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Commons Chamber

Volume 229: debated on Tuesday 27 July 1993

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House Of Commons

Tuesday 27 July 1993

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]


Hertford County Hospital

9.34 am

This petition of 60,000 odd signatures to save the Hertford county hospital has been gathered assiduously by the Save Hertford County Hospital Campaign Committee led by Raymond Slater. It is addressed

To the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of Raymond P. Salter ROH (RAOB) of 20a St. Augustines Drive, Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, vice chairman of the "Save Hertford County Hospital Campaign Committee" and the many thousands whose signatures are appended hereto, showeth that:—The Hertford county hospital is under threat of closure by the local health authority. The Hertford county hospital is a listed building, as also the site, and is in a conservation area. It is the only hospital readily accessible by public transport to the many small villages surrounding Hertford and to the neighbouring town of Ware. There is a need for the Hertford County Hospital to provide a wide range of services, and to have the facility of recovery beds to ensure patients in the area are properly cared for and to include respite and long-term care.

Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House support the refurbishment and retention of the county hospital on its present site.

And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table

Timex Dispute

I wish to present a petition from the sacked Timex workers in Dundee. The petition expresses their

support for early-day motion 2310 which condemns the Timex Corporation for the inhuman and brutal treatment
of the sacked Timex workers and which calls for support for a worldwide boycott of Timex products. Because of the legal shackles on British trade unions which prevent them from calling on the support of their fellow trade unionists, it is only by means of the petition and under the cloak of parliamentary privilege that the sacked Timex workers are able to make public their support for the boycott of Timex products.

The petition reads:
We therefore request that the House of Commons urge Her Majesty's Government to use its influence to persuade the Timex Corporation to reverse its policies towards its own employees in Dundee.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

Sub-Post Offices

I have the great honour to present a petition from the people of north Nottinghamshire. There are 12,500 names on the petition, which calls for the retention of sub-post offices in north Nottinghamshire. I should like to thank the people who have organised the petition and the 30 sub-postmasters in the Sherwood constituency who have made this petition possible.

The petition reads:
The humble Petition of sub-post office users in Nottinghamshire sheweth that they are against the removal by the Government of the right to receive pension and benefit payments at local post offices.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House request the Government to give people the right to choose to receive pension and benefit payments at their local Post Office, recognising the benefit of this to the individual and the community.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray.

To lie upon the Table.

I wish to present a petition on behalf of individuals, local post offices and community councillors within the Ross, Cromarty and Skye constituency which is signed by more than 8,000 constituents expressing alarm and concern about the continued provision of a widespread local post office network.

The petition reads:
The Humble Petition of the undersigned Residents of the Ross, Cromarty and Skye constituency sheweth that we express deep concern that the Government proposes to privatise post office services and compulsorily transfer Social Security payments from post offices to banks, and we oppose these 'measures jointly and severally as they threaten the very survival of rural post offices and deny the efficiency and convenience of the present system, especially in rural areas.
Wherefore your petitioners pray that your honourable House will do everything possible to impress upon the Secretaries of State for Trade and Industry and Social Security the need for an autonomous post office service in the public sector and to abandon plans for the compulsory transfer of Social Security payments to banks.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

Bus Services (Deregulation)

I wish to present a petition on behalf of residents in Darlington concerned about the effects of a local war between bus companies which has put up to 239 buses per hour into Darlington's town centre. Residents are sick of the congestion and disturbance caused by their once quiet streets being used as the battleground for that war between local bus companies. They have signed the petition urging the Government to take action because the Transport Act 1985 has created this mayhem by deregulating bus services.

The petition reads:
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House will halt Darlington's bus wars by ending the deregulation of the bus and coach industry and by returning to local councils the power to regulate bus services in the interests of residents.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray, etc.

To lie upon the Table.

Charing Cross Hospital

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

9.41 am

I am grateful for this opportunity to debate the future of Charing Cross hospital.

The underlying philosophy of the national health service often divides the political parties, but on the Charing Crosss there is an almost unique identity of views between Conservative Members and across the spectrum in west London. Liberals, community groups, management and medical staff at the hospital and trade unions have supported the campaign. Hardly anyone has not been involved in campaigning to keep Charing Cross hospital. I make no apologies for saying that our purpose in the debate is to try to influence events following the recent publication of the London implementation group and the review reports as well as, earlier in the year, the Tomlinson report which led to the hospital's possible closure.

I ask the Minister not to dismiss the debate as special pleading. I know how easy it is for people to assume that, just because a hospital is under threat, everyone will unite to save it. There are good and coherent arguments for saving Charing Cross hospital. I shall leave time for one or two Conservative Members to intervene, but I want to focus on the future role of Charing Cross hospital. Therefore, I hope that the Minister will see my speech not as a negative approach of special pleading but as showing the way forward.

I acknowledge, as do most people, that the NHS must change. I have never taken the view that there is never a case for closing a hospital; that is not appropriate or realistic. I also accept and have long believed in the concept of community care. Properly funded community care reduces hospitals' workloads, as does changing technology, such as day operations; they will inevitably increase patient turnover. All that is to be welcomed.

Counterbalancing factors include the aging population, resulting in people who need greater health care in the later stages of their life. Hammersmith and Fulham and its surrounding area has also been dramatically affected by the opening of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital. I shall not say too much about that. I had and have strong views about the cost of that hospital and the decision to build it when circumstances would obviously change. But that is water under the bridge: the hospital is there. However, that gives us the opportunity to consider the provision of health care in west London in order to make the best possible use of the existing resources. If the matter is approached from that angle, any proposed closures will, I hope, fit into that structure, rather than simply closing the hospital in order to remove the 2,500 beds that Tomlinson recommended should be lost in London, a proposal which is worrying many of us at the moment.

The hospital is 20 years old and that, in itself, makes it rather special. It was purpose built to a high standard with good facilities. The estimated cost of building and equipping it today would be some £450 million—half a billion pounds. The hospital is on a 16-acre site, which is not only a good size but allows flexibility and development —an important factor in its favour. It is also, to use a phrase current in the health service, a one-stop shop providing many supporting services in addition to operations and treatment.

The hospital has good transport links, which is not true everywhere in west London. Local people are acutely anxious that, if the accident and emergency department is closed, an ambulance may have to travel down Fulham Palace road, which will be particularly difficult if Chelsea and Fulham are playing at home, in order to reach the other hospital. That is a major transport problem. I know the arguments about ambulance paramedics' extra provisions, but I am not satisfied with the way in which they work out the figures for getting from A to B in ambulances to have enough confidence in their ability to transport a seriously injured person from Hammersmith Broadway to the accident and emergency department at the new hospital.

The hospital has a high volume of patients, which is an asset for undergraduate teaching. It has eight lecture theatres which are linked by a unique closed circuit, fibre optic colour teaching system, which is one reason why Tokai university in Japan has selected the hospital as its United Kingdom centre of excellence for Japanese undergraduates. That fibre optic network links a number of hospitals, enabling undergraduates to watch operations in different settings without leaving the area in which they are being taught. That is part of the hospital's teaching facility which is of profound importance to the health service, not just in London but nationally.

With all those advantages one might well ask why on earth we are even thinking of closing such a valuable asset. The answer lies in the Tomlinson report, which suggests the loss of 2,500 beds, and, to some extent, in the building of the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, to which I shall not return other than to say that it was justified on the basis that it would replace five other hospitals, and it did just that, taking up the services of those five hospitals. It was not intended to replace Charing Cross hospital. The concept was rather that there should be one hospital on two sites.

Clearly, the key issue is the Tomlinson report which basically suggested the closure of the accident and emergency department, the phasing out of the district general hospital approach and an emphasis on speciality services there. There are flaws in that argument, not just in the figures but in the philosophy behind that report. That is not to dismiss the Tomlinson report, which is a high-status report which deserves to be taken seriously, but there is a growing view, well founded on evidence, that some of Professor Tomlinson's figures are flawed. Perhaps the best example of that is the research done by Professor Jarman, which was published in an article in the British Medical Journal a few months ago. One of the critical factors in the Tomlinson report is the proposal to close Charing Cross and the need to lose 2,500 beds in London. The article said that London has about the same number of beds as the national average and the Charing Cross area is 20 per cent. below average for acute beds.

John James is the chief executive of the Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster commissioning agency. He said:
"Living in this part of London, you are less likely to be admitted to an acute hospital bed than the average for London as a whole, or for the rest of the country. It is quite substantially lower."
The problem is not that Professor Tomlinson was just plain wrong; it is more complicated. He was asked to look at acute services in inner London. Charing Cross deals with a different area and other services. One of the failings of the report—this cannot be laid at the door of Professor Tomlinson—is that we needed a review of the wider London needs, not just acute services. He did not look at the whole of London or at services such as geriatric, psychiatric, maternity and so on. When one looks at those services, one sees a different approach to the argument. That is why we need a different philosophy.

Our argument—I say "our" because it includes community groups, general practitioners, management, trade unions, medical staff, some Conservative Members and others—is different and we want the Government to look at that carefully before making any decision to close Charing Cross. Our argument is that closing the accident and emergency and the district general hospital facilities at Charing Cross is a mistake, even if the Government concentrated other specialties there. Surely the growing weight of evidence, not just in this country but overseas, is for a move towards science-based hospitals. That is profoundly important in the west London area. Such hospitals would provide, as Tomlinson says, a one-stop health shop, accessibility—we all accept that Charing Cross has that and it is indicated in the reviews—modern buildings and site flexibility. All that is present at Charing Cross. Also, although I do not agree with the philosophy of a market approach for the health service, Charing Cross pays its way in the market. The Minister must address that point, as it is that by which the Government are saying hospitals should he judged.

Closing the accident and emergency facilities would inevitably undermine the hospital's other facilities. At present, cancer patients who have complications such as renal failure, respiratory failure or neurological or psychological difficulties can all be treated on site. That is important, because patients do not have to be moved from a specialist hospital to a general hospital for treatment and then moved back again. That is a big advantage and it is one reason why in so many areas that have large populations there is a move towards science-based hospitals which have a wide range of facilities on site.

In reality, Charing Cross hospital is already the trauma centre for west London. It handles some 60,000 new accident and emergency patients per annum. I obtained that figure from the hew health authority the other day. Over 100 major trauma cases per annum are admitted through accident and emergency and a further 200 per annum are admitted via neurosurgery. That is equivalent to the model trauma centre that the Government recommend people to visit in Stoke-on-Trent. If the Government want to save money, people from the south of England who want to visit a trauma centre could visit Charing Cross instead of travelling to Stoke-on-Trent.

Charing Cross has a high reputation. One of the medical staff was selected, with the hospital, to treat George Bush when he visited Britain as President of the United States. Charing Cross is well located should there be a major accident of the type that happened in Amsterdam when the aircraft crashed. It is well located to be the trauma centre for west London, or perhaps even for a wider area. The facilities are there. If the Government make the mistake of closing Charing Cross or forcing it to concentrate on particular services, at some stage they will have to focus on the need for a trauma centre in or near London. Why do that when the facility exists already?

I want to put some positive proposals to the Minister. If the Government really want to improve health care in west London, they need to look at Charing Cross as not only a trauma centre, but as a hospital that should be linked, not so much with the Chelsea and Westminster hospital—although I do not rule that out—but with Hammersmith hospital. Hammersmith is an internationally known and world-famous hospital with enormously respected postgraduate teaching facilities. I am not arguing for the closure of Hammersmith, because the sites do not fit into each other and I am advised that it would take at least five years, or perhaps 10, to move one site to another. However, there is no doubt that a proper working link between Hammersmith and Charing Cross would produce a world-class hospital. Charing Cross could be used as the trauma centre with accident and emergency and district general hospital facilities, and Hammersmith could be used as the postgraduate research teaching and general research facility, together with some of its other functions. Such a hospital would offer enormously good facilities to the people of Hammersmith and Fulham and a much wider area of west London.

I accept that decisions about how such a link should be developed and how close it should be would have to be made by medical staff, the management and so on. However, I have no doubt that such a link would be useful. I do not want to give the impression that there is a quick saving on all this. The Government have a problem about how much they are prepared to spend on the health service, but closing one site and moving to another is not a cost-effective argument. I do not want to anticipate the speech of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington), but I think that he may deal with that aspect. My argument is that we should have a science-based hospital in that area.

If the site was closed and sold, even in the slightly expanding property market, I should be surprised if the site would fetch £15 million or £20 million. It may fetch more in a year or two, but it is not a particularly valuable site. Sadly, that is even more true of the Hammersmith hospital. Not many developers want to locate modern premises next to Wormwood Scrubs prison, although it may advise them of some of society's problems if they did. The capital invested in those sites and the expertise of the people working there should be used to produce the science-based hospital about which I have been talking.

The Bow Group is not something that I usually pray in aid. However, its paper estimates that there will be a cost of £100 million in additional capital expenditure simply to relocate services, beds and pre-clinical facilities if Charing Cross were to be closed. The Bow Group is watching the Minister. It has done its research well. I have read the document and I am impressed by the arguments.

Charing Cross has been able to reduce the cost of its 1993–94 services by 18 per cent. compared with 1992–93. It was an enormous burden for a hospital to have to achieve and it was difficult for a manager to make such a dramatic cut. That is one of the reasons for the morale problems in the hospital. Everybody was worried about the future of the hospital and their jobs.

There is a real opportunity to improve health care in west London. It could be done in the way that I have described with a science-based hospital providing world-class facilities in the west of London. I urge the Minister to consider the arguments seriously before any final decision is made.

9.59 am

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) has secured this debate and I am grateful to him for allowing me to intervene in it. He and I have been trying together to get Adjournment debates on the subject, and I am glad that his name came up. I congratulate him on his effective speech.

Charing Cross hospital is in my constituency, but of course it serves a wider population than my constituents; it serves the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Mr. Deva) and those of the hon. Member for Hammersmith. In one sense Charing Cross is not a local but a regional hospital, although it serves a large local population as well.

As the hon. Member for Hammersmith said, the threat to the hospital originates from the Tomlinson report and from earlier reports on the future need for health care in London. The threat was based on the assumption that London had too many hospital beds for its population, because a decreasing population in London meant that fewer beds were needed, and also on the assumption that as health services outside London improved there would be less need to bus patients in to major centres of excellence in London. To some extent that is true, but the research by Professor Jarman of St. Mary's hospital in Paddington, to which the hon. Member for Hammersmith referred, shows that that process has already taken place. The British Medical Journal of 19 June revealed that the number of beds in London, especially in the north-west quadrant in which the Charing Cross hospital is located, has already been reduced, so that inner London now has no more beds per head than are available elsewhere in the national health service as a whole.

