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Orders Of The Day

Volume 201: debated on Monday 13 January 1992

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Nurses, Midwives And Health Visitors Bill Lords

Order for Second Reading, read.

5.6 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill, which was introduced in this House on 10 December, constitutes an important landmark in the history of the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions. Its main purpose, in brief, is to change the constitution and functions of the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting and the four national boards for nursing, midwifery and health visiting.

The five statutory bodies were set up under the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979. Prior to that, there had been a number of bodies in all four countries regulating either whole professions or specific aspects of training. The new statutory framework aimed to bring those bodies together, to establish common standards of education and training and professional conduct throughout the United Kingdom and to establish a single United Kingdom register for nurses, midwives and health visitors. It sought fully to establish the principle of professional self-regulation for the three professions. Those are important principles, which are reflected, and indeed further developed, in the current Bill.

Under the 1979 Act, the UKCC was established as the single United Kingdom corporate body, responsible for establishing and improving standards of training; maintaining a register of qualified practitioners; and determining whether a practitioner should be removed from the register.

The national boards were set up as autonomous corporate bodies in the four countries, with responsibility for making provision for nurse, midwifery and health visiting education and training in line with UKCC requirements, for arranging examinations, for collaborating with the UKCC in the promotion of improved training method, and for carrying out initial investigations in cases of alleged misconduct.

In 1987, a review of the central council and the national boards was commissioned by the four United Kingdom Health Departments as part of the regular Treasury programme of reviews of non-departmental public bodies. It was carried out between December 1988 and March 1989 by Peat Marwick McLintock. The review team produced a radical set of recommendations, and its report was issued for consultation in August 1989. On 4 February 1991, the Secretary of State announced the Government's decisions on the Peat Marwick McLintock recommendations, and indicated our intention to introduce legislation as soon as possible to implement those decisions.

The purpose of the legislation would be to change the constitution of the central council from a body the majority of whose members are nominated by the national boards, to a body the majority of whose members are elected by the professions to whom they are responsible. It would change the constitution of the four national boards for nursing, midwifery and health visiting from elected to appointed bodies. It would remove the role of the national boards in managing and financing the provision of nursing, midwifery and health visiting education and training, in line with the principles of the NHS reforms. That function would be devolved to health authorities, with the exception of Northern Ireland, where the existing arrangements would continue to apply. It would centralise all professional conduct investigations at the council, avoiding duplication of effort and rationalising this important function. Unnecessary delays in this sensitive aspect of the council's work are distressing for all those involved and are certainly uncalled for.

What are the Government's plans for section 32 of the General Whitley Council appeals procedures? Some months ago, the Government expressed an intention to do away with the scheme, but there is no mention of that in the Bill.

Section 32 has nothing to do with the Bill. We want to find a way of tackling the question of section 32, which is cumbersome and causes much delay and unnecessary ill will. We should like to make progress in talks with the staff side and the unions, but the hon. Lady will appreciate that section 32 has nothing to do with this important Bill, which deals with the regulation of nurses, midwives and health visitors.

Much thought and discussion has gone into the Bill. In principle, it is not controversial but is a highly sensitive matter for the profession, which is the backbone of the health service.

Will the changes that the Minister is referring to have any impact on Project 2000? Nurses are being denied the opportunity to take part in that project because of regional differences, particularly in my constituency. Will the Bill allow those nurses to take part in Project 2000?

If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, rather than answer interventions in an ad hoc manner I shall make an announcement about Project 2000 later. The project has been a major success of the Government. We shall announce additional funding, which will mean that, since its establishment, we will have spent more than £205 million on this important new form of nurse training.

Immediately after my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement about the plans that we intended to carry forward on the basis of the Peat Marwick report, we established a legislation advisory group and gave it the remit of considering in detail what changes will be required to the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act to give effect to the Government's decisions on the recommendations. The group comprised representatives of the four United Kingdom health departments, the UKCC and the national boards.

I want to pay tribute to the work of the group. It met five times between March and September last year, and I was pleased to meet its representatives earlier in the autumn to discuss the outstanding issues that have emerged from its work. I think that it is fair to say that there is virtual unanimity on the legislative proposals that are enshrined in the Bill. I want to pay tribute to the constructive and valuable contribution that the statutory bodies and professional organisations representing nurses, midwives and health visitors have made to the development of our proposals. Without their co-operation, we would not have been able to move as fast as we have.

Before outlining the provisions of the Bill in more detail, I must underline, for the benefit of the House, a point that ministerial colleagues and I have made in other settings. The fact that there will no longer be a centrally top-sliced budget for nursing and midwifery education and training, distributed by the national boards, does not detract from the Government's commitment to ensure that adequate provision is made for education and training.

We have made it clear that we expect the regional health authorities in England to establish protected budgets for pre and post registration training for nurses, midwives and health visitors and that we are developing mechanisms to ensure that those budgets are monitored at the centre. This year, we are spending about £770 million on pre and post-registration nurse education and training. Next year—1992–93—the figure will rise to £870 million. That is a practical demonstration of the Government's commitment to invest in the major work force of the national health service.

I am sure, therefore, that the Minister will make it clear that, if regional authorities do not comply with the suggestion that they should provide adequate education, the Government will not only take sanctions but will write into the Bill the ability to take sanctions.

I do not think the hon. Lady will be surprised to hear that I am not prepared to write that into the Bill. We shall take steps to ensure that the substantial resources that are invested in nurse education and training, pre-registration and post-registration, continue and develop. Indeed, not so long ago I was able to visit the nurse training college in the hon. Lady's constituency and was most impressed by its work.

We are dependent on the skills, contribution and commitment of those who work in the health service to provide high-quality patient care. Our commitment to patient care relies on the long-term supply of well qualified staff. As a tangible example of our commitment to training and investing in nurse education, I can announce extra resources for Project 2000, to which the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) referred.

I announced today that we shall make a further £98 million available in 1992–93 for the further implementation of Project 2000. That is a large increase on last year's £71 million and shows our commitment to the initiative. That £71 million was almost double the amount of money that was available the previous year. The major part of the money will be needed for the ongoing cost of the 49 schemes that already provide Project 2000 training. Sixty-two per cent. of nursing schools have Project 2000 courses, and we intend, with those resources, to ensure a further development of colleges where Project 2000 courses are available.

We shall make an announcement in April when we have consulted further. Since 1988, we have invested £207 million in Project 2000, which is a practical and clear commitment to ensuring that we have the nurses that we need for today and tomorrow.

I appreciate the opportunity to make a further point on this matter, because it is important to a constituent of mine who has applied for a Project 2000 course but has been denied it. Will the anomalies in the Project 2000 scheme be removed by the changes that the Minister is referring to? That is important to practising nurses.

The hon. Gentleman may wish to write to me with the details of the college to which he is referring.

Since 1988, 62 per cent. of nursing schools in England—more than 29,000 nursing places—have been able to change to Project 2000 courses. I regard that as rapid progress and a considerable achievement, and I am pleased to inform the House and the hon. Member for Normanton that we have made available further resources to continue that process of change. I hope that the college to which he is referring will be one of those that joins the new Project 2000 courses.

I shall now go through the Bill in detail. Clause 1 increases the maximum membership of the central council from 45 to 60 and specifies that two thirds of the membership shall be elected, rather than nominated by the national boards as at present, under an approved electoral scheme. The remaining members are to be appointed by the Secretary of State, bearing in mind the need to secure that the members of the council shall include representatives of the three professions of nursing, midwifery and health visiting, and representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom.

The increase in the maximum membership takes into account the increased work load which will be placed on members by the future role and responsibilities of the council, in particular the centralising of all professional conduct investigations at the council. The fact that the majority of members will in future be elected by the professions to which the council is answerable reinforces the principle that the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions should be fully self-regulating. It means that these professions have come of age in terms of self-regulation.

Clause 2 requires the council to submit proposals with respect to the overall numbers of the council, and an electoral scheme, to the Secretary of State for approval within six months of the Bill being enacted. That reflects the principle that as many detailed matters as possible with regard to the constitution and procedures of the council should be for the professions themselves to determine, acting through the council.

Clause 3 amends the Secretary of State's powers to constitute new standing committees. In future, such committees may be constituted only at the request of the council. The clause places on the council the responsibility of determining the need for a new standing committee and, at the same time, draws specific attention to the requirement placed on the council, in determining whether to make such a request, to have regard to the interests of all groups in the professions which it regulates.

Clause 4 provides for the non-executive members of a national board to be appointed by the Secretary of State rather than elected, as at present. In future, the national boards will be smaller executive bodies with a more limited role and function, directly accountable to the Secretary of State. The clause also provides for certain officers appointed by the boards to be ex officio members of the boards.

Clause 5 amends the functions of the national boards by specifying that they shall approve institutions which provide courses of training for nurses, midwives and health visitors rather than providing or arranging for others to provide courses at the institutions that they have approved. That latter function will in future, as I have already explained, be discharged by health authorities, except in Northern Ireland where clause 5(3) ensures that the role of the national board can continue as at present. The clause also removes from the boards their disciplinary investigation functions, so that professional conduct matters will in future be the sole responsibility of the council. That step is well understood and is important in streamlining the disciplinary functions.

Clause 6 abolishes standing committees of the national boards, joint committees of the council and the boards, and the board's local training committees. Standing committees and local training committees will no longer be appropriate for the smaller executive bodies the boards will become, and the clear differentiation between the roles of the council and the boards will render joint committees redundant.

Clauses 7, 8 and 9 relate to the professional conduct and fitness to practise and will add welcome elements of flexibility to the council's existing powers. Clause 7 gives the council a power to suspend the names of nurses, midwives or health visitors from the professional register held by the council. That is an important step, and is in addition to the present power to remove them from the register. It is intended that the power will be used where a nurse, midwife or health visitor is deemed by the health committee of the council to be unfit, for medical reasons, to practise. The professions have welcomed that power.

Clause 8 allows the committees of the council which deal with proceedings for removal and suspension from the register, to have a minority of members who are not members of the council. That will obviously assist the council greatly in dealing with the additional committee work consequent on the centralisation of all professional conduct investigations at the council. There will be a work load, and to discharge it effectively sufficient numbers will be needed to undertake these great responsibilities.

Clause 9 was introduced following useful discussion in another place. It puts it beyond any possible doubt that rules in relation to proceedings which might lead to removal from the register can make provisions about the giving by the appropriate committees of cautions as to future conduct. There was some debate about whether the powers already existed or whether they should be written into the legislation. In view of the great uncertainty on the matter, we decided it was fair to write them into the legislation. It is another important midway step to improve the mechanisms at their disposal.

It is envisaged that the rules will provide for such cautions to be given in cases where professional misconduct has been established, but is not deemed sufficiently serious to warrant complete removal from the register.

Clauses 10 to 12 are concerned with midwifery practice. Clause 10 removes the requirement for the council to consult the national boards before acting on any report from the council's midwifery committee on proposals regarding midwifery practice rules—an amendment which stems from the fact that the national boards themselves will no longer have statutory standing midwifery committees.

Since the council will in future be solely responsible for midwifery practice rules and their enforcement through the professional conduct mechanism, clause 11 requires local supervising authorities for midwives to inform the council rather than the boards of any notice given to them in compliance with the rules on midwifery practice. Clause 12 empowers the council to make rules prescribing the standards to be observed by the boards in relation to advice and guidance to health authorities and health boards regarding the local supervision of midwifery practice.

Since the beginning of the century, special arrangements have been made for midwives, and the midwifery committee of the council will continue to play that important part.

Clause 13 provides a reserve power for the Secretary of State—as is usual in such circumstances—to make grants to the council and the national boards towards any expenses incurred in connection with bringing into force the provisions of the Bill, while removing from the council the obligation to reimburse the boards in respect of expenditure on their part.

Clause 14 makes it clear that the council is not required to consult the national boards on any proposed rules which do not appear to the council to be relevant to the boards' functions. That recognises the fact that the council, as the elected body responsible for making the rules, is the proper body to determine what is relevant to those functions. The remaining clauses deal with transitional provisions, amendments and repeals.

Will the Minister clarify whether, in the detail that she has just given us, the regional health authorities will be responsible for funding the policy? If so, regional health authorities will have to decide their priorities, so it is well possible that education and training could come lower down the list of priorities of some regional health authorities because of financial considerations.

I addressed that point at the beginning of the debate before the hon. Lady had time to join us. I made it clear that the money available for the education and training of nurses, midwives and health visitors would be top-sliced and held by the regions. We are carrying forward arrangements to make sure that there is a transparency of the resources so ring-fenced and that there are effective mechanisms for monitoring how the money is spent. I was able to tell the House that the money spent this year on pre and post-registration and training for nurses, midwives and health visitors amounts to £770 million. Next year that sum will be £870 million. These are large sums.

The health service has always been a good trainer of our staff. We want to ensure that we retain those trained staff. That is why our work in carrying forward the proposals under Project 2000 are so important. I am pleased to report that what is so elegantly called our "wastage rate" in the health service has never been lower. We are holding on to more nurses, health visitors and midwives than ever before.

As my hon. Friend Baroness Cumberlege said in another place, whereas the average time spent by a nurse in the service used to be about seven years, it has now risen to about 14 years. That is a significant improvement in the way in which we are an effective employer. Of course, it calls into question the importance of post-registration training—an area in which good progress is being made.

This is a short Bill, but a very significant one for the future of the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions. It provides another demonstration of our total commitment to the future of the professions, and the key role we expect to see them continue to play in providing health care to the people of the United Kingdom. I believe that it ranks in importance with the other two major developments affecting the professions which have taken place under the Government: the establishment of the pay review body in 1983 and our decision in 1988 to implement and fund Project 2000. Not that those are the only examples of Government action to safeguard, strengthen and develop the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions.

It is essential that those professional groups who make up the backbone of our health service are properly remunerated and trained and have effective and self-regulating organisations to ensure their well-being. It is against that background—because of the value we attach to the nursing, midwifery and health visiting professions—that we have taken such speedy action to implement our decisions on the Peat Marwick McLintock recommendations and have given priority to this Bill in our legislative programme this Session. The professions themselves have welcomed the Bill, and I am convinced it will benefit not only the professions but, even more importantly, the patients and clients whom they serve with such skill and dedication. I commend it to the House accordingly.

5.31 pm

In principle, the Labour party welcomes this important Bill, which has the broad support of the professional organisations and the health unions whose members are affected by it.

The Bill will update and modernise the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979 by remedying some of the defects that have become apparent since then, following the Peat, Marwick, McLintock review of the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting and the four national boards. However, there are some matters on which we will seek clarification or assurance.

The Bill is largely uncontentious and we wish to facilitate its swift passage on to the statute book. It seeks to streamline the bodies of representation and accreditation of the nursing professions by removing duplication of roles and removing confusing remits. It will strengthen the representation of the professions and improve the accountability of the UKCC to them.

We welcome the move to make two thirds of the UKCC elected from the professions, as we believe that that will give nurses, midwives and health visitors increased control over their professions. We agree that the centralising of elected representatives away from the national boards to the UKCC will improve the accountability of the UKCC.

We are concerned that the procedure for election to the UKCC, which will be approved by the Secretary of State, should ensure fair representation of all groups, especially minorities, and achieve a regional balance as well. We understand that the UKCC is anxious to achieve that, but we seek an assurance from the Minister that that will happen. We also want to ensure that provision is made for the representation of enrolled nurses on the UKCC. Although an enrolled nurse can represent any group, it is important to ensure that enrolled nurses are represented as an interest themselves.

We are also concerned that the members of the UKCC appointed by the Secretary of State will include representatives of nursing, midwifery and health visiting from the four national areas. It is equally important that appointments to the national boards include a registered nurse and a practising health visitor and midwife. Baroness Hooper conceded in another place that, in practice, that will happen. Therefore, we see no reason why that commitment cannot be included in the Bill. Furthermore, we want to ensure that those whose appointments are made by the Secretary of State have the appropriate qualifications and experience to fulfil their functions. We also want the interests of minorities, and consultation with them, to be given equal weight with the interests of the larger professions.

With the change of function and responsibility between the national boards and the UKCC, it is obvious that the joint committee and the national board standing committee of health visitors and district nurses are, de facto, abolished. However, will the Minister assure the House that the new standing committees to be established by the UKCC will include committees for the minority professions so that their significant contributions to nursing are heard and they are consulted on the issues that concern them?

Minority or specialist groups are naturally anxious about their status. They do not want it diminished by the Bill. We want to stress that the term "minority" is in no way a reference to the importance of the work carried out by health visitors and nurses in the community, such as district nurses, community psychiatric nurses, school nurses, residential care nurses, occupational health nurses, practice nurses, nurse practitioners as well as those nurses who are working in terminal care. Those people may be a minority in number but they are not in stature.

The Labour party attaches immense importance to the role of primary care and to the nursing profession, which is at the forefront of health in the community. The Labour party is fully committed to health promotion and prevention care. The next Labour Government will have a vigorous public health strategy in which those groups of health workers will play a vital role.

Community nursing is the face of the NHS in homes and workplaces nationwide. Nurses in that sector have to cope with the effects on their patients of poor housing conditions and a deteriorating social fabric. They are the face of the NHS and they play the crucial role of promoting better health through advice on life style, a healthy diet, exercise, alcohol, smoking and drug addiction. The work of midwives in helping mothers and young children and the work of the district nurse in clinical medicine are crucial.

Community nurses are witnesses to the everyday health of the population. Their testimony on it represents crucial, first-hand experience of which those planning for the hospital-based sector must take significant account. Through health promotion and the prevention of conditions that lead to ill-health, those nurses seek to lift some of the burden from their colleagues in the acute sector. The nurses in that sector are the constant face of the NHS with patients in its care. They observe and participate in every moment of a patient's time in hospital. They have to cope with the constantly changing needs of patients, doctors and management.

Nurses are the linchpin of the NHS. There are 500,000 nurses in Britain today on whom we depend for our good health at home, in hospital and at work. I am extremely aware of the important and valuable role that nurses play in my constituency and I want to pay tribute to them.

The financing of the UKCC comes from individual nurses themselves who pay a fee of £30 tri-annually to maintain their names on the register. In the past, questions have been raised about the publication of financial reports and the accountability of the UKCC for its use of funds to those who supply them. We recognise that the fact that the Bill introduces a two-thirds elected representative element to the UKCC means that that accountability has been improved. The UKCC itself has tightened up the process of disclosing its financial status. However, it would be prudent and sensible to place the UKCC under the regular inspection of the Audit Commission as an assurance to the professions of the UKCC's commitment to sound and open financial management. That would prevent such problems arising again.

The issue that is of most concern to the Labour party is the future of nursing education. At a time when it is important to attract more women and men to the nursing professions it is vital that education facilities exist to offer excellent training and a career structure through pre and post-registration specialities as well as courses for those wishing to return to the profession.

Furthermore, it is crucial that those already in the profession—whether students, auxiliaries, enrolled, registered or specialist nurses—have the opportunity to seek the nursing career that they desire through adequate educational facilities, which must also take account of developments such as nurse prescribing and nurse practitioners. Although short-term courses such as intensive care training, bereavement and other counselling, improvement of inter-personal skills, control and restraint—to name but a few—do not lead to specific qualifications, they are still significant aspects of a nurse's training and advancement and give nurses an opportunity to refresh their skills.

The UKCC has now made it mandatory for all nurses to attend a five-day refresher course every three years to maintain their registration. It requires employers to meet the costs and plan the time for courses. Under the Bill, responsibility for the administration of funding for nurses' education will be transferred from the national boards of Wales, Scotland and England to health authorities and health boards.

Opposition Members and the professional and trade union organisations fear that post-registration training and education may suffer. Because regional health authorities will be concerned to prioritise resources, especially in the market-driven planning now prevalent in the national health service, they are more likely to be influenced by financial consideration than the clinical needs of a nursing staff trained in all specialties. They need to ensure that staff stay within the national health service and do not become disillusioned by a lack of educational opportunity and thus career advancement.

Regional health authorities will now be responsible for planning nursing education and will be primarily concerned with their regional responsibilities. They may be unable to assess or contribute adequately to national nursing education needs or desires. Furthermore, they may be reluctant to invest in expensive post-registration education funding. There will be no guarantee that their investments will see fruition in the regions because staff may move elsewhere to take advantage of opportunities created by improved training and qualification.

We welcome the Government's express commitment to ring-fence the funds that the regional health authorities will administer but we remain concerned about how long that will last. Education is often the first to be squeezed at a time of cuts. The pressures of the health market which the Government have created mean that balanced books and a worried look over the shoulder at the competition are the immediate concerns of NHS managers and accountants. Longer-term planning, which is vital for education, will not receive the priority that is attached to praying that each financial quarter will be survived without having to close wards and hospitals, cancel operations, incur building repair expenses or experience increased waiting lists.

Many post-registration courses such as psychiatric nursing and health visiting do not last a matter of weeks but require years of dedication and training. We are worried that regional health authorities may not have the necessary outlook required to ensure adequate long-term and national provision and that that will be reflected in the allocation of funding.

The pressures of long-term planning will affect not just post-registration courses. Enrolled or second-level nurses are especially vulnerable when attempting to convert to first-level registration. The implementation of the UKCC's Project 2000 educational reforms includes plans to promote opportunities in nursing by conversion to first-level registration. The implementation of that policy will now be the responsibility of the regional health authorities. Although I welcome the Minister's comments about increased funding, there are currently 96,000 enrolled nurses, of whom at least 35,000 seek conversion, with only 2,430 places available.

When the additional money is spent on training nurses, it is important that every effort be made to retain their services over a much longer period, which may involve making the terms and conditions more flexible for women returning to work. We estimate that, given the current rate under Project 2000, it will take 14 years before all nurses have that opportunity for advancement. The regional health authorities must be aware of and able to respond through their educational strategies to the problem of the national perspective.

The Government's assurances on ring fencing are welcome but, unfortunately, inadequate. The commitment to ring fence for as long as necessary, as Baroness Hooper said in another place, will allow the Secretary of State arbitrarily to decide that, if he wishes to allocate the funds to some other project, he could deem the necessity to have ceased. Ring fencing needs to be enshrined in the legislation to prevent the funds from being diverted by regional health authorities or the Government. If the Minister believes that education in nursing is a vital investment in the profession and the nation, she will ensure that those funds remain for education only and will strengthen the Government's commitment to ring fencing.

The situation of nurses in opted-out trusts is of particular concern, as trusts are not obliged to provide for the education and advancement of their staff. It will be up to trusts to decide whether to pay for training and permit time off for it. If the Government's plans continue to force many more units to opt out of health authority control, training and standards are likely to suffer. Trusts take a much narrower view on long-term needs than regional health authorities, and nursing education is not even an obligation.

What evidence does the hon. Lady have for that suggestion? All the evidence from the trusts is clear: their commitment to patient care and to their staff is at the forefront. For example, Guy's is seeking to tackle the problem of junior doctors' hours. It is a wild and mischievous allegation, for which the hon. Lady has not a shadow of evidence.

Can the Minister give us that evidence? The opted-out units are no longer under the direct authority of the regional health authorities but report directly to the Secretary of State. The regional health authorities will now be responsible for education.

Will my hon. Friend explain to the Minister that, in the trust in my area, newly trained nurses were told that there were no jobs for them? In addition, the existing nurses, who were given undertakings when the trust was set up that their posts would be protected, are now being told that all their jobs are up for re-examination and that anyone seeking extra education will soon be told that someone else is waiting to take her position——

My hon. Friend's comments echo the concerns that already exist. Ministers regularly say that the opted-out units are independent, so the Minister cannot then argue that they are part and parcel of the structure. The health service is being fragmented.

The hon. Lady has failed to understand that the ring-fenced money held by the regions is for the trusts or directly managed units. Therefore, if such a cynical interpretation of the motivation of those committed professionals who are carrying forward the first wave of trusts were to apply, it would be irrelevant because the resources are ring fenced by the region and the trusts would be at no disadvantage. That cynical interpretation of the commitment of all those dedicated professionals who are carrying forward the first wave of trusts is so bitterly resented by the health service, which is why the Labour party has lost all credibility with the health professionals.

Despite what the Minister has said, we are not embarrassed by our policy on health-far from it. We are saying that, under the legislation for the trusts, there is no obligation for them to train, despite what the hon. Lady has said.

May I substantiate my hon. Friend's point? I referred to the example of St. James's college in Leeds, which is a trust-funded college. It now discriminates against trained nurses taking the Project 2000 scheme. My hon. Friend has evidence. A person who is prepared to be named—I shall give the information if called to do so—has told me about the discrimination on training in a trust hospital in Leeds. The evidence is there and my hon. Friend is right to bring the matter to the attention of the House.

My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) has already said that the information is there.

We are concerned about nurse education, which is why we believe that it will be crippling for the NHS and for the nation's health if, in years to come, we have poorly trained nurses who leave the profession because they are denied the opportunity of advancement and the capacity adequately to treat patients. Training does not make cash as extra-contractual referrals do, but it is an investment in Britain's health. The problem is that the Government will let opted-out units opt out of training and education. That will not happen under a Labour Government because units will not opt out.

We welcome the Bill and support it in principle. The desire to modernise the UKCC and the national boards, and to condition them for the 1990s is uncontentious and is supported by the Opposition, by the professional organisations and by the health unions. The Bill is a commitment to nursing arid to the esteem in which the professions are held throughout the country. We are concerned about some issues and we may wish to raise them again later in the Bill's progress to safeguard the position of all nurses throughout the 1990s.

