow up with that language, so that it is part of one's consciousness. Every Sunday, for a good part of my childhood, I was obliged to attend matins at Winchester cathedral—the cathedral of Bishop Andrewes. When now I hear one of Cranmer's Collects I thrill with a sense of rightness and connectedness. The words of the 1662 Prayer Book have formed my sensibility as much as any other influence.

I applaud the teachers who continue to require their pupils to learn great texts by heart and I am glad that oracy forms part of the national curriculum. That metaphor, "by heart", is right, for what one possesses through such learning, while most often it cannot be paraphrased, informs one's whole apprehension of, and feeling for, the world.

Of course the Bible is not merely literature. To teach appreciation of the Bible only as an aesthetic experience is to diminish both it and those whom we teach. To regard the Bible as literature would indeed have been incomprehensible notion in the 17th century. It is written in what C. S. Lewis termed, writing of Milton, the language of ceremony. I hope that teachers will continue to make the Authorised Version part of the experience of worship as well as part of the curriculum. Then their pupils will be able to say in the words of Psalm 119—but let me make it clear that I do not expect them to learn the whole of the psalm—
"Thy testimonies have I claimed as mine heritage for ever: and why? They are the very joy of my heart."
I can express such hopes, but Ministers—those of the Crown anyway—cannot impose. I am told that a little while ago, a letter was received at Church house saying,
"We are doing God this term. Please send full details and pamphlets."
I do not know what reply was sent, but I should like to think that, among the details sent, was a commendation to the teacher to learn by heart—as every teacher surely should—Cranmer's Collect for the second Sunday in Advent:
"Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, by patience, and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen."

Infected Blood Transfusions

12.57 pm

Everyone who has become infected with HIV deserves our sympathy and support. There is one group of people, however, who I would argue deserve Government financial provision because their personal tragedy has been a direct result of their use of our national health service. It is hard to believe that anyone in the land would begrudge payments to those individuals who have become HIV antibody-positive and will develop AIDS as a result of contaminated blood or tissue transfers under the health service.

As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may know, I have taken an interest in the development of public policy on AIDS over the years and, with the support of the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People—who was then a junior Minister at the Department of Health—I introduced and secured the enactment of the AIDS (Control) Act 1987.

Edinburgh has a particular AIDS problem. Transmission of the virus has largely been through the use of drugs. I know of a number of people in my constituency who are either HIV-positive or who have gone on to develop AIDS. It was only in October this year that I discovered that one of my constituents had become infected as a direct result of a blood transfusion.

My constituent was rushed to hospital to have her first child. It was necessary in the course of the birth for her to have a blood transfusion. That was in 1984. Not until 1989, after she had had a second child, did she discover that she was HIV positive as a direct result of a contaminated blood transfusion at the time of the birth of her first child.

It is a tragic story when anybody is infected, but everyone's heart goes out to people who become infected through the national health service. My constituent developed the symptoms of AIDS over the years without knowing that she was HIV positive. Only through her work with a voluntary Church group, set up to work with, help and support people with AIDS, did she begin to sense that the symptoms she was showing were not dissimilar to those about which she was learning in her work with that group.

My constituent is now in hospital. I hope that she will not be there for long. Fortunately, neither of her children or her husband has become infected. Like others in her position, regardless of how they have become infected, it is an extremely private matter. The vast majority of people who are HIV positive wish to retain the knowledge as a secret to themselves or to close friends and family.

As a result of the overwhelming need for justice in this matter, the Minister should be aware that a group has been formed of non-haemophiliacs who have become HIV positive as the result of an NHS blood transfusion or tissue transfer. That group was established at a meeting in Merseyside last week. Its chair and spokesperson, elected at that meeting, is Davy, and he can be contacted through a solicitor named Brian Donald of York place, Edinburgh, telephone 031–556 7951. Davy is in the Public Gallery today listening to the debate. I hope that he will hear a positive response from the Minister later.

According to Government statistics, 37 people are alive in the United Kingdom in that position; 25 others have already died. Most of them were infected before the National Blood Transfusion Service began screening donations in October 1985, although at least two have become infected since then owing to the window period between infection and sero conversion.

The House will remember that in December 1990 the Government finally took the decision to make provision for 1,217 haemophiliacs infected with HIV through the blood product factor 8. An out-of-court settlement was made, bringing the total sums provided to £76 million. It took five long years of campaigning for haemophiliacs to see justice done, though many people were not convinced of the adequacy even of that settlement.

We are now asking for equal treatment for non-haemophiliacs infected with HIV as the result of an NHS blood transfusion or tissue transfer. As this group of people is much smaller than the number of haemophiliacs, the sum required would be correspondingly less, perhaps £4 million.

The Government have given a number of reasons so far for not providing compensation for non-haemophiliacs. They say that they cannot distinguish between infected non-haemophiliacs and other victims of medical accidents and that making provision for them would set a precedent for the piecemeal introduction of no-fault compensation. That is an irrelevant distraction. We are arguing not about no-fault compensation, but that non-haemophiliacs and haemophiliacs should be given equal treatment.

Last year, the Government were careful to insist that they were not providing compensation to haemophiliacs but simply making ex gratia, out-of-court settlements. In that way, they avoided setting precedents for no-fault compensation. We demand the same for non-haemophiliacs, which would also not set such precedents. One respect in which infected non-haemophiliacs differ from other victims of medical accidents is precisely that a precedent has been set for making provisions for people infected with HIV through NHS blood and tissue transfers.

The Government have given many reasons for distinguishing between haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs, but they are all totally unconvincing. They have argued that haemophiliacs were seriously ill before they became infected, but, by definition, many non-haemophiliacs were also ill before they became infected. Some of them received tissue transfers—those are rather exceptional—and blood transfusions precisely because they were ill with diseases such as leukaemia. The Government's arguments are nonsense, because there is no reason to make a distinction on that ground. What does it matter whether a person receives a blood transfusion because he has leukaemia or because he has had a car accident?

Secondly, the Government have argued that there is likely to be more than one infected haemophiliac in a family. Haemophilia is genetic and, as a result, there may be more than one in a family. Although HIV is not genetic, it can be transmitted from mother to child and certainly between partners, so there is a real risk that there may be more than one HIV-positive non-haemophiliac in a family as a result of a contaminated blood transfusion.

Thirdly, the Government have argued that a distinction between haemophiliacs can be made on the ground that, because of a haemophiliac's illness or condition, he or she is unlikely to have a well-paid job and therefore be able to afford adequate insurance. Again, a substantial proportion of non-haemophiliacs who received compensation were not in highly paid jobs and did not have insurance to protect them against the prospect of eventually developing AIDS as a result of a blood transfusion contaminated by HIV.

Those arguments are totally spurious. There is no valid, logical ground for distinguishing between infected haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs. That has been accepted by other Governments, such as those of Canada, France, Denmark and Western Australia. Although it may have taken them a little while to get there, they have all recognised that a distinction between infected haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs cannot be justified. The Haemophilia Society has also made that point.

One of the reasons why the haemophiliacs achieved success was that they were organised and had a society to campaign on their behalf. The society never intended to succeed to the exclusion of non-haemophiliacs. There is no justification for drawing a ring fence—to use the technical jargon—around the haemophiliacs. We have to draw a ring fence, but it must be drawn around everybody—non-haemophiliacs and haemophiliacs—who has become infected as a result of a blood transfusion under the national health service.

No amount of compensation can make up for the enormity of the personal and family tragedies involved, but the money can help to make life easier and more comfortable for those who are still alive. The money can help the families, especially the children, of those who have died as a result of AIDS.

There are good reasons for pursuing the issue until the Government recognise the justice of the case. I tabled an early-day motion which has all-party support and I emphasise that this is an all-party campaign. The motion now has 234 signatures and is a powerful demonstration of the support of Parliament for non-haemophiliacs. Hon. Members are overwhelmingly of the view that the Government's position is untenable and that they need to think again. There is no justification for continuing to distinguish between haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs.

The Minister has a chance this afternoon to rectify the mistake made last December when the Government announced that they would provide compensation for haemophiliacs. That was an error of judgment because the announcement should have included non-haemophiliacs. I have given the figure for the number affected. The Government figure may include one or two more people, but even if there are a few more, the total number is substantially lower than the number of haemophiliacs affected. There can be no ground for resisting the argument on the basis of financial considerations, as the Minister knows.

I have sought to demonstrate that the grounds for the Government's argument are entirely spurious. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to put the matter right. The issue will not go away and the sooner that we get an announcement that justice will be provided for the non-haemophiliacs the better.

1.13 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on seeking this opportunity to raise a subject of understandable concern which undoubtedly arouses deep sympathy in all of us. It is a tragedy that people have become infected with HIV through blood transfusions or through tissue transfer. I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing my sympathy for those affected by this unfortunate tragedy which has blighted the lives of those infected and the lives of their families.