The reasons for that are straightforward. First, we have already closed a great many hospitals in London. The Chelsea and Westminster hospital replaced five other hospitals, resulting in a substantial net reduction in the number of beds. Moreover, London, especially west London, has certain characteristics which affect both my constituents and the constituents of the hon. Member for Hammersmith. There is a large transient population, a population of people commuting into work, and a tourist population. There are also refugees. All those people throw pressures on to hospitals as opposed to primary health care facilities and their needs must be catered for.

The length of the waiting lists for hospitals in the area proves that that is a reality. London waiting lists can largely be explained by reference to the nature of the population and the use that that population makes of health facilities. Nowhere is that more true than at the Charing Cross hospital, where the waiting lists are still substantial despite the opening of the new Chelsea and Westminster hospital. The accident and emergency unit is still heavily used.

Another myth about London's health service has helped to cause the threat to the Charing Cross hospital. The story is that, with 15 per cent. of the population, London receives 20 per cent. of NHS resources. On one level, that is true. London does have 15 per cent. of the population and it does receive 20 per cent. of the resources. However, there are two straightforward reasons for that. First, teaching and research are carried out in London to a greater degree than elsewhere. The special health authorities have not yet been brought into the internal market, although that is about to happen. Although teaching and research are compensated for in the calculation of the sums allocated to London for health care, no one in teaching or research—or, indeed, in the NHS in general—believes that such calculations are an exact science. If anything, they do not compensate sufficiently for teaching and research.

Secondly, London has to cater extensively for commuters, tourists, refugees and all the other problems of inner-city life, which throw a greater weight of need on to NHS resources. Perhaps 20 per cent. is too high a proportion for London, but I have yet to meet anybody who understands what is going on in London's health care who believes that it would be possible to reduce London's share to the 15 per cent. that would equate with its 15 per cent. share of the population.

Charing Cross is a large hospital, with 790 beds on a 16-acre site. It is also an excellent hospital, which came out well in the London specialty reviews. Its cancer services, neurosciences, plastics and burns units and its renal work were all highly commended. Closing the hospital would be extremely expensive and difficult. One would be closing more than just the acute beds. About one third of the hospital caters for geriatric and mental health patients of one sort or another. All those services would have to be relocated elsewhere.

Does my hon. Friend agree that Charing Cross is also a major trauma centre? For example, one of the busiest international airports in the world is at the other end of the motorway and if an accident such as happened in Amsterdam were to happen in London, Charing Cross would be the only hospital capable of giving the appropriate emergency treatment.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What he said highlights one of the key factors affecting Charing Cross hospital—its superb location. It is on the A4, which is one of the best routes out of London, and is easily accessible. Three underground lines service it and five bus routes pass its front door, so it has good connections with the public transport system—better, in fact, than those of any other hospital in west London.

Tomlinson was trying to achieve two things—to improve patient care and to save money. Closing the Charing Cross hospital would not improve patient care. The hospital services a deprived population which continues to use it extensively. The need for such a hospital in that inner-city area has never been greater. As my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth and the hon. Member for Hammersmith have said, the hospital is also ideally located as a trauma centre.

The Tomlinson report was also about saving money. There is no question about the fact that closing Charing Cross hospital would cost a considerable amount. Simply relocating the facilities at the Hammersmith hospital site would cost a substantial sum, and relocating the medical school would cost £60 million, so there is no saving of money to be made. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to consider the proposals carefully and to decide that the Charing Cross hospital has a future role in west London's health care.

10.7 am

My main role today is to congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr. Soley) on initiating a debate of enormous importance to his constituents and to tell him that I have listened carefully to what both he and my hon. Friends have said, which will be carefully studied. I was glad that the lion. Member made such a constructive speech. I especially noted his remarks about Professor Jarman and about trauma centres—a subject of considerable importance and one of great personal interest to me—and his views on the future of the Hammersmith and Charing Cross sites.

As the hon. Gentleman said, this is not a partisan matter, and that fact should be taken carefully into account. I was impressed by his tribute to the views of the Bow Group on this subject—I see that two former members of the Bow Group are sitting on the Benches behind me. The alliance between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Carrington) is impressive and demonstrates the intensity of their feelings on the subject under discussion.

The hon. Gentleman has not rejected the concept behind Tomlinson. He spoke constructively about the report and is aware of the need for change. Therefore, I shall not go over all that ground. He is also aware of the six specialty reviews that were set up as a result of Tomlinson to form a major part of the decision-taking process. With all these outstanding decisions he will forgive me if I do not go into detailed arguments on the points he raised. Everyone is aware that there is a problem of substantial duplication of some specialty services in London which may work against the provision of long-term, high-quality, patient care. Therefore, decisions must be taken.

Where are we now? The London implementation group under Sir Tim Chessells will make recommendations to Ministers in the autumn in the light of the specialty reviews, the option appraisal of central London hospital sites, which is already under way, the outcome of the recently published review of special health authority research and the views of health care purchasers and academic interests. There is a great deal of work to be done before proposals are developed further and there will be full public consultation on any major changes that are proposed as a result.

What, then, are the implications of those various processes for Charing Cross hospital? As the hon. Gentleman knows, there has been no decision as yet. Many factors will be taken into account. We have asked the London implementation group, working with the regional health authority and local health authorities, to bring forward detailed proposals by the autumn for the future of Charing Cross hospital, having regard to the Tomlinson report's option for closure, the site appraisal and the local review of accident and emergency services. The recommendations of the specialty reviews will also need to be fed into the consultation process on the joint Charing Cross-Chelsea and Westminster trust application, which ends in early August. No decision will be taken on that application until the other reviews in west London have been completed.

If I had more time I would have said more in detail about the extent of accident and emergency services at Charing Cross hospital. All that I will say is that in the light of the outcome of the reviews and other outstanding decisions, the district health authority has concluded, rightly in my view, that it would be premature to make a decision on the future of those services at Charing Cross at this stage. I listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman said on the subject and I can assure him that there is no question of allowing any such services to close unless it is proved beyond doubt that alternative facilities are available.

I should like to make a few general points in conclusion. First, a feature of Tomlinson is that if London has too many acute beds and there needs to be a reduction in their number, it must be accompanied by the provision of better primary care. The hon. Gentleman probably knows that there are plans for an additional £43 million for improving primary care in London and £170 million over the next six years for capital developments. Some of that money is earmarked for the Hammersmith area—in other words, the area of the Charing Cross hospital.

Secondly, the Government realise how unsettling and difficult all these outstanding decisions are for staff, patients and hon. Members' constituents. These are difficult times while decisions are awaited. I must make it clear that it is the Government's intention to come to a decision at the earliest possible moment, depending on all the reviews that are now under way having reported and all the information being taken into account.

What is happening in London mirrors what is happening in the great conurbations in the rest of the country. These are painful decisions, but where they are necessary, they must be taken with a view to the best operation of the health service over the coming years—

Adoption Leave

10.15 am

I am delighted to have the opportunity before I take my bucket and spade to the seaside to raise a matter on the Adjournment which concerns me and several of my constituents.

I introduced a ten-minute Bill earlier in the Session for which I was privileged to have cross-party support, and I should like to follow up some of the general points that I made then. I welcome my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Employment to the Front Bench. I am delighted that she is in the House to listen to the debate and I hope that when she replies she will indicate that she has an open mind on the subject.

Adopting mothers do not have in law the right to return to work or to maternity leave. We need to pay attention to this group because this small section of the population has dropped through the net. In many respects, they have a raw deal.

I want to highlight a specific problem relating to two constituents, Dr. Estelle McAndrew and her husband Graham Anderson. Dr. McAndrew met her husband in Dundee in 1983 and went on to qualify as a general practitioner in 1985. He became an interior designer and they married in September 1988. They now live in my constituency. Both want a family but, sadly, no happy event has been forthcoming. As a doctor, Estelle McAndrew realised that all was not right. After many tests the only diagnosis was unexplained infertility. The couple decided to try gamete intra-Fallopian transfer, which is similar to in vitro fertilisation, but it has not worked. It is fair to say that only a miracle could give them the child or the children that they want—a miracle or adoption.

Armed with that thought, in June last year they decided to attend an open day for couples interested in being considered for adopting a child. They were fortunate, as Dr. McAndrew acknowledged, to be chosen to start the assessment procedure in August. By November, they had been approved by the panel as suitable potential parents. I am sure, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you can imagine their great joy at receiving this news and their great disappointment at what has transpired since.

Dr. McAndrew is a GP at the Cowley community surgery in Uxbridge. On hearing that she and her husband had been accepted for the adoption process, her senior partner, Dr. Haydn Daily, duly approached the Hillingdon family health services authority to obtain locum payments. Yesterday, I telephoned the FHSA warning it that I was raising the matter on the Adjournment, but I have not received any response. Locum payments are put towards the cost of another doctor when, for example, a GP is on pregnancy leave. Dr. Daily wished to cover Dr. McAndrew's absence when a baby was eventually located for the couple to adopt. The FHSA rejected the application. In February, Dr. McAndrew appealed to the family health services appeals unit, but to date no decision has been forthcoming.

Since discovering that she did not qualify for the same treatment as a doctor giving birth, Dr. McAndrew decided to consult other interested bodies. She has received the support of the general medical services committee of the British Medical Association and the Medical and Dental Defence Union of Scotland. The BMA supports the view that payments should be made to women GPs who take time off for adopting a child and who employ a locum during that time. That would bring them in line with the regulations concerning confinement and even those concerning sickness.

The BMA has put forward recommendations to the Department of Health that an appropriate amendment be made to the regulations, in this case the statement of fees and allowances. However, the Department rejected that view, which seems hard to understand, particularly in the light of the successful Opportunity 2000 scheme, which is benefiting women throughout the country. With one hand we seem to be giving opportunities to women and with the other we seem to be taking them away.

The Whitley councils for the health services have also been in correspondence with my constituent. Special leave for adopting a child is covered in section 12 of the General Whitley Council handbook, but when they contacted Hillingdon FHSA they received the same reply—that the decision not to grant payment during adoption leave was based on the absence of any such provision in the FHSA. Hospital doctors, trainees and nurses can all get cover and leave for adoption under those rules, but the provisions do not apply to GPs. My constituent would be better off in that respect if she were a hospital doctor, which is hardly an incentive for women to become GPs. At the same time, however, she was hearing that other FHSAs were using their discretion and giving leave and locum cover to GPs who were adopting children.

I took the matter up with the Department of Health and received a reply that does not satisfy me that we are taking the right approach. And it certainly does not satisfy my constituent. After all, she is asking only to be treated in the same way as if she were sick or pregnant. According to the Minister, maternity locum allowances to pregnant doctors were introduced to reflect the fact that there were clear physical and medical reasons why a woman GP should be absent from the practice around the time of confinement. They were also to see the baby through the perinatal period until it became stabilised in feeding and general care. The Minister went on to say that GPs were independent self-employed contractors and, therefore, did not receive separate payment in respect of absence from the practice, except during sickness and confinement.

That response does not go far enough and the reasons given are not the only ones for not allowing locum cover during confinement. The real reasons may be based on the needs of different parents, which is something we constantly hear about in connection with every other aspect of the health service except, conveniently, this one. I would suggest that sickness and maternity locum cover are also granted to help maintain the standard of health care given to patients of the practice, who may otherwise have less time spent on them if the other partners in the practice were forced to shoulder the case load while their female partner was absent. Perhaps it is also to ensure that general practice is an attractive career for women, with the same conditions as any other medical career. Surely it is obvious that one of the main reasons is to assist in the continued provision of the service to patients. But women practitioners are covered only when sick or biologically pregnant, not when they adopt. When they adopt, the FHSA regulations leave them on their own.

Dr. McAndrew and her husband have been approved to adopt a new baby or a small toddler whose needs will be indistinguishable from those of any other child of that age. Their needs as parents will be indistinguishable from those of any other new parents. If anything, they may be marginally greater, as there is no nine-month period in which to get used to having a baby in the family. Although Dr. McAndrew may not be breast-feeding, she will certainly find herself up during the night having to perform the same tasks that she would had she given birth to the baby. The family will have to get used to their new responsibilities extremely quickly. A baby for adoption may arrive at short notice.

Even if Dr. McAndrew wanted to return to work within a short period, that might not be possible as the adoption prerequisites often insist that the mother remains with the child full time until the adoption is approved. It does not take long to work out that giving that commitment may cause problems with the adoptive mother's job.

Thus, the choice comes down to either adopting a child or keeping a job, which appears to be the choice that we are giving Dr. McAndrew and many other potential adopters. Can it be right? Let us consider the matter coldly and dispassionately. The child would be the state's responsibility unless adopted and would have to be looked after at the state's expense. Just when the state is relieving itself of a financial burden, it is potentially robbing the citizen who is providing the saving of the wherewithal to do so. That is not prudent or sensible.

Also to be considered within the cost equation is the investment that has already been made in training the individual—in this case, a doctor. A large proportion of that cost has already been borne by the state, which is potentially discouraging the individual from utilising her expensively attained skills. If she chooses adoption rather than adoption and career—if that is possible—the state will lose.

The problem does not concern a large section of the population. A relatively small number of adoptions take place every year and, of those, only a handful are of babies or small toddlers. However, it is about time that we removed the uncertainty and extended the protection that the law gives to pregnant workers to adopting mothers by providing similar parameters.

I introduced a ten-minute Bill on adoption leave arrangements earlier in this Session and was pleased to have cross-party support. This is not a political but a common sense issue. A small section of our society has been missed out from protection and legislation. To consider the full implications we would need accurate statistics and, although both Barnardos and the British Agencies for Fostering and Adoption have helped me, I cannot get accurate statistics. The headline topic on adoption at present is the seemingly racially correct attitude of social workers to mixed-race adoption. That issue and the one that I have raised have highlighted the difficulty in obtaining accurate statistics on adoption since the Adoption Unit returns were abolished. We would have more accurate information if the Department still compiled statistics. We could then see how many children were being placed with inter-racial families and how many babies or toddlers were being adopted by working mothers. Although some information is available from local authorities and the agencies that I mentioned, the picture is not complete. It is another area which requires re-evaluation so that the extent of the financial implications can be accurately assessed.

