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Commons Chamber

Volume 227: debated on Monday 28 June 1993

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House Of Commons

Monday 28 June 1993

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Transport

Railway Rolling Stock

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what action the Government are taking to ensure that the United Kingdom retains the ability to build railway carriage body shells.

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects the British Railways Board to announce the result of the tender process for new trains under the recent£150 million leasing facility.

The Government are providing record levels of financial support from the public purse. In 1992–93, British Rail investment stood at the highest level for more than 30 years. Investment of more than £3 billion is planned over the next three years, £2 billion of which will be on the existing railway. Later in the summer, British Rail will place the order for the £150 million leasing facility for new rolling stock, which we proposed in advance of privatisation. We have also recently announced measures to encourage the development of a rolling stock leasing market.

Is the Secretary of State aware that there have already been 532 casualties of railways privatisation, in terms of the number of jobs lost at the York carriage works because of lack of orders, and a further 364 redundancies at other Asea Brown Boveri factories around the country? Is he further aware that ABB is the last surviving rail company in Britain which manufactures railway bodyshells, and that unless the Government ensure that the company receives orders extremely quickly the York works will close? We shall then have to import railway bodyshells from abroad—at huge cost to our balance of payments—and commuters in the south-east will not get the decent, modern trains that they are looking for, deserve and want.

First, those redundancies have nothing to do with privatisation. Even if we had not put forward our reform proposals, the position, which is largely to do with the recession and the switch in priorities in British Rail investment, would be the same. I am aware of the situation at ABB, and have had recent discussions with the company. I hope that British Rail will proceed as soon as possible with the decision to be taken on the £150 million leasing proposals, and I have urged it to do so. It is for British Rail to decide where that order should be placed.

Will my right hon. Friend urge British Rail to get its act together and place the order for the new trains for the Kent link line with ABB York as quickly as possible? Does my right hon. Friend agree that the future of the ABB York workshop depends not only on that order, but on the new leasing market for trains and an increase in orders from overseas railway operators? Would not it help ABB's export drive if British Rail were to place the order now and demonstrate its confidence in the excellent ABB work force?

I know of, and pay tribute to, the interest that my hon. Friend has taken in ABB. I also pay tribute to the huge improvements in ABB's productivity since it went into the private sector. The prospects of ABB securing overseas orders are greater now as a result of that improvement in productivity. It should be asked why it was unable to compete in international markets much earlier.

I hope that British Rail will reach its decision as quickly as possible. The choice of where investment lies is, however, for British Rail. The tendering process is now under way. I hope that the tenders will be in very shortly and that British Rail will make its decision as speedily as it can. I entirely agree about the importance of moving to a private sector leasing market. That will be concentrated on rolling stock, and we have been developing our plans for that.

The Minister knows that £150 million is less than half of what is needed for new rolling stock and that it will not meet the cost of existing orders that British Rail is ready to place. Why does the Minister not admit, honestly, that other nations that have privatised their railways, like the Swedes, have accepted that they can do so only with massive investment in new rolling stock? How does the Minister think that his shadow organisations will create one penny more for investment when he knows that only more money will create new jobs and better rolling stock?

By attracting private sector capital to the future leasing market. Current investment is at record levels. British Rail investment is more than 50 per cent. greater in real terms than it was in 1979, and one and a half times greater than in 1969. British Rail has given priority in its current programme to infrastructure and signalling, but in recent years there has been a substantial investment in rolling stock—something like 90 per cent. of rolling stock in the regional railways is less than eight years old—and that must be taken into account when looking at the priorities.

My right hon. Friend may be aware that go-ahead is anxiously awaited for the leasing scheme for rolling stock on the Leeds-Bradford, Airedale and Wharfdale lines. Will he note that the go-ahead for that scheme would provide a valuable boost for the British train manufacturing industry and anxiously awaited new trains for a line, which is well used and would otherwise have to use 30-year-old stock?

I am aware of the situation. My right hon. friend the Minister for Public transport has taken a very close interest in the matter. There is to be a debate on the subject on Wednesday and my right hon. Friend will give a full reply then.

Does the Secretary of State accept that the blame does not lie with British Rail or the engineering company but with the Government, because they have accepted a tendered contract for the north-west line and Network SouthEast, which finished in December last year? The Government ordered a review and re-tendering. That delay has led to hundreds of workers being put out of work. Perhaps he will tell us how much more the re-tendering will cost the Government. Will it be between£10 million and£100 million?

No. If the hon. Gentleman is talking about the two alternatives for the£150 million rolling stock—the ICC 225s for the west coast main line and the Networkers—that is a new order. If the hon. Gentleman has in mind the decision on the ICC 225 or 250, the 225 was chosen. That reflects the fact that there has been a substantial decrease in British Rail's revenue as a result of the recession, which is probably more to do with present rolling stock investment than anything else. But there are also advantages in going for the ICC 225, because it has been impressed on me by rolling stock manufacturers that long runs of existing locomotives can often be a much more cost-effective way to deliver new orders.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm reports that his Department sees a strong economic case for both those contenders for the£150 million in the Network SouthEast programme and the west coast main line and that the 150 million is to be seen as the first stage of a continuing ordering programme, because that is what travellers on British Rail want and what the industry needs?

Of course, one would wish to undertake several areas of investment, and my hon. Friend is right that one would wish both to be done as soon as possible, but for the£150 million it will be a choice between the two tenders. My hon. Friend must realise that I cannot predict the outcome of future public expenditure rounds. The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) must realise that one has to take into account overall public expenditure when making any decisions where public money is involved. However, we shall have to consider whether there would be an opportunity to repeat that kind of leasing operation or whether we should look entirely to the private sector which will finance future orders.

Air Pollution (Ferrybridge)

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he has received details of the study to measure air pollution in the Ferrybridge area along the roads of the AI and M62; and if he will make a statement.

The air pollution study has been commissioned to start later this summer when traffic flows will be at their peak. It will last for several weeks and preliminary results should be available before the end of the year.

May I welcome the Minister to his new post and hope that with a new Minister we shall get some fresh ideas on highway development in the Ferrybridge area? The study to which the Minister refers is very important because there is a plan for a 16-lane motorway to go through a conurbation 250 yd from a large junior and infant school, with a large mixed estate of council and private houses to the east, and a large housing estate to the west, less than 200 yd from the motorway. Does the Minister accept that an in-depth study is needed, and will he agree that that study will be made available for public consultation? If the proposals put forward by the Department of Transport are allowed to go ahead, we shall have the most polluted mile of motorway in the United Kingdom. Will the Minister assure me that the consultation document will be made public?

First, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome. It is a pleasure to do business with him again. It takes us back to the golden days of the Local Government Finance Bill, when we enjoyed so many happy hours.

The hon. Gentleman would expect me to have done my homework on this matter. He has been a strong advocate on behalf of people on the Darrington and Limetrees estate in that corner of Pontefract. There has already been substantial investigation into the matter and the air pollution study is yet another investigation. We expect to publish draft orders in the next 12 to 18 months, which will give another opportunity to look at the matter. The preferred route, which has been announced, provides the best value for money, the least environmental impact, the greatest traffic relief to residents of Ferrybridge and Brotherton, and is supported by the majority of residents there.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, on the general point of controlling and reducing air pollution, the Government's commitment to catalytic converters, the greater use of unleaded petrol, and new proposals to get more freight off the roads and on to the railways is absolutely clear?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has catalogued a number of the Government's successes. He may have omitted one or two, however. I remind him of the tighter emission limits for new heavy duty diesels from 1 October 1993. Neither should we forget noise pollution which, from new motor vehicles, has been reduced by up to 10 decibels through tighter standards between 1980 and 1990. That is just for starters.

Merchant Fleet

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proposals he has to encourage the growth of the British merchant fleet; and if he will make a statement.

The Government remain committed to creating a trading climate in which the United Kingdom shipping industry has the opportunity to compete fairly. In support of that, in the recent past we have taken a number of initiatives within the European Economic Community and in the International Maritime Organisation.

Does my hon. Friend accept that many of us involved in the British shipping industry welcome the recent initiatives taken by him and his colleagues? At the same time, does he accept that the British merchant fleet is still at a significant fiscal disadvantage compared with many of its competitors? Will he make representations to the Economic Secretary about such matters as first year capital allowances and rollover relief?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's remarks about the sterling work that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has undertaken, and I am sure that the Economic Secretary will have noted his remarks about capital allowances and rollover relief. When one considers the economic framework within which British shipping has to compete, it is worth noting that corporation tax rates in Britain are the lowest of all the G7 countries and that low interest and inflation rates contribute towards creating a climate in which British shipping can compete.

Does the Minister realise that the British merchant fleet is now as low as 291? For all the commercial reasons to which he has referred, is there not also a strong defence reason for keeping a merchant fleet? Instead of paying lip service to stopping the merchant fleet from sinking, will he join us, and ensure that his colleagues join us in Committee, to ensure that something will be done to stop the merchant fleet sinking?

The hon. Lady will want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport because it was during his presidency of the Transport Council that resolutions were put forward allowing the Council to reach agreements on a common policy on safe shipping at the Luxembourg meeting on 7 June. That is a major step forward because sub-standard shipping is an urgent problem in terms of the safety of human life and the environment. That is where important results will occur, not least in narrowing the gap between the cost currently borne by the British shipping industry in enforcing high standards and the lower costs currently borne by countries that enforce regulations less rigorously. The hon. Lady may like to pay a little more attention to that.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for spelling out the successful actions that the Government have taken to ensure safety in the merchant fleet. Does he agree that, however right it may be in principle, the policy of trying to achieve a level playing field with our European competitors has not yet delivered that for our merchant fleet? That is why Conservative Members also support fiscal measures to give the British merchant fleet a competitive position.

If we followed my hon. Friend's argument and offered as much state aid to our fleet as is offered elsewhere, we would enter the inevitable spiral of ever-increasing state aid to industry. That would not benefit our economy or any other economy. The answer must be to eliminate the state aids in other countries which currently distort the market.

East Coast Main Line

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent discussions he has held with local authorities in north-east Scotland relating to InterCity services on the east coast main line.

I last discussed InterCity services on the east coast main line with representatives of Grampian regional council on Wednesday 23 June.

Is the Minister aware that a spokesman for Richard Branson recently announced that Virgin is investigating the cost of purchasing the east coast main line service between London and Edinburgh? Does he agree that that confirms, first, the private sector's complete lack of interest in the other part of that service—the through diesel service between London and Aberdeen—and, secondly, that companies such as Virgin are interested only in running fast trains, with few stops, for the cream of the customer load? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that if he persists with the market testing of railway services, the only and inevitable result will be fewer trains, worse services and the break-up of the national railway network?