I recognise that the hon. Gentleman has a longstanding and special concern about the whole question of HIV and AIDS. He spoke particularly of the situation in Edinburgh. He will know that the prevalence of HIV and AIDS varies in different parts of the country. I visited Edinburgh earlier this year to meet Dr. Mok and many others involved in the provision of services. I visited the new hospice in the centre of Edinburgh and saw much of the medical treatment available for those suffering from HIV and AIDS, whatever the cause.

In a sense, the hon. Gentleman's debate is about how people contracted HIV and AIDS. That is the point that he seeks to make, but he, of all people, will also be aware that the development of appropriate services, support and care for those suffering from this fatal disease has been a major challenge and a major priority for us all.

The Government's response to the hon. Gentleman's comments cannot just be a matter of sympathetic words. We are taking steps to ensure that appropriate services and treatment are available to those with HIV and AIDS and that appropriate services and treatment are available to the blood transfusion and tissue recipients and to all others who are infected.

We are seeking as far as possible to alleviate and delay the effects of the infection. We continue to support research and that support amounts to about £31 million during the past five years; about £500 million has been put by the Government into the development of services and treatment for people with HIV and AIDS. This year, the substantial ring-fenced funds of £160 million for the national health service and other organisations are the Government's contribution to preventing the further spread of HIV and providing diagnosis, treatment, care and support services.

Next year those resources are being increased to almost £200 million. That shows a clear commitment to the development of services in this country, which leads the world in the provision of care, support and treatment for those suffering from HIV and AIDS.

As I say, the hon. Gentleman has long identified the threat to public health and the enormous difficulty facing individuals and families. He sponsored the AIDS (Control) Act 1987 which, through its reports, gives the Government and health authorities a strong strategic tool with which to monitor the progress and effectiveness of their prevention and treatment efforts in the area of AIDS and the use of the earmarked money.

Earlier this year I was also able to give the initial results of the anonymised HIV sero-surveys. Hon. Members will be aware that fact is much better than fantasy in the area of HIV and AIDS. It was essential in terms of the development and planning of services, particularly in the light of the large ring-fenced sums of money available for the work, that we should have a better estimate of the prevalence and spread of the disease.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the situation in Edinburgh. Our figures demonstrated that the prevalence of HIV infection among women attending ante-natal clinics in certain parts of inner London was 1 in 500. As a result of those figures, I established the AIDS action group, which I chair. The group is studying ways of reaching key population groups and ways of co-ordinating work across a number of sectors. It will enable us to build on and to make widely known the tremendous amount of effective work already being carried forward locally. The task is urgent and we are making rapid progress. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that there are similar developments in Scotland.

The time has come with the development of services, prevention and support for those with HIV and AIDS to ensure that we have an effective way of ensuring that all those who are infected or increasingly affected by HIV and AIDS receive the support and care that they deserve.

The debate concerns those infected through blood transfusion and tissue transfer. I can assure the House that all practical steps are being taken to safeguard our blood supply, of which we are justly proud. Those engaging in high-risk activities associated with HIV are not accepted as blood donors and all donations are tested for HIV antibodies. Tissue donors are also tested and by such means we seek to prevent a recurrence of this appalling and unforeseen tragedy.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will acknowledge the substantial measures taken by the Government to ensure that appropriate treatment, care and support are provided for those with HIV and to protect against any recurrence of this tragedy. Difficulties have arisen on the issue of compensation and are of concern to the hon. Gentleman. Governments of all parties accept that when there has been negligence in treatment the national health service should compensate those who have been damaged. It is for individuals to decide whether to pursue such cases and, until now, the main avenue of redress has been the courts.

As the hon. Gentleman may know, we are consulting on proposals for an arbitration scheme in respect of claims for negligence against the health service. That follows a suggestion by Lord Griffiths in his address to the annual conference of the Law Society in October 1990 that claims for compensation could, with the agreement of both parties, be considered by a small panel of medical and legal experts working on paper and applying the normal principles of negligence under common law. Any damages awarded would not be limited and would be calculated according to established guidelines. Such a system might provide a simpler, quicker and cheaper route for those who opted to use it in preference to the courts. If the suggestion meets with general support, perhaps we could develop a pilot trial in one or two regional health authorities.

Of course, the avenue of legal action is open to blood transfusion recipients infected with HIV. The hon. Gentleman sought to argue that for this group the Government should go further and provide compensation without any need to show negligence—that we should compensate, effectively, on a no-fault basis.

Earlier this year the House carefully considered the merits and demerits of a no-fault compensation scheme when the hon. Member for Greenwich (Mrs. Barnes) presented her NHS (Compensation) Bill for Second Reading. On a free vote, the Government and the House rejected that Bill. That was certainly not because we lacked sympathy for the victims of medical accidents. As I hope we have shown, the contrary is the case. It is the duty of government to consider the wider implications for policy of any such major proposals. Any workable scheme of no-fault compensation would be enormously costly, and in attempting to solve one set of problems it would create another. Inevitably, there would be unfairness because those injured through NHS treatment would be compensated, while those injured or disabled through natural causes would not. Severe difficulties over causation would remain. The accountability of those providing treatment could also be reduced. There could be substantial cost implications if the awards were not to be unacceptably small, which is the case in some countries that have adopted such a scheme.

The proposals that I have mentioned offer a much better hope of finding a workable way forward for our current system. Following the full debate on 1 February when the Secretary of State for Health addressed the House, the House decisively rejected the principle of no-fault compensation for those injured because of NHS treatment when no negligence had been demonstrated. No one can underestimate the difficulties of these questions and of the decisions involved. Inevitably, there will be further demands on finite NHS resources. I have spoken about the way in which we have deliberately and determinedly invested additional resources in the development of services for those with HIV and AIDS.

The Minister's comments about no-fault compensation are interesting, but the crunch issue is about how the Government justify making a distinction between haemophiliacs and non-haemophiliacs. That is the issue that I covered in my speech and I trust that the Minister will reply to it. Surely they can provide compensation for non-haemophiliacs in the same way as for haemophiliacs. It is simply a matter of erecting the ring fence in a logical place. I do not want to get involved in the argument about no-fault compensation. I hope that the hon. Lady will address the issue that I have raised.

I hope that explaining the various ways in which we are tackling the problem will help the hon. Gentleman to understand why we reached the decision that we did. It is important to consider that group in the context of the larger group of HIV and AIDS sufferers, to make it clear that—whatever the causation—they are suffering from a disease for which there is no known cure and to which we and the hon. Gentleman have sought to give priority.

It is important to establish the arguments in respect of no-fault compensation. Although it may initially seem superficially appealing, its long-term implications for the health service would be very serious. In reaching the decision a year ago that the haemophiliacs in question should be offered financial assistance because they were a special and specific group, the Government considered carefully the various factors involved. We took the view that because they already suffered from health, social and financial disadvantages associated with their lifelong condition, an exceptional decision should be made in their case.

The hon. Gentleman argued that the payments made to HIV-infected haemophiliacs should be considered as a precedent for blood transfusion cases. There is hardly any need for me to remind the House of the lengthy campaign on behalf of haemophiliacs—supported by many right hon. and hon. Members, the public and the media—whose advocates reiterated that haemophiliacs were an exceptional and specific group who merited exceptional treatment. The Government remain convinced that their case is exceptional.

It is always extremely difficult to draw distinctions. It is likely that there will always be a group who will feel unfairly treated, seek to have the limits redrawn and the boundary altered, and argue that they should be incorporated rather than excluded. That will be the case whenever such a decision is made.

The Government recognised the arguments forcefully put to us that HIV-infected haemophiliacs were a special case. I repeat that their lifelong condition of haemophilia—which had already adversely affected their health, social, employment, insurance, and mortgage prospects—was further exacerbated by the onset of HIV.

Does the Minister agree that those haemophiliacs were deemed to be a special case precisely because they were infected by contaminated blood from the national health service? But is it not the case that only haemophiliacs infected in that way were compensated—not those infected in any other way?

The hon. Gentleman is correct. The haemophiliacs in question were given contaminated blood products by those who sought to treat them. The particular arguments and considerations given to their particular case have been much rehearsed.

No one can argue effectively that a line can be drawn anywhere and be left unchallenged. It is inherent in such an initiative that there will always be some who are on the other side of that line who were contaminated through no fault of their own—or even through some fault of their own—and who will argue that they also ought to receive financial recompense. It is naive to believe other than that there will always be some groups on the other side of the line who will seek to argue that it should be moved. That must be so wherever financial decisions are involved.