There are many other issues on adoption, not least the prerequisites for terms and conditions of employers. For example, parents seeking to go on the adoption register must often approach their employers and ask what terms and conditions they would be given, were they accepted on the register. That often causes much strain between employer and employee. If the employee is subsequently not put on the register, it can cause difficulties in the workplace for the potential adopting parent. Those issues need to be sorted out, but today I have brought the matter to the House's attention for Dr. Estelle McAndrew and her husband. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister can assure them of a satisfactory outcome to the deliberations on adoption and that she can ensure that the issue is covered in the forthcoming White Paper. I also hope that my hon. Friend will send a firm message to her colleagues in the Department of Health that locum cover should not be hit and miss. It should not be a question of one FHSA in one part of the country allowing the locum cover and another FHSA not allowing the cover. We want that cover to be extended to all GPs.

I am not asking for complex legislation; I am asking merely for guidelines to level the playing field. Dr. McAndrew certainly seeks such assurances. As she told me yesterday on the telephone, she and her husband would like eventually to adopt up to three children, perhaps even a small family unit. We do not want any more barriers to be put in her and her husband's way.

In a recent letter, my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health said that GPs were "the cornerstone" of the NHS. Surely adoptive parents are the cornerstone of family life—a family and an opportunity that adopted children would not otherwise have. Dr. Estelle McAndrew is both a GP and a potential adoptive mother. Can we ensure that she gets a fair deal?

10.30 am

I first congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) on securing this Adjournment debate on adoption leave. As she said, she made this matter the subject of a recent ten-minute Bill and before that she tabled an unsuccessful amendment during the Committee stage of the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993. She therefore has an extremely honourable record of trying to raise the issue successfully. She regards the issue as being of great importance both to her constituents and in general. I am afraid that I shall not be able to give her the categorical assurances of change that she seeks this morning. Nevertheless, the sheer determination and persistence with which she has addressed the subject will convince her constituents that they have an extremely worthy representative in my hon. Friend.

I should apologise to my hon. Friend for being perhaps the wrong Minister to answer the debate. She has chosen to make the thrust of her debate the question of locum payments to GPs. Adoption, adoption prerequisites, the rights of those who are about to adopt, GP contracts, locum arrangements and FHSAs are all the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. However, I can give my hon. Friend an undertaking that I shall draw to the attention of my colleagues in the Department of Health the issues that she has raised today, including the specific issue of the White Paper and whether the matter might be addressed within those confines. I cannot anticipate my right hon. Friend's reply, but I can ensure that she is made aware of the many important issues raised in the debate. The reason why I am replying to the debate, perhaps to my hon. Friend's dissatisfaction, is that the issue of rights for adoptive parents goes well beyond the self-employed and GPs. If we agreed that any changes were necessary, they would be the responsibility of the Department of Employment and that is why I am answering the debate today.

Before I embark on the substance of my reply to my hon. Friend, I extend my congratulations to her constituent on being approved for adoption, and I wish her well in her desire to adopt up to three children. My hon. Friend referred to a miracle as being the only way in which her constituent could enjoy motherhood rather than rough adoption. I sincerely hope that that miracle takes place and that she will have that joy as well as the joy of adoption.

I now turn to the general issues raised so eloquently by my hon. Friend. My predecessor, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. McLoughlin), replied to the debate in Committee to which I referred earlier. He explained that the Government did not consider that adoption leave was an appropriate matter for legislation. We remain of that view despite my hon. Friend's eloquent pleading to the contrary.

The Government believe strongly in the need to recognise the contribution of working women and to assist those who wish to combine a career with family responsibilities. We committed ourselves in our election manifesto to taking action to enhance maternity rights and we have, of course, fulfilled that commitment. As hon. Members know, the Government introduced in the Trade Union Reform and Employment Rights Act 1993 provisions that will significantly extend and improve the already substantial package of maternity rights that women enjoy.

The Act gives all natural mothers, regardless of their length of service or hours of work, a new right to a minimum of 14 weeks of statutory maternity leave during which all their non-wage contractual benefits will have to be maintained. It gives them comprehensive new protection against dismissal on maternity-related grounds and new rights in relation to suspension from work on maternity-related health and safety grounds. Furthermore, a much longer period of absence remains available to the 62 per cent. of working women who meet the qualifying conditions: two years of service working 16 hours per week or five years of service working between eight and 16 hours a week. They will continue to be entitled to return to work after a maternity absence lasting up to 29 weeks after the week of childbirth. Those are important new provisions which will be a real help to many women who wish to combine a career with family responsibilities.

As always, there is a balance to be struck between increasing the rights of employees and placing extra burdens on business. We are convinced that the provisions of the new Act correctly strike that balance. To add further to employers' costs by making additional improvements in maternity entitlement or, as my hon. Friend suggests, extending it to a category of mothers who do not at present qualify at all would be going too far. If employers are overburdened by regulation, they will find it more difficult to recruit and to retain staff, and job opportunities will be lost.

Can my hon. Friend tell me whether any statistics have been compiled about how many women fall into that category? I believe that we are talking about a very small number of women. It is probably negligible rather than oversized, which is the impression being given.

I hope that I did not give the impression that we are talking about an oversized number. I shall turn later to the statistics that my hon. Friend requires. I especially wish to address then not only the issue of the number of adoptive parents but, perhaps more importantly, the number of those who adopt within the period with which my hon. Friend is concerned—during the adoptive child's babyhood.

The Government's reasons for opposing the extension of statutory maternity entitlement to adoptive mothers do not, however, rest solely on the extra burdens that such a change would impose on employers. Even if my hon. Friend's question was answered entirely to her satisfaction and it were proved that this category is very small, we are satisfied that legislation on the matter would, for other reasons, be quite inappropriate.

I of course recognise that adoptive mothers can sometimes face difficulties in combining work and family responsibilities, just as is the case with natural mothers. My hon. Friend described that eloquently, and I am sure that all of us recognise in our imaginations the picture that she painted of the burdens on new mothers, be they natural or adoptive. To that extent, I sympathise with my hon. Friend's motives in raising this issue, and with the problems to which she referred in her speech. I can assure her that the Government have given careful consideration to the suggestions that have been made from time to time regarding the introduction of statutory leave and other rights for adoptive mothers. During her short time in the House, my hon. Friend has on several occasions succeeded in concentrating our minds on that issue.

We have concluded, however, that the sort of considerations that have framed provision for natural mothers simply do not apply to the same extent in relation to adoptions. The purpose of the statutory maternity provision is to safeguard the mother's career while allowing her a period in which to prepare for and recover from childbirth and to nurse and care for the baby in the early stages of its life. In the case of adoptions, there is, by contrast, no question of the mother having to prepare for or physically recover from childbirth. Furthermore, in most cases, adoption does not entail looking after a baby in the early stages of its life. Only about 15 per cent. of adoptions in England and Wales are of children under one year of age. Adoptions can and do occur up to the age of 18, sometimes after a period of long-term fostering. It is not therefore possible to draw a direct parallel between the position of natural mothers and that of adoptive mothers.

Natural mothers who wish to return to work have a clear timescale in which to operate and can give their employers reasonable notice of their intentions. That allows the employer to make adequate arrangements for temporary cover and so on. Again, that is not the case with adoptions, as the timescale for adoption can be extremely uncertain. Sometimes, the child is placed with its adoptive parents at extremely short notice, and the timing of any court hearings can also be difficult to predict. Those factors would create significant administrative problems for employers in addition to the burdens to which I have already referred.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that natural mothers have nine months in which to prepare for the forthcoming arrival of a child in their home. By the same token, the mother has nine months in which to come to arrangements with her employer. That does not apply to adoptive mothers. Moreover, it would probably be impossible from the point of view of drafting simply to extend the existing maternity provisions to adoptive mothers. The timing of the statutory maternity leave period, for example, is linked to the expected week of childbirth and—bearing in mind the uncertainties to which I have just referred—it would be no easy matter to modify the legislation so as to adapt it to the very different circumstances that apply to adoption.

Correctly drafted provisions taking account of all the various conceivable differences between the situation of natural mothers and that of adoptive mothers would inevitably be extremely lengthy and highly complex. Such legislative complexity would not, in the Government's view, be justifiable, particularly in view of the relatively small number of cases involved. Fewer than 1,000 babies under a year old are adopted each year. Bearing in mind the smallness of that number and the complex and lengthy administrative process that I have described, it is the Government's view that this matter is best resolved through individual agreements rather than statutory provision.

For those reasons, we remain firmly of the view that legislation is not the answer in this case, but we hope that employers whose circumstances permit them will view sympathetically requests for leave in such circumstances and we welcome such action by employers. The Government are considering guidance to companies and individuals on leave for adoptive parents. That might include guidance to help people understand their existing rights, as well as examples of good practice by employers. However, the best method of issuing such guidance—and, indeed, the nature of the guidance itself—has yet to be resolved.

My hon. Friend concentrated most of her remarks on the difficulty experienced by her constituent, Dr. Estelle McAndrew. General practitioners are independent contractors for the provision of general medical services. Matters concerning them are therefore matters for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, as I said at the beginning of my reply. However, as self-employed professionals, GPs are responsible for their own maternity leave arrangements including arrangements in circumstances where they are adopting children. It is, of course, the case that current maternity rights, like other employment rights contained in the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978, apply only to employees and not to individuals who are self-employed.

I should not like hon. Members to gain the incorrect impression that adoptive mothers—or, indeed, fathers, who have been largely ignored today—who are employees have no rights whatever under the employment protection legislation. On the contrary, they benefit from the same comprehensive framework of statutory employment protection rights as other employees. If an adoptive parent is unreasonably dismissed—for taking time off, for example—he or she may have grounds for a complaint of unfair dismissal. That would be subject to the usual qualifying criteria. The industrial tribunal would then decide whether the dismissal was in fact unfair in all the circumstances of the case.

In addition, if there is a contractual right to take time off and the employer refuses it, the employee may be able to sue for breach of contract in the civil courts. He or she may also be justified in resigning and then making a complaint of constructive unfair dismissal to an industrial tribunal—subject again to the usual qualifying criteria. As in the previous case, it would be for the tribunal to decide the case on the basis of all the relevant facts. If an employer denies an adoptive father time off when he would have given such time off to an adoptive mother—or vice versa—that employee is entitled to make a complaint of sex discrimination to an industrial tribunal, irrespective of length of service or hours of work.

In general, however, terms and conditions of employment are quite properly matters for agreement between employers and employees or their representatives without Government intervention. Matters such as adoption leave are most appropriately dealt with in that way—on a voluntary basis rather than by complex and unnecessarily burdensome legislation. The framework of statutory rights to which I have just referred provides a minimum level of protection on which the parties concerned are free to build in a flexible way, making arrangements that best suit their organisation and best accord with their own priorities, needs and circumstances and with what can be afforded. That of course includes what best fits the needs of individual employees.

I am confident that employers will in general view sympathetically the position of adoptive parents and will be willing to accord them any help that they can, consistent with the needs of their business. In our view, that approach, and not the imposition of further bureaucratic regulation, represents the best way forward.

In view of the constituency case that my hon. Friend has raised, it would perhaps be worth considering in more detail the arrangements that exist for GPs' pay in the case of mothers claiming for periods of confinement. As I have said, general practitioners are independent, self-employed professionals. They contract with the NHS for the provision of general medical services, and the payment basis of that contract is cost plus, by which their expenses will be reimbursed and they will receive a net income in addition. Expenses and income are reimbursed through a wide range of fees and allowances, and certain expenses are directly reimbursed.

As self-employed professionals, general practitioners are responsible for their maternity leave arrangements, including the employment of a locum to cover their absence, if necessary. In certain circumstances payments may be made in addition to the main range of fees, allowances and the reimbursement of expenses, which assist in part with the cost of a locum. One set of payments is for absence during confinement. Those are available to a doctor who remains on the medical list, held by the family health services authority, and intends to continue in general practice. The intention to return to practise within a reasonable time after the birth must be signalled by the practitioner when making the claim.

The payments, for a maximum period of 13 weeks, are intended to reimburse the general practitioner in part for the cost of a locum or other deputy from outside the practice who has had to be engaged to look after the patients. From April 1993, payment can be made by the family health services authority up to a maximum of £393·50 per week. If the GP is absent due to illness before or after the maximum maternity payment of 13 weeks, other additional payments for sickness can be paid instead. All women practitioners who provide unrestricted general medical services and who receive a basic practice allowance are eligible. Payments to part-time practitioners or job sharers are modified according to the amount of time worked. There is no provision for additional payments to be made if a GP takes leave at the time of an adoption.

As I said earlier in respect of employment law, maternity locum allowances are paid to reflect physical and medical need for absence. The payment of locum allowances to adopting GPs was recently discussed with the general medical services committee of the British Medical Association.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham drew our attention to representations on adoption that we have received from different parts of the medical profession. The consideration of those representations, any action that we can or cannot take in response, and any view that we may form as to their validity are matters for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health. I cannot become engaged in a discussion of the exercise of discretion by family health services authorities or of the detailed arrangements for locum absences. I am interested in my hon. Friend's statement, in that some discretion can be exercised under existing rules. I am sure that my colleagues in the Department of Health will also be interested, and may wish to consider that representation further.

I welcome my hon. Friend's words about Opportunity 2000. The Government have given their full support to that business-led campaign to increase the quality and quantity of women's participation in the labour force. The Prime Minister launched the initiative in October 1991 and has committed the Government, as an employer, to full participation in it.

My hon. Friend mentioned opportunities for women as GPs. The NHS, which is the largest employer of women in Europe, has set goals to increase the number of women managers, women accountants, women consultants, women members of health authorities and women members of NHS trust boards. Targets have been set for achievement by 1994—only a year away—as first milestones for the year 2000. Progress reports are included in the annual reports that health authorities and trusts submit to NHS management executives.

I am very pleased to hear what my hon. Friend says about the health service. Does she agree that, as it is potentially the largest employer of women in Europe, it is essential that clear guidelines are set out for the adoption of children?

My hon. Friend mentions an important point. At the risk of being repetitious and boring, I have to tell her that that is a matter for my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and that I will ensure that he is fully cognisant of the contents of the debate. I am sure that I will not have to do much to ensure that, as he will take an interest anyway. All the points that my hon. Friend has mentioned in her impressive speech and in her interventions will be considered by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department. I have become so interested as a result of my hon. Friend's eloquence that I should be most interested to see the outcome of whatever correspondence results from the debate.

As I would not like it to be thought that no rights exist for adoptive parents, let me remind the House what those rights are in more detail. There is no statutory right to time off for family reasons. I am sure that my hon. Friend will agree that one can think of a range of family circumstances, other than maternity and adoption, which would merit a compassionate and reasonable attitude from any sensible employer, but that is different from endeavouring to tie up those rights in statute. There is no statutory right to time off for a range of family reasons, of which adoption is one.