5.51 pm

I warmly welcome my hon. Friend the Minister's announcement about Project 2000 and its funding. I vividly recall speaking at a meeting of nurses when Project 2000 was first announced. Although nurses were delighted by the Government's saying that they intended to implement the proposals, there was understandably some doubt about whether resources would be made available for that. The Government have lived up to their word all the way along, and this afternoon my hon. Friend has said that the Government are backing Project 2000 with increasing amounts.

I venture to speak on the Bill, first, because I have a general interest in health and, secondly, because I am a lay member of the General Medical Council, a self-regulating professional body which has much in common with the United Kingdom Central Council as it will be and as it has been.

It may be something of a cliché to say that some features of our country are the envy of the world, and it may not always be true. However, it is undoubtedly true in respect of both hospital and community nursing. It is commonplace to hear anyone who has been looked after by nurses expressing the highest praise for their diligence and sympathetic care, whether in hospital or in the home. I personally endorse that sentiment, having spent time—happily only a day—during the recess in hospital as a patient.

Our nurses are very much in demand in the United States, in Commonwealth countries and in the middle east, and they do wonderful work in parts of the third world. The reason is simple. They have a high standard of education and of professional performance, which is what the Bill is all about.

The Bill simplifies and improves the systems of nursing education and of disciplinary procedures for the purpose of imposing and maintaining the highest possible professional standards. I wish to comment on two matters. First, the UKCC will continue to deal with professional misconduct, unlike the General Medical Council whose brief is to deal with serious professional misconduct. The definition of those two terms is a matter for discussion, to be decided by the respective councils and, if necessary, the courts.

Hitherto, the only power that the UKCC had in such cases was erasure from the register. As the Minister has explained, the Bill adds the possibility of suspension and, since the discussion in another place, the sanction of a caution. That is entirely admirable, because there are bound to be cases in which suspension and a caution will be more appropriate than complete erasure.

There is another dimension. As one of the two lay screeners on the General Medical Council, I see letters of complaint about doctors on which the council is unable to act. The reply to the complainants explaining why the council is unable to act has to be approved not only by a medical member of the council, but by one of the two lay screeners. I see a number of complaints that do not come near serious professional misconduct. Under the present powers, the GMC is unable to deal with them, yet the complaint, sometimes about one incident and sometimes about a series of incidents, may demonstrate that the doctor's behaviour is below the standard that patients are entitled to expect. At present, the GMC cannot deal with such a case. The GMC is addressing the problem under its performance review and my hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that various proposals are under discussion and are likely to appear before the House in due course.

I cannot see that the Bill addresses a similar issue with regard to nurses, I am not talking about a specific offence of commission or omission, but about a nurse whose performance is simply not up to scratch. If that is the case, neither erasure nor suspension would serve any purpose, and a caution would help only if it were accompanied by more positive measures. What is needed is a mechanism for reviewing the nurse's performance, and for proposing and supervising some means of improvement.

One other clear difference between doctors and nurses is the fact that a doctor, once qualified and registered, is free to practise at any time regardless of whether he or she has been in regular practice and has kept up to date with medical developments. An example well known to the House is the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) who, as I understand it, could put up his plate as a general practitioner tomorrow morning despite the fact that he may not have seen a patient and certainly has not practised for 20 or 25 years. I hasten to add that he has made it clear that he has no intention of doing so. As an officer of the Hong Kong group, I might be tempted to consider other ways in which the right hon. Gentleman's talents might be directed—although you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, might feel that that was a little outside the scope of the Bill.

It is, rather worrying that what I have described could happen. Let us suppose that a nurse who is trained, qualified and practising leaves the profession to raise a family and returns to it after an interval of some years. As I understand it, in the nursing profession there is a clear requirement that, on re-registering, a nurse must satisfy the UKCC every three years that she has kept her skills and knowledge up to date. That appears to me to be admirable, and it is an example from which the GMC could perhaps learn.

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman's point and if, in future, he seeks to amend the Bill to suggest some form of retraining, I shall be happy to support his amendment. Having said that, there is a mild barrier in the case of doctors. In practice, if not in law, anyone seeking to go back into general practice who had not undertaken the necessary training period would find it virtually impossible to get another job. I agree absolutely that, in theory, anyone could return to general practice, but in practice he or she might find very real barriers.

The hon. Lady is quite right, and I remind her that I used the words "in theory", although I think that there would be nothing to prevent a doctor from starting up in private practice. Clearly, it would be difficult to get a job within the health service, but we know that there are plenty of doctors in private practice.

I should like also to comment on the lack of lay involvement proposed for the UKCC. The UKCC is to be composed of 60 members in all, 45 of whom will be elected and 15 of whom will be appointed by the Secretary of State. But clause 1 gives the Secretary of State pretty clear guidance on the sort of appointments that he should make, and it looks likely that all 60 will be members of the nursing profession of one sort or another. That compares with a GMC of 100-plus members, of whom a dozen are lay members.

I fully understand the anxiety that all branches of the profession should be represented on the council and that there should be the right sort of geographical spread. My own involvement makes it difficult for me to be entirely objective about this, but I suggest that there should be some form of non-professional representation on the UKCC. One reason for that is that I think that lay involvement is right in principle. After all, nurses do not operate in a vacuum: they deal with patients all the time. Every one of us has been, or is likely to be, a patient. It is surely right that patients, as users of nurses' services, should at least have a voice on the council.

Secondly, I suggest that lay people have something to contribute to the UKCC's deliberations and work and, although I say it myself, I think that the professional members of the GMC would endorse the view that lay members have a useful contribution to make.

Thirdly, it would be good public relations for the council not to be seen as an entirely closed body. I am sorry to keep referring to the GMC, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it is a comparable body of which I have some knowledge. There is a tendency for people to refer to the GMC as the doctors looking after their own, but having worked for the GMC, my own impression is that doctors quite often wish to be harder on their own than lay members might be. Be that as it may, the implied criticism is at least modified by the fact that people know that a lay element exists within the GMC. Whether we like it or not, public image is important nowadays, and I wonder whether it would not be in the interests of the UKCC to consider the benefit of lay involvement, especially where matters of professional misconduct are being dealt with.

I apologise for detaining the House with those thoughts. I hasten to add that my comments have been in a constructive spirit. The Bill seems to me to be entirely admirable. I hope that it will command the full support of the House and will receive Royal Assent before other events intervene.

6.4 pm

First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) on her debut; indeed, I thought it rather churlish of the Minister not to recognise that her opposite number was speaking from the Opposition Front Bench for the first time. I look forward to my hon. Friend making her debut as a Minister, and I am sure that that occasion will come in the not too distant future. When I was campaigning for my hon. Friend, I told the electors of Mid-Staffordshire that they would be sending a star to the House; my hon. Friend has certainly lived up to that already.

If ever evidence was needed that we are in a general election year, the Bill before us provides it. Why else would the Government at last be listening to the views of professionals and trade union representatives who work in the national health service, who for years have been giving the Government the benefit of their experience and knowledge of working in the health service, day in and day out, only to find their advice falling on deaf ears?

Like my hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon), I am sponsored by the National Union of Public Employees. We are well aware of the problems faced by those who have given their lives to working in the health service. My hon. Friend and I have raised their concerns in this place on many occasions. It is regrettable that it has taken the Government until now—as they approach the day of reckoning at the ballot box—to show some belated willingness to take those people's knowledge on board.

For all that, the Bill is welcome and it is to be hoped that the Government's apparent Saul-like conversion to the concept of listening to our NHS professionals will extend beyond the immediate measures proposed in the Bill. Certainly, I know that my constituents—workers, users and passionate supporters of the health service—are looking to the Government to match their own commitment to the NHS.

One important reason why it is to be hoped that the Government's attitude, as demonstrated today, will remain is that the nurses' pay awards are soon to be announced. My colleagues in the NUPE group of Members and I hope that, this year, the Government will listen to staff representatives as well as their own pay review body. I am well aware that our nursing staff are anxious that, rather than the pay award being staged, leaving the health authorities to make up shortfalls of up to £44 million, it should be implemented in full on the due date and fully funded.

The enormous value of the jobs that our nursing staff do should be recognised not only through the words that Ministers utter in this House but through actions to back those words. If the Minister wants to give concrete evidence of the Government's commitment to the national health service, she will announce today, in reply to the debate, that the Government will indeed fully fund that award and not seek to stage it. My hon. Friends and I look forward to hearing her make that announcement.

The general thrust of the measures in the Bill has commanded widespread support, as evidenced in the co-operation extended by my noble Friends in the other place to get the measures on to the statute book as quickly as possible. The Minister will be aware, however—from the contributions made in the other place by my noble friend Lord Carter among others—that there are still reservations on some issues that many of those working in the national health service would wish to have raised and taken on board by her and her boss, the Secretary of State.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire mentioned some of those reservations. I should like to back her up on a couple of issues so that we may be sure that, together, we have caught the Minister's ear and that the hon. Lady can pass on our concerns to her boss.

For example, the health service unions have expressed concern about the proposed changes to the constitution of the UKCC, to increase the council's maximum membership from 45 to 60, with the specification that two thirds be elected by the professions and the remainder appointed by the Secretary of State. Under that move, although the council would increase its membership, the opportunity to be a representative elected by the profession will be radically reduced. The Minister must recognise that.

Currently, 102 members are elected to serve the national boards rather than the council. It is entirely proper that there should be direct elections to the UKCC, but the Minister knows that the proposed number of elected representatives on the council would deplete representation by more than half. The Minister will also know that the health service unions think that this balance needs to be changed. She should give a commitment to take their views on board.

The Minister should assure midwives and health visitors that their voice will continue to be heard. I am told by some of them that if that does not happen they will feel isolated, unsupported and unable to influence policy. I am sure that the Minister will wish to allay those fears when she replies to the debate. That matter is especially important in view of the transfer of responsibilities for financing nursing, midwifery and health visitor education and training to the regional health authorities. That will mean that the RHAs will be responsible for determining the allocation of funds based on their own priorities and the regional interpretation of education and training needs.

The unions feel that this will create a gulf between policy developed by the UKCC and the implementation of that policy by the regions. The Minister has given some reassurance, which I accept, that she will do everything in her power to see that education and training in the NHS are extended and promoted. However, that does not go far enough, and I hope that, during the passage of the Bill, we shall have a more positive statement from the Minister.

In the context of Project 2000, my hon. Friends were right to impress upon the Minister the problems that are emerging in nursing education and causing a great deal of concern. My hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) was right about that. I have been informed by the nursing unions that enrolled nurses are afraid to come forward for the training schemes intended by the reforms, because there is no guarantee of a job to which they could return. My hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) also made that point. Many have lost motivation and have become demoralised by the fierce and unrealistic competition for the tiny number of places available. The Minister must surely agree that that is scandalous and should tell us the action that she intends to take. She has gone some way by speaking about extra funding, but nurses want more positive assurances.

The Minister must answer the questions that have been asked in the debate. Although in the main the Bill is not contentious, we shall attempt to improve it. The Government are at least listening to what is happening in some parts of the health service, but they have a long way to go to ensure that the people who staff our NHS feel that they have the commitment that they need from the Government.

6.13 pm

I shall be exceedingly brief, because other hon. Members want to speak in this short debate. We must be making history because, since 1979, I cannot recall a Department of Health Bill having all-party support. That is an astonishing development, but, of course, we are on the eve of a general election. As the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) said, it suggests that, as the Government are about to face reality, they are trying to do something in the health service that might command broader support.

I should like to underscore points that have already been made and to stress some anxiety about the Bill. One of the worries is about the proposal to transfer responsibility for education and so on down to local level, with consequent pressure on budgets. Such strain could lead to erosion of the importance of education and related matters. In her response, the Minister should dwell on that, because I am sure that she remembers only too well the passage of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill, the consequences of which may yet help to consign the Government to oblivion in the election.

The Minister will remember the lengthy arguments about community care, as will the hon. Member for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones), about the ring fencing of community care. The hon. Member may well speak about that in the debate. The Minister and other members of the Government trotted out arguments about why it was not acceptable to have such ring fencing. The most remarkable argument of all from this centralising Government was that it would undermine local democracy. If it was not acceptable to ring-fence community care at that time, how can the Government stand equivalent arguments on their head and rightly accept ring fencing in the context of nurse education?

Perhaps the Minister could say more about the issue mentioned by the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) and discussed in another place—the stipulation that the function of the board in relation to midwifery is included in the legislation. However, a guarantee of the involvement of professional midwives in terms of direct representation is not mentioned in the Bill. Would it not be sensible to redress that? Judging by the Minister's opening speech or by pledges given by her colleague in another place, I do not think that the Government intend to exclude midwives in this way, and it would be sensible to include a provision in the Bill. The Bill commands all-party support, and I do not anticipate a Division.

6.16 pm

I shall be brief. As a vice-president of the Health Visitors Association, I shall deal especially with the worries of members of that association and those of midwives. A good midwife is worth 10 doctors, a theory that I proved somewhat practically many years ago. Their special skills should not only be retained but fully understood, and I am sorry to say that I see no clear evidence in the Bill that those people will be fully consulted and their needs taken into account. It is pointless to produce glossy patients charters stating that people will have freedom of choice and consultation about the facilities they receive when they do not have access to midwives who are able to transmit their worries upwards and downwards within the profession.

It should be realised that midwives and health visitors are not only constantly learning new techniques and developing their skills, but that they frequently have to change their responses to meet developments in medicine and social care. That puts tremendous stress on the profession and requires a flexible, skilled and trained response from the practitioners in midwifery and health visiting. I hope that such matters will be addressed by the Bill.

I would be happier about the Bill if it were not so clear that the trusts will face great difficulties not only in the immediate future but in the continuing future in relation to nurses who seek further training courses, almost of any kind. In the first wave of trusts, the word "nursing" seems to have almost disappeared from the job descriptions. There are hardly any senior nursing posts listed in the trusts. That bodes ill for proper representation at every level of the professional structure.

The Minister is so reasonable and balanced that, whenever she appears, I know instinctively that the Government must be trying to put over something shady. They would not need such an apparently reasonable member of the House of Commons if their doings were above board. Therefore, the Bill must be looked at carefully. Although we may say, in a slightly dismissive way, that it is a straightforward, non-contentious Bill, it concerns the level of health care, not only for mothers for many generations to come, but for sick people at many levels of the health service, both within and without the hospital service.

In the past seven months, I have unfortunately had a rather close association with the health service as a patient, as the grandmother of a patient and as the daughter of a patient, and with a large number of London teaching hospitals. It is about time that the House of Commons realised that there is no point in bringing forward structures in which we talk about a high level of nursing care if, when it comes to the point, there is nobody on the wards capable of carrying out that level of nursing.

We should be concerned that a nurse can appear at the beginning of a shift, say, "My name is Susan, and I am looking after you," and then never be seen again because, like many others who are brought in in large numbers, she is an agency nurse, knows no one on the ward and is unable to have any relationship with the patients.

Like several of my hon. Friends, although I have a word of commendation for the Bill, I feel that we should be asking for more undertakings. It is nonsense to say that the money for education will be ring-fenced. In my area, the regional health authority is the most placid political lapdog of all the RHAs. It does exactly what its masters want, showing a level of dogma that, were it representing the Labour party, would warrant six-inch banner headlines in The Sun. Therefore, an undertaking that the RHAs will ring-fence money for training is not worth the paper that it is written on. Apart from that, I am sure that this is an excellent Bill.

6.22 pm

It is pleasant to turn to a considered and measured debate on a Bill that commands general support, after the hype that we heard in the statement by the Secretary of State for Wales about local government finance. It is nice to have an atmosphere in which we can debate constructively the future of some of our great professions, particularly nursing.

I had better declare a family interest, in that my mother was a qualified nurse and for many years was a district nurse in north Wales, and my wife is also a qualified nurse and midwife and has recently returned to the profession after a career break. I know something about the practical problems of nurses and how devoted they are to their professions and patients. I remember in particular during some pretty wicked winter months the problems that my mother and some of her district nurse colleagues had in reaching their patients through snow and drifts.

It is right that we should look, from time to time, at the way in which nurses are educated and trained, and at how they conduct themselves. Therefore, this small Bill is to be welcomed, in as far as it goes. However, one or two points need to be underlined. One, as hon. Members on both sides have said, is that we must recognise the challenges that face nurses, and particularly health visitors, in the current climate in the NHS.

A number of health visitors are worried about the direction in which their branch of the profession is moving, in the light of the new responsibilities that general practitioner practices are taking on, which mean that their clinics are taking over work that health visitors used to do.

If those changes mean that health visitors are taking on more responsibility for such things as health promotion, they are welcome. There is an extensive need for health promotion, especially given the recent report published in the county of Gwynedd, which showed a great increase in the number of girls who take up smoking at the ages of 12, 13 and 14. The work done by health visitors in health promotion, especially in this sector, is valuable. If that work can be extended, we should welcome such a move.

The new powers on disciplining of nurses who transgress are to be welcomed. To have just one power, that of erasure, is to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Many cases could be dealt with either by a caution or suspension. The disciplinary bodies would have more flexibility in dealing with problems if they did not have to go to the full extent of erasure. The morale of nurses would be improved if they knew that, for minor transgressions, they would not face the ultimate penalty.

A number of us have rightly underlined the need to look closely at the Government's proposals for the devolution of training responsibilities to regional health authorities and health authorities in Wales. We understand that the Government have accepted ring fencing, but when I looked closely at the arguments advanced in another place, I noticed that we were not told how long ring fencing would apply.

I hope that the Minister will tell us whether it is to be for one year only or for a number of years. This is important for one basic reason—if regional health authorities and district health authorities are to have proper provision for training, it must be planned over a number of years. An assurance on that would be helpful.

I make a final plea. In some cases—this is not necessarily personal experience—I have seen that nurses find it difficult to go back into the profession that they left many years ago to raise a family. Often, they re-enter the health service at grades lower than those to which they should be entitled. It would be useful if the Government were to say that nurses, after a career break, should be welcomed back into the profession, given proper training and guaranteed a proper job at a proper rate of pay and proper grading.

I welcome the Bill, and hope that it will have a speedy passage through the House.

6.27 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal), whose contribution I enjoyed. I thoroughly agreed with the points that she made, and in particular with that about full representation of the various regions—a point not made by the Minister. I want to take that up, because it is a question not only of the regions within England, but of the nations within the United Kingdom. Although this is a United Kingdom Bill, it does not explain how it will be ensured that there will be proper representation among the appointments that the Secretary of State makes, to lake account of nurses, midwives and health visitors living and working in Scotland. There may be an answer, but we have not yet had it from the Minister.

If health boards in Scotland are answerable to the Scottish Office, I want the Minister to answer this question about funding for training and education for health boards in Scotland. Is it proposed that there will be a difference, and if so, what will it be?

In the discussions that I have had, midwives and health visitors in Scotland have told me of their concern about the changes in the practices that they are expected to undertake. The role of health visitors is being changed substantially in ways they are unhappy about. For a long time, midwives have been concerned about their role being undervalued and diminished by the high-tech treatment given by hospitals. It is essential that training and education give people occupying these positions the respect that they deserve and maintain the status of the profession, rather than diminishing it. The women who occupy most of the jobs in the profession feel that the latter is a more likely result.

When I intervened earlier, the Minister confirmed that there was nothing in the Bill about the section 32 arrangements of the Whitley council. If the Government do not introduce changes to the appeal procedures in the Bill, it is surely important to know when they are planning to do so. It is only weeks before we shall have a general election. I suspect that they hope to introduce changes at a later stage by means of a manoeuvre. If that is not their hope, I want an assurance from the Minister to that effect this evening.

It is pointless to complete a rigorous, expensive and highly specialised form of training if the health visitor or midwife finds that there is no job at the end of it. That has happened recently in Scotland's central belt. Health visitors were told, "I am sorry, but there is no work for you." Surely hon. Members on both sides can agree that the training of health visitors and midwives can be planned so that time is not wasted. In most instances, these people cannot apply for jobs in places throughout the United Kingdom. It must be recognised that they have family responsibilities in their own area.

6.31 pm

I was content with the Minister's reply when I intervened earlier, especially with the parts relating to the principle and practice applied to those applying to be enrolled for the Project 2000 scheme. The Minister said that, if I would provide details of the constituent to whom I referred, she would take the matter up, and I shall do so.

I have been provoked to contribute to the debate by the position adopted by trust hospitals. The hon. Member for Wyre (Mr. Mans) asked for evidence, and I will supply it.

St. James's hospital in Leeds is a trust hospital with a nursing college attached to it. One of my constituents—Linda Bichard, who lives in Outwood—wrote to the Prime Minister on 7 January setting out details of her concerns. It is surprising that a letter received by the Prime Minister's office has not yet been passed to the Minister for Health. My constituent telephoned the director of nursing services at St. James's to inquire about enrolment for Project 2000. She is a qualified nurse with 14 years experience, a background which qualified her for a place within the scheme.

If the hon. Gentleman's constituent is a qualified nurse, how could she be applying for a Project 2000 course? The course would prepare her to become a qualified nurse.

The young lady wishes to further her career within the nursing profession. She wishes to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Project 2000. If a person is dedicated to nursing and there are further qualifications that he or she can obtain, no restrictions should be placed on the person who wishes to obtain them.

As I have said, my constituent telephoned the director of nursing services at St. James's hospital in Leeds. She was told that her qualifications made her eligible for a position on the Project 2000 course. She was further advised that the decision of the nursing college to refuse to take her and others like her was an executive one. In the Cambridge area, however, a person with the same qualifications could be allowed to enrol. Therefore, there is discrimination. My constituents are losing out because trust hospitals are denying people such as Linda Bichard an opportunity which is being given to people in other areas by the national health service.

When my constituent wrote to the Prime Minister she set out her qualifications and explained that she was engaged in part-time studies to obtain further qualifications so that she would be qualified to participate in the Project 2000 course. She explained that she was astonished when she was told by the director of nursing services at Leeds that, although she was qualified to embark on the course, her application was being refused. As I have said, she was told that it was an executive decision.

As Linda Bichard wrote, although many people drop out of the course, there are many others who are dedicated to the NHS and to the nursing profession, but are being told that there is no opportunity for them to further their aims within the nursing profession. Like my constituent, I find that astonishing. People wish to gain further qualifications and to help the nursing profession, but because of dogma—in this instance, and executive decision—they are being denied the opportunity to do so.

My constituent was told that she should contact the clearing house in Bristol to ascertain where the decision was taken and where enrolled nurses would be accepted for a Project 2000 course. On 7 January she wrote also to the officer in charge of the clearing house in Bristol. She explained her position and set out her qualifications. She told the officer that she had applied for Project 2000 training at Leeds college of nursing and that the local policy decision was not to accept enrolled nurses as candidates, regardless of their academic qualifications. She told the people in Bristol that she had discussed the matter with several organisations and that they had advised her to contact the clearing office to obtain a ruling. She wrote:
"I understand that this is not a nationally agreed decision and hope that you could furnish me with information on which colleges are accepting E/N applicants and perhaps how many are at present on Project 2000 courses."
Surely the Minister should investigate the case that I have outlined. The right hon. Lady intervened to tell the House that, if my constituent is qualified, she does not need to apply for the course, and that view has been supported by other Conservative Members, but that is not the position in the regions. My concerns are increased because Ministers and Conservative Members do not know what is happening throughout the country. We are being told about the results of Project 2000 which emanate from the Government's policy when Ministers are not aware of what is taking place in the regions.

As I have said, the Prime Minister has been notified of the position in which Linda Bichard finds herself. There is evidence that there are anomalies when applications are made for Project 2000 courses. Among the applicants are people who are dedicated to the nursing profession, people who are qualified and are taking on further part-time studies in their own time to gain more qualifications so that they can be accepted within Project 2000, but who in certain areas are being denied that opportunity.

If constituents of Conservative Members are being accepted on the course while my constituents are being denied similar access, I want to know why. I ask the Minister to deal with that matter when she replies. I am very concerned about it, and I hope that she will be able to give me some satisfaction.

6.40 pm

I was very pleased with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal). This is the first occasion on which she has spoken from the Front Bench in an important debate. It may be a short debate, but it is certainly important.

Having listened to the Minister, I have become aware of something else. I want her to listen closely. It seems that, because we are coming up to a general election, the Government have thought again about the word "democracy". Clause I refers to elections to the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting. The Minister may smile, but I remind her that the Department of Health—especially when the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) was Secretary of State—has ignored the professional organisations and the trade unions within the health service.

The former Secretary of State appointed people to the various health authorities, but he was not interested in any representation from the community. The Minister looks surprised. She should go to the regions and discover for herself what is happening there. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) recommended that she should do just that. Certainly, in my region I have protested loudly about the fact that representatives from the community have been denied places on district and regional health authorities. Instead, the Government have appointed bosses from industry. We need local representation—councillors, for example. They were elected to such positions until the Government got their hands around the throats of the bodies and destroyed democracy. Now the Government are attempting to introduce a little democracy into appointments to the UKCC.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire got under the Minister's skin when she talked about the fiddling in opted-out trusts. It was a sore point for the Minister when my hon. Friend questioned whether the trusts would spend money on nurses' training.