The hon. Gentleman well knows that we are not intending to franchise the east coast main line on the basis of only the service between London and Edinburgh. I have made it abundantly clear that all British Rail's services to Inverness and Aberdeen will be franchised. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman would do a great deal more for the cause of electrification of the east coast main line to Aberdeen if he started supporting the economy of Scotland and stopped supporting the job wreckers at Timex in Dundee.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the fears expressed about privatisation of the east coast main line are precisely the sort of fears that were expressed about other industry privatisations—yet those have led to better services, not worse—

Order. The question is about what discussions the Minister has had with local authorities in north-east Scotland.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the local authority in Aberdeen has even privatised its bus service? Is it not clear that local authorities in Scotland recognise that privatisation leads to better services at less cost to the consumer?

I confirm that those local authorities to which I have spoken welcome the prospect of improved quality and quantity of services that our reforms will bring.

Does the Minister accept that as well as meeting representatives of Grampian regional council he must also meet representatives of the Highlands regional council and the surrounding districts? The lines to which he referred are vital to the economy of that area, given that Aberdeen is the oil capital of Scotland and Inverness is the tourist and whisky capital and the fact that there are also fish and food processing exports? The freight aspect of the line is vital to the area's future economy, and no doubt it is also of importance to the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

I hope to meet representatives of Highland regional council in September to discuss our proposals for the railway industry in its part of the world. The prospect of introducing additional private sector capital means that there is an opportunity to enhance rather than reduce services in the hon. Lady's part of the world.

Motorways

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what proportion of drivers (a) regularly use motorways and (b) never use motorways.

Surveys indicate that about half of drivers never or rarely use motorways.

That interesting statistic illustrates why it is important that the 50 per cent. of drivers who use the motorways regularly should be asked to contribute more so that those roads can be improved. Our experience of the success of the Dartford crossing, where private venture capital was used, shows that private finance in motorway construction can play a great role in ensuring that we get the roads that people want and that traffic moves properly and does not go on to the side roads.

As my hon. Friend knows, I am canvassing those issues in relation to the Green Paper on better motorways and the possibility of charging a toll. My hon. Friend is right in the sense that no decision has been taken, but one of the issues put forward is whether we can accelerate the improvement in motorways. That is not least because, in this country as in others, we run the risk of greater congestion with an increase in traffic. Therefore, we wish to accelerate the improvement by widening motorways and improving the services on them through additional finance raised by a modest charge.

My hon. Friend is right to say that the charge needs to be modest to avoid diversion on to local roads. One of the arguments for that is the fact that about half of all motorists hardly ever or never use the motorways.

Will the Secretary of State confirm that his absurd policy of cutting the investment level for both British Rail and underground services by nearly£1 billion, and the reinvestment of that money on the M25, will result in that road being widened to 14 or even 20 lanes to cope with the extra cars created by that stupid transport policy?

The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong to describe the policy as stupid. Presumably he means that he wants to restrict people's use of cars and heavy goods vehicles by fiat from Whitehall. That does not make any sense. Otherwise, what does a centralised transport policy mean?

The hon. Gentleman is also wrong about the balance of Government expenditure. Although 90 per cent. of all inland passenger and freight traffic goes by road, we are spending about 56 per cent. of Government expenditure on roads and 44 per cent. on public transport—including rail—this year. That is a clear indication that Government expenditure is, if anything, skewed heavily towards public transport and rail.

Selby Bypass

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what scope exists for expediting the publication of the necessary draft compulsory purchase orders for the construction of the Selby bypass.

Bearing in mind the total amount of work in hand, preparation of this scheme is progressing towards publication of the draft compulsory purchase order as quickly as possible.

As there has been some slippage in the Selby bypass project, will my hon. Friend confirm that that project is now irreversible and will not be subject to either cancellation or postponement due to any internal departmental budgetary reassessment?

I certainly hope that it will not, as the scheme has been in the programme since about 1984. I well understand my hon. Friend's concern, but we are continuing preparations for the scheme. I shall use my best endeavours to keep up the momentum and I look forward to discussing the matter further with him when we meet on 12 July.

West Coast Main Line

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he last met the chairman of British Rail to discuss services on the west coast main line.

I met the senior management of the west coast main line in Birmingham on June 18 and I reaffirmed my support for improvement of the west coast main line, infrastructure and rolling stock for the whole of the route.

The managing director of the west coast main line, Mr. Ivor Warburton, has told the west coast main line all-party group that without substantial investment during the next 18 months there will be a "catastrophic failure" of track and/or signalling on that route. In the light of the Minister's letter of 23 June to the chairman of the all-party group, how does he propose to maintain the rail links to and from Europe for the industrial heartlands of the west midlands, the north-west and as far as Glasgow if the private sector fails to provide the necessary capital investment to effect the improvements?

The hon. Gentleman will know that British Rail is to start design work for improving the signalling on the west coast main line this year, and will commence the work next year.

I agree with both the hon. Gentleman and Mr. Ivor Warburton about private sector investment. A satisfactory formula for private sector investment—particularly in signalling, which does not count as public expenditure—would be welcome. I hope that by early autumn we shall have resolved a correct formula for the introduction of private sector capital. British Rail and Railtrack will then be able to place a contract for investment in the line. That will advance the date on which we can say truthfully that the west coast main line is the premier route in the country.

Will my right hon. Friend confirm to the House that in bygone years the Great Western railway was the very best in the country? If one travelled on the Great Western, one travelled first class in every department. Does my right hon. Friend agree that if we mean business about attracting the Olympic games to Manchester, we need a good west coast main line with good rolling stock? Does he agree that it is important that the InterCity 225 rolling stock is obtained for the western line? Will my right hon. Friend continue his good work and ensure that the money comes to the west coast main line?

Clearly, some of the rolling stock on the west coast main line—in particular, that which is now 30 years old—is badly in need of replacement. That is why, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said, British Rail is considering placing an order. Whatever the results of that exercise, my hon. Friend knows that I am committed to work with British Rail for further orders so long as they comply fully with the Treasury guidelines on what is an operating lease. The Treasury gave the criteria for such operating leases in the latter half of last month. I hope, therefore, that it will be a question not of Networkers or 225s but of both.

Given that we know that west coast main line passengers must expect franchised services at some stage, will the Government take this opportunity to clarify the welcome but rather ambiguous undertaking given during the Report stage of the Railways Bill that franchise agreements will require

"participation in discount schemes for senior citizens, the disabled and young people"?
Is that not in marked contrast to the specific commitment that railcards for disabled people would be
"on broadly similar lines to present arrangements"?—[Official Report, 25, May 1993; Vol. 225, 762–63.]
Given the worries that have been expressed since then by British Rail and other groups, will the Minister clear the matter up for us? Will participation be at about the same cost and bring about the same benefits as existing schemes and will the schemes be universal?

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport made it plain on Report—[Interruption.] He did. My right hon. Friend made it plain that the franchising director would require all franchises in Great Britain to include discount railcards for the disabled, young people and elderly people. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should be in no doubt that the great advantage of those discounts—which we firmly believe that the market will provide—will be retained. We decided to require the franchising director to write that requirement into each franchise.

I thank my right hon. Friend for the excellent letter of 23 June to which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle) alluded. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, among many important points, the letter says that when cross-subsidisation between rail lines no longer exists, there will be revenue support for such main lines, as required?

I can certainly confirm that routes—for example, possibly the west coast main line—will qualify for support by the franchising director if they require subsidy. At present, InterCity has a commercial remit. Profitable routes such as the east coast main line cross-subsidise others such as the west coast main line. The Conservative party believes that where public money is to be used, we should all know precisely where that money goes. We have given every assurance that whether the service is InterCity, Regional Railways or Network SouthEast, it will continue to receive support if it is socially desirable.

Would not the people who use the west coast main line and, indeed, those who use other main lines in need of investment be better served if the Government instructed or allowed British Rail to invest in the future of those lines instead of constantly spending money on restructuring? Will the Minister confirm that, by next April, having recently undergone a major reorganisation, British Rail will have to divide itself into no fewer than 65 companies comprising 26 train companies, 10 rail track companies, 16 infrastructure companies, three train leasing companies and 10 commercial service groups in order to meet the Government's privatisation plans? How much will all that cost? Will the right hon. Gentleman express that figure as a percentage of the£170 million that British Rail has apparently lost in the last year? Will the Minister bear in mind that whereas workers at Timex face a£60 a week loss, he has just given Railtrack's three-day-a-week chairman a£100,000 increase?

The chairman-designate of Railtrack, Mr. Bob Horton, is excellent value for money. He is already planning with his staff for the commencement, subject to Parliament's approval, of Railtrack on 1 April next year. As to British Rail's organisation, the hon. Gentleman should realise that British Rail already runs its passenger operations on the basis of 26 profit centres; there are another nine freight profit centres, and so on. That is how modern industry is organised. As I travel the country—sometimes ahead of the hon. Gentleman, sometimes behind him—visiting profit centres, I find that morale among senior British Rail managers is excellent now. They are getting on with the job of preparing the rail industry for its reorganisation and improvement.

Trunk Roads (Maintenance)

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what plans he has to reduce delays caused by maintenance work on the trunk road network during the summer months.

All our programmed maintenance work is carefully planned and co-ordinated to minimise delays, using lane rental contracts wherever possible.

Is my hon. Friend aware that those of my constituents who use the M40 and Western avenue have to tolerate extremely long delays caused by major and minor road works? Will he do everything in his power, including using lane rental and other incentives, to ensure that delays are kept to the absolute minimum?

Yes, I certainly will. Contractors must display signs explaining the presence of cones where no work appears to be in progress. My hon. Friend's constituents can help to achieve the objective that both he and I want to achieve. Under the citizens charter, a system exists for cone hotlines, whereby if members of the travelling public see lengths of motorway or road coned off unnecessarily, they have only to telephone 071 276 3000 and a written explanation will be available.

Although there have been some improvements in the way in which road works are undertaken, misleading signs still appear and, despite the Minister's remarks, many motorists will be unable to act in the way that he suggested. The appearance of signs giving misleading information leads to genuine speed limit and other warnings being disregarded. It is the Department's responsibility to ensure that accurate speed limit and other restrictive signs are used and that it is made clear when they no longer apply.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and we are here to help. If the hon. Gentleman's constituents and other members of the travelling public see misleading signs, I hope that they will contact us. I do not understand why the hon. Gentleman imagines that the travelling public do not have access to the telephone system—although not necessarily from their cars. It is important to work on the problems together. It is no use blaming someone else. Let us try to sort out those problems sensibly.