I received the impression today that it might seem that we were picking on adoption for exclusion from rights, but that is not so. Time off for family reasons remains a matter for employees to agree with their employers, in the light of the circumstances, and they will vary. There will be a difference between adoptive parents who are about to welcome a new-born child into the family—alas, very few have that pleasure in today's circumstances—and those who are about to welcome an older child who already has some skills in independent management. Many employers treat those circumstances and applications with the right amount of sympathy, and I hope that such guidance as may eventually be issued will enhance such a sympathetic attitude.

Adoptive parents who are unreasonably dismissed for taking time off have full rights before industrial tribunals, provided that they qualify through their length of service, as I detailed earlier. Those parents who have a contractual right to leave would be able to enforce it, as they would any other contractual right, and would be able to do so through the civil courts if necessary. An employer who denied an adoptive father or mother time off would have to show reasonable cause if that was followed by dismissal.

Finally, although my hon. Friend did not mention this, the problem would appear to be Europe-wide, for there is no European standard of provision. No common statutory pattern has been established in the rest of the European Community. If it were as straightforward as my hon. Friend implied, other countries would have full arrangements. A number of member states have some statutory arrangements for adoption leave, but they vary immensely in their range and scope. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, have decided that that can be determined only by the parties concerned in the light of their circumstances.

In summary, I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituent on acquiring a child. I sympathise with the difficulties that have arisen as a result of her self-employed status. We will examine the matter sympathetically. However, we remain of the view that statutory provision would be lengthy and complex for what my hon. Friend has rightly described as an extremely small number of cases, especially those involving new-born babies. For those reasons, I must resist my hon. Friend's recommendations.

Job Losses (Aerospace Industry)

10.59 am

I draw the attention of Ministers to the front page of the Evening Leader of Friday 16 July, which says in large letters that the proposed axe for job losses at British Aerospace, Broughton was promulgated to the dismay of many of my constituents. I am pleased to see the Minister for Industry in his place. North-east Wales is a respected aerospace sub-region. There is Trefn Engineering in Llay, Cynamid in Wrexham, RD Precision in Deeside and the British Aerospace works in Broughton.

At Broughton, there are two companies—Airbus, which makes the wings of the airbus airliner family, and Corporate Jet, which makes the twin-engine executive jet that is capable of flying across the Atlantic. Last month, 269 Corporate Jet workers lost their jobs. Last week, 250 Aerospace workers learned of their redundancies. After those redundancies, the work force will be down to fewer than 2,500. It has been estimated that 1,250 jobs have been lost from Airbus and Corporate Jet in some 13 months.

Recently, our work force exceeded 4,000. I can remember when the apprenticeship school was large, and acclaimed as the best in northern Britain. Today, it barely exists. The redundancies that I am pinpointing relate not only to north-east Wales but to the north-west of England —to the great city of Chester, the large county of Cheshire, the Wirral and, indeed, Merseyside. There is a widespread work force. They are one of Britain's greatest reservoirs of skills.

The factory where the redundancies have been announced is arguably the finest in the civil field in western Europe. It is equal to anything on the west coast of the United States or in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Boeing is running scared of Airbus and is deeply concerned about how it will cope with the challenge. When I talk about Airbus, I am talking about skills, training, achievement and success. The Broughton work force are the best in their field, and I am proud of them.

I have seen the Broughton works grow. I have been able to journey to Toulouse and Hamburg to see the final assembly of the airbus product. It is heartening when we see this great project under way in Europe—it makes me more proud of my constituents. They are loyal to British Aerospace and they give of their best whenever they work on the production line.

I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they can assist British Aerospace in any way. Can they give British Aerospace short-term cash aid to hold back the redundancies? The work force have asked me to put that question to the Minister today. Can the Government persuade British Airways to buy the airbus? The work force believe that that would be a major boost. If we could persuade British Airways to fly the flag, it would help the employment scene greatly. What intervention will the Minister make to save the workers who are doomed to redundancy?

The work force are a small army of the finest plane makers imaginable. I want the Minister to agree that they deserve his help. Such a work force should not be put on the scrap heap. My constituents are paying dearly for the crass errors of judgment made by management at the highest level in the company. The previous board went into the property market and bought a motor car factory.

Within days, the floor fell out of property and a deep recession saw car sales plummet. There were golden handshakes for departing board members, but redundancy notices were printed for my plane maker constituents. It seems that the new board is impelled to sell off parts of its empire—plane making to the United States and Taiwan. In British Aerospace, there seems to be a pressing need to get cash to balance the books to keep the shareholders happy.

Today, I raise my voice for my constituents on the production line and in the offices at Broughton. In all fairness, I must record my thanks to Mr. Sean Dyke, who heads the airbus operation at Broughton. He allows me access to his work force and takes me on conducted tours of the plant. I am grateful to him and to his management team.

Redundancy for each of those 250 workers means worry for a whole household. It means that there is a shortfall on the mortgage. There is a problem in paying the hire purchase on the car. The family may not be able to buy new school uniforms. That is a definition of financial crisis in any household. The holiday will probably be cancelled, and tension and worry will permeate the whole household. There is great anxiety even for those who are not made redundant.

Many of my constituents in Delyn work at the British Aerospace plant in my hon. Friend's constituency. The concerns that he has expressed are shared by me and many of my constituents, because we have seen the great sadness that job losses bring about. We know about the lost opportunities, especially on the apprenticeship scheme. I fully support my hon. Friend in this debate. I hope that the Minister can give some positive help to assist this magnificent industry.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his loyal support. I look forward to working with him on behalf of the large work force at British Aerospace in Broughton.

I was about to ask the Minister whether there was a long-term future for the plant at Broughton. I believe that there is a future for it—indeed, there must be. That question is being asked by the work force as a consequence of the announced redundancies. Assurances from the Minister on this matter would be welcomed.

The work force are asking whether the work that is done at Broughton is likely to be sent somewhere else in the short or long term. It is natural to ask such questions at a time when redundancies have been announced. I have been told to ask the Minister whether Deutsche Airbus is seeking to take over work on the airbus wings. If British Aerospace continues to invest in research and technology acquisition, that cannot happen. Will the Government assist Britsh Aerospace in the vital field of research? Will they assist the company more generously in its aim of investment? That is the key question. It is a strategic question which relates not only to manufacturing and its future in Britain, but to the future of a great company, the largest employer in Britain.

I place emphasis on my question to the Minister: must there be 250 redundancies at the airbus factory? Will there be genuine negotiations about the redundancies? Mr. Mike Nesbitt, the works convenor, is now prepared to discuss anything bar compulsory redundancies—if necessary, he proposes short-time working. He and his senior stewards, who have been constantly meeting to try to resolve the crisis, have even considered proposing lay-offs, which shows how serious they view their position.

I believe that Mr. Nesbitt and the stewards are reasonable and honourable men and women. All they want is to keep a winning team together until times are better. I am proud to say that the team has delivered time and again. When challenged by the company, by events or by competition they have increased their productivity. They have enhanced, developed and invested in their personal skills in response to Government policies.

Mr. John Beard is a senior trade unionist in north-east Wales, a magistrate and full-time official for the transport workers' union. He has reminded me that the work force is by no means full of luddites. He says, and I agree, that the leadership of the work force belongs to the 20th century. However, in its hour of need, after many great successes, after becoming famous worldwide and providing a magnificent product with which it is taking Boeing to the cleaners, it has asked for Government help. I am also asking on behalf of the company, as I believe that it deserves Government help because it makes a world-beating product. The work force deserve work, not dole. I want them to be helped, not abandoned, and, on their behalf, I am asking the Minister for that help.

I said earlier that, British Aerospace Corporate Jet division was also on the site. It produces an executive jet which is a brilliant machine. Today, the United States Government buy and use the machine, and have adopted it for military use. The machine is twin-engined and is capable of crossing the Atlantic. It ferries the rich and famous throughout the world. It even carried the Minister and me to Hatfield recently, when the Minister took the trouble to visit the factory. He was well received and made a good impression. He showed that he was fully briefed, and was welcomed by the management team with open arms.

The machine also carries Defence Ministers to Northern Ireland and western Germany. The machine even flies the Prime Minister, and I know that he has only praise for the pilot and crew. He does not use the inappropriate epithets which it is said he has used about Cabinet Ministers. I shall not go into that issue now—suffice it to say that the Prime Minister uses the magnificent machine, which is a gem of an aircraft. On test flights, displayed in its green factory livery, it screams over the local chimney pots, including my own. I want the machine to continue to be made—long may the green jets scream over Hawarden, Deeside and the mountains of north Wales.

Hundreds of my constituents make the aircraft, but 269 of those makers of the corporate jets lost their jobs last month. I know those people—some of them are known to me personally and some of them are my neighbours. I am sorry that some of them have had to put "for sale" notices outside their superb houses—a personal tragedy for them and a tragedy for the community which I represent.

Mr. Roger Smith, who leads the Corporate Jet work force at Broughton, has told me of the anxiety which affected morale after the loss of those 269 jobs. Morale has fallen among the airbus workers and the Corporate Jet workers, and I understand why. Mr. Smith is a highly skilled man, as are his peers. However, it appears that the British Aerospace Corporate Jet division is to be sold to Raytheon, the United States conglomerate, and Mr. Smith and I need answers from the Minister. I beg the Minister to give me those answers. If he cannot do so in this debate, I am sure that, as a conscientious, senior and considerate Minister, he will reply to my questions by letter when it is convenient for his Department to do so.

Whenever I receive correspondence from the right hon. Gentleman, it contains caring and detailed answers, which show that he and his official staff lean over backwards to assist me in informing my constituents who work at British Aerospace. I am grateful for that, and I hope that the tenor of my remarks shows that I wish to work with the Minister for the benefit of my constituents. I need answers, and I look to the Minister to help me—as well as Mr. Smith and Mr. McGlade—to help those who work on the shopfloor of the Corporate Jet division to serve their fellow workers.

I appreciate the way in which the Minister works in his Department, and I also thank the managing director of the Corporate Jet division, who, like Mr. Dyke, allows me access to the production lines and tries at all times to inform his employees in an exemplary way. However, we have not yet received the answers to serious questions. My complaints are not directed at management of airbus or the Corporate Jet division.

The individual destinies of my constituents are decided not at plant level, but at national board level, European level and Cabinet level, and at international conferences such as that of the G7 at Tokyo, which was attended by the Prime Minister and other Ministers. The destinies of my constituents among the plane-making work force are also being decided at Capitol hill, in Washington in the United States. They are decided at the oval office in Pennsylvania avenue. Those are some of the reasons why my constituents are worried.

The Daily Post, the regional newspaper in the north-west, north Wales and Liverpool, on Friday 23 July carried an article in its business section written by the business editor, Ian Herbert. The article refers to Mr. Richard Hook, a former British Aerospace executive who is keeping alive a British bid for the company. The former executive says that the agreement reached for the Corporate Jet division in the United Kingdom is an asset deal by Raytheon.

The report says that it will involve the transfer of existing craft, craft design and copyright and commitment to customers, but not liabilities, including the employment contracts of the work force at Broughton at Chester. The report goes on to say that industry analysts agree that the terms of the contract are ambiguous and may preclude the work force. It says that the contract may include just the craft and copyright—it is unclear, says a spokesman at Flight International magazine.

The short-term future of the Corporate Jet staff appears to have been secured by Raytheon's agreement to take craft from Broughton for another three years. But within the terms of the contract, that may mean that only modules are maufactured at the plant before transportation to the United States for assembly. Alternatively, Raytheon may feel that it would make more sense to construct the craft on the site where the parts are manufactured.

Mr. Hook, the former executive, said that the deal was complicated by the fact that the Corporate Jet operation was spread over three companies. Corporate Jets (UK) was set up by British Aerospace in May 1992 to control the production lines of the 125 jet. Some of its assets and management were transferred to the United States by British Aerospace last November, when a new company, Corporate Jets, was formed. A third company, Arkansas Aerospace, purchased by British Aerospace in 1987, is now responsible for completion work on the craft. There is a quotation in the report from Mr. Hook, who said that he believed that Corporate Jets (UK) had not been purchased, only the drawings, craft and commitment to customers. He said that it was an asset deal.

On behalf of my constituents—the superb production staff at Corporate Jets—I must ask for answers to my questions. Is there a long-term future for the employees of Corporate Jets at Broughton? I want to be told that there is a future beyond three years, into the foreseeable future to the end of the century.

Have we seen the end of redundancies at Corporate Jets? When will the work force and my community be told that Corporate Jets has been formally and legally sold to Raytheon? On the selling day—indeed, before the transfer of ownership is finalised—I want a statement from the company and the Minister that the remaining work force is safe, that green jets will continue to roar from the runway at Broughton and that they will be made and tested in my constituency for the foreseeable future.

Given the magnificent record of my constituents, it would be remiss of me not to pose the questions now being asked by the work force, the whole community, Alyn and Deeside district council—which has taken a close interest in the matter—Broughton community council, Hawarden town council and all the other local councils, including Clwyd county council. They want those questions answered, and I pose them in good faith.

I want to guarantee that, under Raytheon, for the foreseeable future my constituents will continue to produce the 125 executive jet at Broughton. Simply to say that the status quo will continue at Broughton for three years will not be good enough. As it is, almost 100 jobs have already been exported from the site in my constituency to Little Rock in Arkansas. Incidentally, that is where the President of the United States of America and his wife are resident. There are some rumours, but I will not go into them now. Will the Minister answer the questions that are vital to the plane makers at Corporate Jets?

A constituent of mine, John Vaughan of Shotton, has written to me on the matter. He says that he wants me to be aware that British Aerospace is intending to out-source information technology lock, stock and barrel to outside companies, who will have complete control of British Aerospace's database, including design and business management. As the firms most likely to win the contract are American, this will not only mean more lost jobs in British Aerospace but compromise the security of important data and hamstring the development within British Aerospace of tailor-made systems and applications for future needs, which could have disastrous results on their future competitiveness. It could also be another loss of British expertise.

Mr. Vaughan is the network engineer at British Aerospace, Broughton. He says that this is another example of short-term monetary gain outweighing the future security of the British aerospace industry. Should that be the case, it is an important matter, and I ask for a response from the Minister.

Soon, there are to be 250 redundancies. I protest at the decision to denude some of my constituency of assisted area status. I make the strongest protest to the Minister for Industry, who stood at the Dispatch Box yesterday and announced that decision. I sought to catch Mr. Deputy Speaker's eye, but failed, so I say now to the right hon. Gentleman that he has done wrong by my constituency.