I attended a meeting of my local community health council last week. The House was not sitting, so I had the time to go and listen to some of the comments from those who represent the community on that council. Who was there to give a report? It was none other than the community physician, who talked about his annual report and the issue of community services.

The Government seem to be going down the wrong road in the provision of training for nurses, midwives and others who work in the community. I was a little concerned to discover that the report showed that the Government were not providing the necessary support for community services. They are ducking their responsibilities and giving them to local authorities, which have to provide that support.

I do not think that the Bill will work in the way the Minister suggests. I want the general election to take place very soon, because when the Labour party is in government it will implement this properly, although I shall not be coming back after the next election, as hon. Members know.

There are some good provisions in the Bill and we shall not vote against it today. The Minister is looking at her watch, but she will have enough time to say what she wants to say in response to the debate. I wish to make it clear that I do not accept that what the Minister said would happen will, in fact, happen. I do not accept that the opted-out trusts will spend money on nurses' training.

I have said my piece and shown how I feel about the matter. I hope that the Minister will respond in the right way and provide some guarantees or assurances, but I wonder whether she will do so. I think that she has been put up for the job this afternoon by that wally—hon. Members know who I mean—the Secretary of State for Health. Nevertheless, I hope that what she has said will come to fruition.

6.46 pm

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have enjoyed participating in the debate on what was thought to be an uncontroversial and uncontentious Bill. My hon. Friends have managed to inject some controversy into the debate. I am sure that, when members of the nursing, health visiting and midwifery professions read the report of the debate, they will note that the majority of contributions have come from the Labour Benches and that, with the exception of the Minister, there was only one contribution from the Conservative Benches. That is not an insignificant fact.

6.47 pm

With the leave of the House, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like other hon. Members, I congratulate the hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mrs. Heal) on her inaugural Front-Bench speech. We have become used to her contributions during Question Time, but this is the first time that she has led for the Opposition in a major debate.

This has been an important debate, and I am pleased that it has been marked by a spirit of consensus. The matter is important for the nursing, health visitor and midwifery professions. I felt a tinge of sadness when I realised that this might be one of the last debates in which I participated when the hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) spoke. I felt a sense of nostalgia when he spoke.

I wish urgently to deal with a number of matters. First, on the point raised by the hon. Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien), I visited St. James's hospital shortly before Christmas and I was impressed by the progress that has been made by the trust. Its new day unit for children is a remarkable initiative and is of a standard that any hospital in the world would find hard to beat. There have also been many other initiatives, such as the new £15 million redevelopment of renal medicine, general surgery and intensive care facilities, which began in August.

There is some confusion about the case to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I shall certainly study it. It may be that his constituent is an enrolled nurse wanting to take a conversion course, in which case Project 2000 would not be suitable. These are complex matters, but I give the hon. Gentleman the assurance that I shall personally consider that case.

I am concerned by the comments about the match between enrolled nurses wishing to take further courses and the availability of such courses. There were about six conversion courses for enrolled nurses in 1985; now, there are 225. It is a condition of Project 2000 places that arrangements should be made for enrolled nurses. However, I recognise points made by Opposition Members about the position of enrolled nurses.

The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire referred to the role of enrolled nurses on the UKCC and we shall certainly consider that further. She referred to the various minority groups, each of which has a valuable part to play in nursing care. Once we look beyond nurses, midwives and health visitors, we take in community psychiatric nurses, practice nurses, mental handicap nurses and so on. We can all recognise, therefore, how easy it would be for the Bill to become enormously bureaucratic and prescriptive, so tying the UKCC's hands. As was made clear in another place by my noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State, we certainly intend that the major interests will be properly represented on the board—possibly as officers in some cases. That matter is one for further discussion, and I look forward to the debates in Standing Committee when the intentions of this important Bill can be made clear.

Much has been said about the important role of the midwifery profession, whose special position dates back to the beginning of the century. The Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act 1979 made provision for the midwifery committee, and that will continue with the UKCC. I assure the House that there have been no difficulties between the midwifery committee and the UKCC. It is important that they should have a proper and balanced relationship, and we do not intend to alter the pattern that was established by the 1979 Act, in respect of the terms under which reference would be made to the midwifery committee. It will no longer be the case that reference will be made to the boards, because the midwives' role has changed. However, there should be proper recognition- of their role, and I entirely endorse the powerful words of the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) on the value of midwives. Few women Members of Parliament would not reinforce those words.

The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich made a somewhat tendentious point when she suggested that London teaching hospitals were entirely staffed by agency nurses.

Then the hon. Lady said that they were largely staffed by agency nurses.

That point was raised in several ways by hon. Members, but there is no doubt that our ability to retain the nurses whom we train has improved markedly. One difficulty relates to those who go on courses and want to be sure that there are jobs for them when they return. The retention rate has risen faster than we expected, and in some cases there has been a mismatch between training and manpower needs. That must be more effectively addressed, but I assure the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich that the number of agency nurses fell from 7,400 to 7,000 in the year 1990.

We also have a record low wastage rate. The length of time that nurses are remaining in the health service is double what it used to be. The points made about the importance of continuing training are extremely important. The UKCC prepared a report on post-registration education and practice and, although it is not yet a requirement that there should be five days training every three years, already many regions are implementing just such a programme. I have been involved in training seminars for health visitors and community nurses in my constituency, and such activities are spreading ever more widely throughout the service.

I strongly endorse the comments made by many hon. Members about the importance of community nurses. It is too easy to think of nurses in an "Emergency Ward 10" or "Casualty" context, but we are all aware that the work done by community nurses—in terms of their particular professional skills, autonomy and individual judgment—is extremely important.

Health promotion and disease prevention—to which the hon. Members for Mid-Staffordshire and for Ynys Mon (Mr. Jones) and others made reference—are addressed in our "Health of the Nation" strategy. I am charged with responsibility for the wider implementation steering group, whose members include—apart from those representing the wider interests of the general public—nursing representatives. They are Beverley Bryans from the Royal College of Midwives, Sally Gooch, from the Royal College of Nursing, and Alison Norman, chairman of the Health Visitors Association.

That steering group is able, powerfully and effectively, to widen the debate from the concern about beds, ambulances and the infrastructure of health care to a broader health strategy. When we look back on this period of the Government's work, we will see not only the reforms and practical improvements—such as NHS trusts and fundholding practices—but the important introduction of the health strategy that prevention is better than a cure. That is the way to ensure that this country continues to combat illness and disease.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) was a little impetuous in referring to the review body. In my non-controversial remarks, I did not intend to draw attention to the 48 per cent. increase in nurses' salaries under this Government, compared with a 3 per cent. fall when Labour was last in power. That will serve as a salutary reminder to all nurses, midwives and health visitors, as they come to reflect on matters in the forthcoming weeks. I make that point only to move swiftly from it.

If the Minister is so concerned about fair pay for nurses, why does she support the proposal to do away with the procedure for appealing against unfair gradings?

The section 32 question and the issue of appeals are enormously complex, subject to much discussion and difficult to resolve. No one pretends that the present arrangements are satisfactory. The sooner that we bring an end to the appeals, the better it will be for the profession and the health service.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) made, as ever, a distinguished and thoughtful contribution. He referred to the General Medical Council, and I thought that many nurses, midwives and health visitors might have a certain ambivalence about the way in which the GMC conducts its affairs. Arguably, our proposals will in some ways steal a march on some of the UKCC's mechanisms.

Nevertheless, most right hon. and hon. Members are aware of my hon. Friend's commitment to the nursing profession. Any who are not will be aware of it when he is able to make further progress with his private Member's Bill, to which we look forward with interest and enthusiasm.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst made an important point about lay representation. When it comes to the establishment of the UKCC, we certainly expect lay representation to play an important part.

This has been a useful, constructive and positive debate. The Bill has an enormously important part to play in reorganising the disciplinary framework, education and training of nurses, midwives and health visitors. I look forward to the opportunity to give it further consideration in Committee. Much work has been done in clarifying the Bill, and I have no hesitation in commending it to the House with great enthusiasm.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

Nurses, Midwives And Health Visitors Bill Lords Money

Queen's Recommendation having been signified


That for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Bill [Lords] it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Secretary of State in consequence of any provision of the Act.—[Mr. Wood.]

There being private business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means for consideration at Seven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER suspended the proceedings.

On resuming—

King's Cross Railways Bill

As amended, considered.

7 pm

On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. May I refer you to page 1036 of the 20th edition of Erskine May, which deals with the handling of private Bills? Under the heading "Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading", Erskine May tells us:

"Unlike a public bill, a private bill, if it has been amended, is considered … on question put, and to this question amendments may be moved, for example, to secure the consideration of the bill on a later day or its recommittal."
I have raised my point of order in connection with the recommittal issue. I have tabled two proposals for recommittal, which appear on the Order Paper. One raises an extremely important matter relating to possible proceedings by the European Commission in relation to the environmental impact assessment, which has not yet been considered fully by the Committee appointed by the House to consider the Bill.

If the House does not require the Committee to reconsider matters relating to environmental impact which, as the Committee's report accepted, the Committee had not had a chance to consider fully, we may find that the entire proceedings are in breach of European law. Plainly, that should cause us considerable concern; yet according to the selection of amendments, no opportunity will be given for hon. Members to raise the issues involved and to propose a recommittal.

Can you, Madam Deputy Speaker, give us some guidance, and explain the circumstances in which a recommittal could be agreed to? What criteria are used to decide whether a recommittal motion can be considered?

As the hon. Gentleman and the House will understand, Mr. Speaker does not give guidance across the Floor of the House. The crux of the issue raised by the hon. Gentleman is the selection of amendments for which Mr. Speaker gives no explanation. I can take the hon. Gentleman's question no further at this stage.

New Clause 5

Protection Of Neighbouring Properties

'(1) It shall be the duty of the Board, if required to do so by the relevant owner of a specified property, to carry out the act or acts, referred to in subsection (4) below, required by that owner.

(2) A "specified property" means any property—

  • (a) in the London Borough of Camden within the land bounded by Euston Road, Midland Road, Goodsway, York Way. Pentonville Road, King's Cross Road, Swinton Street and Gray's Inn Road; and
  • (b) in the London Borough of Islington within the land bounded by York Way, Wharfdale Road, Caledonian Road, Northdown Street, Collier Street, Calshot Street, Lorenzo Street, King's Cross Road and Pentonville Road.
  • (3) A "relevant owner" means—

  • (a) in relation to subsection (4)(a), the freeholder or long leaseholder;
  • (b) in relation to subsections (4)(b), (c) and (d), the residential occupier; and
  • (c) in relation to subsections (4)(b) and (c), the business of commercial occupier.
  • (4) The acts referred to in subsections (1) and (3) above are——

  • (a) to purchase the property;
  • (b) to do works to the property to mitigate the impact of the works on the occupiers;
  • (c) to compensate the occupiers for the impact of the works; and
  • (d) to provide temporary rehousing during the works.'.—[Mr. Chris Smith.]
  • Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this we may take new clause 6—Environmental Code of Practice

    '(1) it shall be the duty of the Board and the Company to comply in all respects with the Environmental Code of Practice for the construction of the works.

    (2) The Code shall set out—

  • (a) general and specific requirements for minimising nuisances during the works;
  • (b) procedures for agreeing work method statements before the works commence;
  • (c) provisions, including works, rehousing or compensation for owners or occupiers, to mitigate unavoidable nuisances arising from the works;
  • (d) procedures for enforcing the requirements of the code and ensuring compliance with the work method statements; and
  • (e) any other appropriate matters.'.
  • The new clauses relate solely to the protection of my constituents. In no way do they seek to prevent the carrying out of the works involved, or the implementation of the Bill as a whole. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who want the Bill to succeed can thus happily support the new clauses, securing thereby the protection of people living immediately adjacent to the proposed works. The new clauses should not be regarded as an attempt to prevent the Bill from proceeding, or to make its completion more difficult than might reasonably be expected.

    I stress that point because in the past few days a mythology has grown up about tonight's debate. The debate is about the detail of the Bill—the works that are proposed, and their impact on neighbouring residents. It is not about whether King's Cross is the right location for the proposed development.

    My hon. Friend may well be a thoroughly honourable gentleman; I would not lay claim to such a reputation. I am sure that the House has heard what my hon. Friend has said, and that may be his intention, but some Opposition Members consider that the argument should be about the location for the development. I hope that my hon. Friend will not entirely lose sight of that issue—while remaining in order, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker.

    As ever, my hon. Friend has been extremely helpful: his intervention has set our discussion in context. He has been an untiring advocate of the interests of Stratford in connection with channel tunnel traffic, and I agree wholeheartedly with his views.

    My hon. Friend has reminded us of the background to our debate: the real controversy over whether King's Cross is the right location. For once, however—to ensure that I remain in order—I shall not dwell on that at too much length.

    Would not the King's Cross site benefit the whole country most? Rather than concentrating on the advantages to London and its outskirts, should we not consider what will benefit the country as a whole?

    I entirely agree. If we were approaching the matter sensibly and rationally, the only important criterion would be how to ensure that the benefits of the tunnel applied to Great Britain as a whole—including Scotland, Wales and the north.

    King's Cross, however, is not the perfect location. It provides for existing links with the north-east, but it currently provides for no direct links with the north-west. We have discussed with British Rail the possibility of links between King's Cross and Euston—perhaps by means of a travelator or, indeed, a bus. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) mentioned that in our last debate. Certainly, there is no provision for links between King's Cross and Wales or the west country.

    King's Cross is therefore not the ideal location for the provision of access to the entire country. It is, however, a good location for the provision of access to substantial parts of the country—a fact which must be borne in mind.

    Does not my hon. Friend agree that, despite all the difficulties that he has mentioned, King's Cross is an immeasurably better location, given that the high-speed rail link will be connected with King's Cross by the year 2005 or, one hopes, long before that? Does he not agree that any alternative would be infinitely less likely to secure for people in the north-west of England, including my area of Merseyside, economic benefit from the channel tunnel? The only alternative that has been mentioned so far is Stratford.

    My hon. Friend is not necessarily right in making that assumption. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) may want to comment at greater length on that. It would be perfectly possible to link up a new international interchange at Stratford with lines both to the north-east and to the north-west by using the north London line or the Tottenham-Hampstead link. There are alternative possibilities, to which British Rail has not given sufficient thought.

    During the debates on the Bill and on the issues surrounding it, I have been saddened by the tendency of some people to portray this as a north-south argument. It is not, and does not have to be, a north-south issue. Obviously I want to stand up for the interests of my constituents, and in a moment I shall explain further how the two new clauses seek to achieve that end. I am acutely aware of the impact that the works proposed in the Bill would have on my constituents who live in the King's Cross area, but I am also acutely aware of the need to ensure that channel tunnel traffic is enabled easily to get through to the north, the west and other regions of the country.

    What I have constantly sought to achieve is a situation in which we do not pile everything into an already congested King's Cross—at present the busiest London terminal—in seeking a means of getting through traffic to all parts of the country. I believe that it is possible to achieve that without insisting that King's Cross is absolutely essential as the location.

    In this morning's Yorkshire Post, there is an article which reiterates a number of misapprehensions about the King's Cross Railways Bill. For example, referring to those who support King's Cross as the terminal, the article says:
    "Without it, they claim, there will be no direct, high-speed passenger and freight rail link from the channel tunnel to Yorkshire and Humberside, robbing the region of the chance to trade successfully with the rest of Europe."
    For a start, no one has proposed—British Rail has not proposed, and this Bill does not propose—that freight should go through King's Cross. The question of freight is entirely irrelevant to this Bill, which deals only with passenger traffic, as the Government have confirmed in answers over the past few months.

    The Yorkshire Post article then quotes the director of the Yorkshire and Humberside partnership, a Mr. George Smurdon, as follows:
    "We have contacted all MPs in our region, urging them to be in the Commons tonight supporting the Bill."
    That is fair enough. If one adopts the attitude that King's Cross is the only possible means of providing the north of the country with benefits, one is acting fairly by lobbying in support of it. Mr. Smurdon goes on:
    "I am advised there have been a number of amendments tabled by Mr. Chris Smith, the Labour MP for Islington, South and Finsbury, and these are likely to be viewed as a means of frustrating the Bill."
    I hasten to put the Yorkshire Post right. On a number of occasions I have made it clear in the House that I regard this as a bad Bill. By the amendments that I have tabled, however, I seek to make it a better Bill and to make it rather more amenable to the interests of my constituents. The purpose is not to frustrate the Bill.

    My hon. Friend has referred to a report in the Yorkshire Post. I do not agree entirely with that report, but I should like to refer to the freight issue, although it is not covered by this Bill. There has not yet been any decision as to how freight will get from the north to Stansted. It should be remembered that freight, too, is an issue. I cannot allow this occasion to pass without referring to the concern of people in the north of England about the question of freight. Although I appreciate what my hon. Friend has said, I believe that we ought to express concern with regard to the lack of information about how freight will get from the north to the channel tunnel.

    7.15 pm

    My hon. Friend has identified a very real problem. We have been provided, either by British Rail or by the Government, with very little information about the provision for freight coming through the channel tunnel. I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for trespassing a little beyond the scope of the two new clauses, but this is an important question. At the moment, we do not have sufficient information or satisfactory assurances about freight. Concern about the ability to ensure that freight can be transported as rapidly, smoothly and effectively as possible from any part of the country to and through the channel tunnel is far more important even than concern about passenger traffic.

    We all accept that my hon. Friend desperately wants to protect the interests of his constituents, and it is right that he should do so. Indeed, anyone in his position would do likewise. I hope, however, that he accepts that the objections from the north-west and from other areas of Britain are fundamental. if a proper terminus—with all that that implies—is not established at King's Cross, the cost to the rest of the country of choosing Stratford as an alternative, irrespective of the facilities provided, will be very high for people outside the London area. That is what concerns us. We accept that my hon. Friend's concern is genuine; I hope he accepts that we are desperately worried about the possibility of setting a precedent that would be extremely costly to the rest of the country.

    Of course I accept that my hon. Friend is concerned. Indeed, if I were convinced that locating the terminus at Stratford—or, indeed, anywhere else—would deny the regions, especially the north and the north-west, opportunities that would be likely to be provided by location at King's Cross, I would recognise that there was a national strategic need to ensure that channel tunnel traffic could get through to the north and the north-west. I would do that despite my willingness to fight hard for my constituents and their protection, but I do not think that British Rail has effectively made the case that King's Cross is the only option that would achieve that goal.

    I reinforce what my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said about the need for my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) to defend his interests. In addition to all the arguments which have been employed, there should be no mistake about the fact that this project is seen to be of supreme importance to the midlands, the north-east and the north-west. But there is another argument. We are heading into a major recession—a slump. Major public investment, especially in infrastructure, is one of the ways to effect a recovery. King's Cross would provide some of the employment required but, by opening up more rapid access to other parts of the country for channel tunnel traffic, it would create jobs in areas where unemployment is rising already.

    There is always a balance of advantage. I am not saying that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury should not have said what he did, but he underestimates the extent to which the link is viewed as a lifeline by people for whom a deep slump is a serious and immediate prospect.

    I do not in any sense underestimate the importance attached by many of my parliamentary colleagues to the King's Cross issue. I accept the argument made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) about the recession facing many of our citizens. Indeed, we have been in recession for well nigh a year and there is precious little sign of any amelioration. My right hon. Friend may well be correct in believing that things are likely to get worse rather than better. There is no difference between us about the importance of facilitating business and trade and of ensuring that public works programmes can be undertaken properly.

    As regards the Bill, the difference between us is whether King's Cross is the only possible location, whether it is the right location, or whether it may cause more problems than it solves.

    Before this turns into a domestic row or a family dispute, I remind my hon. Friend and my other right hon. and hon. Friends through him that a proper assessment is one of the things that we lack. That is all that we are asking for. No doubt the Labour Front Bench will be giving us details of that later.

    I am no more fighting for the interests of Stratford over those of the rest of the country than my hon. Friend is fighting for the interests of Islington over those of the rest of the country. I suggest to my right hon. and hon. Friends that if on this occasion they support the Labour Front Bench on the need for a full inquiry, at least we can ensure that the decision eventually taken is in the interests of all of our constituents and that we are not divided because British Rail will not carry out a proper assessment of where in London the country needs that international station.

    As ever, my hon. Friend is right. Consider the way in which we have gone about making the decision—use of the private Bill procedure—the changes of mind exhibited by the Government, and the fact that the Government's provisions for the eastern approach and the potential role of Stratford are still unclear. For example, we have not heard what the Government envisage at Stratford other than a station. We do not know how big it will be, what links will be provided to it and how the Government envisage that the station will develop. Many questions are unclear. Had there been a sensible approach to such issues, all those questions could have been put into the public domain from the start. We could have found a sensible way to plan what ought to be a major, strategic, national decision. The private Bill procedure is not a helpful way to do that.

    I agree with the comments made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody). We appreciate that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has a duty to defend the interests of his constituents. However, before he or my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) completely rewrite our party's policy, I must tell them that the commission of inquiry that we envisage setting up after the general election will consider the route from the channel tunnel.

    For many of us, there is no dissension about the fact that there is no alternative to King's Cross. It is not the railway management making that statement; I am making it, on behalf of our party. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that I do not do so at the behest of railway management. I spent too many years working for British Rail to be over-impressed with the supposed infallibility of that organisation.

    If my hon. Friend feels that there is an alternative, it is his responsibility to tell us how much it will cost, how it will be possible to get from Stratford to Chesterfield, Liverpool, Manchester and all the other parts of the United Kingdom that this great project must serve, and what route the trains would take if we were unwise enough to accept Stratford as an alternative.

    Order. Those are tall questions which leave the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) far away from his new clause.

    I shall be ruled by you, Madam Deputy Speaker, although there are answers to the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape). I alluded to some of them earlier when I mentioned possible routes from Stratford to the main east and west coast lines. The answers to questions of cost are included in the studies made by Colin Buchanan and Partners on behalf of the London borough of Newham. The figures that they have come up with show a remarkably cheaper project than the one envisaged by the Bill at King's Cross, where we are talking about a grand total of about £1·5 billion. I must question whether that is sensible expenditure, given potential competing priorities.

    I do not wish to trespass outside the provisions of the new clauses which relate to environmental codes of practice—although such issues are not totally unrelated—but my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield made a valid point about public works during a recession. I remind him that, in the London region of British Rail alone, Network SouthEast says that it cannot afford £140 million to fund the renewal of the north Kent line, the £300 million Thameslink 2000 project has been blocked by the Government, £300 million is needed for new Networker rolling stock and £260 million is needed to modernise the London-Tilbury-Southend line.

    Elsewhere, £750 million is needed to upgrade the west coast main line, £315 million for electrification of the midland main line, and £400 million for electrification of the trans-Pennine routes. If my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield is concerned about the importance of getting public works under way and investment in British Rail projects, I rate all those projects above the provision of a new low-level station at King's Cross.

    I fear that, if the King's Cross project goes ahead, the £1·5 billion of expenditure will pre-empt a vast amount of other essential work needed elsewhere on the British Rail network.

    I represent the other half of Islington. Is my hon. Friend aware that, in our borough, about 17,000 people are unemployed and that there is a massive housing waiting list? There are opportunities for social and housing developments in the area to the north of King's Cross station.

    I should be grateful for my hon. Friend's confirmation that the real motive for British Rail's development of the channel tunnel terminal at King's Cross is mainly the mistaken belief that it can gain a great deal of money from increased land values to the north of the station for land which will be used primarily for office development.

    Does my hon. Friend not think that it would he better if that money and those resources were used to develop the rail infrastructure? Does he agree that the Stratford option provides rail connections which are just as good, if not better, to the whole country rather than merely to specific parts of it?

    My hon. Friend is correct. Stratford has the potential to provide links through to Wales and to the south-west which are impossible from King's Cross—if we go ahead with the east-west cross rail proposal from Liverpool Street to Paddington, as I hope that we shall.

    I fear that we have strayed from the specific issues of the protection of neighbouring properties and the need for an environmental code. I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will forgive me if I have been responsible——

    Order. I am responsible for allowing the hon. Gentleman to stray from the new clauses. I hope that, as we have had this preamble, he will now speak directly to the clauses before the House.

    7.30 pm

    I shall accede to your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thought it important to ensure that a debate on the new clauses and later amendments did not become a north-south debate. Sadly, that appears to have happened, especially in the pages of reputable newspapers such as the Yorkshire Post.

    In the debate on the carry-over motion, the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), who sponsors the Bill, commented on the work of Alan Baxter and Associates, who had made alternative proposals showing that, even if King's Cross were chosen as the location for the new terminus, it did not have to be located in the area of King's Cross identified by British Rail. I hold no brief for the detail of the proposals of Alan Baxter and Associates, but they should be given a fair hearing. The hon. Member for Keighley made a number of comments that were sharply critical of Alan Baxter and Associates. He said:
    "It might be considered surprising that the firm refused to supply British Rail with a copy of its report prior to publication, even though much of the information it used was obtained in its capacity as consulting engineers to the BR board in relation to a planning application for a location to the north end of the King's Cross site. One may ask what account the firm took of the duties it owed of confidentiality and good faith, bearing in mind that, far from inquiring whether the BR board would object, it did not even say what it was doing." [Official Report, 25 November 1991; Vol. 199, c. 686.]
    The clear implication was that the hon. Gentleman believed that Alan Baxter and Associates was not acting in confidentiality and good faith.