Jubilee Line Extension

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when a start can be expected for the Jubilee line docklands extension.

16.

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport when he expects that work will be completed on the Jubilee line extension.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will authorise the start of construction once negotiations between London Transport and the parties involved with the financing of Canary Wharf on the basis of their contribution to the Jubilee line extension have been satisfactorily concluded. It is planned that the line will be operational 53 months after the start of construction.

Will my hon. Friend confirm the Government's commitment to the scheme and urge all the parties involved to reach agreement on the funding package so that the start can be brought forward to the earliest possible date, for the obvious economic benefit of docklands and of my constituents, who hope to be involved in the line's construction?

Yes, I can confirm that the Government are fully committed to their contribution, once negotiations with the private sector on its contribution are complete.

It is not much use the Minister saying when he thinks that the line will be finished when he cannot even tell us when he thinks that work on it will start. We have been waiting for that for ages and ages. It is about time that the Minister got his finger out and gave a date for the actual start.

Is the Minister aware that there is a phrase for people who always tempt but never get around to delivering? They are called political teasers. The Minister should stop dangling the prospect in front of us and tell us when work on the Jubilee line extension will start.

That is yet another inviting prospect from the hon. Gentleman, but in all seriousness he knows the answer to the questions that he poses. The Government have clearly stated that the private sector should contribute a substantial amount of money towards that line because of the considerable value that is conveyed by it to those property owners who are contributing. I think that the whole House will accept that that means that about£400 million, which is to go into the scheme, is coming from those who will benefit as developers of property rather than from hard-pressed taxpayers.

It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is inviting us to forget that and simply to say that the Government will find the entire contribution. That is lamentable. No Government can act so irresponsibly. These negotiations have taken time, but I trust that they will be satisfactorily concluded. When they are, the Government are committed to making their contribution, to ensure that the line can be constructed.

Duchy Of Lancaster

Market Testing

31.

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what comparisons he has made between the costs arising from the implementation of market testing over each of the last two years and the savings arising therefrom.

Annual returns from Departments indicate that in previous years savings arising from market testing have typically been around 25 per cent. of the original cost, even when the activity has remained in-house.

I shall report on the costs and savings arising in the current period, which runs until September 1993, as soon as possible after that date.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his helpful answer. Does he not think it extraordinary that although certain Labour-controlled councils take on competitive tendering with great gusto, which results in enormous savings, the Opposition Front Bench has no enthusiasm whatsoever for market testing?

My hon. Friend is right. Labour authorities thoughout the country have found, after resisting a great deal at the beginning, that there is great benefit for their local taxpayers and for those who use local services in buying in services that can better be provided by the private sector.

Does the right hon. Gentleman intend to market test the jobs of grades 1, 2, 3 and 4 civil servants, or is market testing a mandarin-free zone?

I look forward to discussing those matters with the hon. Gentleman in the Select Committee. No one knows better than the hon. Gentleman that an increasing number of grade 1 and 2 jobs have been put out to open tender. We have thrown it open to competition. Two people, of permanent secretary rank, have come in by that route.

Could my right hon. Friend extend market testing to ensure that when civil service jobs are about to be moved from one constituency to another area, the civil servants who are doing those jobs are given the opportunity to bid for them under private management?

My hon. Friend makes an interesting and constructive point. It is part of the policy that we should enable civil servants to show, as they often can, that they can do the jobs very well, both by management buy-outs, which sometimes they have achieved, or by straight in-house bids, and sometimes by transferring successfully—as, for example, at Devonport dockyard—to private sector contractors and working very well with those private sector employers.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has announced that he believes that there is a cost saving of about 25 per cent. in the civil service as a result of market testing. Can he confirm that there is no evidence to suggest that that 25 per cent. cost saving is the result of internal efficiency—as would be the case with many Labour local authorities, if they were allowed to make the decision at local level, as opposed to being dictated to by central Government at Westminster—but that it is solely as a result of cutting wages and changing the terms and conditions of civil servants? That is the result of the right hon. Gentleman's market testing. There has been no increase in the quality of service.

I think that the hon. Lady has got her brief back to front. The wages issue is normally raised by local authorities. Labour local authorities have got used to compulsory competitive tendering. can give the hon. Lady one example. It happens to be the latest. RAF Finningly has stated that it expects to achieve savings of£3·5 million in the first year, 1993, and£29 million over 10 years through efficiency savings, including market testing of the technical maintenance of aircraft. That represents between 20 and 25 per cent., which is exactly the point that the hon. Lady does not understand. She will find that it has nothing to do with pay. It is the result of greater efficiency in the organisation of the function.

Citizens Charter

32.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is the total number of civil servants engaged in activities subject to citizens charters.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Office of Public Service and Science
(Mr. David Davis)

The charter approach is integral to the delivery of public services. Many civil and other public servants are now involved with the charter programme as part of their normal duties. The citizens charter unit in the Cabinet Office has 32 staff.

I thank my hon. Friend for his reply. Is he, perhaps like me, concerned that our business community will soon need its own charter to protect it from the growth in the inspectorates that are now visiting it almost daily: environmental health inspectors, agricultural inspectors, safety at work inspectors and weights and measures inspectors—you name it, there is an inspector for it? Does he agree that it is very important that we as a Government, and he as a Minister, keep an eye on the growth of that sector of the civil service, because otherwise we shall kill the goose that lays the golden egg?

I agree entirely about the need to reduce the regulatory burden, especially on small companies. The citizens charter and deregulation go hand in hand; they are not alternatives. They are both about providing a better quality of service to users and improving efficiency. I agree with my hon. Friend that we must ensure that unnecessary regulation is avoided and that new regulations are not excessively onerous for the business community. In that context, it is no coincidence that the policy to deregulate London Buses was mentioned in the citizens charter White Paper.

Instead of wasting civil servants' time on these useless public relations exercises that are called charters, why does not the Minister do something sensible for a change and transfer civil servants to the disability living allowance unit at Blackpool, where applications for mobility allowance and attendance allowance are still weeks behind? People are living in great difficulty because of the delays, which result from the Government not providing enough civil servants for the job.

That is an extraordinary statement. The hon. Gentleman should have read the ombudsman's report on the disability living allowance, in which he identified the charter as a very important tool in achieving better terms, improvements and recompense for people who had suffered under the scheme.

33.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster how much has been expended on citizens charters since their inception.

The charter applies to all public services, which is reflected in their individual expenditure programmes. Centrally, the charter unit spent£1·6 million in 1991–92 and£2·14 million in 1992–93.

Would I be right to assume that the global figure is much more than£2·14 million? An extraordinarily large amount of taxpayers' money is being wasted on what most people regard as nothing more than propaganda puffs to give the appearance that the Government are actually doing something, when we know they are incapable of doing anything. These charters are a joke—a very expensive joke. It is little surprise that they give most people the impression that the country is being run by a bunch of train spotters.

Perhaps that would be better than being run by the panel game on which the hon. Member excels. All public services should give clear information to the people who use them. That is a proper use of the resources that are voted by the House for public service. I find it extraordinary that the hon. Gentleman, with his background, does not understand that it is an essential part of public service to let people know what their rights are.

34.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received about complaints procedures in the public services as part of the citizens charter; and if he will make a statement.

I announced the citizens charter complaints task force on 10 June. As part of its work, it will be seeking the views of public service and other organisations and, of course, those of members of the public.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Is he aware that many people still find it a bureaucratic nightmare to make a complaint to and about a public sector organisation? Can he assure me that the complaints task force will draw up a set of principles to make it easier to make a complaint and to encourage public service organisations to treat complaints more positively and as a means of ensuring their own effectiveness?

I am happy to give my hon. Friend just such an assurance. He is right to state that complaints systems must be easy to use and that complaints must be responded to by the people who operate those systems. I cite an example: just such an attitude is engendered in the Department of Social Security's OTIS system. It stands for "opportunity to improve service", and the evidence so far is that improving services is exactly what it has done, precisely because it is simple and quick and enables the service to analyse complaints and to respond to them effectively and speedily.

May I refer the Minister to a complaint that I received About the Cheshire family health services authority, which gave some of my constituents five days' notice that their doctor's surgery was about to close? I checked the citizens charter, which states that patients have a right to be-consulted about their services, but when I checked with the family health services authority, I found that there was no law to ensure that they were. The Cheshire family health services authority closed the surgery regardless of the views of my constituents. Will the Minister take on board my ten-minute Bill, which would amend the law to ensure that in future patients are consulted about doctors' surgeries and the services that they receive?

Naturally, I should be happy to consider the matter if the hon. Gentleman would write to me or give me some notice, rather than bouncing it and trying to score political points. If he cares to write to me, I shall deal with the matter.

35.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster which other Governments have contacted his Department for information about the implementation of the citizens charter.

At least 15 other Governments have been in contact with me or my Department to find out more about the citizens charter. Last year's service to the citizen conference attracted delegates from 21 countries, and we expect that the next event will attract even more.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that answer. Will he confirm that among the 15 are the new French Government, who are committed to introducing a form of citizens charter? Does not the international interest prove that, just as Britain led the world in introducing private enterprise into tired and inefficient nationalised industries in the 1980s to make them more competitive, Britain is again leading the world in the 1990s by dispelling the myth that the only way to improve the efficiency of public services is by throwing more money at them?

The previous French socialist Government sent a speaker to our conference last year, and I am happy to say that the new French Government retain that interest. Throughout the world, Governments across the political spectrum are having to reassess the way in which public services are run so that people's legitimately higher expectations can be met against the background of very tough resource decisions. Everyone faces the same issues.

Technology Transfer

36.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what specific measures he will take under the Technology Foresight programme to increase technology transfer.

The Technology Foresight programme will promote technology transfer through a new partnership between science and industry. Improvements in working relationships between academics and industrialists have been a major feature of foresight processes overseas. This programme will help the Government to determine their own priorities for spending on science and technology.

I think that the Minister would agree that the Technology Foresight programme looks constructive on paper, but that, as in science itself, translation from theory into practice is not always easy and requires resources and imagination. In view of the transfer of responsibility from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Office of Science and Technology, can the right hon. Gentleman assure me that funds have followed the transfer and that he has the necessary funds to launch and promote the programme? What measures has he taken to encourage to join his steering committee people with the creativity, imagination and commitment to ensure that the programme translates from theory into practice?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very fair point. It is perfectly easy to describe the process, but what really matters is to get it established well and working well. My Department is now involved in a series of regional visits across the country, discussing how best to take forward the programme—officials have doubtless been to Leeds to discuss it with the relevant players there. It is essential that we have the involvement of those working at the laboratory bench and those in industry who really understand markets.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the more industry is involved in the Technology Foresight programme, the more likely it is that industry will pick up the fruits of that programme and carry them through to the marketplace?