With 3,200 people out of work in Llay, Buckley and Deeside, and with 800 long-term unemployed, we should not lose that status. There is much to be done. Why should Deeside lose and the south-east coast gain? Wales appears to have had a very raw deal. It has lost and the the south coast has gained at its expense. Extra resources should have been pumped in so that other areas in Britain could have enjoyed an advantage.

Across the River Dee, opposite Deeside and a mile or so away, the Wirral area is to retain assisted area status. It just so happens that that is the constituency of the Secretary of State for Employment. What a surprise; what a coincidence that such a prized status survives in the Wirral, but not in those parts of my constituency that previously enjoyed it. That was a point made about other areas in Britain when the statement was so courteously made by the Minister yesterday.

I want to put on record the deep disappointment of the Redrow group. The Minister will be aware that St. David's park is unique in north-east Wales. The company that built that impressive park says that exclusion from assisted area status, without even the granting of intermediate area status, will be a serious blow to the park's attractiveness to inward investment. It says that this is particularly relevant while Chester business park retains intermediate grant status, this latter development sharing the same employment catchment region.

I draw to the Minister's attention the report on the British aerospace industry published last week by the Trade and Industry Committee. I back it totally, and I urge the right hon. Gentleman to study it and to say loudly that he backs the Committee's recommendations. I emphasise that the Committee says that he should commission a regular survey of the level of United Kingdom Government support for the aerospace industry compared with the support given overseas, and that as much as possible of the survey should be reported to Parliament and published.

It also says that applications for launch aid for smaller aircraft should be considered on their merits rather than imposing an arbitrary restriction of one third of total costs. I support the proposals, and I believe that they would help my factory and the industry.

My constituents are at the eye of the aerospace storm. Aerospace is our greatest exporter, our greatest employer and the national military defender—but for how long? Do the Government intend to keep British Aerospace at the top of the league, or will it, by neglect, be allowed to slide down to the second division?

We need a strategy from the Cabinet; we need money for research—perhaps another £80 million a year. We need Government leadership for the jewel in the crown of our manufacturing industry.

I want Britain to be a great nation again—a proud manufacturing nation. I want us to halt the erosion of our manufacturing base. I want us to be a nation capable of manufacturing the goods that we need rather than importing them. Above all, I make a plea for my constituents, the great plane makers of the airbus division and Corporate Jets division. They are the best men and women, and have proved to the Minister that they can deliver. I seek from the right hon. Gentleman, indeed I beg him for, assurances that they will not lose their jobs. I know that he admires them, and I ask him to help them urgently.

11.31 pm

I fully understand the concern of the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) for his constituents at Broughton. I am grateful for the way in which he has presented his concern to the House and for his remarks about my interest in the industry. It is an interest that we share.

As the hon. Gentleman knows, I visited the site last year for the roll-out of the 1,000th airbus wing, and I recall the obvious commitment of the work force in the airbus and Corporate Jet companies. I shall return to some of the particular points he made, but he has raised wider questions which need to be answered over the prospects of the aerospace industry in the United Kingdom.

I am the first to recognise the central importance of our aerospace industry. It is a key contributer to our economy and a major provider of employment, but I hope that we all recognise the difficulties that the industry is facing, not just in Britain but elsewhere.

Aerospace is an international industry—perhaps the most international of industries. It is inevitably sensitive to world events and changes. It is characterised by a large number of projects involving companies from more than one country, and has always been subject to cyclical change in demand.

The aerospace sector worldwide is now having to adjust to the worst downturn in its post-war history. The industry has been hit by the double whammy of recession in the civil airline industry and a global reduction in defence spending. All the world's major aerospace producers, not just Britain's, are having to adapt to those changes. They are all having to cut production, cut staff, which is regrettable, and restructure.

Boeing, the world's biggest manufacturer of commercial aircraft, announced that it would cut more than 28,000 jobs over the next 18 months. McDonnell-Douglas is cutting its work force by 10 per cent. this year, after a 20 per cent. reduction last year. The two main competitors of Rolls-Royce in the United States, Pratt and Whitney and General Electric, have announced cuts of up to 14,000 jobs.

All the major European producers have been affected. Deutsche Aerospace has announced 7,500 job losses this year, representing a 11 per cent. reduction in its overall work force. Aerospatiale of France is to lay off more than 2,000 workers next year in the cuts triggered by the world recession, in addition to 1,000 redundancies this year. The French aerospace trade association GIFAS has predicted that at least 32,000 jobs will disappear from its member companies by the end of 1994.

I know that this litany of job losses overseas is of little comfort to those in Broughton or elsewhere in the United Kingdom who have been affected by the personal tragedy of redundancy. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we understand only too well what that means. I appreciate also that it is little reassurance to those now facing an uncertain future in the industry on whose behalf he was speaking.

It is common ground that forecasts show that air traffic is set to double by the end of the century. Against the background of the immediate problems that the sector is facing, it is encouraging to find that many of the major civil programmes involving British manufacturers have fared rather better than those of some of their overseas competitors. Both Airbus and Rolls-Royce are increasing their share of world markets. The hon. Gentleman referred to Boeing being in fear of Airbus. That is not quite the way I would put it, but Boeing recognises that Airbus is an important and efficient competitor.

Today we heard the good news that the Taiwanese Government have endorsed a joint venture between BAe and the Taiwan Aerospace Corporation to produce regional jets. That will be welcomed by the 4,000 BAe employees at Woodford, as well as the many subcontractors involved in that work. The joint venture should ensure continued production, open up a wider market for the aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region and provide for the development of a successor aircraft.

Despite the difficult world market conditions, British companies are continuing to win major orders. Last year, the United Kingdom industry had a turnover of more than £10 billion of which it exported more than 70 per cent., or nearly £8 billion. For every year over the past decade, it has made a contribution to the United Kingdom balance of payments. The whole House will applaud those remarkable achievements.

The recently published report of the Trade and Industry Select Committee, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, said:
"The United Kingdom industry is far from being a lame duck industry, seeking rescue from its own failure or protection from more efficient competitors. It is an area of United Kingdom technological strength".
I fully endorse that view, which is very different from the picture of an industry in crisis that others would have us believe.

In replying to the Select Committee report, the industry's major trade association, the Society for British Aerospace Companies, said:
"The aerospace industry is not a lame duck in crisis looking to the Government for rescue packages. Rather it is a high technology jewel in Britain's industrial crown".
Of course the industry is not without its challenges, and I have already referred to its current difficulties. Every industry has to have regard to the market. I know that the hon. Gentleman has worked long and hard for the interests of his constituents at the Broughton site. I well understand his and their concern over the future of executive jet production at the site following the announcement of the proposed sale of Corporate Jets to Raytheon.

The proposal is currently being considered by the Director General of Fair Trading. I hope that, in those circumstances, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment before the director general's advice is received, but I can assure him now that my Department has discussed the future of Corporate Jets at Broughton with BAe, and we are continuing to keep in close touch.

I recall many flights in the aircraft to which the hon. Gentleman referred, including the one where we travelled together. I first started travelling in those aircraft when I was a Minister at the MOD.

Of course it was without a parachute; if I had had one, I am not sure it would have been much use.

The hon. Gentleman's praise of the aircraft makes me think that perhaps he has missed a career as a salesman. Perhaps BAe would recruit him in that task even now. However, the sale is a commercial decision by BAe. It is not the result of Government policy and Government support was not a factor in the decision to make the sale. As part of the sale agreement, BAe will secure from Raytheon a contract for the continued supply of wings and fusilages for three years. It is not for the Government to second-guess the commercial judgment of BAe or Raytheon.

I recognise the desire to ensure that, if the sale goes through, Raytheon makes a longer-term commitment to remain in the United Kingdom. If the sale goes ahead, we shall want to discuss with Raytheon and the Welsh Office whether there is any way that we can help bring that about. I am sure that Raytheon will also want to have early discussions with the work force about the future of the plant.

What are the longer-term prospects for the industry? The Select Committee's report states:
"There is no likelihood of a sudden decline in the short or medium terms."
The aerospace industry has out-performed the rest of United Kingdom industry in productivity gains—the hon. Gentleman referred to what has been achieved at Broughton. We are at last beginning to see the signs of recovery in the civil airline market. In the longer term, we expect to see air traffic doubling in 15 years, and doubling again in the 25 years thereafter. There will be good, long-term demand, both for new aircraft, to satisfy traffic growth, and to replace old aircraft.

The hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) asked about Government support. We hope and expect that the industry will be in a strong position to benefit from the recovery in demand when it comes. The Government already provide substantial support for the industry. Since 1979, more than £1·2 billion has been paid in launch aid to support major programmes such as BAe's participation in airbus, which is particularly important to the hon. Gentleman's constituents, and the Rolls-Royce RB211 engine. The industry clearly believes that launch aid has been instrumental in keeping the United Kingdom aerospace sector globally competitive. No other United Kingdom industry enjoys that level of Government investment.

Also uniquely for a manufacturing industry, aerospace has a dedicated DTI-funded research budget—CARAD —currently running at more than £20 million a year. That adds to the already high investment that aerospace companies make in research and development, and is aimed at protecting the future competitiveness of our industry. The Broughton site has been a major beneficiary of Government investment and support: launch aid of nearly £250 million for the airbus A320, and more than £440 million for the airbus A330 and A340—all supporting the airbus division at Broughton, where all the wings for those aircraft are made. The site has also received more than £10 million in regional development grants and regional selective assistance.

We also, of course, play our part in less visible ways —for example, by supporting aerospace exports, and in providing more than £735 million in export credit guarantees over the past three years. We shall continue to discuss with the industry ways in which it is appropriate for the Government to help. We already have a close dialogue. That is not just my view, but the view of industry. Mr. Dick Evans, chief executive of BAe, who is well known to the hon. Gentleman, said:
"I think the dialogue between industry and individual companies and Government today is certainly better, in fact as good as anything I can recall in my own period of time in this sort of business."
I can tell the hon. Gentleman that I am committed to improving that dialogue still further.

An example of my Department's dialogue with the industry is our aviation committee, which is comprised of senior executives from the industry and representatives from the financial and academic institutions. It advises us on the needs of the United Kingdom aerospace industry so that they can be taken into account when developing and implementing policies that affect the industry. It recently set out, in what it called the national strategic technology acquisition plan—NSTAP—its assessment of what needs to be done to maintain the industry's technological competitiveness.

The Select Committee welcomed my decision to adopt the technological priorities identified by the industry in NSTAP. Those priorities will inform my Department's work in the design of its aerospace policies and its liaison with other public sector funders of research. That is the essence of the NSTAP recommendations. The NSTAP process will now continue so that, as industry's needs change and develop, the Government can take them into account.

All job losses, and certainly aerospace job losses, are to be deeply regretted, but, by taking the hard decisions on rationalisation—decisions that, as I have said, our overseas competitors cannot avoid and clearly are not avoiding—United Kingdom companies are acting to protect the longer-term interests of the industry. As I have emphasised, the longer-term prospects are extremely good for Broughton and other aerospace centres. They are protecting the longer-term interests of the country and importantly those employed in it.

Britain's aerospace industry is among the largest and most capable in Europe. Our companies are world class and world beaters. Most of the airliners bought throughout the world will have at least some United Kingdom equipment and systems on them. British companies have won contracts on the new Boeing 777 worth more than $1 billion. Our industry exports more than 70 per cent. of its turnover. By comparison, the United States aerospace industry exports less than a quarter of its turnover. Unemployment in the United Kingdom has fallen for the past five months. We have seen the first real but small increase in air traffic since 1990, but the problems facing the industry remain. However, I hope—

Stansted Airport

11.45 am

It sometimes seems that the debate on Stansted airport has been going on continually with few interruptions. The possibility of Stansted being London's third airport arose in the 1950s, if not in the late 1940s. The whole saga has been punctuated by studies, reports and inquiries, yet still we are here today once again considering whether what was done was right and what should be done in the future. It is a never-ending story.

I think that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will agree that political difficulties, rather than the needs of the civil aviation industry, have led to London having a three-airport configuration. The matter has not been as open to us in Britain as it was to the French when they decided to find a new site near Paris for the development of what they later called Charles de Gaulle airport, which, as far as one can see, can expand almost infinitely to cover all the needs that are anticipated for many decades ahead.

Britain has not had that luxury and the fact that we have not is partly explained by the fact that we do not have as much land available as the French and because successive Governments have been buffeted by the strength of public opinion, which has caused them to duck and weave and to find opportunities when they can for the development of precious airport capacity to serve London.

The case for Stansted, in the final chapter leading up to the development that we see today, was put on the basis that the 15 million passengers per annum capacity was essential to preserve London's competitive position. From the perspective of 1993, I am not sure that everyone would quite see it in the same light. Many more people now realise that if we are to maintain London's competitive position against the growing airports on the continent of Europe, the key is Heathrow. If we are to persuade passengers to travel on British airlines to an ultimate destination in Europe via London, we have to offer them the ability to interline from one aeroplane to another within the same airport complex. It is not the same thing to invite them to be bussed around the M25 from one of London's airports to another. In such circumstances, the competition—Paris, Amsterdam, Frankfurt—would be bound to win.

The argument has changed over the years. Since the decision was made to develop Stansted, the case for it is not quite so compelling, even, I suspect, to those within the BAA, as it might have been back in 1979. Certainly, from the point of view of the current management of Stansted airport, I suspect that things look rather different today from the way they might have seemed at that time.

The new terminal was opened in 1991 in the wake of the Gulf war; it coincided with the onset of recession; and it was accompanied by the scrapping of the traffic distribution rules which previously governed which airport in London could be used by particular airlines. Those three things, taken together, have considerably knocked the estimates that previously existed about the rate at which Stansted would develop. BAA could argue, fairly, that the Government invited it to make a planning application for Stansted and, although none of the factors to which I have referred which have dogged the expansion of Stansted could be said to be the direct fault of the Government, except possibly the decision on the traffic distribution rules—there were good arguments for that —BAA would argue that the Government have an obligation to it, as a private sector company, to assist it in making a success of its huge investment.

Even the opponents of the development of Stansted —those who live in the immediate vicinity—would concede that, if there is demand, it is reasonable that it should be satisfied. Their principal argument has been that one should not create demand by investment. If there are airlines knocking at the door wishing to use Stansted, that is a different argument. It so happens that it is American airlines that are currently trying hardest to use Stansted. Stansted would like to have a transatlantic service or services and there is some irritation and frustration at the fact that what people want cannot be achieved at present.

When American Airlines decided to pull out of Stansted, having attempted to operate a daily service to Chicago, there appeared on the horizon the renascent Trans World Airlines—not yet out of chapter 11 bankruptcy but expecting to be so at any time. It had previously shed its services to London, but now sees an opportunity to come to Stansted. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has been attentive to the arguments put by myself and others about the need to look at the possibility of obtaining another transatlantic service using Stansted. At the head of the queue seems to be TWA.