In the case of the haemophiliacs, the Government responded generously, making available more than £76 million to help the 1,200 individuals affected with HIV and their families. A haemophiliac with dependants will receive around £80,000 from that sum, and those with particular needs can receive additional help from the Macfarlane Trust, which has been further funded with Government money. The support that has been provided by the Government for this specific group compares favourably with state help that is provided elsewhere for haemophiliacs with HIV. The House will be aware that the Governments of about half the EC countries have made no recognition of the plight of this group.

Those advocating help for HIV-infected blood transfusion and tissue recipients argue, as has the hon. Gentleman, that the cost would be relatively small. Thankfully, the numbers suffering as a result of the tragedy are relatively small. We know of 62 reported cases where treatment was given in the United Kingdom. We estimate that the cost of extending the recent settlement for haemophiliacs to transfusion or tissue cases treated here could be about £10 million. That is not an insignificant amount. It equates with the cost of 1,000 kidney transplants or 500 bone marrow transplants or 500 heart transplants.

In short, we share the great sympathy that the hon. Gentleman feels for this particular group of patients. We are committed to developing first-rate, effective and supportive services for the treatment and care of those with HIV and AIDS. The Government have not been persuaded, however, that blood transfusion and tissue recipients constitute a special case. We shall, of course, consider carefully the views which have been expressed by the hon. Gentleman. We have great sympathy for these tragic cases and for their families.

Schools (Berkshire)

1.30 pm

I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise this matter. It has come about because one of my colleagues cancelled his debate. That gave me the opportunity to introduce this subject. I came in, as it were, at a rather late stage.

The two schools that are mentioned on the Order Paper are of the highest standard in Berkshire. Little Heath school, in my constituency, is one of the two. Ryeish Green school is in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan). I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will allow my hon. Friend to intervene briefly as we proceed.

Incidentally, the headmaster of Little Heath school taught my daughter in another school in Berkshire. I have, therefore, a close interest in the school.

The history is that four parents with four children applied for entry into Little Heath school in the normal way. Their children were due to start at the school in September 1991. They were refused entry on the ground that the school was full. The parents went through the appeals procedure and were refused again. The appeal committee upheld the decision of the local education authority. The four parents were not satisfied with the decision. They refused to send their children to any other school. I should say that one parent sent his child to Meadway school but still wishes to transfer to Little Heath.

The parents wrote to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and he replied to the effect that he could not intervene because the LEA had not acted unreasonably. I feel strongly that the Government's policy of open enrolment is being flouted. The LEA continues to say that the school is full.

Little Heath school was first measured in 1979. It was decided then that the maximum intake was 239. The actual intake between 1983 and 1989 was 210. The school was remeasured in 1990, and the intake that year was 253. In 1991, the year in question, the intake was 239. There were six successful appeals, so 245 became the final figure. In August 1991, three children withdrew, which meant that 242 became the final figure. Three places became available. The number of admissions the previous year was 11 more than the total number of entrants in 1991.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science has to decide whether the LEA has acted unreasonably. I believe that there are grounds for intervention. During the appeals the parents were not given full information. For example, the catchment map was not produced. There are arguments in the county about whether there is a catchment map. In some letters it is referred to as being in existence and in others it is not. The parents' representations were not circulated to the appeals committee and only one parent's preference was allowed by the local education authority, which is contrary to the Department of Education and Science circular 11/88 and contrary to the Act.

Two stages of the appeal do not appear to have been followed. The first part of an appeal is to consider whether the entry will cause the school to suffer because of having too many children. The appeals committee then has to decide whether, if it supports the local education authority, the children's needs and the parents' preference ought to override that decision. There may be extenuating circumstances, in the case of the parents and the children, that ought to override the earlier decision. That process was not followed.

The Government's policy of encouraging open enrolment is right. I support it. I believe that as many parents as possible should have the opportunity to send their children to the school that they want them to attend. I urge the Minister, therefore, to intervene in this case on grounds of space. According to the figures, it appears that the school took in 11 additional children during the previous year. The argument being used is that because of the national curriculum requirements the school is more crowded and that four additional children cannot be accommodated. My hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East will deal with the problem that has arisen at Ryeish Green where there are similar problems about numbers.

As the procedures laid down by statute have not been properly followed, I appeal to the Minister to look into the matter. It will not go away. The parents are very determined. Unless the Minister intervenes, I have no doubt that this issue will end up in the courts. I ask him, therefore, to consider seriously the points that I have made, to look again, with his colleagues, at what has happened and to provide the opportunity for these four children to go to the school that they wish to attend. It is a fine school. The parents are very determined that their children should go to it and feel very aggrieved that that opportunity has been denied to them.

1.36 pm

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) for enabling me to join in the debate. I strongly support the points that he has made. The position is highly unsatisfactory. My hon. Friend referred to the problems at Little Heath school. I intend to speak about similar problems at Ryeish Green school.

Ryeish Green is an extremely popular school, despite the fact that many of its facilities are less good than those provided by other schools in the neighbourhood. That says a great deal for the way in which Ryeish Green is run and managed. Its allocation for this year is 186 places. I ask the Minister to consider whether it is right that the local education authority should be able to allocate the number of school places in that way when—this is very misleading for parents—the actual entry number is different. Physically handicapped children are added to Ryeish Green's allocation of 186 places. In addition, there are children whom the appeal panel regard as worthy of a place. The word "worthy" is slightly invidious, but that is the wording that the appeal panel uses.

This year's allocation of 186 places was, therefore, increased to 199. The school agreed that it could take that number of children. Just before the September term started, a few children dropped out. The number of allocated places was then reduced from 199 to 196. However, parents who were anxious to send their children to Ryeish Green—whose names, presumably, were on the waiting list—were not allowed to do so. They resented that deeply.

Moreover, the headmaster offered an additional entrance form this year, but the local education authority has refused to transfer any funds for that purpose. Presumably funds will have been made available for those children at another school. The greatest injustice felt by the parents is that they have been told that there is a catchment area and that preference is given to children from the primary school catchment area. As my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, West said, there is considerable confusion and misunderstanding about whether there is a catchment area. Parents feel a double injustice because, having failed to get their children into Ryeish Green, they are compelled to send them to other schools in the area, regardless of whether they want to do so. Having failed to get their children into Ryeish Green, a number of parents are keeping their children at home, which is very unsatisfactory.

I asked locally for the names of the people who are on the appeal panel, how they were appointed and selected and what criteria they applied in making their judgment. I was told that that was confidential and could not be passed to me, which again is unsatisfactory.

In October, the Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Darlington (Mr. Fallon), was good enough to reply to my letter. He pointed out that the Secretary of State's scope to intervene in school admissions is "extremely limited". He said that
"The authority's general duty to admit children to the school chosen by their parents does not apply in certain circumstances".
Again, I found that unsatisfactory, because it is not clear to parents what circumstances prevent their children from being admitted. He further said:
"Admission authorities can have any reasonable criteria they like."
That is not satisfactory. He continues:
"Catchment areas are not illegal or unreasonable in themselves but they may be vulnerable to legal challenge if they are drawn to co-incide with the county boundary and thus give priority to the LEA's own residents."
We have recently had the court adjudication, which is under appeal, on the Greenwich area. It appears to be totally contrary to what the courts have decided for another part of the country.

Finally—this is a glimmer of light—my hon. Friend the Minister says:
"If the governors wish to do so, they can ask the LEA to increase the school's admission limit for next year and if the LEA were to refuse, the governors could apply to the Secretary of State for an increased standard number"
of admissions.

I am glad to have been able to participate in this short debate. I hope that I have said enough to show the strong feelings about the system in our area. Contrary to what we had hoped from increased parental choice, the system seems to have become more bureaucratic and less flexible.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take note of what the hon. Members for Reading, East and Reading, West have said and will agree to reconsider the position.

1.42 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. Alan Howarth)

I congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant) and for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan) on their persistence in pursuing the concerns of their constituents. They have written several times to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science and have pursued the interests of their constituents with determination. Persistence is one of the hallmarks of an effective Member of Parliament and I pay full tribute to my hon. Friends for all the work that they have done on behalf of their constituents.

My hon. Friends raised the issue of parental choice and the admission of children to school. This is a matter of close interest to all our constituents—and rightly so—as is borne out by the correspondence that my ministerial colleagues and I receive from right hon. and hon. Members.

I share my hon. Friend's strong belief in parental choice in education. Our reforms are designed to enhance parental choice and to improve the information available to parents, to allow a more informed exercise of that choice. That is what more open enrolment, to use the jargon phrase, is all about. The Education Reform Act 1988 extends parental choice by providing increased opportunity for parents to send their children to the schools of their choice.

My hon. Friends have clearly conveyed in their letters to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State the disappointment of parents who were unsuccessful in gaining a place for their children at Little Heath and Ryeish Green.

That is entirely understandable. However, I emphasise that the improvements that we have introduced enhance parental choice but do not guarantee that parents will, in all cases, be able to gain a place for their child at the school of their choice. It is, I fear, unavoidable that some parents will be disappointed.