My hon. Friend makes an essential point. The Technology Foresight programme here must be like the successful programmes abroad and not be dominated by Whitehall; it must be led by practitioners in the field including scientists, engineers and industrialists. We at the centre should simply be the secretariat for the process. That is the intention.

Citizens Charters

37.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what plans he has to introduce further charters during 1993; and if he will make a statement.

Thirty-two charters have been produced so far. New charters during 1993 will include the further and higher education charters. In addition, the Benefits Agency charter and parents charter will be updated and improved.

I particularly welcome the further and higher education charters. May I ask for more action on schools charters and particularly the publication of league tables for school attendance, allowing for a proper value added section? Is not it legitimate and right that parents should know which schools achieve high attendance? Is not the charter a good way of achieving that? In my right hon. Friend's opinion, why does the Labour party oppose providing information about schools? The Labour party does not care about parents' right to know.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. The proposal to produce league tables will be one of the motivating forces for improving our education service. That is true whether it relates to educational achievement in its academic sense or to truancy. In respect of the latter point, I note that a report was published today which is very helpful.

With regard to my hon. Friend's point about value added tables, of course we believe that they would be the best kind of tables to have. However, as my hon. Friend will understand, it will take time to develop a database for those tables to work. In the meantime, we see absolutely no reason to deny parents the kind of information that would allow them to take the proper action in the best interests of their children's education.

Will the further and higher education charters include the right for students to claim housing benefit and income support during summer recesses? Some of my constituents will have less than£5 a week to live on this summer after they have paid their rent during the college recess. That is an unacceptable imposition of poverty on our youth and on the development of their educational potential in respect of industry. If the further and higher education charters are to mean something, there must be a right of access to housing benefit and income support for students when they are not at college.

Absolutely not. Housing benefit and income support are designed for people who need them because they are in poverty or in poor circumstances of one kind or another. They are not designed as a giveaway for students in our society. I believe that it is a very bad idea to start young people off on a dependent mode as they begin their careers.

Science And Engineering (Wales)

38.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he last visited Wales to discuss science and engineering issues; and if he will make a statement.

I discussed science and technology issues when I replied to the excellent debate at the Welsh Conservative party conference on 12 June.

I thank my right hon. Friend for corning to Wales to make the first speech on science and engineering at a party conference for many years. Does not that reflect the importance that the Government attach to science and engineering—unlike the Labour party, which attaches very little importance to that subject?

I note that the Welsh Conservative party lead on that matter as, doubtless, it leads on others. I also note that there is no proper spokesman for science and engineering in the shadow Cabinet and that is a matter of regret. I also note that in Wales there are major developments in this area. For example, the Agricultural and Food Research Council is now concentrating most of its work on grassland research in Wales and that is quite proper.

Investors And Risk Takers

38.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what intitiatives his Department has taken to encourage the investors, entrepreneurs and risk takers of the United Kingdom to produce scientific products for the world market.

Partnership for the creating of wealth lies at the heart of the White Paper on science, engineering and technology. As markers of that—there are too many aspects to go through in one question—each research council will have a mission statement that reflects that aim, and the Technology Foresight exercise will be identifying generic aspects of technology and research that are most useful for the United Kingdom's industrial base, a policy which has already proved to be successful in Japan. In support of that, the Department of Trade and Industry's innovation budget to assist small business will be increased by 15 per cent. this year.

Is my hon. Friend aware that trade and industry are delighted with the emphasis that the Government are now placing on the research councils' drive for wealth creation? That is just what industry and commerce want, and it is just what the doctor ordered.

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. He is supported by several people, not least Richard Freeman, ICI's chief economist, who, referring to science and technology, said:

"A central feature of the White Paper is the commitment to the greater focus of S&T policy on United Kingdom competitiveness and wealth creation. Within more explicit guidelines … research is to have regard to its relevance and potential for appropriation by industry and other users. These are changes to be greatly welcomed."
I agree with him entirely.

Rolls-Royce

40.

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what discussions he has had with the chairman of Rolls-Royce about his White Paper on science, engineering and technology.

I expect to meet Sir Ralph Robins next month and I am looking forward to discussing the White Paper with him. I was greatly encouraged by the letter from him and 12 other senior industrialists in The Times on 1 June welcoming the White Paper.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that Sir Ralph Robins letter was also signed by the chief executives of Glaxo, British Aerospace and many others? Does not that show that the vast majority of British industrialists fully support my right hon. Friend's White Paper on science, engineering and technology?

My hon. Friend is right. There has been a very broad welcome for the White Paper. As sometimes happens, the spokesman for the Labour party in the House of Lords, who had perhaps read the document before responding to it, got it right in welcoming it, whereas its spokesman in this House had not read it and did not welcome it.

Iraq

3.31 pm

(by private notice): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the United Nations Security Council's consideration of the United States attack on targets in Baghdad.

On 26 June, United States forces launched a military operation against the headquarters of the Iraqi intelligence service in Baghdad. That action follows discovery by the Kuwaiti authorities of a plot to assassinate ex-President Bush in Kuwait city in mid-April by detonating a car bomb. The consequences if the bomb had detonated would have been devastating and would have led to great loss of innocent life.

On 27 June, the Americans immediately reported the action to the Security Council as required by article 51 of the charter and briefed it on the evidence of Iraqi involvement in the plot and the threat presented to the United States by Iraqi terrorism. That operation was a justified and proportionate exercise of the right of self-defence, and a necessary warning to Iraq that state terrorism cannot and will not be tolerated.

That act of terrorism by the Iraqi regime has to be seen in the context of a pattern of attempted defiance and obstruction by Iraq of the United Nations.

Iraq also continues to detain illegally nationals of Kuwait and other countries. Three British citizens—Paul Ride, Michael Wainwright and Simon Dunn—have been given grotesque prison sentences, along with nationals of the United States, Sweden and Germany. We are doing everything that we can to secure their release.

The international community has achieved progress in dismantling the Iraqi regime's capacity to attack its neighbours and in deterring attacks on its own citizens; but the attempt to kill ex-President Bush is a reminder that the Iraqi state is still a sponsor of terrorism. We believe that only through firmness can Iraq be persuaded to conform to the standards of behavour required of it and others by the international community.

I thank the Foreign Secretary for his answer, but I tell him that the American action yesterday was dubious in legality, questionable in morality, haphazard in its military impact, and potentially devastating in diplomacy. It should therefore never have been supported by the British Government.

No one doubts the appalling nature of Saddam's regime, least of all those Labour Members who have campaigned for many years, and no one doubts the need collectively to face up to the threat that he poses both to his own people and his neighbours.

How can it be said that the raid is justified as falling under article 51 of the United Nations charter when the alleged assassination attempt failed anyway? It took place some three months ago, and the trial of the accused people has not been completed. How can it be said to be measured and appropriate, when the target building was in a busy city centre and at least three of the missiles almost predictably failed to hit that target and killed innocent civilians?

How can the action be said to be effective when it has alienated our Arab allies and united Saddam's friends? How can it be said to have enhanced international law and order and the influence of the United Nations when the decision was taken unilaterally by the United States, involved no real consultation with this Government beforehand and went to the Security Council only after it had taken place?

Did our Prime Minister ask President Clinton to take the issue to the Security Council and seek prior authority for it? Did President Clinton tell our Prime Minister what yesterday's target would be? Was the United Nations Secretary-General consulted in any way before the attack happened? Did our Government take into account sufficiently its effect on the British prisoners who languish in Saddam's gaols at present?

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that those of us who are friends of the United States, President Clinton and his Administration—especially those of us who are their friends—are dismayed and troubled by what happened yesterday and believe that the attack should not have taken place? If there is to be a new world order—we all hope that there will be one—it cannot be based on unilateral action taken by any one state, however powerful. If that new order that we all yearn for is to have any chance at all of succeeding, it must be firmly based on international law and the clear authority of the United Nations.

I am surprised by the nature of the hon. Gentleman's response. It seemed to be a throwback to the old days from which I thought the Labour party had recovered. It showed little understanding of the sort of problem that the President of the United States faced when he considered the mounting evidence before him.

I shall try to deal with the hon. Gentleman's specific questions. Article 51 prescribes:
"Force may be used in exercise of a State's inherent right of individual or collective self-defence,"
and that that exercise must be reported immediately to the Security Council. Force may be used in self-defence against threats to one's nationals if: (a) there is good evidence that the target attacked would otherwise continue to be used by the other State in support of terrorist attacks against one's nationals; (b) there is, effectively, no other way to forestall imminent further attacks on one's nationals; (c) the force employed is proportionate to the threat. That is the state of international law as we understand it. However, it must be viewed against the political context, which the hon. Gentleman would not deny.

The Iraqi state has shown time and time again a propensity to engage in state terrorism, so there must be considered to be a constant threat of further attacks. Unless the hon. Gentleman and the Labour party understand that position, they are not understanding the realities with which President Clinton had to deal.

The second question related to consultation. For several weeks since the middle of May, we have been told that, as the United States, and especially the FBI, examined the nature of what occurred, they were considering what further step they would have to take in response. The Americans made it clear that this was to be, if it took place, a United States action, that they would not ask for allied participation in it, but that they would ask for allied understanding and political support. That was the nature of it. We have been kept fully informed as the action continued.

The main gap in the assumptions of the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and in his questions to me was the assumption that, before the right of self-defence can be exercised, there needs to be a specific mandate from the United Nations. I ask the hon. Gentleman, "Please think carefully before you put that forward as a received doctrine of an Opposition party."

Well, that was the implication of everything that the hon. Gentleman said. It is simply not possible to lay that down as a doctrine. It must be right, as the United Nations charter recognises, that states preserve and have the right to exercise the right of self-defence without a specific authority each time from the United Nations, provided that they immediately report, as the United States did, on that action to the Security Council. I believe that that is absolutely fundamental to the nature and prospects of world order.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that state-inspired or state-condoned terrorism is one of the most dangerous and evil threats to the stability of the world today, and that it points a dagger at our own societies here in Europe, as well as spreading throughout the middle east and along the north coast of Africa?

Will he therefore agree, as I am sure he will, that, although the loss of innocent lives in any operation of this kind is deeply to be regretted, far fewer have died in this case than have died, are dying and will die if state terrorism of this deliberate kind is allowed to proceed unchecked by a decisive response, such as the response that. the Americans have employed?

I agree with my right hon. Friend. I especially agree with what he says about civilian deaths. I do not believe that the targeting can be regarded as disproportionate, given the nature of the target and the nature of the offence. I disagree with the criticism by the hon. Member for Hamilton on that.