In recent weeks, my right hon. Friend has conceded, for the first itme, that Stansted has a special argument in its favour. I have the impression that he is prepared to seek to ensure that Stansted will gain some benefit from the negotiations that are currently taking place between the United States Government and the British Government to liberalise the air services agreement between our two countries.

Stansted's case is more urgent than that because credibility is involved. I should like to stress that TWA's case should be re-examined. I know that the argument is complicated. If my right hon. Friend made a gesture to the American Administration suggesting that he would be prepared to give a temporary derogation to TWA to provide a New York-Chicago service into Stansted, there is doubt about whether the American Administration would reciprocate. However, there is other evidence that suggests that the Administration might be willing to respond.

I realise that the negotiation of air services is a complex business and that my right hon. Friend has to be careful not to damage the wider British interest. Nevertheless, if he has doubts about the firmness of intention of TWA or the American Administration, he should test those doubts. He should say to the Americans, "We are interested in a service into Stansted. If you say that you are interested in doing it, we will give you the opportunity." Although I wish to protect the overall civil aviation interests of this country, I do not believe that making that concession would be disastrous to Britain. In fact, the concession would be valuable at this stage in Stansted's development.

I have been waiting to intervene on my hon. Friend, but I have been keen not to anticipate his remarks. He has just eloquently made the point that I wished to make. I am sure that he will agree that a temporary derogation to an American airline such as TWA would not prejudge the Government's bargaining position in any way. My hon. Friend stressed the importance of the hub and spoke principle and mentioned the point about long haul feeding into short haul and regional distribution airlines and vice versa. If more long haul traffic came to Stansted from the United States, that would greatly increase the viability of Stansted and begin to build up the hub that we all want to see.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining my point. My hon. Friend the Minister will recognise that interest in this matter goes wider than purely local concern and includes those of us who follow civil aviation matters. We want to see whether it is possible to give Stansted the advantage of a transatlantic service, after which it would be seen how far it can develop further as a hub and spoke airport.

This is a tale of two airports. The picture that I have just painted shows what has happened and the present position in which Stansted finds itself. It is quite a contrast between the picture that was projected when forecasts were made in 1979. All the forecasts, which were tested by inquiry between 1979 and 1985, led us to suppose that there would be a large-scale demand that could be met only by provision at Stansted. On the basis of those forecasts and the arguments relating to them, the inspector who took the Stansted and London Heathrow fifth terminal inquiry, Mr. Graham Eyre, as he then was, agreed to the recommendation that planning permission should be granted at Stansted for a terminal capacity of 15 million passengers per annum.

In light of the arguments that I and others were responsible for putting forward, the then Secretary of State for Transport, Nicholas Ridley, agreed that there should be some limiting mechanism. He accepted the arguments about the potential environmental impact of development at Stansted. He conceded that there might be some doubts about the rate at which the airport would develop. Therefore, it was decided that a tripwire should be introduced. To start with, the airport would be allowed, within its legal planning permission, to develop to a capacity of 8 million passengers per annum. That was determined by a limit on the number of air transport movements—ATMs—which was fixed at 78,000 per annum. That was designed to be equivalent to a passenger throughput of 8 million per annum. It requires an affirmative decision by both Houses of Parliament for that level to be exceeded so that the airport can proceed up to a capacity of 15 million passengers per annum.

When Graham Eyre considered whether more land at Stansted should be safeguarded for the possibility of expansion beyond 15 million passengers per annum and for the possibility of a second runway, he came to conclusions which are worth repeating in the present climate. In his summary of the overall conclusions, at point 11, he said:
"There are compelling reasons which are now manifest as to why a second runway at Stansted should not be developed under any circumstances and Government should make an unequivocal declaration of intention that a second main runway will not be built. No planning permission should be granted in the absence of or prior to the making of such a declaration".
In chapter 25, at paragraph 12.5, Sir Graham said:
"I stood at numerous vantage points around and within the area and visualised the utter devastation which the development would wreak on this virtually unspoiled and particularly attractive tract of typical Essex countryside".
At paragraph 12.7 he continued:
"no landscaping scheme could ever be devised which would effectively offset the impact of such a vast development project affecting such an enormous area. I am wholly satisfied that the surrounding countryside is incapable of absorbing the extra development involved".
At paragraph 12.12 he says:
"I can conceive of no circumstances in which the development of such an airport"—
one requiring the construction and operation of a second runway—
"at Stansted could be justified."
There is plenty more where that came from. The volume that I am holding represents only one volume of the eight or nine that comprise Sir Graham Eyre's report. Meticulous detailed analysis led to his conclusions, and it would be extraordinary if the Government were ever tempted to overturn conclusions reached after an exhaustive inquiry and expressed so forcefully. The White Paper published in 1985 gave the unequivocal assurance for which Sir Graham had called, thereby securing his backing for the recommendation that the airport should be developed to accommodate 15 million passengers per annum.

It is almost as if time has stood still, in some respects. Here we are again, with demand forecast to rise appreciably over the next 30 or more years. The Civil Aviation Authority began the debate some years ago by saying that another runway would be required in the south-east. That led some time later to the report published in the past few days by the committee set up to advise on "Runway Capacity to Serve the South East" —the so-called RUCATSE report, which makes some interesting comments.

I shall talk about only two of the points that emerge from the report of the working group. The first, and perhaps the most startling, is that the group recognises that for a number of reasons there is now an increased capacity of passengers per available runway. In the past, our debates have been based on the assumption that a figure of roughly 25 million passengers per annum could be ascribed to a runway. RUCATSE now suggests that that figure could be increased, perhaps even to 40 million per runway at Heathrow, and to 35 million at Gatwick and Stansted. With the 20 million runway capacity at Luton, that would mean that 170 million passengers could be accommodated until the year 2015 without an additional runway being built.

That is both good and bad news. The problem, and the decision whether more concrete has to be laid on our precious land in the south-east, is being pushed into the future, yet the perpetuation of uncertainty can be a terrible cancer for all the people who live near the existing airports. The worry, the grief, the debates and the arguments will continue for many years. On the other hand, the increased runway capacity buys precious time for the Government to take another hard and thorough look at how they will cope with the rising demand foreseen over the next 20 or 30 years.

I hope that, during that time, the Government will consider the estuarial solution—the Marinair proposal—which is covered in the RUCATSE report. That solution, despite all its difficulties, has great environmental advantages and would be greeted with relief not only by many of the people who live near Stansted, in Hertfordshire, Essex and Cambridgeshire, but by those who live near Gatwick and Heathrow. Among such people there is a curious mixture of feelings. Some people are keen to have the employment opportunities, and they want the most convenient airport from which to start their business or holiday flights; others, who live day by day beside those airports, suffer inevitable disturbance, both from the air and on the land around them.

I do not believe that environmental considerations will become less important over the next 10 or 20 years. They have been increasingly accepted in the consideration of everything from road schemes upwards. The next major step to deal with airport capacity will have to pass the most stringent environmental tests, so there is a strong case for arguing that the Government should increasingly favour the estuarial solution; at first sight, it is the most attractive way of solving the difficult problem.

The second aspect of the RUCATSE report to which I wish to draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister is its forecast that by the year 2000 the actual throughput at Stansted will have reached only 6·5 million, as opposed to the present throughput of approximately 2·5 million. That figure is still below the airport's capacity, and that fact has interesting implications for the timetable for increasing the ATMs limit of 78,000. If the forecast is to have any credibility, there seems to be no need for any unseemly rush to approve the increase from 8 million to 15 million passengers per annum. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says about that.

However, there is a sub-plot. Consistent with the movement of 2·5 million passengers per annum, the number of ATMs has risen to 37,000. That would suggest that, if the numbers were doubled, the present ceiling for ATMs would be reached when the actual throughput of the airport was no more than about 5 million passengers per annum—well below the 8 million passengers whom it was thought that the 78,000 limit would accommodate. There will, therefore, have to be some movement on the ATMs limit, and that could be considered separately from the question whether extra passenger capacity was also being provided.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Minister that the present situation is somewhat nonsensical. Inevitably, there will continue to be argument in the Stansted area about whether the 1985 decision was right. But an airport with a capacity of up to 15 million passengers per annum is a legal fact. That airport provides regional benefits; there is a catchment area in East Anglia that contains many people —including, sometimes, opponents of the airport—who admit to me that the airport is most convenient for them.

The airport provides also enormous employment opportunities which are not to be dismissed at a time when unemployment has been running high. Even within its present constriction of 8 million passengers a year, there is an opportunity for several thousand more jobs to be created than are currently available. If the figure reaches 15 million passengers a year, we shall be talking about a growth of more than 20,000 jobs. There is no shortage of employment opportunities, even within the present limits on the envisaged expansion of the airport.

Artificial stimulus of the airport is one thing, but blocking demand that is coming from certain airlines is quite another. People would understand that difference and would not condemn the Government if they were prepared to give a chance even to a foreign carrier to use the airport. The Government must try not to allow the flame of suspicion to burn that today's new service will inevitably lead to tomorrow's second runway. That is the real conundrum that we face. The RUCATSE report has given the Government time to consider whether a long-term, more environmentally friendly answer can be found. If the Government ultimately decide that that is so, there will be relief not only for the people living around Stansted but for those living around Gatwick and Heathrow who, I suspect, would sympathise with the arguments that I have put forward today.

There is a healthy future for Stansted and it can be secured in the context of an environmentally friendly answer. I hope that the Government will use the time well and ensure that the breathing space we may now have enables them to produce plans for the future that will get the widest possible welcome.

12.11 pm

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) for securing this debate today on the important and topical issue of Stansted and the general issues of competition in air services and, not least, the RUCATSE report which was published last week. It is a timely debate in that respect and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity to put a few remarks on the record, this being the first possible occasion following the publication of that report.

I was amused by my hon. Friend's remark about a tale of two airports. As another of the local Members of Parliament for Stansted, although not so heavily involved as my hon. Friend, I, too, am guilty of mild schizophrenia when we talk about airport issues. On the one hand, we have a proper respect for the concerns of our constituents who want a quiet night's sleep and who, understandably, want to continue their rural existence untrammelled. On the other hand—my hon. Friend alluded to this—airports create jobs, and not many parts do not welcome job creation. The challenge to any Government is to get the balance right between environmental concerns and economic considerations. My hon. Friend did the House a service by setting out those issues from his position as the lead Member on Stansted, if I may put it that way.

Stansted is a first-class, indeed a world-class, facility. I am proud of it as a local and regional asset. Many of my constituents have told me what an excellent environment it provides for arrivals and departures. I have visited the airport, although I have never flown from it. It undoubtedly has a stunning building and it is easily the most attractive environment for air travel in the United Kingdom of which I am aware.

Although the airport's use was limited between its initial civil operations in 1946 and its development during the close of the 1980s, the past two or three years have seen the airport increase its throughput substantially. It handled about 2·3 million passengers last year; that is 38 per cent. more than in 1991 and 56 per cent. more cargo. It now offers direct flights to more than 30 destinations and interlining flights to more than 130. It continues to attract a range of new services. I was pleased to read only last week that, for example, Air Littoral is returning to the airport this summer.

As my hon. Friend said, it is true that the airport has had its difficulties, not least the loss of the American Airlines service to Chicago earlier this year. I accept that the traffic distribution rules change has also been relevant and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for acknowleding that there were overriding good reasons for that change. He agrees that the one-off consequences of that were inevitable and the industry should have been prepared to accept them. The difficulties that Stansted has gone through are evidence that it can be difficult for a new airport ultimately to overcome the existing market preferences and develop its own range of services.

I know that my hon. Friend and others believe that we should do more to encourage new traffic to use the airport. We should not artificially distort the market by directing particular kinds of traffic to use particular airports; rather, our aim should be to facilitate as liberalised a market as possible. The United Kingdom has pursued that goal trenchantly and successfully in the European Community. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State led the way on achieving an agreement in the EC, now expressed as the third liberalisation package, which will enable any operator that can demonstrate its competence to do so to fly between any two points in Europe. That can only be good news for the travelling public and the aviation industry generally.

My hon. Friend spoke about irritation and frustration in his local area about allowing more American flights to use Stansted. The Government are keen to encourage more transatlantic air services to Stansted. We recognise that local businesses and communities want a wider choice of services in the south-east and we are aware of the benefit that that would have on the expansion of Stansted. Under existing bilateral arrangements, there is nothing to prevent any of the seven United States airlines currently serving London from operating some or all of their existing services from Stansted if they wish. Clearly, this is a matter for them to decide.

My hon. Friends the Members for Saffron Walden and for Romsey and Waterside (Mr. Colvin) referred to the desirabilty of a unilateral offer on the TWA route options. TWA has been offered the run from Stansted to New York to Chicago and, as I understand it, one other United States point to another United Kingdom point as a package in exchange for the switch of Virgin Boston flights from Gatwick to Heathrow. Most people would regard that arrangement as being in TWA's favour. TWA chose not to agree to that proposition which remains on the table. There is no sense in which my right hon. Friend will not attempt to negotiate, if it is at all possible, in the interests of any of London's airports, but his overriding concern must be the national interest. I am sure that my colleagues will agree that that is right. In the national interest we seek, ultimately, a properly deregulated and liberalised regime between the United Kingdom and the United States, which would have much wider implications than an individual negotiation over one airline's wish to fly to some airport.

How many cards it is right for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to keep to his chest in those negotiations will always be an issue. I need not expand on the matter further because commercial negotiations are best kept in confidence. I sense that my hon. Friends will accept the fact that my right hon. Friend has conducted the negotiations so far with immense tact and considerable assiduity and that is the basis on which he should continue to negotiate.

I acknowledge exactly what my hon. Friend said. As time goes by, Stansted will become like Gatwick. Long-haul operators have been reluctant to use Stansted, but once people see the facilities available there—it is the most attractive aiport—it will have consumer appeal. Airlines are trying to give customers precisely what they want. I should prefer to travel through Stansted than through any other terminal.

Does my hon. Friend accept that we must get as good value as possible from existing resources? My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. Haselhurst) was right to say that we must not pour concrete over the countryside. However, it seems dotty that helicopters still land at Heathrow using up valuable fixed-wing aircraft slots when separate helicopter landing facilities should be available at Heathrow. It is also crazy that a debate is going on about whether a large part of the Heathrow real estate should be used as a sludge farm or a fifth terminal. Before my hon. Friend winds up, will he say something about the fifth terminal at Heathrow in the light of the RUCATSE report?