The number of places for admission to a school each year must necessarily be related to the capacity of the school. To do otherwise would cause overcrowded conditions, would affect teaching and the children's ability to learn and would benefit no one.

I have listened carefully to what the Minister said, but how does he explain that the numbers can go up and down from one week to another? Either the school is full or it is not; either there are places or there are not.

If my hon. Friend will allow me to continue I may be able to deal with that issue in the context of the circumstances in Reading and in the particular schools.

The key point about more open enrolment is that there is now a minimum number of admissions to a school—known as the standard number—which is related to the physical capacity of the school. The admissions authority for a school—the local education authority in the case of county schools which we are debating today—must admit children up to at least its standard number. It cannot set lower admissions numbers for administrative convenience.

Our reforms are designed to maximise parental choice but no matter how much my hon. Friends and I would like all parents to obtain their choice of school for their children, the number of pupils admitted to a school must be limited, not least in the educational interests of the children already admitted.

What concerns me about the particular school in which I am interested is that there are fewer children this year than the previous year. I cannot understand how that happens. We accept that there must be figures on which decisions are based, but there has been a sudden variation in the figures for entries into that school.

If my hon. Friend will allow me to develop the case a little further I shall try to set his particular concern in the context of the general policy appertaining to these issues. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that we must do all that we can to ensure that the options available are the best possible.

The introduction of standard numbers under more open enrolment means that admissions authorities can no longer set arbitrary restrictions on admission to popular schools. Of course, if an authority wishes to admit above the standard number, it can do so.

I understand that the standard number for Ryeish Green school is 186. Berkshire local education authority, after consultation with the head and the governors, agreed to increase the intake to 191 in the interests of meeting parental choice in the area. I understand that the authority has said that it proposes to keep admissions at the higher level.

In the case of Little Heath school there have been changes in the numbers of admissions in the past couple of years and they have, I think, caused some confusion among parents who have appealed to the Secretary of State about their child's non-admission. I shall explain briefly what I understand to have happened.

Little Heath school has a standard number of 239. That was the admissions number published for the school for 1990. Subsequently, the local education authority carried out a reassessment of the school's capacity and the admissions number was raised following consultation with the school governors to 253 for 1991. The school's accommodation was then again reassessed—

The school's intake was 253 in 1990. In 1991 it was 239. The Minister's figures are right, but his years are wrong.

It is extremely important that we understand each other correctly and that we are discussing the same facts. I shall continue with my exposition and if it proves to be the case that there has been a misunderstanding between my hon. Friends and the Department, we shall of course pursue it as constructively and helpfully as we can. However, I am not sure that my hon. Friend is entirely right in his apprehension.

The school's accommodation was again reassessed by the local education authority to take account of the requirements of the national curriculum, in consultation with the head and school governors. As a result, the local education authority assessed the school's capacity as indicating an admission limit below 239. It is perhaps regrettable that the authority and governors felt it necessary to reduce the admissions number for the school, having increased it the previous year. They did not seek to reduce the admissions below the standard number of 239; if they had wished to do so, they would have required the approval of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

The authority has said that it regrets the situation that has arisen in those cases, but that, having regard for the pupils already at the school, it could not justify an increase in the admission levels at the schools. If the governing body of the school is unhappy with the currently agreed level of admissions and wishes to increase the school's admission limits for next year it can of course approach the local education authority. That is not all that it can do. If the local education authority is unwilling to grant an increase in admissions, the governors can apply to the Secretary of State for an increase in the school's standard number.

As the schools were oversubscribed for this year, places at the schools were allocated in accordance with the authority's published criteria. On the basis of those criteria, the children of constituents about whom my hon. Friends have written did not gain places at the school. Once places had been allocated, parents who did not obtain a place for their child were given the opportunity of presenting their appeals to the independent appeals committee. The authority's decisions were considered and upheld by the appeals committee.

My right hon. and learned Friend has considered, at my hon. Friends' request, the concerns of their constituents regarding the non-admission of their children and whether to intervene in the matter. I gladly pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West and for Reading, East for their hard work on behalf of their constituents, but I must remind them of the limits on the powers of my right hon. and learned Friend in such matters. Before he could intervene, my right hon. and learned Friend would need to be satisfied either that the authority was acting "unreasonably" or that it was failing in its duty under section 6 of the Education Act 1980 to observe parental preferences. To fall within the term "unreasonable", as interpreted by the courts, an authority's conduct must be conduct that no sensible authority, acting with due appreciation of its responsibilities, would have decided to adopt. Those are strict criteria and understandably so. My right hon. and learned Friend's powers do not allow him to act as a court of appeal, reviewing the decisions of local appeal committees; and it is not enough that he should simply disagree with the local education authority's decision. He cannot substitute his own judgment for that of the admissions authority.

After careful consideration of the points raised by my hon. Friends on their constituents' behalf, my right hon. and learned Friend concluded that the Berkshire local education authority did not appear to have acted "unreasonably"—in this strict sense—in changing the admissions number to Little Heath back to the standard number; and that there were therefore no grounds on which he could intervene in those cases.

Provided an appeal committee is constituted in accordance with the provisions of schedule 2 to the Education Act 1980, the Secretary of State cannot intervene in respect of its findings, although it is open to the local ombudsman to investigate its decisions and procedure.

My hon. Friends the Members for Reading, West and for Reading, East have served splendidly the interests of their constituents, who are understandably disappointed and distressed about the non-admission of their children to the school of their choice. I hope that my hon. Friends accept that we have looked closely at the points that they have raised; it is unfortunate that expectations of higher admissions to Little Heath were not maintained, but the local education authority is meeting the legal requirements by continuing to admit up to the school's standard number and, on the evidence that we have, I do not think that we can describe the action of the local education authority in reducing admissions in 1991–92 as "unreasonable" in the strict legal sense, however much we may regret it.

May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to think a little further? The points that we have raised refer to two particular schools but also to a system, which we think is unsatisfactory and which he may also feel, following the Greenwich court case, needs re-examination. We do not think that the rigid application of catchment areas is fulfilling the Government's intentions in respect of increased parental choice and we should be grateful if the Minister would have another look at the position not just of our schools but generally.

I think that my hon. Friend accepts that, in the case affecting the school in his constituency, full evidence has been put before us and that we have considered it with the utmost care. Of course, if any new evidence were presented, we would look at the circumstances again. On the wider issue of principle and policy, we are most anxious to make the enhancement of parental choice and the policy of more open enrolment a most effective reality. I hope that my hon. Friends will recognise, however, that it is a time-honoured and integral part of our education system that there should be local education authorities which have discretion to manage affairs within their own areas, and we have to consider carefully what balance we should strike between the pursuit of the Government's strategy of enhancing parental choice—something to which the overwhelming majority of local education authorities are committed—and the preservation of proper authority for LEAs in their own areas.

What concerns me in the case of Little Heath is that the national curriculum is the ground being cited for the reduction in numbers. Are the Government pleased at the prospect of schools shrinking as a result of the national curriculum when what we are supposed to be doing is extending the education service?

It is certainly not generally the case that schools are reducing the number of pupils because of the national curriculum. My hon. Friend represents the interests of parents and of children who attend Little Heath school and he will not want those interests to be neglected. It seems to all of us to be extremely important that physical circumstances should be provided to enable teachers to teach the national curriculum and children to learn it in conditions that are satisfactory.

As I said earlier, I perfectly understand the frustration of parents whose hopes that their children would obtain a place were disappointed, but, on the face of it, it does not appear to me that the local education authority has done the wrong thing in addressing itself to the issue of how the national curriculum can best be delivered in the particular circumstances of the school.

I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Reading, East and for Reading, West will find my comments as constructive as they were intended to be and that I have reassured them that we have examined carefully the points that they have raised.

Fire And Emergency Services (London)

1.57 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise some important matters of concern regarding the provision of fire and emergency services in our capital city. At this time of year, and with terrorists making increasing use of fire bombs, our minds are drawn to the work of the emergency services. We all reject strongly the activities of those terrorists, and I am sure that the whole House and the country would like to pay tribute to the dedicated work done, day in, day out, by our fire fighters, ambulance staff and police officers to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. No doubt we should all like to wish all those staff, and others working over the holiday period, a happy Christmas and a prosperous new year.

The broadening of our consciousness of the fire brigade in London has been well served by London Weekend Television's excellent programme "London's Burning". Apparently, the programme is technically very accurate and it is advised on at every stage by expert fire fighters. Its only slight fault is that it does not quite do justice to the length of time that fire fighters spend in training and keeping fit between calls. Keeping up to date with the latest developments in every area, our fire fighters truly are professionals, and have little time left to sit around between calls drinking tea.

I am privileged to have the fire authority headquarters based in my constituency and I propose first to concentrate on four issues affecting the London fire brigade.