I further agree with what my right hon. Friend says about state terrorism. All of us, and Iraq in particular, are required by paragraph (32) of Security Council resolution 687 to give an undertaking not to support state terrorism. That undertaking was given, but has not been honoured. Against the background that I have described, it is legal and reasonable that this measure should have been taken as a response to the assassination attempt and as a signal for the future.

The Foreign Secretary noticeably did not quote the part of article 51 of the charter that makes it clear that the article is intended to be used when there has been an attack on a member nation pending the ability of the Security Council to restore international peace. It was not intended for retaliation against an abortive attack two months ago when the Security Council had not considered the matter.

Surely the right hon. Gentleman must accept that the right course would have been to present the intelligence evidence to the Security Council, together with the evidence from the Kuwaiti trial when it had been completed, and to take action against Saddam's intelligence headquarters as a threat to international peace. That is the orderly way in which to proceed.

As it is, surely the right hon. Gentleman must accept that there are damaging consequences. The Gulf coalition has been broken. The Arab Governments who are under threat from Islamic fundamentalism now find that it is fuelled by the American action. The action also undermines the authority of the United Nations itself. The right hon. Gentleman must tell President Clinton that "might is right" is not the new world order.

I have tried to set out to the right hon. Gentleman and to the House how article 51 stands as regards attacks against the nationals of a member state. I do not accept, as I have said, that it is an inevitable restriction on the rights of member states of the United Nations under article 51 that they should have to receive a specific authority and approval from the Security Council before they exercise that right.

I advise the right hon. Gentleman, as I have advised the hon. Member for Hamilton, not to start to lay that down as a principle of international order. There would be a dangerous state of paralysis if it were accepted.

The Labour party's reaction, far from being surprising, is entirely predictable and, indeed, Pavlovian. Does my right hon. Friend agree that a vigorous response to state terrorism is essential, and that the action of the United States was very necessary—in particular, to show that the change of Administration in Washington had not changed the resolve of the United States Government to force the Iraqi regime to behave in an internationally acceptable way?

My hon. Friend is right. It is very important that Iraq should understand that the change of Administration in the United States, or any other development on the international scene, will not lessen the weight attached by the international community to the need for Iraq to discharge its obligations, including the obligation against state terrorism. The signal for the future is crucial.

It was predictable that the action which was taken would be criticised in some quarters. I am sorry that the Labour party has joined in that criticism, as it shows misunderstanding of what the world needs, which is strict compliance with international law. However, the world requires also firmly shown proof, particularly from the United States, of a willingness to deal with state terrorism.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that two of the people who died in Baghdad on Saturday night included a little baby of 18 months, who was held by its shopkeeper father, and whose mother is critically ill in hospital? Does the right hon. Gentleman know that this act was perpetrated by a country that launched the Bay of Pigs attack, invaded Grenada, invaded Panama, and has itself been guilty of many acts of state terrorism?

Does the right hon. Gentleman know—indeed, he almost confirmed it—that the real motive was to give President Clinton a reputation at home for being tough? The British Prime Minister supported the action, as he is accused of indecision in this country. Before the right hon. Gentleman frames his answer, I should tell him that the brother of the man who was killed—the uncle of the baby—is here today to hear his reply and the first apology for the killing of innocent people in this murderous attack on Baghdad.

A few minutes ago, I expressed regret for the loss of civilian lives. No doubt I was simply saying what a representative of the President of the United States had said already'. If the right hon. Gentleman is saying that there should be no response to such attempts at state terrorism—this attempt, if successful, would have resulted in the deaths of a very large number of people not in any way involved in the Gulf war or the argument—he is putting forward an argument for paralysis, which we cannot accept.

While totally deploring the alleged attempted assassination of a former United States President—a friend and ally of this country—may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he realises that, over the next decade, we shall need the support of some Arab countries if we are to contain Iraq and Iran? Does he agree that Hizbollah and Hamas will have been greatly strengthened by the events of the weekend? If he were a moderate in the Arab world, encouraging democracy and respect for human rights—let alone a Palestinian negotiating with the Israelis—his position today would be fragile.

I understand my hon. Friend's point. It is one that was made throughout the Gulf war. It was said constantly in many parts of this country by experts on Middle East affairs that, if the United States and the rest of the west were to take a firm line, there would be flaking away of support for the coalition. This was constantly written and otherwise reported at the time of sanctions and Desert Storm.

It is a risk, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it. I suspect that what happened before when these warnings were given will happen again. Although those concerned feel doubts and express criticisms, on reflection they will feel safer and more satisfied that the United States is once again prepared to show leadership against an evil from which we and especially those states suffer—that of state terrorism.

While there are real difficulties in dealing with the provocations and crimes of an outlaw regime such as that of Saddam Hussein, surely, in the exchanges between the President and the Prime Minister, it was pointed out to the President that the American case would have been far stronger if action had been deferred until the conclusion of the Kuwaiti trial.

The United States deferred action until the nature of the responsibility was clear from its own investigations. The evidence is there—was in Mrs. Albright's speech yesterday—t that responsibility lay where the missile attack was directed.

As one who agreed entirely with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. Howell) said about state terrorism and who believes that the Gulf war should not have ended until Saddam Hussein had been deposed, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he agrees that, if we are to have an internationally respected world order, we must be even-handed? Does he agree that those who orchestrate, plan and perpetrate genocide should be treated at least as harshly as those who plan the deaths of presidents?

My hon. Friend has been persistent over months in advocating a more interventionist policy in the former Yugoslavia. That is what he is referring to. We do not have an established world order: we have attempts to create one and a series of tragic situations in which, in one way or another, such order is being breached.

The international community must seek case by case—all these cases are different—the best remedy that it can afford. The two situations—the attempted assassination of ex-President Bush and the war in Bosnia and the crisis alongside it in Croatia—are as different as could be. There is no established world order that would provide equal remedies for each.

Is the Foreign Secretary aware that many people in this country are simply nauseated by the alacrity with which the Prime Minister endorsed the American criminal action? What did the Secretary-General of the United Nations say about this?

The Foreign Secretary has the reputation, rightly, of being a humane man. Has he any idea of the sheer horror in places such as the Amariya where missiles struck during the Gulf war? In that place, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway), Tim Llewellyn of the BBC and I saw carbonated arms on a ceiling. As in Pompeii, mothers were burnt holding their infants when the missiles arrived.

In such circumstances, can the Foreign Secretary be surprised that the many Iraqi graduates we met who were doubtful about the Ba'athists are now firmly behind Saddam Hussein? This kind of action entrenches the regime.

The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to bried me after his visit to Iraq. I entirely accept the good faith in which he and his hon. Friend undertook that visit. However, in several respects, the characteristics of a totalitarian regime enabled the two hon. Members to be thoroughly misled about the situation there. I respect the hon. Gentleman's bona fides and his sincerity, but not his conclusions.

I do not believe that, in the end, the cause of humanity—which is what the hon. Gentleman is pleading—is served by allowing attempts of this kind to go without response. I do not believe that it is safe. We can argue about particular targeting and particular procedures, but I disagree profoundly with the hon. Gentleman's main assumption: that regimes like that of Saddam Hussein—given its record and the knowledge that we had of its intentions—should be spared and left alone simply because a response inevitably carries with it the risk of innocent casualties.

Is not the correct historical comparison not with the Gulf war but with the action that the United States took against Libya a few years ago? Should it not be made equally clear to Saddam Hussein, as it was to Colonel Gaddafi, that state-sponsored terrorism is entirely unacceptable?

Does the Secretary of State accept that he cut an uncharacteristically unconvincing figure when he made his opening remarks? The Secretary of State, who knows the middle east very well—and the British Foreign Office, which knows it even better—will know the consequences of 23 Tomahawk cruise missiles landing on an Arab capital. One of the collateral damages was the death in her sleep, with her husband and family, of Leila Attar, a very famous Iraqi painter, who was revered throughout the Arab world.

The Foreign Secretary knows that that raid has detonated a fracture among the Arab allies of this country and the United States, and set in train a further twist to the pattern of fanaticism, extremism and despair which is felt throughout the Arab area, and which imperils the very regimes to which he and the Foreign,Office are so close.

Does the Foreign Secretary accept that the Arab world will see that raid, as his hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said, not just as a dramatic comparison with the paralysis over the Bosnian Muslims, but as a tawdry, shabby attempt by a pathetic President of the United States of America to divert attention from his miserable failures at home?

That is not what the historian will record when he looks at the American papers. I have had enough knowledge of this over the last few weeks, from discussions in Washington last month, to know the way in which this was tackled and the way in which the plans for this operation were postponed, put aside and withheld while an authentic and serious investigation took place. That is what the history books will show.

The hon. Gentleman's main point, which is understandable, is similar to the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South. The hon. Gentleman rightly records the risks and criticisms from the area, but running alongside them, and eventually overcoming them, will be a feeling of relief that there is the possibility—nay, the certainty—of firm action against the evils of state terrorism, from which the countries about which he has spoken have been and may well be the chief sufferers.

Would my right hon. Friend take it from me, as someone who has lived and worked in the middle east, that the people I know are much more concerned about firm allies at this dangerous time than legal niceties? Can I also put it to my right hon. Friend that the next time that western interests are in serious danger in the middle east, the Americans may, for one reason or another, be less willing to intervene? It is essential that the countries of western Europe, which in practice means Britain and France, do retain a capacity to intervene ourselves, if necessary.

In this case, the Americans acted; they asked for our support, not our participation. They were entitled to that support, and they were given it.

The Foreign Secretary sought to justify the American action according to the concept of self-defence under international law. He will know that there is a clear distinction in international law between self-defence and reprisal. Is not self-defence essentially a defensive action against the threat of attack, while a reprisal is a punitive action to punish a past unlawful incident? Given those definitions, is it not clear that what we have witnessed is punishment, a reprisal, and not self-defence?

Of course, the hon. Gentleman is right that that distinction exists, but he is obscuring or ignoring the fact that the threat remains. I told the House about our understanding of the state of international law when there has been an attempt at state terrorism; the threat quite clearly remains, and is a serious one.

Police Reform (White Paper)

3.59 pm

With permission, I should like to make a statement about the future of the police service in England and Wales.

I am today publishing a White Paper which sets out the Government's proposals for police reform. Those proposals will lay the basis for the police service of the 21st century and deliver the promises that we have made under the citizens charter.

We are rightly proud of our police service and of our tradition of policing with the consent and support of the community, but the present administrative arrangements can handicap the police in getting on with their job. There is not a clear enough distinction between the respective roles of the chief constable and the police authority. There is too much paperwork, and the police are not given a clear enough set of priorities. The aim of the White Paper is to enable the police to focus far more than they can at present on waging war against crime.