My hon. Friend tempts me into dangerous areas. On the relationship between a possible terminal 5 and the RUCATSE report, BAA's fifth terminal application, which the Secretary of State has called in, now falls to be considered by public inquiry and will ultimately come before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for determination. On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend will forgive me if I do not expatiate at length on terminal 5. Suffice it to say that RUCATSE is considering the need for, and a possible option of, the provision of further runway capacity in the south-east. I agree with my hon. Friend that it seems sensible to use existing capacity before further capacity is provided.

There is an inevitable logic about the fact that people want to go where people already go. Airlines and passengers now favour Heathrow if they have an option. When Heathrow has been full, they have tended to go to Gatwick and, when they could not go to Gatwick, they have gone to Stansted. I shall be accused of appalling over-simplification. Ironically, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Waterside said, Stansted is the most agreeable environment of the three London airports. However, its attractions will become more evident as traffic grows in the next few years and as more and more people realise how good the rail service is from London to Stansted and how trouble-free travel there can be compared with travel to larger, more crowded airports.

We shall keep under review the issue of air traffic movements and shall keep in close touch with BAA on that issue. Aircraft using the airport have tended to be smaller than forecast, which has had the effect described by my hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden. Therefore, more movements may be needed to reach forecast traffic levels. We shall need to review that with BAA at the appropriate time and we shall then be obliged to present our proposals to the House.

One important issue which my hon. Friend would have raised had he had the time is that of noise. We are concerned to ensure that, as Stansted develops, local residents should continue to be protected against excessive aircraft noise, particularly at night. That is why the new system of night restrictions for the three London airports announced on 6 July includes specific quotas for night movements at Stansted for the first time. New noise and track-keeping monitoring equipment has been installed at Stansted to ensure adherence to noise mitigation rules; operators who exceed the maximum permissible nighttime noise level are subject to financial penalty.

The proposal in our consultation paper for an extensive category of aircraft called QC zero that would not count against the quota concerned many local people, local authorities and environmental groups around Stansted, as elsewhere. That is why we have introduced the QC½ category to provide an additional measure of protection and meet local concerns about the perceived threat of uncontrolled growth. The quotas for Stansted and Gatwick have been increased appropriately.

The size of the increase at Stansted may have surprised many, but there are already a considerable number of night movements at Stansted by aircraft exempt from the present restrictions—many more than my hon. Friend's constituents probably realise. The noise of many of these aircraft does not extend much beyond the airport boundary and wakes few people, but we felt that that factor should be taken into account. I hope that others will not now lie awake worrying about this matter.

So far I have looked at Stansted's immediate future, but what of the longer term? My hon. Friend has mentioned the recent report by RUCATSE. I should like to pay tribute to all the members of the working group for their hard work in producing such a thorough and detailed report. The membership of the group has been very diverse: it has included representatives from air transport and tourist industries, from central and local government and from bodies representing national and local environmental interests, including local residents groups, consumer groups, airlines and airports.

The group was set up in response to advice from the Civil Aviation Authority in 1990 that there would shortly be a need for additional runway capacity. The CAA identified 10 sites at which development looked to be feasible in air traffic control terms. RUCATSE's remit was to examine in more detail the consequences of development at those sites, and also the potential contribution of the regional airports. I must emphasise, however, that RUCATSE is not a decision-making body, nor is it a substitute for any part of the planning process —its role is purely advisory. In brief detail, the principal findings are that the new runway's worth of capacity, if I may put it that way, is now likely not to be needed until 2005 at the earliest—mainly because of the more intensive use of runways at regional and London airports—and more probably by a date some five years on from that. There has been some deferral of the necessity for additional runways.

Of the sites examined in detail, the House knows that Heathrow would afford the greatest benefit to the air transport industry and passengers, but it also gives rise to a greater scale of disbenefits, such as noise impact on people, land use and property development. I do not think that anybody would underestimate the environmental impact on that area, the scale of loss of residential property, and so on.

At Gatwick, there is the prospect of generating high benefits, but again there are substantial environmental problems and, of course, there is the planning agreement between West Sussex county council and BAA, which limits development before 2019. Stansted has lower benefits and has environmental problems that are, in many ways, similar to those at Gatwick, and the 1985 White Paper concurred with the inspector's view that there should not be a second runway there. Luton is a smaller option and would delay the case for expansion by three years. Although it has relatively low benefits, they are high in relation to the size of the project.

My hon. Friend the Member for Saffron Walden mentioned the prospects for Marinair, a concept to which Gerry Matthews has devoted much of his life. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that, to many, the advantage of the Marinair site is that it does not have a constituency of its own and all the other local authorities can happily recommend it in the knowledge that it avoids their areas. In fact, there are many difficulties with the estuarial concept, as I am sure my hon. Friend is aware.

The RUCATSE report should inform our debates on airport issues over the coming months. It is only right, given the complexity of the report, that we should have time to reflect and that we should be open to all views. We have announced a full period of consultation—


12.32 pm

I am pleased to have the opportunity today to draw the attention of the House and the country to the continuing tragic situation in Angola. After more than 30 years of war, the Angolan people welcomed the elections of September 1992 as the beginning of a new era of peace. I was privileged, along with the hon. Members for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) and for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), to be one of four official British delegates sent to monitor the elections. All our accounts of the elections and all the international observers said that, under incredibly difficult constraints, the elections were as free and fair as any elections could be.

Unfortunately, the leader of UNITA, Mr. Savimbi, rejected the election results and, since that time, UNITA has been waging a devastating war. The rebel forces now control about 70 per cent. of the country, including the second largest town, Huambo, a city in which two of the members of our delegation based their headquarters during the monitoring of the elections. When I recently saw pictures of what had happened in Huambo, having seen it a year ago when even then we felt that it was devastated from 30 years of war, and to know that many of the people who had helped and supported us have since been killed, it brings home the tragedy of the situation.

I should like to put on record, on behalf of all the delegates, that the help and support from the British embassy in Luanda was superb. It must be one of the most difficult postings in the world for British embassy staff, not just at the senior level but at junior level. All of us were grateful to them for their dedication and duty.

It is estimated that well over 20,000 people have died and 3 million people have been displaced amid fighting heavier than at any time since independence. In an especially horrific incident recently, UNITA forces attacked a train, killing up to 300 civilians, mostly women and children, and wounding many others.

Angola is potentially a rich country, but its economy has been destroyed by the continued fighting over many years. Agriculture has been reduced to low levels of production, and food prices have risen beyond the reach of ordinary people. The war has displaced many rural dwellers and prevented many others from planting because of harassment by military forces. It must be said that there has been military force on occasions from both sides, but it has been especially from UNITA.

The continuing dry conditions in the drought-prone south are also causing food shortages. Landmines, some of them dating back to pre-independence days, are a serious ongoing problem. There is estimated to be 2 million landmines scattered throughout the country, many around key economic installations as well as on paths, roads, river banks and in built-up areas. Even when peace is restored, they will still pose a great threat to life, inhibiting future reconstruction.

In the face of this desperate state of affairs, many Angolans who pinned their hopes for peace on the UN-monitored elections feel betrayed by the international community in which they placed their faith. Angola is a key test of the UN's credibility as an agent of peace in the post cold-war era. The debacle has been a major setback for UN operations since the end of the cold war. As well as threatening to destabilise transitional processes in other parts of the region—for example, in Mozambique and South Africa—there are important implications for the UN's involvement in other peacekeeping operations. The current diplomatic situation is that, in May, the Abidjan peace talks broke down due to UNITA's refusal to accept the terms of its withdrawal from towns it is holding. The new UN special representative, Mr. Beye of Mali, took charge of the UN Angola Verification Mission II in June, saying that "genuine will and concrete action" were necessary from both sides to overcome the current impasse.

On 15 July the UN Security Council renewed the UNAVEM II mandate for another two months. The mandate allows for Mr. Beye to "offer his good offices" in pursuit of an agreement between the two sides. The three observer countries—Portugal, the United States and the Russian federation—issued a strongly worded statement on 8 July calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities. The democratically elected Angolan Government had high hopes that United States' recent and belated recognition might lead to an improvement in the diplomatic situation. George Moose, the US Secretary for Foreign Affairs, visited Angola in June, but was vague on the type and amount of aid that Angola could expect.

Although there is no official evidence at the moment of assistance to UNITA from South Africa, it appears that junior members of the army in South Africa have been supplying UNITA unofficially. It is also believed that UNITA is still receiving assistance from Zaire. Both countries have certainly helped UNITA in the past.

Does my hon. Friend recall that, during Nelson Mandela's most recent visit to London, the question of South African support for UNITA was raised with him? He deplored the way in which South African forces had been used to crush, or attempt to crush, the democratically elected Government in Angola. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important for the British Government to put all possible pressure on both the commercial sources of funding to UNITA and on South Africa, whose troops, both regular and irregular, and air force are attempting to destroy the results of the Angolan election?

I thank my hon. Friend, and I hope that the Minister will respond to that direct point. It is clear that support, even if it is only covert, is in some way coming from South Africa. That help will prolong the situation.

I want to say what I and a number of others think went wrong with the peace process. We all agree that it is easier with the advantage of hindsight, but it is clear that the United Nations made many mistakes between the 1991 peace agreement and the elections in 1992. The United Nations and the world community must learn from those mistakes. The United Nations mission was badly underfunded by the international community. Before the elections, the special representative herself made repeated references to the lack of resources. The one quote that has been used over and over again and needs repeating is when she said that she was expected to "fly a jumbo jet with fuel for DC3."

UNAVEM II seems to be an attempt by the international community to deal with Angola on the cheap, but its failure demonstrates the dangers of expecting the United Nations to function with inadequate funds. UNAVEM II's mandate from the Security Council was too weak. After the election, the United Nations special representative admitted that, with hindsight, the United Nations should never have accepted the mandate because of its insufficient powers. On the many occasions when the Bicesse accords were broken, the United Nations could do nothing except try to cajole the two sides into an agreement. In practice, the United Nations often turned a blind eye to transgressions. The United Nations' kid-glove treatment of UNITA may have unwittingly encouraged Mr. Savimbi to reject the election results. The failure of the demobilisation and disarming process made it all too easy for UNITA to return to war after it failed to win the election.

In retrospect, the 18 months allowed to prepare for the elections were insufficient, especially in view of the long civil war that preceded the transition. When it is compared with the transition period that is being allowed for South Africa and the resources that went into Namibia, we can see that the United Nations underestimated the amount of resources needed. Some people may disagree, but I think that the United Nations seemed unprepared for a Government victory in the elections and had no contingency plans for such an event. The Angolan tragedy has to be an important lesson to the international community of the dangers of trying to deal with conflicts on the cheap.

Let me consider the humanitarian situation because that is where the real tragedy lies—with the ordinary Angolan men and women, many of whom we spoke to when we were there. The majority were young people who were at the polling stations to represent the two main political parties and were standing side by side, having to sleep and work together on the election process. Most of them were younger than 20. At every station that we visited throughout the country, all of them told us that they wanted peace at the end of the election. They were prepared to work together, they knew what an election meant, and they wanted peace. The tragedy is that they were speaking the truth. Both the young people from UNITA and the young people from the MPLA wanted peace. The tragedy is that leaders of political parties so often do not follow the wishes of party members and of people.

The current humanitarian situation is that thousands of displaced people have fled from the UNITA-held rural areas to those towns still under Government control. In Luanda and other cities the sudden influx has placed an intolerable strain on water and food supplies. City dwellers in coastal towns such as Lobito and Benguela are even worse off than the displaced people living in camps. Although the former are not eligible for fuel and food aid, they have lost their jobs, their farmland and access to relatives in the countryside who might provide them with food. Soup kitchens are being set up to help them. According to the World Food Programme, 2 million people—about one fifth of the population—face food shortages.

In April, UNITA shot down a World Food Programme relief aeroplane taking supplies into Luena, one of the provincial towns under siege from UNITA. In June. following the breakdown of the Abidjan talks, the United Nations negotiated a 30-day plan for safe corridors to take relief into war-torn areas. That quickly foundered after UNITA withdrew permission for flights to land in the towns of Cuito and Menongue. Our most recent information is that the United Nations is trying to resume flights according to the original plan but that its aeroplanes are still being shot at.

The United Nations has appealed for $226 million to fund its relief work in Angola, which has met with a disappointing response from donor countries, with initial pledges amounting to $89 million only. The United Kingdom pledged £2 million and 3,000 tonnes of wheat at the donors' conference. The World Food Programme has urged an increased response, and stated in June that it was in particular need of $2·8 million for emergency operations support. Initial flights into Huambo have confirmed the urgency and enormity of need and the programme is trying to position as much food aid as it can within Angola, ready for delivery when security conditions permit. Neighbouring countries report that they are receiving large influxes of Angolan refugees.

I ask the Minister whether the United Kingdom Government, in the midst of all their other difficulties, could respond more generously to the United Nations appeal for Angola launched in May, and to any direct requests for assistance from the Angolan Government. Could the Government also exert diplomatic pressure to ensure that no covert assistance is reaching UNITA from South Africa, Zaire or any other country? Surely we can do more to stop that help reaching UNITA.

In addition, the United Kingdom, as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, has an important role to play in helping to reinstate the peace process, and we want the Government to work closely with other permanent members to ensure that the United Nations continues with its efforts to bring the Angolan Government and UNITA together, always recognising that that Government are the legitimate Government of the country.

Our Government must continue to take the lead in co-ordinating and supporting humanitarian relief efforts in areas where access is possible, and prepare for a strengthened United Nations peacekeeping mission once the peace process restarts. That will mean direct responsibility for supervising all aspects. including disarmament, demobilisation and any further elections. Clearly, that means adequate funding.

The United Kingdom Government must work with other members of the European Council of Ministers and the European Commission to ensure that the European Community responds generously to the United Nations appeal on Angola and any direct requests for assistance. They should signal to any Governments who are currently providing covert assistance to UNITA that that is unacceptable. We have a responsibility.

The western and Soviet power blocs used Angola as a pawn in the cold war and have now lost interest in it, despite 1·7 million refugees and a daily death rate higher than that in Bosnia. We know that the United Nations devoted too little assistance in soldiers and money. It failed to give United Nations special representatives the power to halt the elections until both sides disarmed. The United States failed to put immediate pressure on UNITA. It could have told Savimbi that the time was up. It failed to do that and has only belatedly recognised the Angolan Government. As part of the west, we have a responsibility for what is happening in Angola.