    Knowing that this debate was to be held, Alan Baxter and Associates wrote to me on 8 January as follows:
    "In the 25th November debate. Mr. Gary Waller, in proposing the motion, made certain aspersions about our professional conduct in developing and publicising an alternative strategy for King's Cross. These we wholeheartedly deny. In particular. Mr. Waller and those advising him seem not to have understood that our proposals are based entirely on information available in the public realm."
    I hope that that puts the record straight, and I trust that the hon. Member for Keighley will also put the record straight.

    New clause 5 aims to put into statutory force the protection of neighbouring properties that British Rail has indicated orally that it is likely to be willing to undertake. It also seeks a small increase in the buffer zone of properties which need protection and which are accepted by British Rail as requiring better protection.

    The purpose of new clause 6 is to set up an environmental code of practice for the conduct of the works. British Rail has said that it is prepared to undertake such a code, but it has not been agreed despite continuing discussions with the London boroughs of Islington and Camden.

    New clause 5 provides statutory guarantees for the loose undertakings that British Rail has given to occupiers of homes and business premises directly affected by the noise and nuisance of the works. It deals with the voluntary purchase of blighted property. It places a duty on British Rail not to purchase all properties in the buffer zone, but only if required to do so by the owner of the property. The largest owner of property in the buffer zone is the London borough of Islington, which will not want to yield valuable housing stock. [Interruption.] The sedentary interruptions of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) about the enormous potential public cost do not carry the weight that perhaps he might think.

    Will my hon. Friend clarify the costs? I draw his attention to new clause 5:

    "Specified property … in the London Borough of Camden within the land bounded by Euston Road, Midland Road, Goods Way, York Way, Pentonville Road, King's Cross Road, Swinton Street and Gray's Inn Road; and"—
    in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)—
    "York Way, Wharfdale Road, Caledonian Road, Northdown Street, Collier Street, Calshot Street, Lorenzo Street, King's Cross Road and Pentonville Road."
    My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) rightly drew attention to the enormous cost of the King's Cross project, but new clause 5 rather undermines his economic case, as it would surely place a further enormous burden on the British Railways Board.

    I fear that my hon. Friend is incorrect. The majority of the property within the boundaries prescribed by new clause 5 falls within the compulsory purchase powers of the Bill. The cost of purchasing the lion's share of the area covered by the new clause is included in the Bill that my hon. Friend so avidly supports. The new clause seeks to extend the boundary of the buffer zone by a small amount.

    I apologise for intervening again, but my hon. Friend should read new clause 5. It demands of British Rail not only the purchase of property but

    "to do works to the property to mitigate the impact of the works on the occupiers; to compensate the occupiers for the impact of the works; and to provide temporary rehousing during the works."
    My hon. Friend could mop up the suggestion of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) about public works with this clause alone.

    I am afraid that my hon. Friend is again incorrect. I shall explain in great detail in a moment specifically what the new clause would do. If my hon. Friend has studied the Bill and the issues surrounding it as carefully as I suspect he has, he must be aware that British Rail has already told people living in neighbouring properties that they may well have to be rehoused at BR's expense for substantial periods of time while the work is carried out. The new clause would merely put into formal statutory terms the verbal undertakings that British Rail has already given. Therefore, the costs to which my hon. Friend refers are already part of the overall cost of the work that British Rail is preparing to undertake.

    New clause 5 would provide for the voluntary purchase of blighted property; for noise insulation of the property if the noise of the construction works exceeds certain agreed levels; for temporary rehousing if the noise of the works exceeds agreed higher levels; and for compensation of any costs or financial loss due to the works. As we are talking about people who will live on top of a long-term, large-scale building site, those are entirely reasonable requests to make of those carrying out the development.

    The hon. Gentleman would perhaps agree that the new clause goes much further than he implies. It is clear from the new clause that the relevant owner of a specific property may at a whim decide that he wishes the developers to purchase the property or to compensate him. There is nothing whatever in the new clause to qualify that requirement. The majority of people living in the area now are not living in a haven of peace and quiet. Admittedly, there will be a great deal of work going on, but when it is completed they will not only have an improved environment but there will be rather more jobs than before the works began—a matter that clearly concerned the hon. Gentleman when he spoke earlier.

    I cannot let the hon. Gentleman get away with that. First, he insults the King's Cross area by implying that somehow it is not a haven of peace and quiet, with all the implications that that remark carried. Of course it is an inner-city urban area, but I invite him to come with me to the communal garden area at the back of the houses in Northdown street, which was created some years ago by the Labour-controlled London borough of Islington. It is much appreciated by the people who live in those houses. It is an oasis of green space protected from traffic with provision for children to play where people can enjoy peace and quiet in the heart of an urban area. The hon. Gentleman is not living in the real world when he claims that the environment of the King's Cross area will be better after the new station has been built than it is now.

    After construction, the project will comprise the biggest station complex in the world. The project will involve the clearance of a 10-acre site in south Islington and on the edge of Camden that is currently occupied by three entire blocks of city building. All the buildings will be demolished. A huge pit 40 ft deep will then be excavated across the whole site to take the eight-platform underground station. The foundations will be piled deep for the buildings to be constructed above the station. The walls of the station box will be driven into the ground in sections from one end of the site to the other.

    The station will then be constructed. After it is finished. tall office blocks will be built over the whole area. The works will continue for eight years—six years for the construction of the station and two years for the subsequent superstructure work. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that all that and the end result will be a better environment for the people of King's Cross than the one they have now, he should come and talk to them. He will find that they do not agree.

    I support my hon. Friend's argument. Does he agree that no hon. Member has ever suggested when a motorway or link road has been built or extended that the people affected should tolerate the noise and disruption, that their feelings and comfort should be disregarded, that they should not have the right of insulation, which is enshrined in statute, and that they should not have the right of purchase by the Department of Transport when their homes are blighted by the proposal?

    7.45 pm

    I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The case for people in rural areas who may be affected by a motorway being driven past the bottom of their garden should apply with equal if not more force for people in the midst of an inner city, such as my constituents who will have work of this magnitude carried out at the end of their back yards.

    There are three long rows of terraced houses that back directly on to the working areas proposed in the Bill: Balfe street, Northdown street and Keystone crescent. Some 23 houses there have back yards directly adjoining the site boundaries. The pneumatic drills, excavators, dumper trucks, pile drivers and cement mixers will operate immediately behind their small back yards. It is exceptional to have such an enormous demolition, excavation and construction project immediately behind ordinary family homes. Moreover, British Rail is proposing that there should be seven-day-a-week, 24-hour-a-day working on the site. Anyone who claims that that will not have a serious impact on the people in the houses immediately adjacent to the site is not facing up to the awful realities of what the construction site will mean for my constituents.

    Indeed, British Rail fell into precisely that trap. In its environmental statement, which was published in early May 1991, its consultants on construction noise said that it was
    "not practicable to predict with any certainty levels of noise and vibration associated with the building works at such an early stage of a project. However, general construction and demolition work is unlikely to have a major impact."
    We cannot possibly accept that as an accurate assessment of the impact of the works. That was the British Rail position when the Committee of this House concluded its proceedings on the Bill on 8 May 1991.

    I honestly think that the hon. Gentleman is distorting the position. Of course it is impossible to give precise predictions of how particular parts of the site will be affected at particular times, but British Rail has made it clear that it will include within its protection the purchase of certain types of property, double glazing and temporary rehousing where necessary and that it will respond as and when necessary to assist householders who are bound to be affected during such a major construction project. That is different from saying, as the new clause does, that every householder within the whole massive area should be entitled to require British Rail to purchase his or her property. That is a different and unreasonable proposal.

    The hon. Gentleman also distorted the case when he spoke about what is proposed after the works are completed. Most of the works will be completed below ground. I accept that, above ground, an office development is proposed, but a new, generously sized urban park has also been proposed. I repeat that, when the works are completed, the environment will be considerably improved compared with the present acres of dereliction. Unless development takes place, there is no prospect of ameliorating that dereliction.

    The urban park to which the hon. Gentleman refers is part of the London Regeneration Consortium scheme and it is well to the north of the site to which the Bill refers. That park has nothing to do with what will go on top of the low-level station once the box has been built. The hon. Gentleman is perhaps being disingenuous in citing the urban park in relation to the restitution of the 17 acres of property to which the Bill relates. The hon. Gentleman was wrong to suggest that the area to which the new clause relates is massive; I shall outline the specific area in more detail shortly.

    The hon. Gentleman also criticised my new clause for including a right to enable the owner of a blighted property—we are not talking about an enormous number of people—to go along to BR and say, "I want you to purchase this property from me."

    Imagine someone living in Keystone crescent who, for reasons of job or other pressing need, has to move. When he puts his house on the market he will have to tell any potential purchaser that in a year or 18 months BR will come along with bulldozers and dig a hole right up against the back fence of the property. He will also have to tell any potential purchaser that that work will continue for the next eight years and that, while it continues, those living in the property will require temporary rehousing. He must also reveal that the noise and vibration levels will be intolerable. In those circumstances, does the hon. Member for Keighley believe that that person will find an ordinary, private purchaser for his property? If he does, I challenge him to come up with the person who would be prepared to buy in such circumstances.

    British Rail is the cause of the noise, disruption and disturbance, and I believe that it is perfectly reasonable to suggest that BR should carry the responsibility of purchasing such blighted property. BR could dispose of such property at a later date once the station works have been completed and the wonderful environment about which the hon. Member for Keighley has spoken has been created. In the long term, there is no real net cost to BR, and if it agreed to purchase property, that would offer assistance to individual owners now.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that opposition to the new clause is equivalent to opposing the desire of people in inner-city areas who seek to protect or improve their environment? The hon. Member for Keighley seems to suggest that if the environment in which people live now is not very good, so be it—it can stay bad. People who live and work in the King's Cross area and who enjoy living there, want their local environment improved. BR is not intent on improving that environment, but the new clause will help to ameliorate the bad conditions in which many have to live now.

    My hon. Friend is right. My hon. Friend will also be aware that the people of King's Cross have devoted a lot of time and energy in the past 15 years to improving their housing conditions and the sense of community. That effort has been coupled with the good work done by the borough of Islington. Those people have now discovered not only that their local neighbourhood and community will be destroyed by BR, but that their area has been dismissed airily by the hon. Member for Keighley. They will find no comfort in that.

    I have a lot of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says about environmental considerations. Everyone knows that big construction work brings with it environmental disadvantages. My hon. Friend should consider an area such as the north Derbyshire coalfield, which I have the honour to represent. For many years the local people have had to deal with the problem of mining subsidence without any of the rights that my hon. Friend is seeking to include in the Bill. The pits have been closed, and with the desolation of the coalfield the people now have to to put up with opencast mining, which presents the most appalling environmental hazards. The one lifeline open to those people is a connection through a rail link, without the congestion of road, to new opportunities. Apart from the development of the scheme proposed in the Bill, the electrification of the midlands line is of fundamental importance to the people of my area.

    To raise the environmental arguments to the scale proposed by my hon. Friend would mean that all the work on the new station would be delayed for years and so would the creation of new jobs. The desolation of my area and the environmental disadvantages that accompany that would also continue for years. My hon. Friend is overstating his case. He should balance his argument more fairly between the interests of his constituents and those in the rest of the country who would benefit from the rail link.

    Two wrongs do not necessarily make a right. I accept that important issues have been raised in my right hon. Friend's constituency and elsewhere about the consequences of opencast mining, but that does not mean that we should blithely accept that the environmental disruption on the scale proposed at King's Cross should be allowed with just a few verbal assurances from BR about protection of the people affected. Some statutory protection should be offered.

    The new clause would not delay the Bill's progress, but it would simply put into statutory force what BR has already said it is likely to do in connection with noise insulation and temporary rehousing. It should not cause any particular difficulty to BR to accede to the requirements of the new clause. I do not believe that that would disrupt the progress of the work. Such acceptance would provide my constituents who live immediately beside the affected area with the knowledge that they have some sure protection.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that the dismay and concern that has been expressed about subsidence and dereliction in the coalfields has led to legislation being presented to the House to provide the sort of guarantees for which my hon. Friend is now asking? If the new clause is accepted, everything will be all square. If there was no legislative provision for people affected by the disruption that will take place at King's Cross, the works could be subject to even further delays as residents and occupants mounted campaigns to obtain legislation to provide those very safeguards. It would be far more sensible to ensure that legislative safeguards were included to begin with before the work got under way, so that people could feel reasonably confident.

    My hon. Friend makes an effective point. Although I would not wish to be accused by my constituents of hastening the Bill's progress to the statute book, my hon. Friend has made a valid point about the way in which a degree of security and surety for the people immediately affected would make them a lot less anxious about their future.

    British Rail said in its environmental report last May that general construction and demolition work was unlikely to have a major impact. Within two weeks, it contradicted itself. On 22 May, it held a meeting at King's Cross to inform local people about the works and the protective measures that it would provide. At that meeting, it admitted that the noise of the works would reach such levels that almost all properties around the site would require double glazing and that many residents in King's Cross road, Balfe street and Keystone crescent would have to be temporarily rehoused for extended periods during the works. That is a major impact, contrary to what British Rail had said two weeks earlier.

    8 pm

    New clause 5 seeks to set in statutory form the protection for neighbouring properties. It also seeks to provide for a small extension of the so-called "buffer zone" of properties likely to be affected by the construction work. During the Committee hearings, petitioners argued that the buffer zone should be extended because several properties not protected at that stage under the Bill would be as much affected by the noise of heavy construction traffic—up to 400 lorries per day—as properties inside the site boundaries.

    In its special report, the Committee accepted the petitioners' case and made it
    "a condition of our proceeding further with the Bill that the boundaries of the zone should be extended"—
    I stress this—
    "in line with the petitioners' request".
    The revision that British Rail offered on the final day a year later omitted a row of properties on the east side of the southern part of Northdown street, which the petitioners had asked for. The Committee suggested that British Rail might give an undertaking to cover those properties. In the eight months since then, no such undertaking has been offered by British Rail. If British Rail will not give such an undertaking voluntarily, it behoves the House to insist that it should. The Committee that considered the Bill and reported to the House said that that row of properties should be included in the buffer zone but, so far, it has not been included.

    The hon. Member for Keighley may rise later to assure me that British Rail will include that row of properties in the buffer zone, but unless and until we have that assurance, it is important that the House should say, "Hang on a moment, the Committee said that they should be included and they have not been included; the House believes that they should be included within the provisions of the buffer zone." That is the only extension that my new clause seeks to make. All the other properties included under the new clause—the so-called massive area to which the hon. Member for Keighley referred—are already in the buffer zone as a requirement of the Committee. The new clause simply seeks to include that row of properties which British Rail—surely by mistake rather than deliberation—forgot to include.

    New clause 6 seeks to establish an environmental code of practice for the works. British Rail is currently offering an environmental code that will cover, first, work methods to minimise disturbance; secondly, procedures for the two local councils to approve work plans stage by stage; thirdly, trigger levels for double glazing and temporary rehousing; and, fourthly, procedures for dealing with complaints and breaches of the code. So far, so good: we must applaud British Rail for at least agreeing with the requirement of the Committee, which reported that an environmental code should be established, and for setting out those basic principles. But that does not go far enough, which is why new clause 6 seeks to put into statutory form an insistance that British Rail should establish an environmental code.

    British Rail has been negotiating on the details for three years with the two local authorities concerned. On the whole, it has been unyielding and unhelpful in its approach to the content of the code. Among the outstanding issues in relation to the environmental code are, first, seven-day, 24-hour working. The two local authorities are prepared to allow noisy work outside normal working hours only when there are clear safety and British Rail operational requirements to do so. British Rail, on the other hand, still insists on the right to programme noisy activities at any time if necessary for the
    "efficient and economic construction of major engineering works."
    So British Rail is saying that it can come in with pile drivers at 2 o'clock in the morning at will. I do not believe that that requirement accords with any environmental code worthy of the name.

    It would be much welcomed if British Rail were as insistent on coming in at will with trains, as we could very much do with those. My hon. Friend knows the area better than me but he should stress the fact that many people who live in the area also work for British Rail, and work shifts. That must also be taken into account. Even if the amendment is accepted, massive inconvenience will still be caused to many people in the area.

    As always, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. Many of my constituents who live in the King's Cross area work for British Rail or, for instance, the Royal Mail, and therefore work unsocial hours. They require sleep during the day and I suspect that their lives will be substantially disrupted by the works. The very least that we should be able to demand is that the hours during the night, when most people are trying to get peace and quiet, should not be disrupted by unreasonable work by British Rail. The local authorities do not require a total ban on work being carried out at night, but say that such work should be done only on proper grounds.

    The second outstanding issue in relation to the environmental code is trigger levels for noise outside normal working hours. The local authorities want action to be taken if the noise doubles or exceeds a reasonable threshold of 65 decibels. British Rail's latest response to that requirement is that it is simply "not accepted". British Rail really should be more accepting and accommodating of the genuine concern about noise levels.

    The third point concerns plant operation and vehicle movements outside normal working hours. The two local authorities want a rule that no plant will be started up for normal work before normal working hours and that any vehicle movements outside normal working hours will be subject to special approval. British Rail's response has been that that is "not agreed". No argument or reason has been given and British Rail has not taken on board the local authorities' reasonable concerns about the movement of lorries and heavy plant, and the starting up of engines and machinery. British Rail has simply said that it does not agree.

    The fourth point concerns security cameras. The councils want an agreement that the security cameras mounted by British Rail should be allowed to cover residents' back yards and windows only with the consent of the occupier. British Rail refuses to accept any constraint on where the cameras can be pointed. I leave to your imagination, Madam Deputy Speaker, the real fears of people living cheek by jowl with sites where cameras are likely to be mounted as to where the cameras will be pointed at varous hours of the day and night, with consequent loss of privacy.

    There is a further disagreement between the local authorities and British Rail in the current negotiations about the environmental code in relation to temporary rehousing. There is disagreement about the standard of accommodation to be offered. The councils want a specific hotel star rating to be laid down, but British Rail refuses, saying that the fact that it is offering full board shows the standard that it will provide. "Full board" may mean that the premises will have a kitchen and an eating area. All sorts of establishments, from Pentonville prison upwards, could provide that standard of accommodation. British Rail should be more forthcoming about the temporary rehousing that it is prepared to offer.

    There is a dispute about the payment of costs as an alternative to rehousing. The councils want British Rail to pay the cost of rehousing as an alternative to actual rehousing if the occupier cannot move for some reason and has to put up with the noise. British Rail refuses to agree. If an occupier has to remain and suffer, he will get absolutely nothing. There is also a dispute about the occupier's access to arbitration. The councils want occupiers to have direct access to arbitration if there is serious disagreement between them and British Rail about their right to rehousing or about the accommodation offered. Again, British Rail simply refuses to allow that.

    That is utterly unsatisfactory, as the councils have no right or responsibility to represent private occupiers to British Rail on those issues. British Rail has been thoroughly unreasonable on noise levels, vehicle movement, security cameras, hours of work, rehousing, and arbitration if there is disagreement about rehousing. New clause 6 seeks to say to British Rail, "You have to be more reasonable; you must establish an environmental code and you had better get down to the business of seriously agreeing that environmental code with the local residents who will be affected and with the local authorities which cover the area."

    There is also disagreement about action on any possible breach of the code. The local authorities want it to be laid down that, if an operation under way appears to break the code, it should cease while the matter is investigated unless there are overriding safety or British Rail operational reasons for continuing. British Rail insists that once work has begun, it cannot be halted pending the outcome of arbitration. If British Rail gets its way on that provision, it can carry on breaching the code while it delays the argument about whether it has breached the code. That is unacceptable. We want an environmental code for the works and for the protection of the people who will be affected by the works. We want to insist in the Bill, through new clause 6, that the environmental code should be included.

    8.15 pm

    It is important to bear in mind the fact that the environmental code and the buffer zone need to be defined in the Bill because the Bill, with its specific powers for particular works, will override much standard legislation to control noisy building activities. The constraints necessary to protect the people affected by the development should be written into the Bill because the normal constraints which apply to most building and development sites will not apply because the works have been permitted by means of a Bill. That is an extremely important point and gives added force to the argument about why a specific provision should be built into the Bill, both for the general protection of neighbouring properties and for the environmental code that is needed for the works.

    The House cannot allow the Bill to proceed to another place without proper protection for neighbouring residents being enshrined in it. The people affected have no elected representatives beyond the House. There is no one as their representative to table amendments on Second Reading or on Report in the other place. Those affected are entirely dependent on the House to protect their welfare, their livelihood and their peace and quiet.

    It is important for the House to take that need seriously. It is important for the people in the surrounding streets and the houses which back directly on to the massive development site that British Rail will impose on them that we write into the Bill statutory protection and a statutory environmental code. New clauses 5 and 6 seek to do that in the interests of the people affected, and we must consider not only people affected by the Bill, but those who are likely to be affected by similar proposals elsewhere. I hope that the House will consider it important to enshrine that level of protection in the Bill because there is no other place we can expect to do so.

    I entirely support the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) on new clauses 5 and 6. I am disappointed that so many Opposition voices have been raised against his argument about environmental protection for his constituents. It has been more or less suggested—nay. probably stated by one or two hon. Members—that the only reason why the new clauses have been moved is to frustrate the Bill and to delay its passage to the point at which it becomes non-viable. That may well be my intention, but it certainly is not my hon. Friend's intention. I was disappointed to hear my very dear and right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) deploying an argument that I regard as somewhat bankrupt. I wish that my right hon. Friend was still here so that I could say this to him.

    No. I would be insulting him to his back, because he sits in front of me. I shall make sure that my remarks are pointed out to him, as he probably does not spend a great deal of time reading my speeches in Hansard—but then who does?

    Au contraire. I most certainly do not bother to read them, because I know what a load of rubbish they are before anybody hears them.

    My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield seemed to suggest that, because so much blight had been associated with opencast mining in his area—and we accept that—the people of Islington should somehow be prepared to accept a latter-day equivalent. I put it to him that that is an untenable position. I entirely accept my right hon. Friend's argument about the disadvantages, disruption and adverse economic impact of opencast mining. I have been up to his area. I was active during the recent miners' strike, taking support from cast London to the miners. We could see for ourselves the deprivation that they had to suffer—both individually, as workers, and in their communities.

    I stoutly defend my right hon. Friend's right to defend his constituents from such economic blight, but it is unacceptable to use that as an argument that another working-class area—the area of Islington—should accept similar blight. Labour Members at least should join together to ensure that working-class people—whether in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, Islington or Stratford—are protected. The fact that we are divided in that respect does our arguments no justice.

    Is my hon. Friend aware that, when the Department of Transport seeks to drive motorways or major roads through leafy suburban areas or wealthy, Tory-voting parts of the country, it bends over backwards to provide environmental projects to try to ameliorate the effects of the roads and thus gain people's temporary support to allow it to build them? It is disgraceful that it should not do the same for people living in densely populated inner-city areas.

    Of course I accept that argument. There is a class dimension here, as there is with all legislation and all the matters that we discuss in the House. I should have hoped that those on our Front Bench could have seen that argument as well. I realise that class politics is no longer fashionable on the Labour Front Bench; indeed, some would say that it is not particularly fashionable on the Back Benches either.

    The issue that we are discussing tonight is the environmental protection of working people in the area of Islington. The Labour party says that there will he a terminal at King's Cross—although the Government have said that there will also be some form of terminal at Stratford. The Labour party is agreed that it looks far more viable for the fast route to come through the east Thames corridor—approaching London from the east rather than the south-east.

    I put it to my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich. Fast that, having given those assurances, he should say that it is necessary, in the national interest—that is what he has been talking about—that the people of Islington should be properly compensated for having to suffer in the national interest.

    I am always delighted to hear about class politics from those who are better educated than I am, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) for that.

    On my hon. Friend's second point, I repeat that the Labour party has officially made known its view that, from the point of view of serving the rest of the country, King's Cross is the only viable site. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) said, there may well be an argument about the particular scheme that is proposed, because, thanks to the Government's obsession with property values and money-making, British Rail has felt that it has had to approach the project from that point of view. But there is no argument about the site. If my hon. Friend intends to reiterate his view that Stratford is the right place, he must tell us how the north, the west and Scotland would be served from Stratford and how much it would cost to provide such a service.

    As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, have said several times, this is not the time to argue that case. My hon. Friend and I have argued it and will continue to do so; I want to keep coming back to it. Unfortunately, however, that is not possible at this precise moment.

    I put it to my hon. Friend that, if we are to have terminals at both King's Cross and Stratford, he must start addressing the environmental impact in the Stratford area as well. The Government have said that there will be a station at Stratford, and those on the Labour Front Bench have said that the route should come through Stratford. On this occasion, there is a modicum of agreement between those on the two Front Benches with regard to the route.

    I want to know what sort of environmental impact there would be on Stratford. We do not want a line plunging through the middle of the east end. If people in King's Cross may have problems, we in Stratford weigh them by the skipload. I want my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East to say that he will take into account the impact on the east end of having a station at Stratford and a station at King's Cross, because so far that seems to be the proposal—unless my hon. Friend is saying that we should not have a station at Stratford, merely a line going straight through it. which would give us all the disadvantages and not a modicum of advantage.