There are four main elements to my proposals. First, we need to forge the strongest possible partnership between the police and the public. The concept of such a partnership is not new; it can be traced back to the roots of British policing. However, we now need to revitalise community support for the police.

The police cannot succeed on their own. We all have a responsibility as individuals to give our help and support. There are many ways for people to get involved, for example as members of neighbourhood watch schemes, or by joining their local police consultative group. Even more importantly, we need to help the police to prevent and detect crime by passing on information that may be of use to them.

Service as a special constable is the most active way in which ordinary people can help the police. Special constables provide a valuable link between the police and the community. I therefore propose to set a fresh target of 30,000 for the number of special constables—an increase of 10,000 on the present strength of 20,000.

Secondly, I intend to strengthen local police authorities. They will set their own budgets. They will be required to develop local policing plans and strategies for partnership between the public and the police. They will be expected to consult closely with the public in drawing them up. They will be required to tell local people how well their force has done, so that they can compare its performance with that of other forces. They will be clearly responsible for ensuring that policing meets both local and national priorities, and they will be held to account for the results.

I intend that local police authorities should have access to a wider pool of local experience and ability in carrying out those tasks. Police authorities will all be independent bodies made up of local people. Each police authority will have 16 members: eight local councillors, three local magistrates and five local people appointed by the Home Secretary. One person from among the overall membership will be appointed by the Home Secretary to chair the authority.

Thirdly, we shall make it easier for chief constables and local police commanders to deliver a service that provides what local people want, in accordance with citizens charter principles. We want to streamline management within police forces to devolve responsibility to the lowest possible level. The main responsibility for local policing should go to the local commanders who are in touch with their local communities.

Central Government grant to the police will in future be cash-limited. That will allow us to give detailed controls on police manpower and capital expenditure. We shall no longer determine centrally how many police officers there should be in each force. It will be for local police authorities and police forces to decide for themselves on the mix of police officers, civilian staff, equipment and other resources that they need. They will not need the permission of the Home Secretary if they want more police constables instead of senior managers.

Fourthly, we want to give the police a clear sense of priorities. I propose that, in future, the Home Secretary will publish a brief statement each year of the key objectives for the police service. That will provide a framework for assessing police performance. Those objectives will reflect the Government's belief that fighting crime and the protection of the public should he the top priorities in police work.

The police must be freed as far as possible from the burden of paperwork, so that they can concentrate on the key objectives of fighting crime and protecting the public. That is why we have commissioned a swift study by consultants to examine the paper administration of the criminal justice process from arrest by the police to disposal in court. I attach a great deal of importance to this exercise. I want to see a significant reduction in paper pushing. The public want the police to concentrate on fighting crime. So do the police, and so do I.

I now come to my proposals for London. My predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke), said in a statement to the House on 23 March that he would consider how the new format for police authorities might be changed to take account of the special circumstances of London. Since my appointment, I have given this careful consideration.

The Metropolitan police have unique national responsibilities. I have therefore concluded that the national interest in the work of the Metropolitan police makes it right that the Home Secretary should remain the police authority for London. But in discharging these responsibilities, I shall no longer rely solely on advice from the Home Office.

To help me oversee the performance of the Metropolitan police, I will be forming a new body. I shall appoint to it people from a wide variety of backgrounds with the skills and experience to make a major contribution to the work of the police in the capital. It will, for example, help me draw up local London objectives for the police taking account of Londoners' views. I have no doubt that these new arrangements will be of great benefit to the people of London.

These are the main elements of a much broader programme of reform. The White Paper also sets out a range of other measures to provide the police service with the best modern management systems.

On Wednesday, I expect Sir Patrick Sheehy to announce the results of his inquiry into police pay, conditions of service and rank structure. We need arrangements which will ensure that we can recruit and retain high quality officers and which allow for the widely differing responsibilities of individual officers

There will be new procedures to ensure that poor performance by individual officers is dealt with fairly and effectively. There will also be new separate arrangements for dealing with misconduct by police officers. Existing procedures are often long drawn out. This is not satisfactory from anyone's point of view, not least the police. Speedier decisions should result from the new arrangement.

I hope to bring forward legislation as soon as possible to implement all the elements of the reform programme. I want to see them all in place by April 1995. The changes that do not require legislation will be introduced sooner, and many are already in hand.

This is a programme of reform to lay the foundations of policing well into the next century. The reforms will lead to a better service for the public and greater job satisfaction for police officers. With the support of all of us, the police service will be more effective in its ability to wage war against crime. I commend these proposals to the House.

As I did in March, may I welcome the part of the Home Secretary's proposals that deal with greater flexibility in financing? Will he confirm that this is just the removal of a central Government inhibition on local finances and could be done by a simple one-line amendment to the Police Act 1964, and that it is distinct from all the other proposals in relation to police authority?

As the Home Secretary announced in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday, he says that he will increase the number of special constables from 20,000 to 30,000. Will he confirm what appears in the White Paper, that there is already a plan to increase special constables to 25,000—that makes his announcement today slightly disingenuous—and that the figure that he has announced is simply a target, not a firm commitment? At present, even the target is nowhere near being met. Will he also confirm that he is keeping the freeze on new police officers, which is hampering many local police authorities that want more police officers back on the beat in local communities?

One startling omission from the Home Secretary's statement was any mention of the proposal for amalgamating police forces. We might therefore have supposed that he has dropped it. Will he confirm that the White Paper contains a whole chapter on amalgamations? I do not know why he did not mention that. Is it because that chapter makes it clear that the Home Office believes that the number of existing authorities is questionable and because it wants to reduce them and amalgamate them considerably?

The White Paper states on page 42:
"But the Government does not propose to launch an immediate programme of compulsory force amalgamations."
It then states on page 43:
"Where in future police force amalgamations become desirable, the Secretary of State will be able to prescribe new police force areas."
It sets out a new procedure for amalgamation that leaves out many of the aspects of public consultation.

Will the Home Secretary come clean and say what his intentions are for larger police forces? All the evidence shows that smaller forces have better cost-effectiveness, a higher percentage of operational officers and a better clear-up rate.

On London, was not there the clearest possible commitment in March to a proper police authority for London, as there is in other areas? Is it not the height of absurdity to justify reneging on that commitment on the ground of the unique work of the Metropolitan police, when the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis has, during the last few days, given his full support to a proper police authority in the interests of better policing? Is not the truth that what has changed are not the views of the police, still less those of the people of London, but the response to the clamour of a few out-of-touch, unrepresentative Tory Back Benchers who want to deny Londoners a proper voice in how London is policed?

On the structure of new police authorities, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman confirm that that is opposed by virtually all chief constables and by Tory, as well as Labour, local councillors? He claims that it is necessary to remove local councillors from a large part of the police authority to depoliticise the police, but does he understand that the effect of his proposals will be not to depoliticise police authorities, but to transfer political control from local people who are locally elected to serve local communities to Government appointees who are accountable only to Whitehall?

There is a deep and growing concern in this country, across a range of issues, about the vast number of local services from health through to policing, involving billions of pounds of public money, where the chairmen and chairwomen of the controlling bodies now hold office at the Government's pleasure and the fact that their first loyality will not and cannot be to local people, but only to the Tory party in government.

Are not the Home Secretary's proposals, taken as a whole, the clearest sign of the utter bankruptcy of the Tory party as the party of law and order? Is that not shown by the fact that he should announce, as his first measure, not a new initiative on crime, drug abuse, violence, car crime, burglary or even crime prevention, but a misguided piece of prejudice against local policing? What this country wants is not a vendetta against local government, but a crusade against crime—and it is the Labour party that will wage it.

The first question was whether it would be possible to detach some of our elements of reform from others and enact them separately. Of course, the answer is in the affirmative. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman should ask such a question.

On the issue of special constables, I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would tell us whether he too was in favour of an increase in the target figure for special constables, and whether he thought that they had an important part to play. He remained silent. He was not prepared to say on that issue, as on any of the other issues that he raised, whether he was in favour of our proposals, against them or, as is so often the case, simply sitting on the fence.

The hon. Gentleman asked about amalgamation. As my predecessor announced, we are introducing more streamlined arrangements to replace the present cumbersome ones, where amalgamation is thought desirable. I shall consider any proposals for amalgamation on their merits.

On London, what it comes down to when one sits, listens to and penetrates the hon. Gentleman's bluster, is that he and the Labour party remain as determined as ever to put left-wing Lambeth Labour councillors, who are still not prepared to participate in the work of the local police consultative committee, on any local police authority for London that Labour would set up. That is what lies behind the hon. Gentleman's bluster about London, and we will have no part of it.

The hon. Gentleman repeated the old litany of criticism about police authorities outside London. Is he seriously suggesting that only councillors and magistrates can make an effective contribution as members of a police authority, and that no one else has anything to contribute? That is the import of the hon. Gentleman's criticism.

We say that 50 per cent. of the membership of police authorities should continue to be councillors. Three members should be magistrates, and five should be appointed by the Home Secretary. Those five can bring to bear their wide experience of the problems that are faced by police authorities, and make an effective contribution to the authorities' work.

We heard from the hon. Gentleman what we hear all the time from the Opposition, day in day out, in the House. "Things," they say, "are dreadful as they are. Let us keep them exactly as they are."

I warmly welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's statement—particularly as it relates to special constables—and I remind him, the House and the country that it was Special Constable Goodman who was murdered by the IRA in North Yorkshire. That proved that special constables can be as brave and courageous in the policing of Britain as full-time police officers.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that local accountability and contact between the police and the community both exist through the consultative committees, and not through the police authorities which have a small number of members?

I am grateful for the support of my hon. Friend. He is, of course, right to pay tribute to the bravery of Special Constable Goodman and, indeed, of other special constables, who, together with the police, are prepared to risk their lives for the rest of the community, day in, day out.

I agree with my hon. Friend about the important contribution that local police consultative committees can make. I am sure that they will continue to make an effective contribution under the new arrangements that I have proposed.

If the Home Secretary is to assume sole reponsibility for the appointment of the chairman and five members of the local police authority, for setting the key objectives of every police force and for capping their expenditure, is he not on the road to making the police answerable only to himself and not to the communities with which partnership is essential for effective policing?

Is it the Government's intention to follow the pattern that has been set in health, in which the Government have taken on doctors, dentists, nurses and even patients in attacking the problems? Are the Government prepared to pit themselves against the entire police service with the proposals?

The hon. Gentleman has misunderstood our proposals. We are not proposing to cap the expenditure of local police authorities, as he will find out when he looks at the proposals in detail.