First, the London fire and civil defence authority has a statutory duty under the Fire Services Act 1947 to provide a fire-fighting service. The Act also gives discretionary powers for the authority to use its resources to provide other special emergency rescue services. Those emergency rescue services, for which no extra Government funding is available, cover such things as road traffic accidents, people shut in lifts, people locked in and out of premises, the emergency flooding of premises and cats stranded up trees.

In the first quarter of this year, the fife brigade attended 18,700 such calls, of which more than 1,000 were motoring accidents. Surely it is absurd that such essential services, which form 40 per cent. of the work of the London fire brigade, should be considered as discretionary and be exempted from the funding formula.

In the past five years, the mainstream work of fire fighting has increased by 7 per cent. and the funding has followed that marginal increase. Over the same period, those other essential emergency services have increased by over 70 per cent., with not an extra penny from the Government.

Secondly, I challenge the Minister to defend the Government's inaction in dealing with the capital needs of London's fire brigade. Because of massive demographic changes in the capital, the authority has had to increase and relocate many of its services. As many fire stations are in buildings that are historic and listed, those changes have meant significant alterations in station usage. The Government have failed entirely to consider the costs of the statutory duties of the authority to maintain those buildings in line with listed building standards.

Similarly, the Government's so-called commitment to the equality of women in the work-place is shown again to be lip service as, in funding the fire authority, the Government ignore the costs that must be borne by the authority—and rightly so—in altering many stations to accommodate the increasing number of women fire fighters.

The costs of developing and introducing new technology and equipment designed to save increasingly more lives are still not met by the Government in working out the funding. As a result, we risk losing our position as a world leader in life saving.

Thirdly, I come to the topical subject of pension funds, though I shall avoid the temptation to make comparisons with the problems facing the many Mirror Group and Maxwell Communication Corporation pensioners. Fire authorities are statutorily obliged to meet pension obligations for fire fighters from their revenue budgets. Between 1986 and 1990, when the Conservatives, with Liberal support, spawned the administration of the London fire and civil defence authority, more than 600 front-line fire fighters were cut from the establishment.

While today's revenue budget is led by the new, smaller number of fire fighters, the authority still has to pay for the pensions of the former staff. That pensions expenditure is predicted to rise between 1988 and 1993 from £13 million to a massive £34 million, which would account for about 14 per cent. of the authority's revenue budget, inevitably at the expense of other areas, such as training.

Fourthly, on fire cover, I challenge the Minister to respond to the outdated and discredited system of fire risk assessment which the Government have refused to address. It may not be well known that London's first fire bridges were established by insurance companies to protect the buildings that they covered. Since then, fire risk assessment on which basis fire fighters and engines are distributed and from which their funding is determined has been based almost exclusively on buildings and not on people. Those categories of A risk—the most intense—down to D risk are long overdue for replacement. The Government have failed to take the advice of many senior fire professionals to agree to such a fundamental review quickly. Although those assessed risk categories provide only minimum standards, I am pleased that the London fire brigade provides a service that is far higher than that bare minimum. I compliment the commitment of the members of the London fire authority, led by Councillor Tony Ritchie and Chief Fire Officer Brian Robinson, and the constructive co-operation of the trade unions involved in that service. Their commitment is extremely high.

Funding is based only on the minimum cover, even though the London fire brigade provides a service that is far higher than the bare minimum. A system that provides only for a minimum service is selling the people of London short. It relies on the extra dedication and commitment of individual fire fighters. A parallel can be drawn with the work and commitment of the ambulance service, and I shall allow for a short intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) specifically on that.

A more co-ordinated approach is needed to the resource allocations of the fire brigade. My hon. Friends and I look forward to the introduction of a Greater London authority to work with the fire service in performing a critical co-ordinating role, with the arrival in the next six months of a Labour Government.

I wish to give the Minister plenty of time to respond and I challenge him to answer the following points. When will the Government agree to extending the fire authorities' statutory responsibility to include other emergency rescue work with the necessary funding to pay for it? When will they provide suitable funding, through the basic credit approval system, which at present does not even keep pace with inflation, to undertake the essential building programme and fully keep up with the increase in the number of women fire fighters and ever-developing technology?

When will the Government agree to a standard spending assessment to meet unavoidable pension realities? When will they allow fire authorities to operate proper investment pension funds? When will they agree to a fire assessment system that takes proper account of people rather than just buildings?

As those issues and others that will be raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North cannot be dealt with fully in a short debate, will the Minister arrange for a full debate on this important subject in the new year in Government time and for a statement to be made? When will the Government stop running away from their responsibilities properly to fund emergency services for the people of London?

2.7 pm

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) and the Minister for allowing me to contribute briefly to this debate. I wish to talk specifically about another aspect of London's emergency services. Although I wholeheartedly support what my hon. Friend said about the fire service, I wish to speak about the ambulance service.

May I state for the record—it is in the Register of Members' Interests—that I am sponsored in the House by the National Union of Public Employees, which has a significant membership among the London ambulance service.

The ambulance service is vital for Londoners. It demands and receives enormous dedication and conscientiousness from its staff. They have shown their commitment for many years, working in awful circumstances. They suffer greatly at present because of understaffing, inadequate vehicles and an unaccountable service and many of them do not live to enjoy a long retirement because the stress of the job often causes premature death. They suffer from the stress of the job and from the stress of being called out in an emergency and not knowing whether they will see a fairly minor accident in the home or a terrible tragedy on the roads or railways in which they will be asked to pull children's bodies out of the wreckage. That is the lot of the ambulance workers, who are extremely dedicated people.

The ambulance service was efficiently and accountably run by the Greater London council. The service was taken away from the council in the health service reorganisation of 1974 and was put under South West Thames regional health authority. It is now attempting to make itself into a trust.

There is the ludicrous position of the director of the London ambulance service seeming to be remarkably reluctant to meet Members of Parliament, never mind replying to correspondence from Members of Parliament concerning their legitimate fears about the ambulance service. When I met him 18 months ago, he told me that much of the ambulance service was now commercially confidential because of the tendering system. It is nonsense for the director of a major service on which the people of London rely to tell a Member of Parliament, "Sorry, I cannot answer your questions because of commercial confidentiality." That is wholly wrong.

The London ambulance service has also managed to get rid of £3 million on a computer system that does not work, and that is now the subject of an inquiry. A further £3 million is to be spent on a replacement. The 14th report of the Public Accounts Committee was heavily critical of the performance of the London ambulance service, and rightly so. The improvements that the Committee and London Members have looked for simply have not happened.

I will give a few facts before giving the Minister sufficient time to reply. I recognise that as a Home Office Minister, it will be difficult for him to answer all the questions about the ambulance service. I hope that he will be good enough to pass on what I have said to his colleagues in the Department of Health who should be able to answer the points.

In 1990, as an average, 76 per cent. of all emergency 999 calls to the London ambulance service were answered within 14 minutes. The national Orcon standard requires a response time of 95 per cent. within 14 minutes. For the first quarter of 1991, 66 per cent. of such calls were met within 14 minutes, so the situation got worse. In the second quarter, the figure improved slightly to 73 per cent. and in the third quarter, 68 per cent. were answered within 14 minutes. There are 2,000 calls per day, so that means that more than 600 emergency calls a day are not met within the nationally required times.

The ambulance service may reasonably say that the problem is a product of traffic and other factors. It is indeed a product of traffic, but it is also a product of inadequate vehicles, insufficient staff and insufficient funding for the service. Last weekend, 14 and 15 December, was a terrible weekend for weather. There was heavy fog, icy roads and very dangerous conditions. It is in just such circumstances that the ambulance service is more in demand than at any other time, yet one fifth of the vehicles were off the road because they did not work, because there were no drivers for them or because they were too old.

Does my hon. Friend agree that not only are the vehicles generally greatly inadequate, but the new vehicles that are being forced on some areas are inadequate in terms of safety for the ambulance personnel driving them? That is especially true in my own area of Brixton.

My hon. Friend makes a valuable point. The financial problems of the ambulance service are serious. I understand that some vehicles are now being forced to run for 16 hours a day, which means that there is insufficient time for basic maintenance and repair work on them. The vehicles are being run into the ground.

In reply to an Adjournment debate on 18 April 1991, which was initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing), the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health announced expenditure of £3·5 million on new vehicles, as reported in column 672 of Hansard. Only 60 have been bought and none has been bought since April. They are not safe vehicles in the opinion of members of the National Union of Public Employees and of the Confederation of Health Service Employees who drive them. They held a meeting yesterday with the Health and Safety Executive so that they could express their concerns. They have two major concerns. First, there is no bulkhead door between the cab and the back of the ambulance. That is dangerous for the person in the back, because in the areas that my hon. Friend and I represent, tragically, attacks on ambulance personnel are common. I deplore and condemn those attacks, but they do occur as a result of drug-taking, drunkenness and so on.