    I remind my hon. Friend again of our party's policy. The Committee has been given a comparatively short time—six months or so, as we envisage it—to report on the actual line of route from the channel tunnel. My hon. Friend keeps saying that he wants a whacking great terminal at Stratford. No doubt, just like my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, he will come back to the House with some artfully argued amendments, demanding an environmental impact study in respect of his constituency. That is all good parliamentary tactics, but it does not get us much further with the building of a railway line.

    Order. We are not getting very much further with the debate on the new clause, which deals with environmental matters. I am sure that the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) will now refer to them.

    I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker; I was slightly derailed on that point.

    The environmental impact is not confined to King's Cross; it extends way beyond that area—throughout that part of London and to the south-east as a whole. I shall be addressing the new clause specifically, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I put it to you that, given that we are considering such major works, it is difficult at times to confine the debate to a specific locality. The environmental impact on King's Cross itself is fairly easily assessed—although, as I said, that impact will go way beyond the area dealt with in the new clause.

    As I understand it, the construction of the low-level station at King's Cross and other works covered by the Bill will involve the loss of 83 homes and the displacement of 326 residents. It will involve the demolition of four listed buildings and the destruction of well over 10 acres of property in two conservation areas. It will also involve the destruction of a two-acre inner-city nature reserve of great value to the local community. A whole range of environmental damage will be caused by the development.

    All my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury seeks is some assurance that can be offered to his constituents, and constituents in surrounding areas, that, as far as is humanly possible, they will be protected from the sort of suffering that we know can be inflicted on people by major works such as those proposed.

    My hon. Friend has correctly identified the scale of the British Rail proposal and the enormous impact that it will have over a substantial area but has omitted to include in his list of important environmental issues the amount of traffic that will be generated by the new station. In evidence submitted to the Committee at a very late stage, even the Department of Transport estimated that, at peak hours, traffic in the area is likely to increase by some 70 per cent.

    My hon. Friend undoubtedly knows that King's Cross is already one of the most congested spots in London—both above ground and below ground—yet, as a result of the present proposals, we are now to have a 70 per cent. increase in surface vehicle traffic in the immediate area. That will place an intolerable burden on the area and will clog up a large segment of London's traffic network.

    That is precisely why my hon. Friend has tabled the new clauses. I hope that the House will accept them. I had not forgotten the point that my hon. Friend makes: I had just not reached it.

    A 70 per cent. increase in traffic flow along the Euston road during evening peak hours should concern not only my hon. Friend's constituents but all Londoners who are slowly being poisoned by traffic. The capital city, certainly in July, regularly enters a dangerous phase of photochemical smog. The Government have only three monitoring stations in the whole of Greater London. One of them is in my constituency, for whatever good that does, there is another at Vauxhall Bridge road and I think that there is one in west London.

    Photochemical smog is one of the greatest environmental hazards faced by the capital city.

    8.30 pm

    Is my hon. Friend aware that London has record levels of serious asthmatic conditions among young children, that they are getting worse year by year, and that they are directly related to the volume of traffic and exhaust emissions? Areas such as my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) are among the worst sufferers in the country.

    I understand and accept my hon. Friend's point. One of the matters affecting my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury rather than my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) is the destruction of the two-acre inner-city reserve park. Hon. Members who saw the excellent programme on television a few nights ago will appreciate how much work has gone into the building of that nature reserve.

    It is all very well for hon. Members to disparage and sneer at the lack of rural attractions in King's Cross, but the people there are doing their best to introduce a little rural pleasure to that area of inner-city deprivation, and they should be supported. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East will make sure that they get such support from a Labour Government. They are entitled to ask for it from Labour, because they have been loyal Labour supporters and voters for many years. They expect Labour, in opposition and, more important, in government, to protect their interests. Up to now, they are not getting that support.

    I have an almost bottomless reserve of affection for my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, but I have just spotted the bottom of that reservoir, and it is not a pretty sight. I expect him to say that the clauses are appropriate and that Labour will give people the support they expect. If they add to the cost of the scheme, the money is well worth paying, in view of the national and international importance of King's Cross and Stratford. The people of Islington have a right to expect a great deal of support.

    I am sorry that the bottomless well of affection to which my hon. Friend refers has proved to be a mirage, if I may mix metaphors. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) is a shadow Treasury Minister and I have no doubt that on the accession of a Labour Government, my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) could make representations about the amendments to him. I do not know whether he will get the same reply in six months as he is getting tonight.

    I accept that my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury is in an interesting position—even more interesting than that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East. If there is an additional cost as a result of accepting the new clauses, it is well worth paying in view of the agreed national significance of the scheme. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury has said that the additional cost will he minimal. I am prepared to accept that, and I am surprised that two Front Benchers are not prepared to trust each other sufficiently to accept it.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury seeks a specific tightening of the assurances that have so far been given by British Rail. I do not trust British Rail, which, throughout the proposal, has attempted to con the House. It cleverly exploited the differences in the Opposition by suggesting to us that, if King's Cross is not chosen, great damage will be caused in the north-east and the north-west.

    People who want to go straight from Paris to the north-east and the north-west do not care whether they pass through King's Cross or Stratford. They just want to get to Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow or Edinburgh as fast as possible. Many of the people who want to go from Paris or Rome to Edinburgh, Manchester or Glasgow will probably fly, because it is a hell of a long journey from Paris to Peterborough—it will take about eight hours, even with all the links working—and longer to go to Manchester or Glasgow. That matter is not often considered when looking at the vexed question of the fast channel link and the King's Cross railway.

    My hon. Friends from north of Watford seem to have swallowed British Rail's argument hook, line and sinker, and they have been sorely deceived. That is why I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East, when he is in an elevated post as a Transport Minister, will back away from the bald statement that Labour is totally committed to King's Cross. With some alterations, amendments and investment in the area of Stratford, we can get all the links that my hon. Friend speaks about, without any need to go into King's Cross.

    I would like to tell my hon. Friend how, but I can see that I am risking your anger, Madam Deputy Speaker. If I had to choose between my hon. Friend's anger and yours, I would risk the anger of my hon. Friend any day of the week.

    I shall not ask my hon. Friend to make that choice.

    How quickly could one travel by rail from Stratford to Birmingham, and will my hon. Friend compare that with the travel time from Stratford to Doncaster? My hon. Friend might get a spark of interest from the Chair if he concentrated on the latter rather than the former.

    I shall look carefully at the trip to Doncaster. I do not have a timetable with me to work out the travel time. I have made it clear that additional investment will be needed in east London so that the link can be made. People who wish to travel to Doncaster do not need, or may not even want, to go through King's Cross. There are some dangers in the King's Cross area. Did not a former DPP experience one of them for himself? I would not like to expose my hon. Friend to such temptation, although I know that he would resist it with great aplomb.

    The issue relates to how we can protect the people who live in King's Cross from the real impact of such a major development. As my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury said, it will involve six years of construction with 24-hour, seven-day working. Would any hon. Member like to be in close proximity to that level of work? It is outrageous. We do not have many major developments these days, and will not do so again until we get in a Labour Government, but many of us have known the problems associated with such developments.

    All that my hon. Friend is asking is that the people who will be closely affected be given by British Rail an assurance, on which they can depend, that they will get the compensation, the consideration and the treatment they deserve, which will ensure that they will suffer the least inconvenience while this massive, international, highly significant scheme is going ahead in the national interest. Why should they be asked to make all the scacrifices? It is easy for hon. Members to minimise this—they will not have to live next door to such a development.

    The acceptance of these new clauses, far from holding up the progress of the Bill, will speed it up. I am almost arguing against my objectives, so perhaps I should vote against the new clauses. I can see the people of King's Cross supporting the development if they are given these assurances, although I know that those in the area who are interested in the strategic argument realise that King's Cross is the wrong place for the second international station.

    Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury will intervene in my speech to tell me to what extent new clause 6 could be affected by the requirement from the European Commission for a proper environmental impact assessment. By that, I do not mean the environmental impact statement about which the Minister talks. There is a big difference between a statement attached to a private Bill and an environmental impact assessment carried out by someone who is independent of the promoters. Would the EC requirements give any material benefit to my hon. Friend's constituents?

    I addressed the issue of the European Commission and its view of the inadequacy of the environmental impact assessment work that has so far been done on the King's Cross proposal when we debated the motion to carry over the Bill. The EC strongly made the point that it was wrong to divorce consideration of the environmental impact of the station from consideration of the environmental impact of the line that gets to the station. That view may still hold.

    As I understand it, the EC is still very much of the view that the British Government and British Rail have yet to accord with the provisions of the unanimously agreed directive that the Government signed on the importance of a proper, thorough environmental impact assessment of the works that are proposed at King's Cross. The environmental code to which my hon. Friend has referred will not help in that respect, but it might at least be an earnest of intent.

    I am glad that my hon. Friend has again spelt this out: it is something to which our Front-Bench team should listen with rapt attention. If the EC says that the two should be taken together—the link and the international station—how can the Labour Front Bench spokesman say that we are already committed to the station at King's Cross but that we shall look at the link? That is the point. The two must be taken together and, as far as I am aware, the Labour Front-Bench team supported the EC, so there is an inconsistency here.

    However, I do not want to be inconsistent in my approach, so I shall return speedily to new clause 6. The requirements in it are perfectly reasonable. My hon. Friend has given assurances that he is not trying to use new clauses 5 and 6 to hinder the Bill. I accept that, as should all right hon. and hon. Members, on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend has made the point, and I have underlined more than once, that all he is seeking is effectively to enshrine within the Bill the assurances given by British Rail to the people who live in that area and to the two local authorities.

    I would not put it past British Rail to say something to a person's face and then do something completely different behind his back. We know that it is getting desperate with this scheme. At times, I think that it would like to see the scheme hit the buffers, because office development is not as profitable now as it was when the scheme was first mooted.

    8.45 pm

    Nothing surprises me about British Rail, so it would not surprise me if, having led us along this path and let us waste our valuable time, just as it wasted the time of that valuable Committee, it suddenly decided to announce that it was not going ahead with the scheme anyway, because it was no longer economically and commercially viable. In the end, we shall hold the Government responsible for such a fiasco if it comes about, as they have effectively washed their hands publicly, although no doubt they have said a number of different things privately, of the scheme.

    If we have learnt nothing else during this long, protracted and painful process, we have at least learnt that the private Bill procedure is no way to build a railway or to get involved in significant projects. That is a broader issue, so I shall end merely by saying that these new clauses are reasonable in their wording and have been reasonably argued, if not by me then by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. I commend them both to the House.

    I completely absolve the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) of any suggestion that he is not acting in good faith. On the contrary, he is clearly acting in what he sees to be the best interests of his constituents—that is what we are all elected to the House to do—and he deserves every praise for that.

    Let me make it clear to the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that British Rail is committed to this scheme. It is important not only to people in the north of England and in Scotland and, more particularly, to business and industry in the north but to commuters in other parts of the country and in London and the south, who will enjoy considerable benefits when the scheme is completed. Commuters north of London will have a better service into St. Pancras than that which they enjoy to King's Cross. There will also be a benefit to travellers north or south of London who want to cross the capital and who will he able to reach a wider range of destinations without changing trains.

    Such an advantage in transport infrastructure is crucial to the future of the country. British Rail has declared its commitment to it and has proceeded with the Bill in spite of a very lengthy series of stages, particularly the Committee stage under the chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton). It was the longest Committee stage of any private Bill since that which led to the construction of the Great Western railway in the last century.

    Having said one or two favourable words about the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury, I am afraid that I must disappoint him because it is not possible for the promoters to accept his new clauses. New clause 5, which relates to the protection of neighbouring properties, would confer special rights on owners or occupiers of property in the vicinity of the proposed works. Those owners and occupiers of the land that would be subject to the powers of compulsory purchase to be conferred by the Bill are already protected under the general compulsory purchase code.

    In addition, the British Railways Board has undertaken to provide further protection for owners and occupiers of properties in the areas affected by the proposed works. That protection relates to the circumstances of each case. It is important that there should be a degree of flexibility, which perhaps the new clause does not provide. That would include the purchase of certain types of property, double glazing and temporary housing. It is a fact that many properties are either unaffected or affected hardly at all. It would be unreasonable to expect—this is what the new clause provides—that any of those householders could require British Rail to purchase their properties regardless of the circumstances.

    Does the hon. Gentleman accept that properties that may not be immediately adjacent to the building site may be severely affected by the noise generated by work taking place on the site, especially by the movement of heavy plant and vehicles in the immediate area of the site? Does he accept also that the Committee said that the buffer zone should be extended beyond the point which British Rail had originally intended? Does he agree that British Rail has failed to provide for a full extension of the buffer zone as requested by the Committee?

    It is correct that the Committee asked British Rail to consider an extension to the area covered by the voluntary purchase scheme, but it did not insist on that. It was concluded that such an extension was not really justified.

    British Rail has not been dogmatic in any way in the approach that it has adopted to those who do not live within areas in which construction will take place. Considerable compromise has been allowed for., and discussions will continue to take place.

    The hon. Gentleman is incorrect when he says that the Committee did not insist that the buffer zone should be extended. Part of page 17 of the report read:

    "We consider it fair that the boundaries of the zone should be extended in line with the petitioners' request."
    It added:
    "We therefore make it a condition of our proceeding further with the Bill that the promoters should give an undertaking to do this."
    That appears to be an insistence that that should happen.

    I do not have the Committee's report in front of me. I can say, however, that it is obvious that the Chairman and other members of the Committee would not have allowed the Bill to emerge from Committee unless the promoters had satisfied them that they had met satisfactorily the conditions that had been imposed. The fact that the Committee allowed the Bill to proceed speaks for itself.

    This is an extremely important matter. It relates to a specific row of houses on the east part of the southern section of Northdown street. That row of houses was included in the petitioners' requests. Therefore, the Committee's report referred specifically to the houses. They are not, however, included in the area that British Rail agrees is affected. That is the point at issue. British Rail has so far failed to accord with the requirement of the Committee.

    I am not in a position to comment specifically on the row of houses to which the hon. Gentleman referred. I shall ensure that the promoters write to him about the matter. I hope that they are able to satisfy him that they have taken account ()I' the concerns expressed by the Committee. As I said, the Bill was passed by the Committee. The fact that it has returned to the House speaks for itself.

    The further protection that is required by the new clause—it would be in addition to what has already been offered—would impose ill-defined and unduly burden some obligations in relation to many properties that may or may not be affected by the Bill. The protection that has already been offered, when taken with the compensation code, is exceptionally generous for the owners and occupiers of affected properties.

    The promoters have to take account of other considerations. I do not think that it is a wise use of public funds—that is essentially what we are discussing—to require the promoters to purchase a substantial number of unaffected properties at the whim of the owners. The requirements to carry out works of mitigation, to provide compensation and to provide temporary rehousing in undefined circumstances are examples of precisely the sort of loose drafting that would ensure future argument or litigation. New clause 5 would provide scope for argument to continue in the courts for a long time rather than providing the go-ahead for a development which is needed badly and which would advantage people in London as well as those in other parts of the country.

    New clause 6 is also unacceptable. It would impose upon the promoters a duty to comply with an environmental code of practice which is frankly unnecessary. The promoters are in the process of agreeing a detailed code of practice bearing on the proposed works with the London boroughs of Camden and Islington, which are the local authorities concerned. There is no prospect—this is what the hon. Gentleman implied—that British Rail will carry out whatever works it desires at will. Indeed, it is still negotiating with the local authorities. With good will on both sides, I think that a fair agreement can be negotiated.

    The present position is that British Rail has put forward its latest proposal and the ball is in the local authorities' court. No doubt they will be responding shortly.

    The hon. Gentleman speaks of good will on both sides. I am sure that progress could be made if good will were to be shown on both sides. Negotiations have been taking place for three years and precious little good will has been shown by British Rail. I went into a series of issues in some detail for the benefit of the hon. Gentleman, and it is clear that he was not paying much attention. British Rail has been obstinate and obdurate on many issues. He must prevail upon it to show much more good will in the negotiations than it has displayed hitherto.

    The code covers the various matters that are set out in new clause 6. It is intended that its provisions will be incorporated in the contracts to be entered into between the promoters and their contractors. The local authorities, supported by the hon. Gentleman, have made demands which I think would not be regarded as in the interests of the wider community and of the taxpayer if they were taken at face value. British Rail has statutory obligations, which extend beyond the interests of the people living in the immediate vicinity.

    The code is not a static set of commands with words carved in stone. It will continue to be subject to discussions between the promoters and the local authorities, and there will be consequential updating and revision. I regret that that is something that is not provided for in the proposed environmental code in new clause 6. British Rail's code goes considerably further. For instance, it seeks to control noise and other disturbances, such as dust, at source. It provides for control of methods of working and the noise level permitted. Of course, those noise levels are lower at night and at weekends than during the normal working day.

    Any attempt in the Bill to set out the contents of the code, so rendering them static, would be undesirable because it would remove that element of flexibility which would benefit local inhabitants and which is crucial if the code is to be capable of revision as and when necessary. It is not the sort of provision that could be sensibly included in an Act of Parliament in the limited and ill-defined manner proposed in the new clause, without raising again the prospect of future argument and litigation. As I said only a few moments ago, the prospect of perpetual litigation is something that no one with the interests of the area at heart could contemplate with equanimity.

    9 pm

    The hon. Gentleman appears to be under the impression that the environmental code specified in new clause 6 is an inflexible instrument. It is not. If the hon. Gentleman had read the new clause, he would know that it expresses the content of the proposed code in extremely general terms. It does not lay down in any restrictive manner the sorts of matters that should be included. It simply ensures that a code will be established and that it will deal with some of the important issues. The hon. Gentleman should realise that, far from being an inflexible instrument, the environmental code will be of a general nature and will not restrict British Rail in the way that he suggested.

    I read new clause 6 before the debate, and I have just read it again. It does not appear to suggest anything other than a static document with no scope for the continuing co-operation—which I hope will be a feature during the construction work—between the local authorities, the contractors, the promoters and the local residents.

    I wish to say a word about the issue of traffic, which has been specifically mentioned. The hon. Gentleman spoke as though there would be a dramatic increase in traffic, to the disadvantage of the area. That matter was closely considered and it was summarised in the environmental statement published in May 1991, which concluded:
    "The effects on road traffic are generally positive. Traffic flows on the major roads will increase but the proposed road improvements will achieve compensatory improvements and in addition a large number of residential roads will experience significant improvements."

    Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House who wrote that statement?

    I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the major technical reports provided for the promoters by a large number of consultants, who have reputations to protect. It was on the basis of those reports that conclusions were reached. If the hon. Gentleman wants to cast aspersions, he must do so not only on the promoters but on the large number of consultants who produced the reports on which the conclusions were reached.

    I certainly cast aspersions on the consultants. Looking for an honest consultant is rather like looking for an honest lawyer—they are rare creatures. If British Rail appoints consultants, obviously those consultants are given a specific brief that almost inevitably leads them to the conclusions that British Rail wants. If British Rail was so confident that the new development would lead to a reduction in road traffic, it should have appointed a truly independent person to make the report. That is why we need an environmental impact assessment, not an environmental statement made by the promoters. It is clearly in the interests of the promoters to make the best possible case.

    I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has such a poor opinion of consultants.

    As I am neither a consultant nor a lawyer, that is water off a duck's back for me.

    The issue of traffic has also been considered by the Department of Transport and other authorities. The views to which I referred are certainly not held by British Rail alone.

    There were a number of references to Camley street natural park. Although it is true that the existing park will be lost, it is intended to retain a small area of land throughout the construction period to serve as a vanguard for the future. More importantly, it is intended to establish a new park under the auspices of the London Wildlife Trust on completion of the works; this would be 40 to 50 per cent. larger than the existing park—which would have consequent benefits for habitat diversity and educational use.

    To those who claim that it will not be possible to develop a new park, I say that the existing park was created in a very difficult urban environment, which demonstrates the possibilities that exist for restoring a high-quality park in future, for the benefit of local residents.

    There was some comment about Alan Baxter and Associates, which came to its own defence and informed the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury that it was totally blameless. However, that consultancy has been unable to deny that it came by the information that it used in producing its report as a result of working for British Rail; nor has it answered the accusation that it showed a lack of candour in failing to tell British Rail what it was doing, not responding in particular to a request for a copy of the consultancy's press statement, and discussing its proposals with third parties without telling British Rail what it was doing.

    I remind the House that, at the time, Alan Baxter and Associates was acting as a consultant to British Rail in respect of part of the railway lands site. The remark of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) about consultants may have been specifically directed at that particular group.

    The hon. Gentleman may have compounded the error into which he led himself on 25 November. The letter from Alan Baxter and Associates, which I quoted earlier, clearly states:

    "In particular, Mr. Waller, and those advising him, seem not to have understood that our proposals are based entirely on information available in the public realm."
    The hon. Gentleman failed to acknowledge that simple fact.

    I do not believe that all the information used by Alan Baxter and Associates was in the public realm at the time that the consultancy obtained access to it—although it is true that, perhaps partly as a result of that group's report, it is now in the public realm. However, I stand by what I said—and I know that others within British Rail feel very aggrieved about the way in which that particular consultancy acted without candour at the time in question.

    No response has been made to the argument that the alternative proposals do not offer the transport benefits that can be provided only by locating the new facilities as the Bill suggests. Unless there is a two-level station, with the international and Network SouthEast facilities located below the existing InterCity services, there will not be the vital interconnection which is a central feature of the Bill's proposals. Without that interconnection, it will be necessary for people to travel a considerable distance, perhaps by travelator, rather than walk only a few yards up or down an escalator.

    Let me add that the alternative proposals do not permit the operation of international trains to King's Cross before the completion of a new rail link from the channel tunnel. The works would probably continue for very much longer than the hon. Gentleman would like. Certainly, the alternative proposals would be no less destructive to homes and highways than the British Rail proposals on which they claim to improve.

    I feel that the promoters have gone out of their way to ensure that the inevitable disruption is minimised as far as possible, and that they will continue to do so. Of course, no one believes that it is possible to create a new station on such a scale without causing inconvenience, disruption and many environmental disadvantages in the short term. In the long term, however, the local environment will be very much improved.

    There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the national strategic transport advantages will be considerable, and that the Bill's proposals are vital to the future not only of those living in the north but of many people living much closer to London. I hope that the House will reject the new clauses, and allow the Bill to proceed further.

    Representing as I do the constituency neighbouring that of my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), let me place on record my support for his new clause—and, in particular, my appreciation for all the work that he has done in trying to protect the interests of his constituents. He has received precious little help from people who should have given him more assistance. More to the point, however, the Bill's promoters have displayed a disgraceful ignorance of the area and the community that will be affected, and a cavalier approach to the environment of inner-city dwellers.

    There are those in the House, and elsewhere, who believe that Islington is a sceptred paradise in which everyone is wealthy, and in which people spend most of their time eating in bistros and drinking in wine bars. That is not an accurate image of the borough. Any hon. Member who cares to journey down the corridors to the Library and consult the constituency unemployment lists will find that both Islington constituencies are in the top 20. There are 17,000 out of work in the borough, and the unemployment rate in the area affected by the scheme is very high.

    I hope that many local people will read the comments of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) in the local papers, and will be appalled. The hon. Gentleman suggests that theirs is not a very nice area now, and that it therefore does not matter if it becomes pretty grotty during the construction phase and is not improved subsequently. That is a disgraceful approach.

    I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman, as a sponsor of the Bill, would be slightly better informed about the contents of a House of Commons report on this subject before speaking in the Chamber. I should also have expected him to recognise that the fund of good will for British Rail and its property development antics in the King's Cross area ran out a long time ago. Assurances from British Rail mean absolutely zero. If, as the hon. Gentleman seems to suggest, British Rail is prepared to accept the environmental requirements presented by the borough of Islington and local people, why does it oppose new clause 5? Why should it do so, unless it has no intention of implementing those requirements?

    The hon. Gentleman mentioned various things that had happened in the area, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury. People have sought to improve their environment. Adventure playgrounds and gardens have been constructed following local initiatives, for instance.

    The hon. Member for Keighley came out with the throwaway line that the Camley street open space could he moved elsewhere. Does he appreciate the graft, the backache and the heartache that went into obtaining the site, and the crucial support that was given at the time by the Greater London Council? Does he realise how long it takes for a tree to grow, for a habitat to be established in which frogs and newts can breed? Does he know how long it takes to produce a habitat that will enable all that wildlife to return to an inner-city area?

    Bringing that about is not like building an office block or a road. It takes years. The hon. Gentleman, however, merely suggests destroying that habitat and moving it a few yards away, where it will be part of a larger site. The children who developed the park, and all those living in the King's Cross area, would have more respect for the hon. Gentleman's views if British Rail said, "Not only will we keep the site; we shall provide more space for the expansion of a vital inner-city lung." But they are not doing that; they are offering a larger site some distance away—with all the destruction that that would involve.

    The hon. Member is not correct. The current proposal provides exactly what he has asked for, but there will be an enlargement, an addition. However, if the railway connections are to be improved, the park will be lost in the short term, because a new line will go straight through it.

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making my point for me. The park may be restored at a later stage. However, as I have tried to explain, a park is not like a living room carpet, which can be taken up and put down with little difficulty.