It is difficult to take the hon. Gentleman and his party seriously on law and order. The only debate on the subject at the most recent party assembly was a motion to legalise brothels. When the hon. Gentleman's party takes law and order seriously at its party conference, we will take seriously what he says in the House.

Will my right hon. Friend assure me that the reforms are designed to help the police concentrate on what the people of Portsmouth really care about—the prevention and detection of violence, burglary, vandalism and so on—rather than on those matters that are so beloved of the Labour party, and particularly their local councillors, which make police officers into virtual social workers?

I can give my hon. Friend the assurance that he wants. I hope that the people of Portsmouth will take full advantage of the opportunities that the proposals contained in the White Paper will make available to them. They will be able to have their say in setting the priorities of their local police force—and, indeed, will be able to play a full part in helping their local police force to do its job more effectively.

Is the Home Secretary aware of the perception that the pendulum has been pushed too far against the police and the courts, and that there would be widespread support for any measures that restored the pendulum to at least mid-distance? May we look upon his announcement today as a modest beginning?

I am certainly aware of the perception to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. The proposals are a first step on an important road and will, I hope, go a long way to removing that perception. We have a unique opportunity to tackle the problem to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, and I intend to do everything in my power to tackle it effectively.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that his announcement about strengthening the partnership between the police and the public will be warmly welcomed, as will his comments about eliminating unnecessary police paperwork—which was imposed by the House when it passed the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984?

Is my right hon. and learned Friend further aware that the police service will have substantial reservations about his decision that he and his successors as Home Secretary will in future appoint half the membership of the new-style police authorities? How will their members be chosen, and who will vet them?

As to the increase in the number of specials, will my right hon. and learned Friend consider making their work a form of voluntary national service—so that young men and women who become specials can take part in police work and help everyone to become more aware of their civic responsibilities?

On the question of the Commissioner's advisory body—

Order. A number of hon. Members are seeking to ask questions. I ask hon. Members to put one question each, so that we may get through as many as possible. Mr. Secretary Howard.

My hon. Friend speaks with particular authority on these matters, and I am grateful for his opening remarks. As to police authority membership, I shall appoint live of the 16 members—fewer than one third of the membership. I shall look for people who can bring their experience and expertise to bear effectively, to ensure that the new authorities give the relevant leadership required in their local areas. I note my hon. Friend's remarks about special constables, and I certainly view service as a special constable as service to the community in a very real sense.

The Home Secretary said that the Metropolitan police has unique responsibilities, but he could have considered the option of taking away those responsibilities. Some of us believe that they take up far too much of Metropolitan police resources. As for the Home Secretary's cheap crack about Lambeth as a reason for keeping local councillors out of London's police authority, has the right hon. and learned Gentleman forgotten that, under his own proposals, local authority representatives would not even be in the majority on the police authority?

The Metropolitan police's special responsibilities are indivisible from its other responsibilities, and it would not be at all sensible to hive them off in the way that the hon. Gentleman suggests. For that reason, I reached the conclusion that I outlined in my statement. I well understand the Opposition's sensitivity towards the behaviour of Lambeth councillors, but they are elected as Labour councillors, and the Opposition cannot disown them.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that a key objective of the White Paper is to ensure that police in Aylesbury and throughout the Thames valley area spend less time filling in forms and more time out of the office and on the beat, detecting and catching criminals?

I hope that we shall be able to achieve the objective that my hon. Friend identifies. As I said, a study is being made of the amount of police paperwork. I hope that we shall be able to reduce it as a result of that study, and that the consequence will be more policemen on the streets and on patrol, fighting crime—as my hon. Friend and I would like.

The Secretary of State said that he thought of the special circumstances of London when he took office. Can he tell us how those special circumstances had changed when his right hon. and learned predecessor came to the Dispatch Box a few months ago and said that there would be a new police authority for London?

When the Secretary of State abuses councillors in London, will he remember that he is abusing not just Lambeth councillors but Tory, Labour and Liberal councillors? How will the advisory committee for London be appointed? Will the London Boroughs Association and the Association of London Authorities be able to make nominations? What does he intend to do about the City of London, which still has its own police authority in the middle of London?

I think that the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) identified the relevance of the special responsibilities of the Metropolitan police to the decision that I have made. As to the membership of the new authority, no one will be able to make nominations to it, but I shall be open to suggestions from any quarter. When the hon. Gentleman grows excited about these matters, it behoves us all to remember his words in 1986, when he described the police as

"all that is rotten in our society."

As long as I remain Home Secretary, the smaller the extent to which people who hold the views of the hon. Gentleman on the police have any influence on the police, the better.

Can the Home Secretary make it plain that, when amalgamations of police forces take place, they will take place after consultation with local people? Can my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that, whatever happens, nothing will be done that affects the integrity of the police force of the county of Kent?

My hon. Friend will understand that I have a particular interest in the well-being of the police force of the county of Kent, so I shall bear his remarks in that context very much in mind. I can assure my hon. Friend that no amalgamations will take place without consultation, but the process of consultation will be very much more effective under our proposals than it is at the moment.

Can the Secretary of State tell us who the consultants are and how much they are being paid? Can he guarantee that none of the principals, or the consultancy, has given money to the Tory party? Can he also guarantee that, when he appoints these people to the local police authorities they will not consist simply of Tory stooges?

I can certainly give the hon. Gentleman the assurance for which he asks. We shall have as members of the police authorities those people who can make the most effective contribution to the work of those authorities. If it is indeed the view of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues that the only people who can make such a contribution to the work of police authorities are councillors and magistrates, he ought to examine the position afresh.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledge and appreciate that most people are fed up with the namby-pamby approach to law and order, and will welcome his move towards giving the police much more control over their own resources so that they can target them where they are needed? As part of my right hon. and learned Friend's campaign against paperwork, will he talk to the Lord Chancellor about the Crown Prosecution Service? An immense amount of police time is wasted on cases that never go to court, which is frustrating for the police and tormenting for the victim.

My hon. Friend is right to identify that as a matter of concern. I share his concern. I hope that it will be possible, in the light of our response both to Sheehy and to the royal commission, which is expected to report next week, to address that concern in a very effective manner. I shall certainly bear my hon. Friend's point in mind.

In the interests of reducing the paperwork, what plans does the Home Secretary have for putting an end to a little racket that has been going on in more than half our police forces for many years, whereby police officers tour the nation's gaols to persuade convicted felons to own up to offences on the unsolved book, which they then count towards their clear-up record?

Is the Home Secretary aware that, in Liverpool, for example, this practice accounted, according to the last figures I have seen, for more than 40 per cent. of the clear-up rate? It discriminates, of course, against honest police forces that do not employ this practice.

The hon. Gentleman will discover when he reads the White Paper, as I know he will, that one of its proposals is to enable local people to make recommendations to their local police authority on the objectives of the force. That is the kind of factor that they can take into account in setting what they think the objectives should be, and the police authority will be in a position to set them.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that not only the police but the country will welcome enormously the fact that we have a Home Secretary who is prepared to put some elbow and some muscle behind the police, to give them the equipment that they want and now to give them the reinforcements that they so badly need? What he said today about strengthening the special constabulary will be very welcome, especially in my constituency. What special measures does he propose to ensure that they are brought fully up to establishment at the earliest opportunity?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know that he has taken a close interest in the special constabulary, and in the important role that it plays. I am proposing a targeted campaign to maximise the recruitment of special constables.

I think that there is a mood abroad in the country that people want to play a part in helping the police. They are fed up with feeling frustrated and helpless and they all want to play a part in the war against crime. Becoming a special constable is one of the most active ways in which they can help. The targeted recruitment campaign will evoke a much more successful response than previous campaigns, and I shall certainly do all I can to ensure that it succeeds.

Will the witchfindergeneral please withdraw his odious and offensive remark against my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), which he knew was highly misleading? Will he confirm that, in appointing members to police authorities, especially the London authority, he intends to pack them with what have become known as "TWEMs"—Tory white establishment males?

I was particularly careful to quote accurately from what the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) said in 1986, and I note that neither he nor the hon. Gentleman suggested that I got the quotation wrong.

I very much welcome my right hon. and learned Friend's announcement, especially the fact that he has come down against the policing of London being the same as the rest of the country. He has responded to the view of many Conservative Members that a police authority would be quite wrong for London. Indeed, that view is shared by local authorities. Will he confirm that, in making a change in London, there will be no need for fresh legislation?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for welcoming my decision on London. I think it likely that we can achieve the new arrangements for London without legislation.

Why does not this poor man's Jack Benny have the guts to admit that what this Tory Government are all about it taking away powers from democratically elected local authorities? They have done it with education, in part; they have done it with housing, in part; and they are already privatising lots of services.

The idea of shifting police authorities to be run by Tory spivs is part and parcel of getting more power at the centre of Government and taking it away from elected local government. As for being more effective, if the police were not effective, how did they manage to arrest 9,000 miners in 1984? They trampled the streets of north Derbyshire—

The hon. Gentleman does not seem too happy with the police under the present arrangements. I should have thought that he might be prepared to look rather more kindly on new and improved arrangements that will ensure that people other than councillors and magistrates can serve on police authorities and make use of their expertise and experience.

When my right hon. and learned Friend comes to appoint members of the police authorities, especially in places such as Cleveland, will he make it his top priority to appoint people from the community who have a positive contribution to make and who will help to build a partnership against crime, not Labour county councillors who have been found fighting in the library or arrested or other offences?

I shall not appoint members of police authorities on the basis of their political affiliation to whichever party they happen to belong, but I do not envisage appointing those who have been apprehended in the type of activity to which my hon. Friend referred.

I welcome the important phrase that we need

"to revitalise community support for the police",
but may I warn the Home Secretary that it will not come about by wholesale amalgamation via the specious league table idea?

Reference has been made to a cash limit which, if it is unreasonable, will merely perpetuate under-establishment. For example, my force in north Wales is grossly under-established, I think to the tune of 70 members. If the cash limit is unreasonable, there will be no co-operation and the whole thing will be a waste of time.

Let me assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of wholesale amalgamation. Let me also assure him that the result of the changes envisaged in the White Paper will give much more control to the chief constable and local commanders, which will enable them to make decisions about the appropriate number of officers to a much greater extent than at present. I hope that, when the hon. Gentleman has had time to study the White Paper, he will find that his anxieties are allayed by its proposals.

Points Of Order

4.34 pm

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that during last week's debate on party political funding, the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley), to whom I have given notice of this point of order, made a serious allegation to the effect that the President of the Board of Trade had been involved in trying to obtain foreign Governments' money to support the Conservative party. It has emerged over the weekend that the allegation was made at the behest of a newspaper simply for the purpose of ensuring that it was on the parliamentary record. Is not that a disgraceful abuse of our procedures and a clear breach of parliamentary privilege?