Secondly, the vehicles have only one stretcher space. Therefore, at a stroke, the purchase of new vehicles has halved the ambulance service's capacity to carry emergency cases. In addition, the transmission system has been changed from automatic gearboxes, which give a smoother run. are easier to drive and are better and safer for patients, to manual gearboxes, which are much more difficult to drive and give passengers a rougher ride. That is important to patients with spinal injuries.

We are approaching Christmas when there is, tragically, great demand on the ambulance service because the number of accidents increases as a result of drunken driving and so on. I hope that the ambulance service gets through. I hope that it copes. I know that the staff will do their best. I wish that the Government would do their best to fund the ambulance service properly and that the senior management would do their best to get decent vehicles so that the dedication of the staff can be properly rewarded.

I am tired of hearing complaints after every major festival and holiday in London that the ambulance service could not cope. The ambulance service could cope if it were given the tools with which to do the job properly. We salute the quality of the staff every time there is a major disaster. Let us recognise that dedication and ensure that they have proper equipment to do the job and that we have an accountable service in London once again.

2.15 pm

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

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms. Hoey) on securing this debate and I am grateful to her for raising the important subject of the provision of fire cover in London. I join her and the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in paying tribute to the vital work done by the emergency services in London.

This is a timely occasion for a debate on the fire service in view of the fact that the London fire and civil defence authority has just reached decisions on the future provision of fire cover in the capital and put forward for the approval of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposals for reductions in the number of fire-fighting appliances at certain stations and for the closure of Sanderstead fire station.

The statutory responsibility for providing an effective and efficient fire brigade in London, and thus the responsibility for assessing fire risks and the deployment of resources to meet them, rests with the authority. However, my right hon. Friend is concerned to ensure that fire authorities comply with the nationally recommended minimum standards of fire cover mentioned by the hon. Lady to which I shall come later.

The fire service in England and Wales costs more than £1 billion per year. Like other local government services, it is funded through revenue support grant and non-domestic rates, which together make up some 85 per cent. of fire authorities' expenditure, and the community charge. The Government are concerned to ensure that the way in which those sums are spent represents good value for money.

That is why, in 1985, the Home Office invited all fire authorities in England and Wales to review the fire risks in their areas and the resources necessary to meet them. The chief fire officer of the London fire brigade completed his review earlier this year. The proposals in the review were given extensive publicity in an extremely thorough consultation exercise by the authority with the public, London borough councils, adjacent county councils and other relevant organisations. The authority has kept the fire service trade unions, the National Association of Fire Officers and the Fire Brigades Union closely in touch with developments since the review began.

If my right hon. Friend is to give his approval to those proposals, he will need to be satisfied, on the professional advice of Her Majesty's inspectorate of fire services, that the London fire and civil defence authority will continue to meet the nationally recommended minimum standards of fire cover. He will not be prepared to agree to any reductions that would reduce standards of fire cover below those agreed minima.

Proposals to close fire stations or to reduce the number of operational fire fighters or fire-fighting appliances can raise important and sensitive local issues. The concerns expressed while the report has been developing and the implications of some proposals for standards of fire cover are well understood by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary who will take those factors into account when deciding whether to approve the authority's proposals. He will also want to allow adequate time for hon. Members to make further representations to him now that the authority has formally submitted its proposals.

Patterns of fire risk change over time and it is important regularly to reassess them to ensure that fire authorities continue to meet their statutory responsibilities and do so efficiently. I understand the concern about the implications of the recommended changes, but the Home Secretary will not approve reductions that would result in unacceptable levels of public protection.

The hon. Member for Vauxhall spoke about financing. The fire service in England and Wales costs well over £1 billion each year and the London fire and civil defence authority costs more than £200 million annually. We are anxious to ensure that the fire service, like any other public service, operates efficiently and with sufficient resources. That means ensuring that the resources are accurately targeted to where they are most needed. Fire service resources are largely determined by fire risks, and patterns of risk change. Therefore, the deployment of fire service resources needs to be reviewed regularly.

The hon. Lady complained about capital restraints on the fire service in London. The fire service share of total local authority standard spending in England in 1992–93 will be 8 per cent. higher than in the present year. The London fire and civil defence authority standard spending assessment for 1991–92 is £226·8 milion. Its provisional standard spending assessment next year is £242·4 million, an increase of 6·9 per cent. That compares with an increase last month in fire fighters' pay, which is the main constituent of fire authorities' expenditure, of 5·6 per cent. The increase for next year is on top of an increase of over 16 per cent. for this year. Both those increases have been above the rate of inflation and demonstrate the Government's desire to have an effective fire service.

Decisions on the total provisions for the fire service took account of additional burdens for fire prevention. The hon. Lady specifically mentioned non-fire services. Such services are provided at the discretion of the fire authority and the hon. Lady was right to say that the SSA distribution formula does not include an indicator for them. The overall resources provided for the fire service allow non-fire services to be carried out extremely well. Authorities may charge for those services, but obviously do not do so when such services are carried out in the course of attending an emergency.

The hon. Lady spoke about pension increases. That cost is not peculiar to the London authority. We are aware of concern that provision for expenditure on pensions is increasing at a rate higher than that of inflation. Additional pensions burdens were taken into account in reaching decisions on the fire service share of total standard spending. While the Government are always prepared to consider sensible proposals for changes to the standard spending assessment distributional mechanism, we are not convinced that a special indicator for pensions is yet necessary.

On capital expenditure, the London fire and civil defence authority's basic credit approval for 1992–93 was issued yesterday. It is £8·2 million, 4·1 per cent. above the approval for the current year of £7·9 million. Requirements for additional resources for fire service capital provision have to compete in each year's public expenditure survey with other new requirements, and at a time of continuing pressure on public expenditure it was not possible to allocate any more than this to the London authority. I am aware that the authority hopes to spend more than this next year and increase its capital programme in some of the ways mentioned by the hon. Lady. Basic credit approvals are not the only source of provision for capital expenditure. The authority may decide, in the light of its priorities, to contribute to capital provision from revenue expenditure, and it may use a proportion of any capital receipts.

We propose also, subject to the views of local authority associations, to issue £5 million additional provision nationally next year, in the form of supplementary credit approvals—for the specific purpose of expenditure on replacement mobilisation and communications systems.

The hon. Member for Islington, North mentioned risk categories, which were most recently assessed by the joint committee on standards of fire services in 1985. Buildings and complexes that are particularly at risk can be designated special risks, commanding initial attendance higher than that appropriate for the surrounding area.

There has been a particular request for a change in the formula for urban C risk. The Association of Metropolitan Authorities put to the Home Office a proposal that areas currently designated C risk should be divided into urban C and rural C—both with enhanced attendance standards, but with a requirement for an initial attendance of two appliances to fires in areas of urban C, as against the current requirement for one appliance in eight to 10 minutes.

That proposal would entail substantial additional resources for the fire service in England and Wales. We are considering that proposal, but the 1985 joint committee concluded that a formal split of the C risk category into two new categories was unnecessary, as 82 per cent. of fire brigades in England and Wales have a policy of mobilising two appliances to property fires in areas of C risk. However, the question of risk level is currently under examination.

The hon. Member for Islington, North raised the important question of the London ambulance service. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged in this remarks that the Department of Health is in the lead, but I admire the agility with which he properly used the debate to raise the subject. Although the hon. Gentleman very politely gave me notice of the various issues that he might raise in this debate, I had little time in which to acquaint myself with them. I will, however, do as the hon. Gentleman asked, and draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Health.

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that when the London ambulance service board was established in 1990, it was confronted by a number of serious and pressing issues, including low staff morale following an industrial dispute, acute staff shortages, high absenteeism, top-heavy management, poor industrial relations, an absence of reliable and meaningful management information, and failure to meet recommended standards of service.

To improve what the London ambulance service itself regarded as a totally unacceptable call answering problem in central ambulance control, the board took steps to improve staffing and the system for dealing with emergency calls. It commissioned a computer-aided dispatch system to speed the handling of and response to emergency calls, and new staffing rotas were arranged to reflect known peak demand times. Management introduced various initiatives to combat absenteeism, and to improve recruitment and retention levels in the service generally. Sickness levels have fallen by nearly 2 per cent. since December 1990, and a further 19 control room staff are being recruited.

I repeat that I will ensure that the many points raised by the hon. Gentleman on which I cannot comment will reach the ears of my hon. Friend the Minister for Health. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Vauxhall for making possible this debate, and to the hon. Member for Islington, North for extending it.

It being half-past Two o'clock the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.



That Mr. Nicholas Baker, Sir Anthony Grant, Mr. Bruce Grocott, Mr. David Harris, Kate Hoey, Mr. Robert G. Hughes, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mr. John MacGregor, Mr. Humfrey Malins, Mr. Merlyn Rees and Mr. John P. Smith be members of the Select Committee on Broadcasting.—[Mr. Neil Hamilton.]