    9.15 pm

    My hon. Friend will be aware that the proposal is not only that the Camley street natural park should be destroyed for the purpose of putting the lines through, but also that there should be a considerable time—several years at the very least—before the beginning of work on reinstatement, let alone on the growing of all the flora and on the development of the habitat to which reference has been made. Later we shall come to an amendment whose purpose is specifically to provide a time scale for the Camley street natural park. At the moment, there is no guarantee that restoration will be achieved in the shortest possible time.

    My hon. Friend is quite right, and I shall be pleased to support the amendment to which he has referred. However, hon. Members ought to be aware that this is a living community. The people in it want to see the area improved. If they are to be the victims of some degree of national planning, the House ought at least to do them the courtesy of listening seriously to their representatives as they present their proposals for protection and improvement of the environment. Hon. Members appear to be totally ignorant of these needs.

    If a massive pit or some such project were proposed for a constituency in the north or in Wales or the south-west, would the same attitude be adopted? Here, the attitude seems to be that, as this is an inner-city area, it does not matter. If British Rail is allowed to get away with treating these people in this way, damaging the environment and increasing the volume of traffic on the Euston road by up to 50 per cent., the same thing could happen elsewhere. As was said earlier, two wrongs do not make a right.

    The provisions of new clause 5 are very important. As I explained in an intervention, when the Department of Transport is keen to get people in a suburban area—a Tory-voting marginal constituency—to accept the development of a major road or motorway, it bends over backwards to assure them that their property values will be protected, that, if necessary, they will be bought out, that banks will be reconstructed for noise insulation, and so on. I agree that all those things should be done—at least, I would agree if I believed that new motorways were necessary, but in any case, I agree with the principle. Why cannot the promoters of the Bill accept that exactly the same principles apply in respect of this densely populated inner-urban area?

    Any house owner in the area who wants to move finds it absolutely impossible to sell his property. Who would buy a house that he knew to be alongside an enormous construction site? People are entitled to protection of their investment. That is why British Rail should be compelled to accept new clause 5, which covers the point very well. It is clearly expensive for BR to do so, and I do not doubt that, although I do not know the exact costings. I should have thought that the hon. Member for Keighley would have had the costings at his fingertips, because he was presumably briefed on such matters by British Rail.

    Many of the properties are owned by the London borough of Islington, which has no wish to reduce the total housing stock but wishes to improve the quality and quantity of housing because there are many people on the housing waiting list, many homeless people and many concealed homeless people.

    Islington council will not willingly give up property, but will be seeking compensation for damage to properties that it owns and for the costs that it incurs by having to move tenants away from the area because of the work being carried out.

    There has been much argument over the proposal, and some hon. Members have suggested that the people of King's Cross have to pay for the national need. I regret that way in which BR has so cynically manipulated opinion within the House to create a north-south divide on the issue. We are seeking environmental protection for people who live in our borough. We are seeking to protect house owners who might suffer as a result. If BR is taken at its word, it should be supporting this new clause.

    New clause 6 mentions compliance for a series of works to be done. If the hon. Member for Keighley had bothered to talk to us about the buffer and boundary zones, he would have found that page 17 of the report by the Committee which examined the King's Cross Railways Bill, published by the House on 26 June, said:
    "We consider it fair that the boundaries of the zone should be extended in line with the petitioner's request. We therefore make it a condition of our proceeding further with the Bill that promoters should give an undertaking to do this."
    Unless I have misunderstood, my hon. Friend's clause seeks to put that on the face of the Bill. I fail to understand why the House is apparently opposing the new clause.

    On the question of the environmental code of practice for works being carried out, there have been experiences of voluntary codes of practice in other parts of the borough. The contractor agrees that he will not do certain things and will do others only at certain times, but unless they are backed by the force of law, such codes are useless.

    When Arsenal football club sought to develop the executive boxes and the south part of the football ground, it agreed a voluntary code of practice which, among other things, excluded Sunday working. Every condition was broken in some way, including Sunday working, and there was no comeback. Every time the main contractor was approached, he said that it was a question of what the sub-contractors did, and that he had no control over them.

    New clause 6 is essential if we are to protect the lives of people in the area during the construction phase. Is it right for people to be expected to put up with 24-hour working, seven days a week, with BR doing any work it likes at any time? It is not fair and proper. It would cause noise and increased traffic in an area where traffic is already heavy. Should my hon. Friend's constituents be expected to tolerate huge lorries seven days a week, 24 hours a day, travelling from the development with spoil or bringing construction materials in? They should not have to put up with that—no one should have to put up with that sort of work, noise and interference with their lives.

    As my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said, many people in the area work in public services. In particular, it has been a residential area for those working in the post office and the health service and on the railways. Various security companies and the local authority are major employers in the area, and many of the residents work shifts and need to be able to sleep during daylight hours. They also deserve some consideration when deciding the way that the work is done.

    When hon. Members who support the Bill and oppose the new clauses claim that there will be an improved environment at the end of the work, I wonder what sort of improved environment it will be. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West mentioned the problems of increased traffic in London. Many people using the station—not the majority by any means, but a considerable number—will be arriving or leaving by road in taxis, private cars or other means.

    Pollution in inner London is horrific. Those who believe that London can take more traffic would do well to remember the health of our children, the extent of asthma, the problems of photochemical smog in the summer and the appalling air quality in the pre-Christmas period because of the still air. London's air was dirtier than Mexico City's and other places that are a byword for traffic pollution. London cannot take any more pollution. The Bill will only increase the amount of road traffic in an already overcrowded area.

    The hon. Gentleman is completely wrong. Has it occurred to him that King's Cross was selected because it had better transport links than any other site? The demand for taxis is lower than in any other central site because of the good access by train, bus and tube. Those who are concerned about smog and other environmental disbenefits caused by traffic movements should remember that King's Cross is the best possible location to avoid those problems.

    There will be 15 million extra passengers a year using King's Cross. I do not know how often the hon. Gentleman uses King's Cross.

    Good. When he has a bit of time on his hands, he should see the crowds that use King's Cross underground station between 7.30 am and 9.30 am on a weekday. It is hard to see how more traffic or more people could get through the area.

    British Rail has not thought about the consequences of its proposals. 'Traffic jams on the Pentonville, Euston and Marylebone roads will be made worse by the car and taxi traffic that will be generated by 15 million passengers seeking to enter or leave the station by road vehicle.

    British Rail is not the slightest bit interested in how many additional road movements are caused by its proposals—it is not a road authority. My hon. Friend surely remembers the London Labour group asking the then Secretary of State for Transport who the strategic authority for such movements was, and he said that we should ask British Rail. We did so, and British Rail said, "We are not the strategic authority; we are a transport authority. We run the railways." It could not give a monkey's toss how many cars, taxis or buses are involved, because that has nothing to do with BR. But it has a lot to do with us and the people who live in Islington.

    If I were not a vegetarian, I would have said that it was passing the buck around the room. We met the then Secretary of State for Transport, who claimed that we should go somewhere else with every environmental or transport problem in London. Everybody was responsible for transport in London except the Secretary of State. The reality is that this cock-eyed proposal has been made because of a lack of planning, of consultation and of a serious environmental impact assessment.

    My hon. Friend criticises British Rail, but does he accept that it is the prisoner of Government policy? It is not British Rail's fault that it is forced to depend on Thatcherite policies of enhanced land values to pay for transport improvements. Inevitably, many of the criticisms that should be made of the Government are being made of British Rail. That is extremely convenient for the Government, who want everybody to criticise British Rail, as it will help their case for closure through privatisation.

    I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pro-rail. I want increased rail usage and development. I use the railways a lot. I do not believe in the development of an enhanced road system when our railways would be perfectly adequate if only more money were put into them, which the Government clearly are not doing.

    I sometimes wonder about British Rail. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that it is a prisoner of Government policy, which says that it must sell some of its existing capital assets for all new works. Sometimes it appears to be an awfully willing prisoner of that policy: that is my anxiety.

    This is an important Bill and we are going through an important process that highlights the inadequacies of the private Bill procedure. We see the wrong-headedness of a major development taking place on the back of the private Bill procedure with no real planning permission and no planning applications or the like. I hope that, as a result of our experience of this, people will examine the process.

    I wonder whether the golden egg that British Rail thought it had got hold of when it realised the potential for office and other developments to the north of King's Cross station, will ever be laid. Land values in London are dropping fast as the recession gathers pace.

    9.30 pm

    Everywhere, indeed, but we are talking about the particular development at King's Cross.

    British Rail has staked everything on selling land to create an office development to the north of King's Cross. That will make it more money that the socially needed houses that should be built on the whole of that site, except on the areas needed for parks. What happens if it does not go ahead with the whole scheme? All the time spent in Committee and all the millions of pounds spent on legal representation, publicity, consultants and others will be wasted.

    The House should think more seriously about the need for access to the channel tunnel for the entire country. It is fallacious to argue that King's Cross is the only place where the main station can be developed.

    I ask hon. Members to consider that the two new clauses deal specifically with the effects of the development on people living in the King's Cross area in terms of their property, the noise, the environment and the area. The effects are specifically irrespective of the location of the station. I invite hon. Members to consider the effects on the community represented so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury and how hon. Members would feel if the same works, the same disruption, the same noise, the same pollution and the same dirt were to result from a major development in their constituency passed by a vote in this House. They would be appalled. Therefore, they should support the new clauses.

    I shall be brief. I did not intend to speak until I heard the response from the promoter. The new clauses do not affect the principle of the Bill; they would merely provide protection for the people who live in the vicinity.

    My hon. Friends asked serious questions, but the promoter, on behalf of British Rail, did not answer any of them. It is a contempt of Parliament for British Rail and the promoter, knowing that questions will be asked—they had seen the amendments—to fail to provide adequate information. They strike an arrogant attitude. One wonders whether the agreements on a voluntary code—the substitute for new clause 6—for the decent operation and conduct of the civil engineering works so as to minimise the intrusion on the people who live nearby will be carried out by people so careless of the debate here in Parliament. The promoter had an opportunity to assuage fears, but he failed to do so.

    The promoter did not deny that a row of houses had been omitted from the area of protection. My hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith) has sought to include it. The promoter has said that he will write and explain the circumstances. That is not good enough. If we are debating this issue in Parliament, we can reasonably expect to receive assurances and proper statements from the promoter. People in British Rail knew that this debate was to take place. They are being advised—expensively, I suspect—by private Bill promoters. They should be able to answer the queries that have been raised today.

    The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) said that it would be an extraordinary obligation on BR if it were to be subject to the decision of house owners who, at a whim—to use his words—sought compensation from BR. On the contrary, it is BR that will, at a whim, be able to refuse a householder compensation when that householder has to face construction noise and invasion of his peaceful privacy. "At a whim" is an emotional phrase.

    The hon. Member for Keighley sought to suggest that a person who wanted to move somewhere else would, at a whim, be able to invoke the procedures set out in the new clause. The hon. Gentleman ignored the fact that as any such person will be living on the periphery of a massive construction site—the biggest in Europe—he will be unable to move anywhere anyhow. Equally, the BR board could, at a whim, ignore the pros and cons and the case for decent justice for an ordinary householder and simply dismiss such a call for compensation. That could happen unless the board was under a statutory obligation to meet that claim.

    I do not know the area around King's Cross, and I accept that some properties might be on the margin with regard to compensation, but given the magnitude of this civil engineering project, why should we not strike the balance in favour of those affected rather than in favour of those who want to press ahead with that construction project?

    The hon. Gentleman is describing an imaginary situation. BR would not, at a whim, act as he has described. I have carefully explained how the promoters are in the process of agreeing a detailed code of practice relating to the construction works with the London boroughs of Camden and Islington, which are carefully protecting the interests of those living within their boundaries.

    It would be total nonsense for me to start negotiating across the Floor of the House about such things as the number of decibels to be allowed in particular parts of the site, vehicle movements, where security cameras should be located, or how many stars a hotel should have when people are allocated temporary rehousing. I cannot negotiate about the terms of arbitration. It is impossible to have an environmental code of practice which is carved in stone and does not allow for the kind of necessary flexibility to provide for the very talks that are bound to continue in order to reach agreement, not only before the works begin but as they proceed.

    The hon. Gentleman has not been listening, and I regret to say that I suspect that that is characteristic of his attitude today. I have moved on to discuss new clause 5. I have already mentioned the one row of houses that the promoters have excluded from the provisions under which the BR board could be required to purchase if a householder suffered intrusion due to civil engineering work.

    The hon. Gentleman has taken umbrage at my use of the phrase "at a whim" in relation to decisions taken by the BR board. Why does he take umbrage when those words are used in relation to the BR board, especially when he uses them about property holders in the area affected by those civil engineering works?

    The hon. Gentleman has asked why people should be able, at a whim, to require BR to purchase their homes. Why is the hon. Gentleman unable to attribute the characteristics that he attributes to the BR board to the ordinary people living in the area? Why does he not believe that those people will make a balanced, mature, considered judgment? if he is ascribing such characteristics to BR, it is only fair that he should ascribe them to the people who live in the area.

    The answer is that the promoters are reaching detailed agreements on a range of issues with the local authorities concerned. If the new clause were passed, it would provide an unqualified right to all those living within the boundaries, whether or not and to whatever extent they were affected, to require the board to purchase their property, compensate them, and provide temporary rehousing, irrespective of the kind of housing in which they lived at the time of the works. In particular, they could require the board to carry out any other appropriate matters. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that that is a reasonable requirement, I disagree with him.

    I am terribly sorry, but new clause 5 does not include subsection (2)(e) of new clause 6, as the hon. Gentleman is trying to do. I am discussing new clause 5 and the obligations that would follow for people affected by major civil engineering works. I do not wish to continue the argument for much longer because my hon. Friends wish to vote on the matter.

    The hon. Member for Keighley made a substantial error in his intervention. He said that anyone living in the area would have the right to sell his property to British Rail. The vast majority of people living in the area specified in new clause 5 are tenants of the London borough of Islington and cannot activate the provisions of paragraph (a). The hon. Gentleman has not read the new clause.

    Another point that underlines my hon. Friend's remark is that subsection (2) of new clause 5 defines "specified property" in order that it is not a general right but a specific and defined right for a limited number of people. I am surprised that, having had the new clause tabled with the possibility of selection, the hon. Member for Keighley did not say how many properties would be affected.

    Concern for workers and working class areas does not stop at the boundary of Watford. We are concerned wherever people are adversely affected. There is a strong case for improving rail links and investment in railways, to transfer some of the freight from our heavily clogged roads on to the railways. The Department of Transport has been working against that for the past 20 years or more. We want that position reversed, but if major civil engineering works are to be involved, the House should reasonably impose protective measures to ensure that people who are adversely affected receive proper statutory protection. Voluntary codes of practice are all very well. If people were universally of good will, we would not need legislation. The legislation is necessary to provide assurances for people who are potentially adversely affected.

    I intervened only because I am amazed that the promoter has not accepted the new clauses. He may be worried about one or two words but he should accept them in principle with a view to ensuring that the protection is statutory. Statutory protection means that people are bound by it, whereas voluntary codes can be pushed to one side. Embarking on such works, not for a few months but for eight years, means that there must be a firm base for statutory protection of everyone involved before the work starts. That is why I hope that the House will accept the new clause.

    My hon. Friend understands these things better than most people in the House. The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller), speaking on behalf of the promoters, said that discussions about a code were going on with the London boroughs concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) may like to venture a point about the extent to which we can trust British Rail. I know that my hon. Friend has more trust than I do in that respect

    If we do not write those provisions into the Bill, there will be no sanctions against British Rail if it tells the boroughs, "We are sorry, but we are not interested and we cannot reach agreement." Who could then impose sanctions on British Rail? The House could not.

    9.45 pm

    I am willing to defend British Rail because it has great difficulty in providing public services throughout the country against the background of attacks by the Government and of Government cuts. Support has been whipped up for the privatisation campaign against British Rail. British Rail provides a vast service network, by and large fairly successfully.

    British Rail is a corporation, so we should bind it to its duties and obligations under law. It is a large corporation, so its personnel will change. The chairman of British Rail may give assurances in perfectly good faith, but he may be replaced. The next chairman may disregard those assurances and say that the civil engineering completion is the sole criterion and that British Rail will have no such care for people living in the area.

    If we want to provide some guarantees for people who will be adversely affected by this major civil engineering project, we should ensure that the House is the guarantor. We are the best guarantor of people's position and we pass legislation to provide guarantees. Is there universal good will among the members of the British Rail board, the local authorities, the people living in the area, the contractors and the sub-contractors? Sub-contractors are often employed at rock bottom rates through competitive tender, and they will have to cut corners to make a profit over the next eight years.

    If everyone was covered by multicoloured good will, we should not have to legislate. If there was good will all round, the House would be redundant. There is no universal good will, but there is cut-throat competition, bad practice and bad faith. Against the background of human experience, I suggest that new clauses 5 and 6 would be a decent safeguard for people who will have to face muck and noise for eight years.

    By leave of the House, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will pick up one or two points from the debate on the two important new clauses.

    The speech by the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) was a deeply inadequate response to the needs of the people of the King's Cross area and to the arguments of my hon. Friends and myself. The hon. Member began by admitting that British Rail has undertaken a number of voluntary agreements to do precisely what is set out in new clauses 5 and 6. By making that admission, he gave away almost the entirety of his case against inclusion of new clauses. The new clauses seek only to enshrine in the Bill the protection that British Rail has already said that it intends to provide on the whole. Through the new clauses, we are trying to ensure that that happens.

    The hon. Member for Keighley went on to refer to what he said were the "many" properties affected. I have already dealt with part of that point by informing the hon. Gentleman, who seemed unaware of the fact, that a large number of the properties within the boundaries referred to in new clause 5 are in local authority ownership. The local authority has no intention of going along and presenting BR with those properties, and certainly no desire to do so, as it desperately needs them to provide housing for the people of my constituency. There are some owner-occupiers in the area, however, and I believe that they are entitled to basic minimum protection from the blight that will affect them throughout the next eight or nine years. The hon. Gentleman should not dismiss their concern so lightly.

    The hon. Gentleman said that the environmental code proposed in new clause 6 was likely to be inflexible, but precisely the reverse is the case. If he reads the new clause, he will see that it does not prescribe noise or decibel levels or hours of working. It merely says that agreement should be reached on those specific issues. I went through a whole series of matters that British Rail has recently been discussing with Camden and Islington. British Rail is apparently determined not to reach a reasonable agreement with those two local authorities on an environmental code of practice. By including such a provision in the Bill, we should be placing additional pressure on British Rail in an attempt to ensure that it behaves more reasonably. The new clause would not tie British Rail in knots or create an inflexible structure. It merely says that there must be an environmental code and tells British Rail to get on and reach a reasonable agreement with the boroughs about it.

    The hon. Member for Keighley then referred to the traffic impact of the proposed station and the so-called environmental statement, which he held up for the whole House to see. The traffic section of that statement was written by a firm called Halcro Fox and I think that I am right in saying that it actually claims that the traffic impact of the creation of the new international station—which, as we have heard, will deal with an extra 15 million passengers a year—on York way, Euston road and Marylebone road will be "negligible". That statement was disproved by the Department of Transport's own evidence to the Committee, which came at a very late stage in the Committee's proceedings and was published after that environmental statement. That evidence showed that, especially at peak hours, there will be a substantial traffic impact. Of course many people leaving channel tunnel trains will want to get on an already overcrowded underground system or transfer to trains heading to the north and so on, but a large number of them will want to take taxis, board coaches and be met by friends in cars. The proposals will have a very substantial traffic impact on the surface in an already over-congested area.

    The traffic impact will not be confined to York way and Euston road, bad though it will be in those two places, but will extend into central London, with an increased flow of traffic attempting to get to King's Cross, and particularly to the north and east, as people making long journeys by train are brought to the station from the suburbs by car with heavy luggage and because of the difficulties of the King's Cross interchange. The traffic impact has been grossly underestimated.

    My hon. Friend is right. We all know what happens to London's entire traffic flow when one or two key points in the vehicular traffic network clog up. That is precisely what will happen at King's Cross as a result of the proposals.

    The hon. Member for Keighley dared to say that the effects on road traffic would be generally positive. I challenge him to come and tell that to the people of King's Cross, who as a result of the proposals will be living with traffic jams outside their homes day in and day out.

    The hon. Member for Keighley also said that, if the station was not built at King's Cross, there would have to be complicated provisions such as travelators. He ignores the fact that British Rail proposes a travelator between King's Cross and Euston to get people to the north-western lines. The hon. Gentleman should say less about travelators and complex interchanges.

    The hon. Gentleman also ignores the important point that I raised, and which was picked up by my hon. Friends, about the importance of the row of houses on the east side of the southern part of Northdown street. It is not good enough to say that British Rail will write to me about that. We need an absolute commitment from British Rail that it will include those houses, with the others in the affected area, in the properties to be looked after as part of the buffer zone.

    The hon. Member for Keighley dismissed many of the issues still at stake in the discussions on the environmental code as not being in the interests of the wider community. I fail to see how allowing pile driving at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning next door to residential homes is in the interests of any community, let alone the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the work.

    I remind the House of the overwhelming environmental impact on people in the King's Cross area. The scheme involves the loss of 83 homes, the displacement of 326 residents, the demolition of four listed buildings and the destruction of a two-acre inner-city nature reserve. It involves the loss of 168 workplaces providing 1,620 jobs and the loss of 58 shops, 38 of which provide key services to local people. It will have a construction time of about eight years and will entail deep pile driving for the subsequent buildings and the sides of the box that will be created. A vast 40 ft hole will be created immediately beside people's homes. That will have an enormous environmental impact.

    My two new clauses do not seek to stop the Bill. Nor do they seek in any way to interrupt the smooth progress of essential British Rail operational requirements. They seek to enshrine protection for the people immediately affected, and I warmly commend them to the House.

    Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

    The House divided: Ayes 7, Noes 191.

    Division No. 34]

    [10.00 pm


    Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
    Cryer, Bob
    Flynn, Paul

    Tellers for the Ayes:

    Madden, Max

    Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and Mr. Tony Banks.

    Nellist, Dave
    Skinner, Dennis


    Alexander, RichardCope, Rt Hon Sir John
    Alison, Rt Hon MichaelCrowther, Stan
    Anderson, DonaldDalyell, Tarn
    Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
    Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)Davis, David (Boothferry)
    Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)Devlin, Tim
    Barron, KevinDewar, Donald
    Batiste, SpencerDixon, Don
    Battle, JohnDouglas-Hamilton, Lord James
    Beith, A. J.Duffy, Sir A. E. P.
    Bellingham, HenryDunnachie, Jimmy
    Benn, Rt Hon TonyDunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
    Benton, JosephDurant, Sir Anthony
    Bermingham, GeraldDykes, Hugh
    Bevan, David GilroyEastham, Ken
    Blackburn, Dr John G.Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
    Blaker, Rt Hon Sir PeterFallon, Michael
    Blunkett, DavidFearn, Ronald
    Boswell, TimFenner, Dame Peggy
    Bowis, JohnForsyth, Michael (Stirling)
    Boyes, RolandForsythe, Clifford (Antrim S)
    Braine, Rt Hon Sir BernardForth, Eric
    Brazier, JulianFoster, Derek
    Bright, GrahamFox, Sir Marcus
    Burt, AlistairFranks, Cecil
    Butler, ChrisFraser, John
    Caborn, RichardFreeman, Roger
    Callaghan, JimFyfe, Maria
    Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)Gale, Roger
    Chapman, SydneyGoodlad, Rt Hon Alastair
    Colvin, MichaelGorman, Mrs Teresa
    Coombs, Simon (Swindon)Gregory, Conal

    Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)O'Brien, William
    Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)O'Hara, Edward
    Hague, WilliamPage, Richard
    Hamilton, Rt Hon ArchiePaice, James
    Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)Patnick, Irvine
    Hanley, JeremyPattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
    Hardy, PeterPawsey, James
    Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
    Harris, DavidPendry, Tom
    Haselhurst, AlanPorter, David (Waveney)
    Hawkins, ChristopherPowell, Ray (Ogmore)
    Haynes, FrankQuin, Ms Joyce
    Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)Rathbone, Tim
    Hood, JimmyRedmond, Martin
    Howells, GeraintRees, Rt Hon Merlyn
    Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)Ridsdale, Sir Julian
    Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
    Hunter, AndrewRobinson, Peter (Belfast E)
    Irvine, MichaelRogers, Allan
    Jack, MichaelRooney, Terence
    Jackson, RobertRoss, William (Londonderry E)
    Janman, TimSackville, Hon Tom
    Jessel, TobySainsbury, Rt Hon Tim
    Johnson Smith, Sir GeoffreyShaw, David (Dover)
    Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
    Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
    Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)Skeet, Sir Trevor
    Kellett-Bowman, Dame ElaineSnape, Peter
    Kilfedder, JamesStanley, Rt Hon Sir John
    Kilfoyle, PeterSteel, Rt Hon Sir David
    King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)Stephen, Nicol
    Kirkhope, TimothyStern, Michael
    Kirkwood, ArchyStevens, Lewis
    Knapman, RogerStewart, Andy (Sherwood)
    Knight, Greg (Derby North)Strang, Gavin
    Knowles, MichaelSumberg, David
    Knox, DavidSummerson, Hugo
    Lawrence, IvanTaylor, Ian (Esher)
    Lee, John (Pendle)Taylor, John M (Solihull)
    Lilley, Rt Hon PeterTaylor, Matthew (Truro)
    Lofthouse, GeoffreyTebbit, Rt Hon Norman
    Loyden, EddieThompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
    Lyell, Rt Hon Sir NicholasThorne, Neil
    McCartney, IanThurnham, Peter
    McGrady, EddieTracey, Richard
    MacGregor, Rt Hon JohnTredinnick, David
    McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)Trimble, David
    Maclean, DavidTrippier, David
    McLoughlin, PatrickVaz, Keith
    McMaster, GordonViggers, Peter
    McNamara, KevinWallace, James
    McWilliam, JohnWaller, Gary
    Mahon, Mrs AliceWareing, Robert N.
    Mans, KeithWelsh, Andrew (Angus E)
    Mates. MichaelWelsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
    Maxton, JohnWheeler, Sir John
    Meale, AlanWiddecombe, Ann
    Meyer, Sir AnthonyWilson, Brian
    Mills, IainWinterton, Mrs Ann
    Molyneaux, Rt Hon JamesWinterton, Nicholas
    Montgomery, Sir FergusWood, Timothy
    Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
    Moss, Malcolm

    Tellers for the Noes:

    Needham, Richard

    Sir Donald Thompson and Mr. John Greenway.