Very often, points of order are abuses of our procedures too, especially those that do not relate to the Chair and for which I have no responsibility.

I ended questions on the private notice question and on the statement reasonably early, because two minority parties have the right to be heard. I hope that hon. Members who wish to raise points of order will make absolutely certain that they are genuine.

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received a request or notice from the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he wishes to make a statement about something that he said in County Down last Saturday night? When questioned about bombings in Northern Ireland, he said that, thankfully, no one had been killed but in the opera they all were killed.

Had there been a statement, it would have been on the annunciator and we would all have known about it by this stage.

Statutory Instruments, &C

With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Vat (Supply Of Services)

That the Value Added Tax (Supply of Services) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 1507) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning

That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) (No. 7) Order 1993 (S.I.) 1993, No. 1606), be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.— [ Mr. Wood.]

Question agreed to.

Orders Of The Day

Opposition Day

[15TH ALLOTTED DAY]

Thermal Oxide Reprocessing Plant

4.38 pm

I beg to move,

That this House believes that, as evidenced by the hardening of international opposition, there are increasingly strong economic, environmental and proliferation reasons why it would not be in the interests of the United Kingdom or the rest of the world for Her Majesty's Government to bring the thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield (THORP) into operation; notes that the last public inquiry into THORP took place more than fifteen years ago, since when all relevant circumstances have substantially changed; and therefore urges Her Majesty's Government to investigate and make public all relevant aspects of THORP and alternative processes for dealing with spent fuel including dry storage, to ensure full disclosure of the terms of all contracts for the use of THORP and of the calculations supporting its economic justification, and to ensure that all information is available for public comment, independent appraisal and proper cross-examination before any decision is taken.
In The Observer at the weekend, there was a three-line NIB—news in brief—entitled "Small Tremor". It stated:
"An earth tremor measuring 3·0 on the Richter scale hit south Cumbria and north Lancashire."
Perhaps it was the Almighty reacting to the fact that, for the first time in 15 years, there is to be a debate in the House on the future of THORP.

The thermal oxide reprocessing plant at Sellafield is a very important project. It was commissioned, and approval for it was sought, by British Nuclear Fuels plc back in the late 1970s. BNFL saw THORP as a means of treating partially used nuclear fuel, from home or abroad, from advanced gas-cooled reactors or light-water reactors and, by that reprocessing operation, separate out uranium and plutonium and separately place the waste.

The inspector who held the inquiry in the late 1970s was the very eminent judge, Mr. Justice Parker. It was very clear to him that he was making a decision based on the evidence at the time. It was clear to him that the evidence and circumstances might change and the matter might have to be reconsidered. From the beginning, it was clear that everyone who participated in the debate regarded the decision as conditional.

There were two debates on the matter, one very shortly after the other. The first debate was on a motion for the Adjournment of the House and it was initiated by the Government. The then Secretary of State for the Environment, the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore) commended THORP to the House. During that debate, and in the debate in May 1978, many hon. Members on both sides of the House made the conditionality of the project clear.

The second debate was initiated by the then Leader of the Liberal party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel). He initiated the debate by praying against the order that provided planning permission for the Windscale proposal. He said:
"In my view, the arguments on both sides are finely balanced and contain many uncertainties. It is because of that that I believe the burden of proof ought to lie quite firmly on the side of those who are pressing this order and who argue that we should now be taking this firm step into the plutonium economy."
My right hon. Friend ended his speech by saying:
"This House has a straight choice between looking at the longer-term results of a decision that we take tonight against the undoubted economic value of the Japanese and other contracts which we could acquire. I believe that the onus must lie heavily on the Government, who have brought forward the order, to persuade us that we are wrong. If they do not persuade us beyond a reasonable doubt, it will be right to vote in favour of the order being withdrawn."—[Official Report, 15 May 1978; Vol. 950, c. 111–18.]
In the event, the order was approved by the House, though not without many hon. Members, including the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, making it very clear that it might not be, and should not be, the final decision on the matter.

Today's debate has produced great benefits. We have flushed out where other people stand. We have flushed out the Government's position which—there is general agreement on this—had been secret for several months. The Government received advice, as they were bound to under statute, several months ago. BNFL, the operators, and the opponents wanted to hear a decision about that. However, until the end of last week, not a peep was heard.

Not only have we forced the Government's hand today—and therefore I hope that today's debate is welcome, no matter what view people take on the issue—we have also flushed out two other things. We have flushed out an announcement, which has been made in the past hour, about how the Government intend to respond to the two reports that have been given to them. We have also flushed out the advice provided by the body that advises on radioactive material.

In addition, we have flushed out the Labour party's position. We have forced Labour's hand and it has made a decision. Labour is going to abstain, just as it did in respect of Maastricht—

Well, perhaps not all Labour Members. However, the official Labour position is that it is not for THORP and it is not against it. It is not for a public inquiry and it is not against one.

I challenge Labour Members to tell us what words in the motion they disagree with and why. I challenge them to tell us how, after all this time for deliberation, they cannot either endorse the project which they started in the 1970s or oppose it because circumstances have changed. As with Maastricht and income tax rises or public expenditure cuts, the Labour party is neither for them or against them. Yet again, the Labour party is sitting on the fence.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about flushing out the views and opinions of a variety of people, particularly hon. Members. Does he accept that the work force at Sellafield are one of the best-trained work forces in the country? Is he aware that he could have flushed out the view of that work force if he had been on College green at lunchtime when the work force made their views known? They want THORP to continue. They believe that it is safe. It is their work and they want it to be allowed to be commissioned.

Of course they do, and understandably so. My hon Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) said last week that the workers at Rosyth wanted their work to continue, and, as the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) will be aware, many miners wanted their work to continue last October and this March. However, at the end of the day, the Government and the Conservative party could not endorse that.

Of course the work force argued their case, and the hon. Member for Rochford has raised very proper concerns about that work force and their future in Cumbria which has significant unemployment, if not the highest in the country. I respect the view of the work force. I have spoken to some of the shop stewards and I hope to meet them again when I visit Sellafield in about 10 days' time. I have undertaken to meet the shop stewards and the work force as well as the management.

The hon. Member for Rochford is well versed in these matters and his point alludes also to the fact that there is a quite reasonable debate about the issue and an understandable and honest entitlement to a difference of view. Complex issues such as the general debate about nuclear power and about nuclear weapons, do not necessarily drive to a unanimous conclusion along party lines. People in the Conservative party hold different views about the desirability of THORP and about a public inquiry, as they do in the Labour party and in my party.

Hon Members such as the hon. Members for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) and for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) have proper constituency views and we would expect them to speak on the matter. Indeed, my hon. Friend the Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan), who represents Dounreay, has made no secret of his views over the years. There is an honest disagreement of views.

Since my right hon. Friend the Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale spoke in the late 1970s, it has been my party's policy to oppose THORP, because we were not persuaded about it, and to argue that the only basis for supporting reprocessing is when it is necessary on safety grounds. That was the position on which we went into the last general election and to which we are committed as a party.

I do not only take a constituency view: I am a believer in nuclear power.

I may have been unfair to the hon. Gentleman. I tried to make the point that there is a difference in respect of the fundamental issues and that hon. Members are quite properly entitled to take a constituency view. The hon. Member for Workington has argued his views. I hope that he welcomes the debate. as he and I were in a meeting recently when we were asked to try to facilitate such a debate and I have now provided that opportunity.

My colleagues and I do not intend—and it would be improper—for this to be a debate about the future of nuclear energy in Britain. That is a huge and wide subject. We may complain about the fact that we have not had such a debate. We do complain about the fact that the way in which we debate energy policy in this place is nothing short of mad and we complain that the logical sequence of events should not have been what we have seen, are seeing and are about to see: a debate on coal in the late autumn of 1992 and the spring of 1993; a debate about THORP today; a debate about the national Audit Office view on the economics of the nuclear industry before the Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday; a possible announcement about the nuclear review originally heralded to be made by the Minister for Energy at a meeting tomorrow night, although he will no doubt tell us that whether that will be the case, but certainly with a timetable envisaged to be announced before we break for the summer recess—

The Minister says no, so it will not. And there will be a debate about renewables some time later.

The only point that I want to make about the energy debate is that it is a mad system which does not look at Britain's strategic energy needs first and then decide what the implication is for each of the component parts—for example, whether we should have a nuclear industry, how much coal we should have, whether we should have opencast coal, and so on. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland says, having previously spoken on the subject while holding this brief for our party, it does not help when we have a Government who do not believe in an energy strategy.

Workers at Sellafield, like us and, indeed, the management at Sellafield, wish that the Government had had a clearer strategy on these matters for a long time. There is consensus that the way the Government are acting is no way to run a country, and, with or without the President of the Board of Trade present—we wish him a speedy recovery—it is certainly no way to decide an energy policy.

There is one obvious linked point. What happens at THORP and the contracts at THORP are relevant to the economic viability of nuclear power and nuclear energy. A very timely article in today's issue of The Guardian made that point very clear. I do no more than allude to part of that article, but it makes it very clear that there is a battle royal going on between BNFL on the one hand and Nuclear Electric and Scottish Nuclear on the other about who underwrites the risk. Unless we make that clear, it could make all the difference to the viability of the nuclear energy industry. Indeed, there is a strong argument from the nuclear energy industry to take the THORP equation—the reprocessing issue—out altogether. Some believe that they would be better served if that were not part of the equation.

Some of us were the guests of Robin Jeffrey and James Hann of Scottish Nuclear. We asked them, and they were quite clear that there was no animosity of any kind whatever along the lines that the hon. Gentleman suggests. [Interruption.]

As my hon. Friends say, they would say that, wouldn't they? The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is eminent in these matters. It is clearly a matter of controversy where the liability lies. One of the things that are apparent from the contracts as they were originally drafted and as they have been in the public domain—one criticism is that they are not generally in the public domain—is that it is not clear exactly where liability lies. The hon. Member for Linlithgow is entitled to challenge that point, and, if he is correct, I hope that the Government will tell us whether that matter has been resolved or whether there is still a dispute. The Minister is in a better position than anybody else to tell us that.

I am sorry to interrupt once again. That was said in the presence of the former Chairman of the Energy Select Committee, the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark). It was only 10 days ago. Frankly, the hon. Gentleman has to accept it.

I was making the point, with which the hon. Gentleman will agree, that the finances of the nuclear industry will be different if we include or exclude the prospective financial benefit to Britain of the THORP process. That is an uncontroversial point and I hope that the hon. Member for Linlithgow will accept it.

Mr. Richard Page
(Hertfordshire, South-West)