Hampton Court Green

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn—[Mr. Neil Hamilton.]

2.30 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the subject of Hampton Court green in my constituency. This has long been a beautiful, cherished and treasured public open space. It is valued by visitors, passers by and residents within my constituency at Hampton Court, Hampton Wick, Hampton Hill, Hampton and surrounding areas. My hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor), whose East Molesey constituents nearby enjoy the use of Hampton Court green, asks to be associated with my remarks.

Hampton Court green is a royal property which is now the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, exercised through its Historic Royal Palaces Agency. There is an increasing tendency to use the green for parking. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a petition from local residents, which reads as follows:
"We the undersigned local residents and members of the public note with deep concern the decision of the Hampton Court administrators to use The Hampton Court green for car parking in connection with commercial ventures at Hampton Court Palace. This use is fast becoming an established practice—with the subsequent deprivation of the local residents and the public at large of the free enjoyment of this long established unspoilt open green space.
We wish to express our grave fears that, in the absence of any specific assurance to the contrary, the Palace administrators tend increasingly to view The Green as merely an adjunct to Hampton Court Palace with minimal regard to its intrinsic value as a local amenity which enhances this beautiful historic area.
We consider that such use is not necessary for the efficient and successful management of Hampton Court Palace which is an important local amenity as well as a national institution.
We therefore call on you to take urgent steps to build into the present policies and terms of reference clear and unmistakeable safeguards to define the permanent status of The Green as an area of public recreation and enjoyment and to prohibit its use at any time for car parking."
I must declare an interest. For the past 22 years, I have lived on the edge of Hampton Court green. But the fact that I live there does not mean that my neighbours, who are also my constituents and who also live there, should expect any greater or less a service from me as their Member of Parliament in the protection of their environment than any other constituents—for example, if somebody decided to park cars all over Twickenham green. I know that that point will be understood by the House and accepted by the Department of the Environment.

Government policy is to protect open space, whether in urban or rural areas. That includes greens, village greens and commons. The protection of open space does not just mean keeping buildings off them. It also means upholding their character and keeping them open and free from clutter of any kind. In upholding that Government policy, the Government should set an example to local authorities where the Government themselves own parks, open spaces, commons or greens.

At Hampton Court green this task has been delegated to the Historic Royal Palaces Agency, but the agency is clearly responsible to Parliament, as set out in its own annual review for 1990–91, which states on page 6:
"The Secretary of State for the Environment is accountable to Parliament for the agency's policy, operations and resources."
There is no doubt whatever that the Government are answerable to Parliament for the management of the green.

Furthermore, the question of parking on the green cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be said to be merely a matter of day-to-day administrative detail. Whether or not the green is used for parking on a major scale is basic to the whole character and existence of the green.

I estimate that in the spring and summer of 1990 Hampton Court green was covered with car parking, fairs and their paraphernalia for more than 40 days. That is far too much. My constituents do not accept it; nor do the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Esher. I do not accept it. It makes a deep inroad into the character of the green, it is in conflict with Government policy, and it ought to be drastically curtailed. The problem is that the Historic Palaces Agency also manages Hampton Court palace. This palace is a great national treasure and a vital part of our national heritage.

I am aware, Mr. Speaker, that a member of your family is a distinguished real tennis player on Henry VIII's historic court there, that you go to Hampton Court from time to time and that you therefore recognise the great value of Hampton Court palace. The agency has been asked to increase the revenue of the palace and to decrease its enormous running losses. They are exceedingly heavy, due to the fact that Hampton Court palace is a very big and very old building. The agency has also been given responsibility for Hampton Court green.

Therein lies the difficulty. The green would have been better protected if, like the adjacent Bushey park, it had remained, like the other royal parks, under the royal parks bailiff. As it is, the agency and the palace administration seem to view the green as a satellite to the palace that can be used and even sacrificed in the interests of the palace.

Unlike other village greens, it has neither the protection of any local authority, as common land, nor the protection of the Department of the Environment, through its royal parks department. When the agency was established it seems to have been given no clear or specific instructions about the protection of the green. Either instructions of that kind should now be given to the agency or the green should be removed from the responsibility of the Historic Royal Palaces Agency and put under the protection of some other part of the Department of the Environment so that its character as a green can be preserved.

What has angered local residents is that since the agency was set up two or three years ago the green has been used as a public car park for up to 2,000 cars when commercial events to do with the palace have been staged. In July 1990 and July 1991 there were five-day flower shows in Hampton Court park, also known as Home park, Hampton Court, on the Kingston side of the palace. The description "flower show" is a little misleading. It was only about one third to do with flowers, while the other two thirds were devoted to the sale of other bits and pieces connected with gardening.

Only 5,000 cars were parked in Home park where there is room—out of sight behind walls and closer to the site of the flower show—for very many more cars, provided that the parking is well organised, which this year it was not. The congestion had a severe impact. The parking, as well as the traffic, needlessly damaged the environment of the people who live in the area and who suffered from it.

In June this year, parking was allowed all over the green for the quincentenary of the birth of King Henry VIII in 1491. Again, the cars should have been parked in Home park. I hope that the Minister will confirm that that was a one-off episode for the green.

Fairs, however, are traditional, time-honoured and accepted. One expects fairs to take place on greens. That is quite different from using Hampton Court green as a car park for an event being held in a different place. Each year, there are three traditional fairs on the bank holiday Mondays at Easter, Whitsun and the end of August. Each time, the green is covered with fair paraphernalia and clobber for 10 or 11 days. Fairs are allowed to bring all that in on the Monday before, be open for five days from the Friday until the following Tuesday of the bank holiday weekend, and have to move off on the Wednesday.

Whatever has been allowed in the past, that is far too long. I ask my hon. Friend the Minister to request the Historic Royal Palaces Agency to impose a far stricter timetable on the fair proprietors, and then to see it enforced. Although the Historic Royal Palaces Agency sounds like an independent body such as a quango or nationalised board, it is not. It consists of civil servants in the Department of the Environment, to whom certain work has been delegated.

Next, the so-called craft fair each September is in no sense a traditional fair. There are no roundabouts, no big wheels, no dodgems, no Punch and Judy shows and no skittles. It is a relatively recent addition. It consists of shops on the green. It is not right that a public open space—a village green—should be used to set up shops, whether in parades or tents, and then to excuse it by calling it a "fair". If it continues—I hope that it will not—I hope that it will be most tightly controlled and that controls will be applied and enforced as to the number of days it is open, the number of days on which equipment can stay on the green, the volume of piped music and of announcements, and that shopkeepers setting up shops on the green should not be allowed to park their vehicles on the green at all—certainly not in the chaotic manner which took place this year under the chestnut trees, to the damage of the environment and close to houses where people live.

I remind my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State of the name of his Department. I want him to tell me exactly what the Department of the Environment intends to do to protect the environment of Hampton Court green.

Finally, before I sit down, may I be allowed to wish you, Mr. Speaker, and Mrs. Weatherill a very happy Christmas and thank you for all that you do for us all.

2.42 pm

I am delighted to have the opportunity to respond to the debate introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), in which he has focused on progress and developments at Hampton Court palace and, in particular, on the use of Hampton Court green.

My hon. Friend is not only well known on both sides of the House and outside as a most vigorous champion of the interests of his constituents but has been extremely energetic in pursuing the points that he has made on the Floor of the House. He has been in consultation with the Minister of State, Department of the Environment, Baroness Blatch, and is therefore already aware of the close attention that my Department has been giving the issues that he raised.

Hampton Court palace, with its gardens, Home park, to which my hon. Friend referred, and Hampton Court green, is one of the palaces of the Historic Royal Palaces Agency, which was established on 1 October 1989 as an executive agency within my Department and under the Government's "next steps" initiative. "Next steps" agencies are different from Government Departments. They have been designed to give them more freedom in their operations and day-to-day management than would be possible if they remained directly within the functions of a Government Department. Although some of the staff may have been civil servants, it would not be true to say that the agencies are staffed exclusively by civil servants.

The Historic Royal Palaces Agency was set up with three aims: to improve the experience of visitors to the palaces, to preserve the palaces to the highest possible standards and to provide a more efficient and effective quality of service. Those aims determine the philosophy, approach and action programme of the agency of focusing on three needs: first, the needs of the buildings and estates themselves and the importance of conserving them for future generations; secondly, the needs of today's visitors who expect—rightly—a service of improving quality and a new approach to the presentation of the palaces which is intended to bring them alive in an historically authoritative way; and thirdly, the needs of the taxpayer who, understandably, is looking for improvements in effectiveness and a reduction in the level of public spending on the upkeep of magnificent palaces.