    Neubert, Sir Michael
    Nicholls, Patrick

    Question accordingly negatived.

    Bill to be further considered on Thursday 16 January.

    Tourism (Northern Ireland)

    10.9 pm

    The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland
    (Mr. Richard Needham)

    I beg to move,

    That the draft Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 5th December, be approved.
    I have said before to hon. Members, and I say again, that Northern Ireland has had remarkable success in bucking the current economic trend. It has, for example, contained annual growth in unemployment to a level substantially lower than elsewhere in the country—4 per cent. in Ulster compared with almost 60 per cent. in Great Britain. This is not, of course, in any way to minimise the seriousness of job losses that have been announced in Northern Ireland. However, the relative buoyancy of its economy is, I suggest, very well reflected in the various imaginative investments that continue to be made across the length and breadth of the Province.

    The past six weeks have been very difficult for Northern Ireland, and especially for Belfast. Attacks by the IRA on the city and citizens of Belfast caused extensive damage. One such attack destroyed the high street tourist information centre. The fact that the staff at the centre picked up the pieces and were open for business the following day is a prime example of the resilience and resolution of the people of Belfast and amply proves that such attacks achieve nothing except the destruction of jobs and the deferment of economic improvement. The Government intend to match that resolve and fortitude by making good the damage. I am certain that the House will join me in congratulating the people of Belfast and in expressing our deep appreciation of the successes that the security forces have been achieving.

    Tourism in Northern Ireland, as I shall illustrate, has unique potential for growth—and with the added impetus of this proposed legislation, it will make a major contribution to economic development in our region.

    Visitor figures for 1990, for the second year, were at an all-time record level of 1·153 million. No fewer than one in five visitors came to Northern Ireland exclusively for a holiday, compared with one in nine 10 years ago. Of all holiday visitors in 1990, 102,000—or almost half—came from the south, a more than 50 per cent. increase over the previous year; and a quarter of holiday visitors, 55,000, came from Great Britain—an increase of more than 60 per cent. on the previous year. Those truly remarkable results owe much to the enterprising professionalism of the reconstituted Northern Ireland tourist board and show very clearly that Northern Ireland is being accepted again as a uniquely attractive holiday destination.

    That is just the start. The scenic, recreational and cultural attractions of Northern Ireland compare with the world's best and are at least on a par with those of our neighbours in the south. The full potential of tourism in Northern Ireland has yet to be achieved, as can be seen from the fact that, whereas tourism in the Republic presently accounts for 6·8 per cent of gross national product, and provides some 82,000 jobs, the comparable figures for Northern Ireland are 1·3 per cent. of GDP and about 10,000 jobs.

    I cannot over-emphasise the importance of both Great Britain and the Republic to the growth of tourism in Northern Ireland. However, also of tremendous importance to Northern Ireland are tourists from North America, Europe and Japan. They too are coming in increasing numbers; there is much further potential in those markets.

    Does the level of employment have anything to do with the fact that the Republic spends on average £8 per head on every visitor, whereas Northern Ireland spends only £2?

    I am not sure that levels of unemployment bear any relationship to the spending in the south of Ireland on tourism, compared with spending in the north. However, as the hon. Gentleman will find when I conclude my remarks, I agree and accept that much more could, should and will be done to increase spending in promoting Northern Ireland as a tourist destination.

    We can be encouraged by the current growth of tourism to Northern Ireland, but if growing numbers of tourists are to visit our magnificent attractions, we must improve the quality and standard of the facilities to look after them. That does not mean that we should not be proud of what we have already done. An outstanding example was the major programme of events held during Belfast 91. That included the world rose festival, but taking pride of place in the programme was the immensely successful visit of the tall ships to Belfast lough. Apart from its success in enticing a multitude of overseas visitors, that attracted half a million people from all sections of the community, who thronged the streets in one of the biggest shared celebrations in the city's history.

    I am certain that Londonderry, with its Impact 92, will have an equally exciting year of enjoyment, and that tourism in Derry will be one of the main beneficiaries.

    The challenge is also about tackling the impediments to the growth of tourism. Perhaps the most demanding of the challenges is to improve the quality of the services that we offer our visitors, as well as promoting the best of Ulster. The solution must lie in significantly stepping up the promotional efforts of the Government, Northern Ireland tourist board, the Industrial Development Board, and other interests. Close collaboration between all concerned will be essential if we are to achieve that success.

    I am sure that the Minister would add good transport links to the list of requirements—and, if possible, new access routes into Northern Ireland. With that in mind, I deeply sympathise with his predicament in losing some of his budget as a consequence of the horrors of terrorism and the need to pay for the structural damage that it does. However, can he still give an assurance—obviously, this is of interest to my constituents—that the prospects for Ballycastle as a point of entry and egress are still very much alive?

    I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We have discussed that issue, and I agree with him that it is of great importance to improve on the links between Scotland and Northern Ireland—not least, at Ballycastle.

    The need to improve quality in everything we do was starkly illustrated in the recent Horwath consultancy report. It concluded that in general our hotels and guest houses did not satisfy the needs and expectations of the tourist market and offered poor value for money. It recommended a concerted drive to improve quality if we were to have any hope of matching the demands of the market, and it emphasised the importance of better training. I am determined, as is the NITB, that, together with the industry, we will meet the desired standards and make the improvements required.

    The order gives us the vehicle for achieving the strategy for tourism that the Government have developed over the past two years in association with the industry. It puts the board in the central role in tourism development and increases its powers, so that it may carry out the challenging task of increasing the competitiveness of the industry.

    I believe that a maximum membership of nine will ensure more effective decision-making. The nine-member board already in place is, as I mentioned earlier, achieving excellent results. The board will operate at arm's length from the Department, and will assume direct operational responsibility for all tourism development programmes, including the major programmes sponsored by the European Community and the International Fund for Ireland.

    It is vital that the board works closely with the key interests in tourism, so that a coherent and sensible approach is presented and understood by all. Consultative arrangements to achieve that aim are specified in the order.

    A new, more flexible scheme of selective financial assistance is to be introduced to strengthen the board's ability to persuade the industry to bring forward worthwhile projects. A preliminary scheme already in operation has attracted a promising range of projected new developments.

    That is a most important provision. All tourists and holidaymakers, when they sit down to plan a holiday, want to know with absolute certainty that what they are being offered has been thoroughly checked out, comes up to scratch, and represents value for money. That must be a main priority for the tourist board.

    The regulatory arrangements proposed in the order require all tourist accommodation to comply with a set of minimum standards for various categories of establishment. Let me put that simply: it prohibits the provision or offer of tourist accommodation that has not been certified as meeting those minimum standards.

    Although no major changes are made to the tourism powers of district councils, provision is made for closer co-operation and partnership between the board and the councils in the provision and marketing of tourism products. Let me stress that such co-operation is absolutely essential to the strategy for tourism: I congratulate both the NITB and the councils on how well they have started the process of working together. I believe that the success that has followed the meeting of February 1991 augurs very well for future co-operation between them.

    As a token of the Government's commitment, and to demonstrate the importance that we attach to increasing the number of visitors to this most beautiful part of our country, we have this year increased the tourist budget from £6·7 million to £10·9 million. The order, and that financial commitment, must give the industry the best start in 1992 for which it could ever have hoped. It now has a statutory framework, and enjoys financial support at a level unequalled at any time in the past.

    I commend the order to the House.

    10.21 pm

    I join the Minister in congratulating the people of Belfast on the resolution and fortitude that they showed during the Christmas period of cowardly terrorism in the Province.

    This is a nice, non-controversial little order with which to start 1992—although I cannot guarantee that the current mood of conviviality will continue as we approach the inevitable general election. I do not intend to take up much of the time of the House: indeed, I do not expect to speak for more than seven or eight minutes—little longer than I took last time I spoke. I know that hon. Members representing the Province will want to describe the beauties and tourist amenities in their constituencies. Let me, however, make a small plea to those who visit the Province on holiday: if they go via Wigan pier, they will be given an excellent and cordial welcome.

    As the Minister has explained, the order sets out the duties and responsibilities of the NITB. The contents and aims of the order are wholly acceptable to the Opposition: we are strongly in favour of what the Minister is doing. Tourism is an important industry, not just in Northern Ireland but in the island of Ireland as a whole. Despite the cowardly activities of terrorists who aim to disrupt normal life in Northern Ireland, the industry continues to grow, as the Minister has pointed out. More and more people are not being intimidated, and not being dissuaded from visiting a beautiful country.

    I wish to pay a special tribute to the enthusiastic and assiduous way in which the Minister has promoted the tourist attractions of Northern Ireland. I am sure that he, in turn, will wish to pay tribute to Commissioner Bruce Milian and the European Community for the considerable help that they have given in funding many of the tourist projects that have proved so successful not only in Northern Ireland, but in the island as a whole.

    As we enter 1992—the year of the internal market, the year when barriers will come down—tourism is set to play an important part in the efforts to develop and improve the regional economies of the Republic of Ireland and of Northern Ireland. A successful tourist policy will result in the creation of jobs and the diversification of economic activity and will bring many benefits, in terms of vastly improved amenities, to the local population.

    To help the economies of the island of Ireland to catch up with those of the more prosperous parts of the European Community, we must find ways of increasing economic activity. Tourism is undoubtedly one of the most promising growth sectors, and it is in that sector that the most important issues we face can be addressed and standards raised in absolute terms.

    I have referred to the role that the European Community has played in the advancement of tourism in Ireland as a whole and in Northern Ireland in particular. I should like to spend a little time providing some detail. The tourism programme, which has been funded from the European development fund together with the European social fund, is designed to make full use of the natural advantages of Ireland as a whole and of Northern Ireland in particular—the features that make Ireland particularly attractive to foreign visitors. The late 1980s and the early 1990s have seen growth in the tourism industry. The European programme seeks to build on that growth. That means enhancing existing potential as well as creating new specialised attractions in the regions.

    I understand that, with European Community support, the tourist boards of the Republic and of Northern Ireland are concentrating on niche marketing. They are emphasising the aspects where the island has something special to offer—sporting activities, such as angling, boating on rivers and at sea, golf, riding, cycling and walking, and the cultural and historical heritage. A centralised genealogical service will be set up for the benefit of emigrants' descendants who wish to trace their ancestors. Historic houses and interpretive centres will be conserved and developed.

    Both the European programmes pay particular attention to protection of the environment—one of the most precious assets of the island of Ireland. Both make provision for assistance in marketing—a matter that is particularly important in Northern Ireland. Those programmes build on previous European assistance programmes for tourism—in particular, programmes relating to border areas. Experience has shown the importance of training measures funded out of the European social fund to ensure a supply of well-qualified staff to meet the increasing tourist demand.

    These Europe-funded programmes will play an important part in boosting tourism in the island of Ireland, thereby contributing to greater economic prosperity. Not only will that benefit the populations of the north and the south, but countless visitors will be better able to appreciate the natural beauty and the heritage of northern Ireland and southern Ireland.

    In addition, tourism has an important part to play in the creation of jobs in both the north and the south. For example, the Ballyconnell canal project—the initial stage of which was opend by the Taoiseach and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland—will result in the opening up of a navigable waterway from the Shannon to Lough Erne. I very much hope that, when it is completed in a couple of years' time, my family and I will take a trip on the canal.

    The European Community has produced a booklet which, as the Minister knows, sets out several projects in which the Community has been involved and the amount of money that it has put into tourism in Northern Ireland. I cite the project with which I am most familiar—the Foyle railway in Derry. My good friend Alfie O'Connor, is the secretary. The money spent on that project has not merely added tourist potential to Derry but created jobs. It has done something that other expenditure has not done in the past. The booklet published by the European Community outlines the vast amounts of money that it has put into tourism in Northern Ireland, and the way in which the local economy is being rejuvenated.

    The order will regulate the activities of the tourist industry in Northern Ireland to ensure that good standards are set and maintained and inspections are regularly carried out. That is what is required and why we welcome the Minister's proposals.

    Has there been a fall-off in visitors to the Province from north America since the Gulf war? Many visitors go to the mainland of the United Kingdom before travelling to Ireland or Northern Ireland.

    A passage in the order relates to the tourism functions of district councils. My party and I are not opposed to the extension of powers which are included in the order. It gives district councils the power to do a number of things to enhance the potential of tourism. District councils in Northern Ireland do not have to put up with the poll tax or capping, as district councils do in the rest of the United Kingdom. Are there any revenue implications for district councils in carrying out the functions set out in part V? Will there be any capital costs to local councils? If so, who will pay for them? Will district councils have to include those costs in the annual budget and in the rates levied on the community or will the Northern Ireland Office accept the costs of the additional facilities that district councils will now be able to provide?

    In the time that I have known Northern Ireland and the island of Ireland, since my appointment to the Opposition Front Bench, I have come to love the place. It has wonderful scenery and wonderful people. I only wish that a peaceful climate would emerge in that country so that more people could go to see it. In the meantime, the order facilitates the tourist industry to Northern Ireland and we therefore give it a fair wind.

    10.30 pm

    I join the Minister and the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) in paying tribute to the courage and resilience of the Ulster people who, despite massive destruction and death, carry on with business as normal. I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Minister who, despite threats from the IRA, has visited many places where he would be an immediate target for a terrorist attack. Members of the security forces and business men throughout Northern Ireland do not have security in their homes or even in their places of work, but that has not deterred them from doing their jobs. That great resolve has enabled Northern Ireland to survive more than 20 years of appalling atrocity.

    Despite terrorism, tourists are still attracted to the Province. Many come from the United States of America and Canada, some from Germany and some from Japan. I had the pleasure of showing a former member of the Japanese Government around parts of my constituency in North Down.

    Northern Ireland and the people of Ulster have been given a bad press by the media, especially by television. That is bound to have an adverse effect on attracting tourists to the Province, especially from Great Britain. Many terrorist incidents are not reported on national television, even though a similar incident in Britain would receive prime coverage. Television tends to depict the majority of the Ulster people in the worst possible light. Its presentation of Ulster people as bigoted and unfriendly is a cruel defamation, but on the basis that if a lie is repeated often enough people will begin to believe it, that lie could easily take root in Britain.

    I denounce that image of Northern Ireland as a lie. It is high time that television companies in Britain, and some of those abroad, started being fair to the people of Ulster, who are the finest people in the world. Of course I am biased, because I live in Ulster and I know and appreciate the fine qualities of its people, who are warm-hearted, kind, hospitable, humorous and caring. A Northern Ireland Minister may begin his duties full of fear and trepidation, but once he arrives in the Province he realises that he is in a land that is good and kindly. Northern Ireland Ministers never wish to give up their job and return to the mainland.

    President Buchanan, the 15th president of the United States of America, was one of more than a dozen United States presidents with Ulster origins. He said that his Ulster blood was a priceless heritage, and in uttering those words so long ago he could easily have been speaking for the people of Northern Ireland today. When people come to Northern Ireland, they discover the truth about it—the magic of Ulster, about which we heard from the Minister and the hon. Member for Wigan. That is why I support any measure to encourage more visitors to the Province. I doubt whether the tourist board has displayed the vigour necessary to project the appeal of Northern Ireland, but the most costly advertising and promotion can be undermined and vitiated by television bias against Northern Ireland.

    Let me nail the lie, so endlessly repeated, that the Scots first came to Northern Ireland when the plantation of the north-east of Ireland took place 300 years ago. Historically, the Ulster people were the first people to occupy any part of the island of Ireland. The people of what is now Scotland crossed the 22 miles to Antrim and Down, which are plainly visible from Scotland. The patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, was a Briton who was taken under duress to Ulster, spent most of his life in Northern Ireland, and died there.

    Yes, the Minister was taken under duress, but he does not want to leave us now.

    The IRA and its sympathisers keep shouting, "Brits out of Ireland." If St. Patrick returned to Ireland today, I assume that the IRA would tell him, as a Brit, to get out of Ireland—and if it could, it would like to murder him. St. Patrick got rid of the snakes from Ireland. If he came back today, he would feel it a duty to get rid of those who parade as IRA patriots—the gunmen and the evil men who haunt our Province and kill people, destroy buildings and take away jobs.

    Tourism will help to generate more jobs and to improve employment prospects in Northern Ireland. Far too many people in the Province are unemployed, and my constituency is no exception. Anything that will help to provide more jobs is to be encouraged. Perhaps the Government could help by providing more finance to clear up litter, which is all too easily seen on our streets and beaches. Perhaps they could force local authorities to deal with the fouling of streets by dogs, which seem to be about in such vast numbers. Certainly, any street I walk in Bangor seems to have been visited by a fair number of dogs in the previous 24 hours.

    Tourism is not only about providing amenities for tourists to Northern Ireland. As article 2 makes clear, a tourist includes a person travelling for pleasure within Northern Ireland. For me recreational amenities created for tourists are also for local people. Local people already enjoy the benefits of a visit to the Ulster folk and transport museum in my constituency, and to the Dundonald ice bowl in the other part of my constituency within the council area of my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson). Those attractions should be there for local people to enjoy.

    More people should come to Northern Ireland. People do not realise the cultural heritage of Ulster and the Ulster people. In my constituency, the town of Bangor is the site of an ancient abbey which many centuries ago sent out people to bring light to Europe, which was then in darkness. Bangor is one of the few places on these islands marked on the mappa mundi. We have suffered invasions— I cannot remember the precise date, but I think it was about the year 600, when the Vikings destroyed the abbey and slaughtered the scholars there. Nevertheless, Bangor continued and still exists today.

    That is the answer that we give to the present-day marauders who are out to destroy Northern Ireland economically and in every other way: the Ulster people will survive and endure.

    10.42 pm

    I shall have to disturb the peace and harmony of the debate because I must make my usual formal protest about Orders in Council for Northern Ireland business. There are 34 articles and three schedules in the order. We have one and a half hours to debate them. As everyone knows, we cannot change one comma or full stop. The Minister will not be surprised that I protest about that. Indeed, he would be disappointed if I did not.

    My second protest is that we are now creating yet another quango. The Minister will have the power to appoint the members of the tourist board. He will appoint the chairman, then the deputy or vice chairman, and so on. Tonight we are in double jeopardy: first, we are putting this through by Order in Council and, secondly, we are to create a quango responsible to no one but the head of the Department.

    A great chance has been lost tonight, as I believe that a number of councillors should be on the tourist board by right. However, I would not expect all the board members to be councillors because one needs a sprinkling of professionals. Nevertheless, councillors should have been given the opportunity to show what they can do. Hon. Members who represent different parts of Northern Ireland will seek to talk them up tonight; councillors would act likewise, regardless of their political party. If we had councillors on the tourist board, at least some of its members would be responsible to the people who elected them and representative of those people. It is important to stress that.

    Why is the tourist board report for 1990 not yet available? The report for 1989—[Interruption.]

    Order. If hon. Members want to make comments, we should all hear them so that they can be recorded in Hansard.

    Inquiries were made to the appropriate part of the Department and we were told that the 1990 report would not be available for a couple of days. That was most unfortunate as it meant that I was unable to look at the report, which has now been handed to a colleague. I am glad that we finally have that report, but it should have been in October. Surely we should be able to expect the report within six months of the end of the year.

    I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for not rising earlier to make the matter clear. I apologise for the fact that the 1990 report was not available earlier. The hon. Gentleman is right that it should have been. The report is on a new format and, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, there have been changes in personnel. I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman an undertaking that, from now on, we will do everything in our power to ensure that the report is available within three rather than six months of the end of the year.

    I welcome that, and I thank the Minister for his consideration in this matter.

    There are few, if any, United Kingdom maps and leaflets on Northern Ireland. In other words, there is a division between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. There are leaflets and maps showing the whole of the island of Ireland, but that is not enough. According to the tourist board's annual report for 1990, 53 per cent. of those who visited Northern Ireland came from Great Britain, and they spent £83·25 million. Why do we not produce maps and leaflets for those visitors? Why do we not have a tourist office in Scotland, given that 11 per cent. of tourists came from there in 1990 and spent £15·5 million in Northern Ireland?

    It is a shame that the Minister is not wearing his other hat, because there is a problem in an area of my constituency concerning two different roads—the Killead bypass and the A26. The Killead bypass was promised for the beginning of 1992 and the A26 was promised for the beginning of 1993. The work on those roads is to remedy two bottlenecks outside the international airport which we are told is to be privatised. Even if the airport is left as it is, there is a bottleneck in the road leading to the south of the Province and beyond, and a bottleneck in the road leading to the north of the Province from the airport. There appears to have been extremely poor planning, with a bottleneck on either side of an international airport, and perhaps more thought should have been given to the fact that sufficient money was not available.

    There has been much publicity about the poor condition of the rivers. Although fisherman have made allegations about how those conditions were caused, and suggestions about what should be done about them, no action has been taken by the Department of the Environment or the Department of Agriculture.

    There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with certain aspects of fishing areas and water conditions in Northern Ireland. Will the Minister consider setting up a new authority to replace the present set-up, in which the Department of Agriculture looks after the development of rivers, and the Fisheries Conservancy Board for Northern Ireland acts as a protection and conservation body? Would it not be possible to have a body which would look after both aspects?

    At present, river inspectors are controlled by the Department of the Environment and river bailiffs are controlled by the Fisheries Conservancy Board. The conditions of those two "workmen" are entirely different—a river inspector is treated differently from a bailiff. Ultimately, that is because of finance. The amount of money available to the Fisheries Conservancy Board may not extend to creating employment conditions for bailiffs as good as those for river inspectors. Would it not be better to have an organisation to look at the overall problem? In those circumstances, will the Minister consider allowing councillors—elected representatives—to be on that body, or perhaps to form it completely?

    Article 11(4) of the order says:
    "where any instalment of principal or interest or both principal and interest due on foot of any loan made under this Article is more than 31 days in arrear, additional interest at such rate as may be specified in or determined in accordance with the scheme under this Article shall, notwithstanding any statutory provision or rule of law to the contrary, be chargeable on that instalment as from the date on which it fell due and shall be recoverable therewith."

    On the point about the provisions for charging penal rates of interest, does my hon. Friend agree that it is especially disturbing that that will arise under the provisions of a scheme which will override any other statutory provision or rule of law to the contrary? The scheme is a remarkable form of delegated legislation which will override statutory law and the rule of common law, and will be made without any form of parliamentary control. Is that not as outrageous as the practical effects of the provision?

    I agree. The problem arises from the way in which the order goes through and from the fact that we are dealing with another quango.

    Article 13 uses the words:
    "to be inspected by an officer of the Board".
    What qualifications will the officer have when he inspects a property? Is he to be a member of the board, or will he be a professional?

    Article 20 deals with fees. Surely it would have been a good idea to give some idea of the fees to be charged, instead of simply saying:
    "In making regulations under this Article the Department shall ensure, so far as is practicable, that the fees payable in respect of the inspections mentioned in paragraph (1) shall be such as to produce an amount sufficient to meet"
    the expenses of the board. That could have been put better to give us an idea what the fees would be.

    I refer now to article 30(1). At present, councillors can consult the board. According to the order, councillors will now be required to consult with the board. That is a change which I hope that the Minister can explain to us. Article 30(2) says:
    "A district council may acquire land otherwise than by agreement for the purposes of this Article."
    Why is the acquiring of land different from the requirement in article 30(1)

    Article 31 uses the words:
    "A district council may, with the consent of the Department of Finance and Personnel, transfer to the National Trust".
    Why is there a difference in that article? Why does it refer to the Department of Finance and Personnel?

    Article 32 says:
    "A district council shall consult with the Board before exercising any powers conferred by the Article unless those powers are to be exercised in combination with the Board."
    The order is saying that all 26 councils in Northern Ireland must consult with the board before they do anything, apart from the two items that I mentioned. I ask the Minister to refer to that point in winding up.

    Schedule 1 deals with the appointing of the membership of the board. Will the Minister tell us who the "Head of the Department" is? Is it the Minister himself, or is it the permanent secretary?

    How will the procedure for appointing members to the board work? Will their names be taken out of a hat, bearing in mind the fact that the schedule says that the members will be appointed
    "from among persons who appear to him"—
    the Minister or the head of the Department—
    "to have experience in any field of activity which he considers is relevant"?
    What criteria will the head of the Department use? Will he refer to the fair employment legislation as well as to other Northern Ireland legislation before making those appointments? When the Minister, or whoever does the job, forms the board, will he ensure that all the sides in Northern Ireland are represented and that the people concerned come from all the different communities?

    I ask again why there are no council representatives on the board by right. A councillor could be appointed, but he would be appointed at the will and pleasure of the head of the Department. The point is that the councillors of the 26 councils in Northern Ireland have no right to be on the board.

    Paragraph 3(3) of schedule 1 says:
    "The Head of the Department may at any time by notice in writing to a member of the Board remove him from office."
    What does a member have to have done to be removed from office? Would it not reflect upon the Minister's—or the head of the Department's—ability to appoint if he suddenly had to remove someone from the board? What will be the criteria for removing someone from the board, and in what circumstances would that be done?

    Schedule 1(4) says:
    "Where a member becomes or ceases to be the chairman or a deputy chairman…the Head of the Department may vary the terms of appointment."
    Does that mean that someone can remain a member of the board even though he is no longer its chairman?

    I can understand the provision which states:
    "The Board may pay to each member of the Board such remuneration and such allowances as the Department may determine."
    That is what we would expect, but will the Minister please explain the following:
    "Where a member of the Board is in the employ of any other person, the Board may make to that other person, in consideration of the services of that member to the Board, such payments as the Department may determine."
    Does that mean not only that someone who is on the board representing a firm will receive his remuneration, whatever it happens to be, but that his firm will receive remuneration in respect of his absence? If so, that is a great departure from all normal practices in these matters.

    What sort of quorum will be required? The schedule states:
    "The validity of any proceedings of the Board shall not be affected by any vacancy among the members".
    Let us suppose that seven of the nine are no longer members of the board. Can the board function with two members? What quorum will be required to enable the board to continue its business?

    I wish to allow other hon. Members the opportunity to speak, but these important matters merit discussion. The Minister appoints the tourist board, and the board can then appoint advisory committees whose members need not necessarily be members of the board. Without reference to the Minister or to anyone else, the board can appoint advisory committees, which are then their own masters and can decide how their business is run. They are unelected, unappointed and unfettered in the work that they do. Finally, how will board allowances compare with advisory committee allowances?

    11.4 pm

    I join hon. Members who have paid tribute to the people who work in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland and face considerable adversity in the task that they have to accomplish. It is difficult to mention tourism in Northern Ireland without facing the fact that considerable disadvantages have to be overcome, or at least taken into account. They stem, of course, from the security situation in Northern Ireland or, perhaps more accurately, the perception of that situation by those who are outside the Province.

    If I was presented with a tourist brochure from Beirut or Yugoslavia or some other war-torn part of the world, it would take a fairly good salesman to convince me that I should take my family to such a place for my next summer holiday. The media have placed Northern Ireland in that bracket, and it is against that backcloth that the tourist board and those involved in the tourist industry in Northern Ireland have to carry out their work.

    When I approach the subject of tourism, the first aspect I have to question is the strategy and direction of the Northern Ireland tourist board. In 1989, the Government published a brochure entitled "A view of the future: Tourism in Northern Ireland". It outlined a strategy which would have called people like me defeatists because we recognised that, because of the terrorist campaign, there was overwhelming difficulty in selling Northern Ireland as a tourist venue.

    The brochure suggested that the vigorous campaign to bring the holiday visitor to Northern Ireland would continue. I do not think that the statistics outlined by the Minister in the debate or others that have been made available subsequent to the publication of the brochure showed that that strategy had succeeded. It is the wrong strategy, because this is not the time to concentrate on that end of the tourist market.

    I do not say that we should give it up. There must still be a vigorous effort to attract tourists to Northern Ireland, but the overall effort of the Northern Ireland tourist board should be directed at bringing back the business man and his family, because, by and large, people who come to Northern Ireland and see it for themselves see that it is not as it is painted by the media and they are prepared to return to the Province. It would be much more productive to go to those who come regularly to the Province and encourage them to bring their families for holidays. The tourist board should concentrate on the obvious specialist holidays, such as genealogical tours, with to a view to increasing the number of holidaymakers, particularly from North America.

    The other important tourist is the home visitor, if that is not a contradiction in terms. There is an obvious understanding by people who live in Northern Ireland of the security situation, and they know where it is quite safe to go. The people of Northern Ireland should be given great encouragement to spend a holiday at home at least once every other year and to take their holidays in Northern Ireland. Grants should be given to the operators of tourist facilities throughout the Province to encourage local people.

    I join colleagues across the Floor of the House in their protest about the means by which we have to deal with orders such as this, which are on important subjects that require a great deal more time in debate than we have been afforded tonight. Furthermore, many reasoned amendments to this order could have been tabled, and I am sure that we should have managed to convince the Minister that he should accept them. I am sure that he does not believe that his orders are so perfect that they are like the laws of the Medes and Persians and should not and cannot be changed.

    I shall deal first with the definition of a tourist amenity. I rather suspect that there is an overriding opinion within the Northern Ireland tourist board that a tourist amenity is only something that the Almighty made. The people of Northern Ireland have a lot more than most people in other parts of the world to thank the Almighty for, in terms of the beauty and scenery of their country, but a tourist amenity goes much further than that.

    Recreation provision is an important tourist amenity. If one wants to bring families to Northern Ireland, one has to be aware that young people will not be content simply to go to the glens of Antrim, the Antrim coast, the causeway, or the Mournes, although all that is attractive and they could do some fishing around the constituency of the hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe).

    There are recreational facilities all around the Province that should be sold better by the Northern Ireland tourist board, although it seldom notices them. It should recognise the important part that some of our recreational facilities play in bringing tourists to Northern Ireland, by which I mean bringing them exclusively to such facilities.

    The Minister will know that I am closely connected with the recreational facility of Dundonald international ice bowl and its leisure park. Every week, people come from the rest of the world to take part in competitive games—ice hockey teams, ice skaters and bowling teams. When the full-scale park eventually reaches fruition, even more people will be attracted to even wider facilities. Leisure facilities play an important role, but one that is not properly recognised by the Northern Ireland tourist board.

    Several hon. Members have already spoken about the local government aspect. The Minister is making available a wealth of money to the Northern Ireland tourist board and to tourism in Northern Ireland. However, does he recognise that local government makes a singular contribution to tourism, and that it should have as much right as any other organisation to receive money from public funds aimed at tourist ventures? Like the hon. Member for Antrim, South, I notice that district councils are expected to consult the tourist board before embarking on the building of a tourist amenity. Therefore, will the Minister follow me as I go through the order looking for definitions?

    The early part of the order defines "tourist amenity" as
    "an amenity, facility or service provided primarily for tourists".
    It defines a "tourist" as
    "a visitor to Northern Ireland, a person spending his holiday in Northern Ireland or a person travelling for pleasure within Northern Ireland".
    Under those definitions, Dundonald international ice bowl would be a tourist amenity. Indeed, it would be a tourist amenity on the basis that it received 50 per cent. of its funding from the tourist grant of the EEC.

    I hope that the Minister will make it clear—I do not want there to be doubt down the line—that we are talking only about consultation. I hope that permission is not required from the Northern Ireland tourist board. After consultation has taken place, will a local authority face a limitation on the sum that it can spend on what it deems to be a leisure or tourist provision? Will a fiscal constraint be placed on a local council at that stage?

    The hon. Member for Antrim, South, who I think was involved in local government, will recognise that there has not been a very full relationship between the local authorities and the tourist board. I would not want to put it as high as a strained relationship. As the tourist board saw such a small role for district councils, the councils ended up having their own tourist-based organisation. Given that relationship, the Minister has an excellent opportunity to try to bring together the various interests that are fighting the battle to bring tourists to Northern Ireland. That can be done by having a definite role for local authorities within the board and by providing places for the authorities as of right on the board of the tourist board.

    It seems that there are certain circumstances in which the tourist board can make a grant or a loan, for example, to encourage tourist provision for Northern Ireland The order suggests that the tourist board could become involved in matters relating to the tourist industry. It seems to suggest that the board could become almost commercial. I wonder what restraints the Minister might have in mind to place upon the board in the exercise of its functions by associating itself with various tourist interests in Northern Ireland.

    I give the Minister every encouragement in his task of attracting tourists to Northern Ireland. Some of us have had an unhappy view of the tourist board, especially when it thought it pertinent that the red hand of Ulster should be removed from its emblem to be replaced by a distorted shamrock. That showed, perhaps, the way that the tourist board was thinking. I considered that a retrograde step. The board should not involve itself in politics in the way it has. I encourage the Minister to take up the task of raising tourism to a higher level. I suggest that he concentrates on the areas of tourism in which, in the present security circumstances, it is more realistic to seek to increase business.

    11.19 pm

    By now. the Minister will be aware that, in general terms, the order is welcomed on both sides of the House, but that we are grossly dissatisfied that we have not been given an opportunity to improve it and to remedy its deficiencies by amendments. The order has many flaws and many matters that require explanation, but it would be impossible to touch on them in any detail tonight. Nevertheless, we welcome the fact that, after four decades, since 1948, we now have a consolidated order—I had better not call it a Bill—bringing these matters together. We hope that it will streamline the administration of tourism in Northern Ireland and that the duality of decision making—the duality of activity between the Northern Ireland tourist board and the Department of Economic Development tourism division—will now be removed.

    I hope that that will happen, but I question a rather sinister little sentence in article 5, which states that the Department of Finance and Personnel will issue to the board
    "(a) directions of a general or specific nature as to the exercise by the Board of its functions".
    I hope that there will be minimal interference and that the advantages of streamlining finance, personnel and decision making will be brought about by the order.

    Like other hon. Members, I deplore the fact that the large pool of expertise and professionalism in local government has not been harnessed and utilised through the order. Indeed, article 4(3) says that the board should "establish machinery for consulting", and it is a great pity that the Minister did not outline the shape of the consultation, how it will be implemented and who will be involved. Perhaps he will do so when he replies, or later through correspondence. The article refers to outside bodies, but it does not refer to local government. There is an enormous pool of experience and know-how in local government that has not been tapped. That is a serious omission.

    I hope that the financing figure that the Minister quoted tonight—an increase of £6·7 million to more than £10 million—will mean a real increase, and is not simply the sum arrived at by adding the money spent by the tourist board and that spent by the tourism division of the Department of Economic Development. It must be a real increase in money going into the market place, as it were, for tourist promotions.

    The greater the flexibility in the allocation of that funding through grant aid to the various facets that would encourage amenity and accommodation production, the better—and that should be the aim of the board. There is a preoccupation—if the House will forgive the pun—with accommodation in the order, in that more than half the articles deal with registration, expansion and all that pertains to grading of accommodation

    The board is to undertake a new and sweeping activity. It is noticeable that the legislation which applies to the remainder of Great Britain has not been implemented. I hope that Northern Ireland is not to be the guinea pig, and I hope that this will be a fruitful exercise. We all agree that tourists are entitled to know the quality and standard of service for which they are paying. A sensitive approach is required, however, because there are various levels in any tourist market. I hope that there will not be a theoretical and useless application of standards, because the accommodation will have to address very diverse markets, from the family in the guest house to five-star hotels. I hope that the fees charged will be reasonable and acceptable, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Antrim, (Mr. Forsythe).

    Omitted from the list of overnight stopping places in the order are caravan sites, youth hostels and activity centres, which all provide accommodation. I hope that the order will be extended to cover them. Indeed, it could go one step further. In many parts of Northern Ireland, there are festivals in which the local community participates and private homes are used to provide one-off overnight accommodation. I trust that they will not be expected to register.

    One aspect deliberately omitted from the order is the inspection and registration of catering facilities. As one who has obviously enjoyed tourist facilities in recent times, I take the view—as do many others—that good accommodation and good food are the two bastions of an enjoyable holiday. It appears that accommodation is to be registered, but that no importance is to be attached to the quality of food. It is important, at least in some voluntary way, to offer some assessment to tourists of the quality of food that they may expect at a particular establishment, and thus appeal to them through their stomachs. Having said that, I was interested to note that the new draft order for local government also specifically excludes the inspection of catering establishments by health inspectors.

    I echo the sentiments already expressed about board membership. It is a great tragedy that it does not include any tourism professionals. While not wishing to cast any aspersions on those appointed to the board, I note that four of them are from marketing-oriented firms. A great opportunity has been missed to benefit from the wealth of experience that local government can offer. The Minister rather pre-empted tonight's debate, to the extent that nine of the board's members were appointed on 25 July 1991, irrespective of tonight's debate.

    I draw the Minister's attention to the necessity for rural regeneration. Farm diversification is important to Northern Ireland's rural regeneration, and will serve as the linchpin of tourist development. I refer, for instance, to the use of the farmhouse as a guest house. The board must take a sensible approach to that dimension.

    I thank the Minister and the tourist board for undertaking a study of the whole South Down area, including the districts of Down, Newry, and Armagh. Such a trans-district council study is required, because specific district councils are too small. That study will highlight one of the most scenic parts of Ireland—the mountains of Mourne, allied to St. Patrick's country. With reference to the comments made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder), we have enough Roman/ Welsh/English evangelists, and were quite happy with the one that we had in 432. Perhaps one of South Down's great tourist attractions is the ancestral home of the Earl of Kilmorey. However, I will leave that subject for another night.

    I have a number of brief questions to ask the Minister. Will the board inform local government of the consequences of the details of registration? Will the fee really relate to the market? Will there be clarification in respect of farmhouses and private houses? Will accommodation grants be made directly available to develop that sector, and will there be full co-operation with Bord Failte promotions, publicity, and scheme sharing? Finally, will the tourist board share with local government responsibility for fully developing employment in Northern Ireland's tourist industry?

    11.29 pm

    We have had a fairly wide-ranging debate, involving no fewer thant 73 questions of detail. That goes some way towards proving a point on which we all agree—that the Order in Council system is not the best way to conduct these matters. That, however, is a matter for Opposition Members to decide in the talks to which they have referred: they can decide how they wish to reach an agreed change in the current procedure.

    I shall try, in the limited time available, to answer the points that have been made. If I cannot do so now, I will write to hon. Members in full. If they then wish to discuss their points with me, I shall, as always, be only too delighted to see them for that purpose, rather than discussing any of the other political matters that may be mentioned in the papers.

    I thank the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) for his kind comments. I join him in congratulating Commissioner Millan on the way in which he has supported Northern Ireland whenever we have visited him to talk about the application for grant from the EC. Some £30 million is now being made available by the EC up to 1993–94, plus an additional £7 million under "Interreg", which will go both north and south. Some £100 million will be spent on tourism over the next five years. That is an enormous sum being spent on what I consider to be an important way of promoting Northen Ireland's economy. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is going to take his holiday on the Ballyconnell canal. Perhaps while he is there he can explain to the few he meets who may wish to join his party why they will not be able to do so.

    The hon. Gentleman asked about the fall-off in visitors from the United States. There is no such fall-off; indeed, this year there has been a modest increase in the number of visitors from North America. Northern Ireland is the only region in the British Isles to have achieved such a result, and I feel that we should congratulate everyone in Northern Ireland who managed to make such a success of it.

    District councils have a crucial role to play in the development of tourism in Northern Ireland. They already have an enormously successful record. We need only see the history park of Gortin, or visit Kinnego bay, Castle Archdale or Enniskillen—and a whole range of facilities that many of us have visited with our families—to observe the professionalism and competence exercised by district councils. They may raise as much money as they wish for such tourist measures—here I should also mention the Triad scheme in Armagh—in the knowledge that grants will be available from the EC, the International Fund for Ireland or even the tourist board.

    The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) talked about the bad media. I think that he was being modest in using such language. He was extremely eloquent about the history of Northern Ireland; perhaps only Finn McCool would have been upset, as he was not given a mention. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are changing the law on litter: we are tightening it up. I believe that one way in which we can improve litter collection is to examine the organisation that local government currently applies.

    The hon. Member for Antrim, South (Mr. Forsythe) suggested that the tourist board was a quango. Like its English, Scottish and Welsh counterparts, it is; the point is that we are setting up a board which, whatever the hon. Member for South Down (Mr. McGrady) may say, is staffed by people eminently qualified to undertake the job of planning, structuring and seeing through a tourist strategy for Northern Ireland. The hon. Member for South Down said that four marketing people were involved. We need marketing people when it comes to selling Northern Ireland, but the chairman of the board has a long professional background of providing the highest grade of tourist amenities.

    The hon. Members for Antrim, South is quite right that the head of Department is the permanent secretary. Under the relevant legislation, that has always been the case. However, the Minister does not just stand quietly by—in a "Yes, Minister" scenario—waiting for the permanent secretary to tell him what to do. The phraseology to which the hon. Gentleman referred is used in planning legislation also. The Department's responsibility is the Minister's responsibility.

    Does my hon. Friend agree that, if each of the 1,300 public houses in Northern Ireland were to provide two bedrooms, the amount of accommodation for tourists could be almost doubled? Might it not therefore be prudent to include in the Northern Ireland tourist board a representative of the retail licensed trade? That vital part of the tourist industry ought to be properly represented.

    I take my hon. Friend's point. Mr. Lavery, who is on the Northern Ireland tourist board, runs the Guinness operation in Northern Ireland, so he has some interest in these matters.

    The point that I want to make goes to the crux of points that were made by the hon. Member for Antrim, South and the hon. Member for Belfast, East (Mr. Robinson)—whether councils should have a right to representation on the board. I do not accept that they should, although that does not necessarily mean that there should not be a councillor on the board. There is no reason why there should not be. provided that his concern is what is best for Northern Ireland as a whole. In my view, councillors must concern themselves more with the ever-increasing number of amenities being developed in their areas. As I have said already, some councils have done extremely well. but many could do better. I believe that over the years the number of amenities throughout Northern Ireland will increase. It is up to the councillors and their officials to ensure success in that field.

    The Northern Ireland tourist board should be as independent of Government as possible. Its job is to bring together an overall tourist strategy for Northern Ireland—a strategy whereby provision is not duplicated unnecessarily, financial priorities are set, and money is put into schemes to which everybody can subscribe.

    The hon. Member for South Down said that, unfortunately, not enough attention was paid to consultation machinery and how it would work. That is something that will have to evolve. I agree with the hon. Member for Belfast. East that the process had not always been as good as it might have been, but that does not mean that it will not improve. I do not want to put ropes around those involved in the consultative process by telling them that they have to do things in one particular way or another. As I have said, the first meeting in February 1991 was very successful. I do not want to define matters too tightly.

    What is a tourist amenity? I should prefer to leave that to be worked out by the board. Of course, a tourist amenity should he primarily for tourist development. I have no wish to shackle local authorities in the development of facilities, which may have a large tourist element or a not-so-large tourist element. I want to see those thousand flowers bloom.

    I do not agree with the hon. Member for Belfast, East that we should not have a strategy for the promotion of tourism in Northern Ireland. From the surveys that have been carried out, we know that a large number of people want to come to Northern Ireland and to see a positive image of the Province. Those who have visited the Province love it and want to come back. This order gives us the means to make that possible, to set the standards and to provide the certification and registration facilities. It pumps in the money, and it gives everyone a role in the achievement of the objective. This is a very important means of increasing employment in Northern Ireland, improving the image of the Province, and making sure that its beautiful countryside and excellent facilities are made available to a greater number of people.

    Question put and agreed to.


    That the draft Tourism (Northern Ireland) Order 1992, which was laid before this House on 5 December, be approved.

    Metrolink (Greater Manchester)

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

    11.39 pm

    I am grateful for the opportunity to have this debate on an issue that is causing great concern to many of my constituents. I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Transport will hear a rather sorry story.

    On 1 November 1991, notices appeared in local papers to say that the direct rail service between Altrincham and Manchester would cease from Christmas eve until the middle of April 1992, when the metrolink would take over. The estimated period of closure from Christmas eve until April 17 is considered by many people in my constituency to be too long, especially as it had been announced initially that the changeover period would be only two to three weeks. Because I was concerned about that, I wrote to my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport. I received a reply from him on 27 November in which he said:
    "I am aware of the delays mentioned by your constituent, which I understand are due to late delivery of rolling stock as well as engineering adjustments to ensure adequate clearance along the line. I understand however that the Passenger Transport Executive are confident"—
    I emphasise the word "confident"—
    "that the new timetable for the opening of the project will be met. The Bury to Victoria line will open in February, the city centre section in March and the Altrincham to Piccadilly section in April."
    So much for his confidence: I am told that today at a press conference it was announced that the opening had been delayed even further.

    During the interval, when there are no trains on the direct route from Altrincham to Manchester Piccadilly, people are being asked to use a replacement bus service. No doubt, some people will decide that they will go to their place of work in Manchester by car. Many commuters in my constituency travel from Altrincham to Manchester for work. Whether they go by bus or by car, it will mean more traffic on roads which are already overcrowded. Going by bus will add considerably to the length of time that will be spent travelling, which is not an especially attractive proposition for many people.

    Throughout the argument, the one ray of hope was the Chester to Manchester railway, which would still be operating. That railway goes from Chester to Hale. Altrincham. The service would make a call at Navigation Road, go across to Stockport and on to Manchester. I had hoped that at peak times that service could be increased or, if that were not possible, at least trains with a higher passenger capacity could be provided.

    To push things along, I wrote to Sir Bob Reid, the chairman of British Rail, on 16 December 1991. I thought that I wrote quite a reasonable letter, because I said:
    "I am very concerned about the fact that the Metrolink in my area is running behind schedule. All trains on the commuter service from Manchester to Altrincham will cease on Christmas Eve and the Metrolink is not due to start until mid-April at the earliest. I shudder to think of the consequences with all that extra traffic on the roads.
    I am told that there are going to be meetings this week and I am wondering if British Rail could perhaps run more trains through peak hours on the Chester to Manchester Piccadilly service? These trains would halt at Hale, Altrincham. Navigation Road, and then go straight across to Stockport and Manchester. This at least would be of great help for many of the people in the area and take some cars off the road.
    There is a degree of urgency here and I should be most grateful if you could let me know whether this is feasible."
    That was on 16 December. I got a quick reply, dated 18 December, from Keith Hill, the parliamentary relations assistant, who said:
    "The Chairman has asked me to thank you for your letter of the 16 December. A reply will be sent to you as soon as possible."
    Lo and behold, this morning I got that reply. It was a copy of a letter sent to the chief executive of Trafford council on 19 December which said:
    "Many thanks for your letter of 16 December."
    So the chief executive of Trafford council wrote on exactly the same day that I wrote to the chairman of British Rail. The letter went on to say:
    "The Manchester-Sale-Altrincham railway line is operated by British Rail in our role as contractor to Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, who are responsible for both policy and funding.
    Greater Manchester PTE have asked us to cease operations on this route on 24 December to allow the new operator, Greater Manchester Metro Limited, to carry out conversion works. I note your concern about the length of time which these works will take, but am unable to comment as this is a matter for Greater Manchester Metro Limited.
    The Manchester-Stockport-Altrincham-Hale route is also operated by us as a contractor on behalf of Greater Manchester PTE. Discussions have taken place between ourselves and Greater Manchester PTE in respect of the possibility of provision of extra services and/or capacity on this route, but I have to advise you that Greater Manchester PTE have decided that they are unable to fund such extra provision.
    I trust this answers the points you have raised."
    In his covering letter, Sir Bob Reid said:
    "I am sure you will agree that this is self-explanatory and there is nothing I can usefully add, other than to say that Metrolink plan to run replacement buses in advance of their new train services."
    It is strange that, having received an acknowledgment on 18 December, I had to wait until this morning for a reply from Sir Bob Reid, which was a copy of a letter dated 19 December 1991 that had been sent to Trafford council. It took four weeks to send me a copy of a letter written three days after my original letter. That does not reek of efficiency in British Rail.

    I am concerned about the end of that letter and the PTE's decision not to fund extra train services but instead to rely entirely on a replacement bus service. I am sure that whoever made the decision is not a commuter in my constituency who must travel to work in Manchester every day. I wonder why the travelling public in my area were not considered or asked for their opinions before a decision was made. If only there had been more forethought, some of the inconvenience could have been avoided.

    I still maintain that increased use of the Chester to Manchester route would have avoided some of the congestion that we are now experiencing. I agree that that route does not offer too much comfort to my constituents, who use the stations between Altrincham and Manchester Piccadilly. I feared that buses would fill up in the Altrincham area, which would have made things intolerable for people who wanted to board at intermediary points. More people using the Chester to Altrincham and Manchester line would have allowed more space on the replacement bus service, but somewhere along the line somebody in authority decided otherwise.

    Another snag for people using the replacement bus service is that buses terminate not at Piccadilly station but at Chatham street in Machester. I have asked a number of my constituents who are regular travellers for their comments. The letters that I have received make interesting reading. There have been continual comments about the difficulties for people who need to get to Piccadilly station to journey to other parts of the country.

    A constituent told me of a friend who took her mother to Piccadilly station so that her mother could return to Halifax. They used the bus service because there was no train service and were alarmed to end up not at Piccadilly station but down a pokey back street well away from the station. It is believed that that stop will cause considerable hardship to elderly and disabled people in the area. If we have a spell of bad weather in the next few weeks, my constituents will suffer much more inconvenience.

    The length of time taken to make the journey by bus will make the working day much longer and will cause difficulty at places of employment, with people arriving late through no fault of their own. A lady in my constituency, part of a one-parent family, says that by using th