Since the agency was launched two years ago, significant improvements have been made against all three of those requirements and more are planned for the future. The chief executive, Mr. David Beeton, and his management team have provided a focus for the management of these palaces. Their energy and commitment have set in hand a programme of work more ambitious than has been contemplated for some time. It has all been made possible through the work of the "next steps" philosophy which is one of delegated accountability.

The aims of the agency are established by Ministers——

This is all very valuable information to do with the palaces, but my debate is specifically on Hampton Court green. Can the Minister say whether the agency has been given any terms of reference about what it is to do to maintain the green and its character?

I am coming to the green. As my hon. Friend generously allowed me rather more than my share of the available time, I thought that it would be helpful if I put what I was about to say in the context of the Government's overall strategy for the "next steps" agency, a point on which my my hon. Friend touched when introducing the debate. However, I was about to deal with the green.

The aims of this agency and others are established by Ministers who remain accountable for them in this House, but the day-to-day responsibility for management decisions—in this case, for the palaces—which are necessary to achieve those aims rest with the chief executive. That is set out in the framework document for historic royal palaces which was published on 1 October 1989.

I and my colleagues are fully committed to the "next steps" principles of delegated accountability. Local management matters must be left to chief executives who are accountable for them, but I welcome the chance to provide the House with some additional insight into the operations of Hampton Court palace and to respond in particular to my hon. Friend's concerns.

I shall deal first with the Hampton Court green. I appreciate what a close personal interest my hon. Friend has in the green, living as he does adjacent to it. It is an open space of about 18 hectares. It is bordered by the palace gardens which cover 27 hectares and by Home park which covers 223 hectares and it adjoins Bushey park which covers 445 hectares. Therefore, the neighbourhood is generally supplied with open spaces of various kinds.

As with all the other areas, the green is subject to the royal parks regulations. It has been managed alongside Hampton Court gardens and Home park to which my hon. Friend has referred. The tarmacked car park which is located on a small part of the green—and has been for many decades—has for some time been used as a coach park and as the overflow car park for Hampton Court palace. As I understand it. my hon. Friend is not objecting to the continued use of that as a car park——

It is on the site of a former Army barracks. Therefore, it has never been an open space and it should not be quoted in order to justify any other parking on any other part of the green.

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's warning, but I had no intention of quoting it for that purpose.

The green has been traditionally used for a variety of temporary functions and events, some of which my hon. Friend mentioned. I believe that a traditional fair—I am not certain whether it has the requisite number of roundabouts or side shows—has been held on the green for up to three times a year since the turn of the century, and dates back to before the agency was established.

In addition, before the agency was established, an annual craft fair was allowed on the green in 1988. Those two fairs mean that the green is currently used for events on about 39 days in any year. That statistic precedes the agency's creation. Since the establishment of the agency the green has been used for five further days for parking for the international flower show in Home park and for three evenings for parking for a midsummer masquerade held in Hampton Court gardens in June 1991. Of the annual usage, only five days and three evenings have resulted from events organised since the establishment of the agency. I appreciate that there has been an increase over the previous traditional usage.

I hope that my hon. Friend will not treat the craft fair, which started in 1988, as a traditional usage.

It is clearly not a traditional usage in the same sense as the other fairs that have been held throughout the century, but it is important in the context of my hon. Friend's concerns about the agency to say that the craft fair started more than a year before the agency was established.

The use of Hampton Court and its estate for such events is entirely in line with policy in other royal parks. Parks are for open-air enjoyment and recreation, and can also facilitate programmes of special events such as fun runs and Pavarotti concerts. The use of Hampton Court green for short-term parking is seen as necessary to support those special events at Hampton Court palace and gardens.

I have noted carefully what my hon. Friend said about restricting parking on the green and assure him that I shall bear in mind the comments which he expressed forcefully. I know that the agency and its management would want to balance the very proper pursuit of revenue-generating activities, which we encourage and which form an important part of their overall objectives, against any activity that may cause widespread concern within the local community.

The protection of open space, to which my hon. Friend referred, is an important objective of the Government, but it is not the only one. There are some occasions when the temporary use of open space for another purpose, whether parking or anything else, may be an essential means to facilitate additional objectives that the Government also consider high priorities and which enable large numbers of the community to enjoy and share in activities which would otherwise be impossible to stage. I am not absolutely convinced that the additional eight days of usage on top of the 39 days established usage before the agency commenced necessarily constitute the enormous change that I think my hon. Friend may have been suggesting. However, I shall certainly bear his points in mind.

I think that my hon. Friend asked whether we could reduce the amount of time that the traditional fair, which has run from the turn of the century, spends on the green. It takes a long time to set up and dismantle that fair, but I can assure my hon. Friend that that time has not increased during recent years and is in line with the contract conditions. The agency is not aware of any occasion on which the traditional fair has stayed beyond the time allowed under the contract. Had it been aware of any such instance, it would have taken vigorous steps to ensure that the terms of the contract were met. The three-year contract for the traditional fair has expired and is up for renewal. The agency will take careful account of the health and safety requirements for the inspection of any fairground equipment used and will be seeking to reduce the number of days required to set up and dismantle that fair. As my hon. Friend knows, in response to a request from him, the agency has already reviewed the length of time required for setting up the craft fair and has managed to reduce it by one day this summer.

As my hon. Friend knows far better than I, most of the use of Hampton Court green is related to the traditional fair, which is provided essentially for the enjoyment and benefit of local residents. My hon. Friend will be sensitive to the likely public reaction to any suggestion that the fair should be entirely discontinued. Other functions and events at the palace account for a few more days' usage and the provision of car parking on the green will continue to be needed for those purposes. I cannot, therefore, hold out to my hon. Friend the prospect of an instruction from the Government requiring those arrangements to end, but, as I have assured him, we will keep an eye on the situation. We believe that those functions and events are central to the core business of the agency—perhaps more so than the traditional fair. The midsummer masquerade organised last summer brought thousands of local people to the palace to enjoy its unique atmosphere and historic gardens, in a way that was consistent with the aims that Ministers have set for the agency. The palace was brought alive on those evenings, which were not only educational but extremely valuable.

I hope that my hon. Friend will feel that his concerns are being carefully noted. We shall, of course, continue to pay the closest possible attention to any criticisms that he has of the way in which the green is being used and I shall certainly reflect carefully on his comments about the disadvantages of using the green for such purposes. I hope that the green will continue to facilitate—without damage—the enjoyment of activities that would not otherwise take place.

As this is the last debate before Christmas, my hon. Friend took the opportunity to wish you, Mr. Speaker, and your family a very happy Christmas. We have been debating Hampton Court. Christmas is the one time of the year when, even at the end of the 20th century, some of us may enjoy meals of a style perhaps more traditional in Henry VIII's day, when I understand a feast-day dinner would normally comprise up to 10 courses, commencing with items such as venison pies, baked carp in wine with prunes, followed by boiled mutton, swan, cock, roast boar with a pudding and, finally, cream of almonds, wafers and marzipan. I believe that your personal tastes, Mr. Speaker, are somewhat more ascetic than that, but I am sure that that will in no way detract from the enjoyment that you and your family have during the next three weeks. I wish you and my hon. Friend the compliments of the season and hope that my hon. Friend will he able to enjoy a peaceful stroll across Hampton Court green on Christmas morning without bumping into too many parked cars.

If it is in order, Mr. Speaker I shall make use of the two minutes that remain to us.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for his reply and in particular his indication that, when the contracts for the fairground proprietors for the bank holiday fairs come to be renewed, the number of days on which they are allowed to leave their plant on the green could be reduced. That is the only concession that my hon. Friend has made so far.

On the craft fair, I ought perhaps to have given the Minister notice of my point that the shopkeepers were parking their cars on the green and that that ought to be stopped. Will my hon. Friend say whether he can have that matter looked at to see whether the practice can be curtailed, as it has been causing some annoyance? This year the craft fair was not completely removed on the day on which it ought to have been removed—whatever official letters flying to and fro may have said.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to Henry VIII and the consumption of swans. I hope that he will not mention that when he comes to my constituency, although, on other grounds, he will be welcome in view of his very helpful planning decision against the construction of a Marks and Spencer shop in the riverside part of Twickenham earlier this year. I hope that he will keep quiet on the subject of the consumption of swans, which are highly valued along the River Thames and which my constituents do not want to be eaten on Christmas day or any other day of the year.

Before I adjourn the House for Christmas, I wish, on my account and on behalf of my Deputies, to express my warm thanks to the Officers and Staff of the House who serve us in such a devoted way throughout the year. To the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel), to the Minister and to the Whip, the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), I express my warm thanks for their good wishes to me, which I return in full measure. I wish them and all Members of the House a very happy Christmas.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Three o'clock, till Monday 13 January 1992, pursuant to the Resolution of the House of 12 December.