Angola has been at war continually for 32 years. With neither side able to prevail in the civil war, it is shameful that the west is doing almost nothing to stop one of the most ruinous conflicts in the world. Pressures could be brought to bear that would force UNITA to accept within six months the Abidjan settlement that it has so far refused.

We must get all military and economic aid to UNITA blocked. We must continue the diplomatic isolation of UNITA by getting other countries such as Zaire, Morocco and the Ivory Coast, as well as South Africa, to withdraw support. As has been suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), we should consider cutting UNITA's satellite telephone links and closing its offices abroad, including that in London. Above all, UNITA's funds must be cut by blocking the marketing of illegally mined diamonds from north-east Angola. I await the Minister's response to that.

I will remember my visit to Angola mostly because of the warmth of the people and their determination to live in a democratic society. We told them that we would tell the House of Commons that their elections had been fair and would continue to take an interest in what is happening in their country. I hope that this debate will help to arouse the feeling that something must be done to end the terrible tragedy for which we, as a country of the west, are partly responsible.

12.47 pm

With permission of the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), may I say that I had the honour to lead the parliamentary delegation to observe the elections in Angola in October in which the hon. Lady starred dramatically. I well remember tramping through the scorching heat and the dust of the streets of Benguela with the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) to see the elections, which we observed in both Benguela and Luanda, the capital. Our hon. Friends went to other cities throughout the country.

We unreservedly endorse the opinion of UNAVEM that the elections were fairly held and represented the then views of the people of Angola. It was especially moving to see young people on both sides of the argument—both UNITA and the MPLA—working with such hope that the election would express a view, bring an end to the war, and be the opening of a new peaceful and prosperous chapter for the great country of Angola.

All of that was thrown away by Jonas Savimbi's decision to repudiate the election. He released the dogs of war in insurrection in a number of cities. In return, the thugs of the MPLA, whom we met during the visit of our delegation, were released to the butchering of the young people whom we saw in the polling stations. Jonas Savimbi has much blood on his hands. He must understand that, whatever support he may have found in the House of Commons during the civil war and before the Bicesse accords, our response to the election is that he has forfeited any support that he may once have enjoyed.

12.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Mark Lennox-Boyd)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) on raising this subject for debate. I am aware that she arid my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), as well as the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (M r. Loyden), were observers. I do not know about the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn), who is also present today, but I know that he takes an interest in the subject. Knowing that the hon. Members had all been to the elections, I was interested to hear their contributions.

The Government share the hon. Lady's concern about the tragic conflict. I am dismayed by the resumption of the civil war and the suffering caused by it. The Government firmly support a negotiated solution to the conflict in the framework of the Bicesse accords. We pay tribute to the willingness of the Angolan Government to uphold the accords and to the attempts by the United Nations Secretary-General to bring the Angolan Government and UNITA to the negotiating table.

The accords were signed by the Government of Angola and UNITA in May 1991. They provided, among other things, for the first democratic elections, which took place in September 1992, monitored by the hon. Lady, other hon. Members and the United Nations corps of observers. We know the result: the MPLA won a substantial majority in the legislative elections and President Dos Santos gained 49·5 per cent. in the presidential elections, with Mr. Savimbi gaining only 40 per cent. At that time, the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative was a British lady, Miss Margaret Anstee, who, in concert with Members of Parliament who were present, determined quite clearly that the elections were generally free and fair.

We unreservedly condemn UNITA for rejecting the results of those elections, for resuming the civil war, for breaking off the talks in Abidjan and for refusing to withdraw from areas which it occupies. We have urged UNITA to agree to an immediate ceasefire and return to the negotiating table. To that end, the Government helped to prepare United Nations Security Council resolution 851, which the council adopted under British chairmanship on 15 July. The resolution extends the mandate of the United Nations Angolan verification mission and expresses the council's willingness to consider measures against UNITA under the United Nations charter. If no ceasefire is in place by 15 September, those measures are likely to include a mandatory embargo on the supply to UNITA of arms and related material and military assistance.

The hon. Lady suggested that the United Nations had put inadequate resources into the peace process. We must remember that, when the peace accords were negotiated by UNITA and the MPLA Government in early 1991, one of the areas of agreement between the two Angolan parties was a desire to limit the size of the United Nations mission and to limit the United Nations role to monitoring rather than implementing the elections.

The United Nations mission in Angola has cost the United Nations more than US$148 million so far, arid however desirable it may be for more money to be spent —as the hon. Lady suggested—the sum already spent can hardly be described as doing it on the cheap. Many people are perplexed and concerned about the proposal to allow UNITA two months in which to comply. The purpose of that is to give the new special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. Beye—who has been in post for only a short time—an opportunity to use his good offices to bring the two sides together. Certainly, I hope that the additional measures will not be necessary, although I recognise that they may be. UNITA must recognise that it is now isolated politically and that it cannot continue to defy the wishess of the United Nations and to oppose by arms the democratically elected Government of Angola.

As the hon. Lady said, UNITA has an office in London, and she invited me to comment on that. We have not sought to do anything about it. I am sure that the hon. Lady will accept that in Britain we are proud of our long tradition of freedom of expression. That means that any organisation that does not break our laws can establish an office here. I am sure that she will agree that that is the right approach. I am not aware of any evidence that the UNITA office in London is engaged in criminal activity. In the absence of any such evidence, there is no basis for closing it.

We have had a similar problem with several other countries where activities are pursued through legitimate organisations in London. Those countries often express anger, bitterness and concern about that. I am afraid that the hon. Lady must say to her friends and contacts that if they have any evidence they must present it and we will then look at it in every possible way, and on a confidential basis. We must have evidence upon which to act.

Could the Minister deal with the point that I raised earlier? What action is his Government taking to put pressure on the South African Government about their military support for UNITA in Angola?

I shall say something about that before I make my concluding remarks. The South African Government have repeatedly maintained, and we have accepted, that they are not supporting UNITA. Senior members of the Angolan Government have told us that they accept those assurances. It is clear that UNITA concealed significant stockpiles of fuel, arms and ammunition in the run up to last year's elections and is not, as in the past, dependent on the support of other states in the region. I am sure that when discussing any necessary measures in September the Security Council will carefully consider all the available evidence on UNITA's supply routes, with the intention of cutting them.

In the meantime, we have been showing our concern for the humanitarian tragedy in Angola by providing a large measure of assistance. The war has caused hundreds of thousands of non-combatants—the hon. Lady said 3 million—in rural Angola to be driven from their homes and into the cities of the coastal strip. They endure much suffering. We have pledged up to £2 million in response to the United Nations appeal for Angola for the purpose of emergency humanitarian relief. Some £800,000 has already been committed to British non-governmental organisations to airlift and stockpile emergency supplies. We are considering the most appropriate channels for disbursing the rest. We have also pledged 3,000 tonnes of food aid through the World Food Programme. Without a political settlement, there are limits to what aid agencies can do to alleviate such hardships. In that context we call upon UNITA to stop frustrating attempts by the United Nations to deliver humanitarian relief supplies to civilians.

A ceasefire in Angola must be the top priority. We shall do all that we can, with the Security Council and in consultation with others, to bring that about as soon as possible. We therefore strongly support the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General's special representative, Mr. Beye, to whom I have referred, to restart a dialogue between the Government an UNITA. I know that Mr. Beye discussed this with the UNITA leader Dr. Savimbi on 8 July, when the latter expressed his willingness in principle to resume the dialogue that was broken off on 21 May.

The Government of Angola have repeatedly made clear their willingness to negotiate, and I call on UNITA to match with deeds its leader's declaration of intent and to negotiate in good faith and so put an end to the suffering of the Angolan people.

Brewing Industry

12.59 pm

The brewing industry, in which I declare an interest, is one of the oldest, proudest and most vital of British industries. We know that barley, the main ingredient, was cultivated in 3000 BC—neolithic times—and in due course a way was found to convert the cereal into a nourishing and refreshing drink which brought cheer to those living a hard life.

Despite the Greek physician Dioscorides writing in the 1st century AD that a British drink
"made from barley and often drunk instead of wine produces headaches and does harm to muscles",
the British people took the drink to heart and to their stomachs, as for centuries it was the only liquid refreshment available to all that was really safe to drink. As Sydney Smith said:
"What two ideas are more inseparable than Beer and Britannia?"
Of course, Burton on Trent is the home and heart land of the brewing industry. A. E. Housman wrote:
"Say for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man."
Burton is still the brewing centre of Britain, with great names like Ind Coope, Bass and Marston's employing 3,000 of my constituents directly. Many thousands more are employed in industries dependent upon brewing—the pubs, the off-licences, the brewing support trades like Briggs, to say nothing of those who provide the services to the brewing workers.

I am privileged to have represented the constituency and the town for nearly 20 years. Despite boundary redistribution and my opposition to Maastricht, I hope to continue that service for many years to come.

Brewing is vital to Britain in a number of ways. Beer is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in Britain today and our beer consumption represents 20 per cent. of the entire European Community total. We spend £13·5 billion per year on it—more than all other alcoholic drinks combined. Beer excise duty and VAT bring the Treasury some ·4·3 billion a year—equivalent to nearly 3p on income tax—and total beer revenue is greater than the combined total of all the other EC member states.

The industry employs 30,000 people nationally, widely spread throughout industrial and country towns and villages in the United Kingdom. More than 500,000 people work in pubs and clubs and, together with the suppliers of services, more than 1 million people—almost 5 per cent. of the total national work force—owe their livelihood to brewing.

The British pub is a national institution, with one third of all adults visiting a pub at least once a week and more than 70 per cent. of tourists to Britain preferring British pubs to their own bars at home.

British brewers have doubled British exports in beer over the past five years; yet, despite the essential nature of the industry and its outstanding performance, I am sorry to have to tell the House that the problems facing the industry are enormous, very largely of the Government's making, and therefore in the Government's hands to remedy.

First, unprecedented damage has been done to the industry by Government interference and the iniquitous Beer Orders, which have cost the industry about £500 million. Since 1989, the brewers have had to sell, or put on long lease, almost 11,000 public houses, and they have had to do so at a time when interest rates were high and beer sales were down, so private buyers were discouraged, and during the worst slump in property prices that anyone can remember.

The result has been a triumph for the industrial planners at the Department of Trade and Industry—fewer breweries, pubs and jobs, less choice for the consumer and considerable damage to brewer-tenant relations as licensees experienced distress and uncertainty with the introduction of new leases.

The brewing industry is strong and has learnt to adapt. There is now a period of stability, which the industry does not want to see disrupted. But the Government made a big mistake, and they owe the industry something.

The second major problem is the decline in the beer market. That has fallen by about 15 per cent. since 1979. Britain has been the only major world brewing industry to lose volume during the 1980s.

The third problem, and a contributing factor to the decline in beer production, has been the ridiculous burden of excise duty. Because it is far too high, it has driven down consumption and is seriously distorting competition in the single market, about which the Government are much concerned.

Tax on beer has risen by 52 per cent. since 1979. The industry has had two duty increases in 1993 alone—5 per cent. in the March Budget, followed by a hidden, although I concede accidental, increase of 2·7 per cent. from the change in the duty collection system. That makes nearly 8 per cent. in all. VAT now accounts for nearly as much of the tax burden, at more than £2 billion, as excise duty does.

Government fiscal policy has discriminated heavily against beer. Its duty has increased in real terms by 31 per cent., while duty on wine has been cut by 26 per cent. and duty on spirits has been cut by 24 per cent. The duty on cider is half the duty on beer.

The tax level is now so high that Mike Hubbard, the general manager of Ind Coope Burton brewery, makers of the fabulous Burton ale, tells me, "We have reached the point of diminishing returns and duty increases are punishing both the industry and the Exchequer. Mike Southwell from Bass tells me that Bass in Burton paid £18 million in beer duty in May this year alone—£550 million from Bass in a full year. The director of the Brewers Society, Robin Simpson, sums it all up as "killing the goose that is laying the golden egg".

Greatly exaggerating the problem is the excessively large differential in beer duty between the United Kingdom and other European Community countries, particularly France and Germany. While Germany pays 4p a pint, France 5p and Belgium 8p a pint, we in Britain have to pay no less than 33p a pint. We produce the second cheapest pint in the European Community and have to pay the second highest duty.

We are now witnessing the utterly preposterous sight of British brewers having to ship their beer to Calais so that British travellers can buy it in French supermarkets and cash and carries and bring it back to England by the lorryload. Because the new personal import limitation has been raised to 110 litres, families of four are bringing back their beer on trailers behind their cars. The hard-pressed customs officers have given up trying to stop that trade, because stopping drugs is more important.

That trade has, according to the Brewers Society, reduced the United Kingdom take-home trade by no less than 8 per cent. during the past year. So much of that traffic is being sold off to cash and carries in the United Kingdom and the financial gains are so considerable that we are in danger of developing an area here for organised crime. There is a massive distortion of competition and a denial of the principles of fair competition enshrined in the concept of the single market, which we in Britain have pioneered. The Government must do something about that quickly.

In his Budget speech in March 1992, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont) said:
"This Government have always sought to reduce distortions in the tax system".—[Official Report. 10 March 1992; Vol. 205, c. 757.]
He reduced car tax by half, and abolished it completely six months later. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the present Chancellor will want to do the same. Beer duty must be reduced as speedily as possible to the European Community average rate. When faced with a similar situation with cheap German imports and a wide divergence in excise rates, the Danish Government did precisely that, slashing rates by 46 per cent.

If that is not done, there will continue to be a decline in yield from beer duty as beer consumption, and therefore production and tax payments, decline. That will have destructive implications for value added tax, income tax, corporation tax, business rates, fuel excise duty and amusement machine excise duty, to say nothing of unemployment or other social service benefits. For example, if 30,000 jobs were lost of the 1 million that are now employed in the industry, it would mean a £90 million loss in income tax and national insurance and an additional cost of some £300 million in benefits.

I see that my hon. Friend the Minister is listening intently. While I am on the subject of tax burdens, perhaps he will bring to the Treasury's attention the harmful effect of changing the system of excise duty and the Government's breach of promise on the fiscal neutrality of the changes in the system.

Instead of charging duty on the level of gravity of the wort—the liquid produced prior to fermentation—the duty is now charged on the alcoholic strength of the finished beer as it leaves the brewery. The industry was promised that there would be no additional cost. In fact, it has cost an extra 3 per cent. in excise duty. Although it is said that a delay in payment offsets that, the one to four week delay that is allowed does nothing like enough to counter the additional cost of the change. Please can that burden be remedied forthwith, in the interests of all who work in the brewing industry?

The industry desperately needs some relief from the burdens that the Government have placed upon it. The industry welcomes the Prime Minister's deregulation initiative. If it leads to less restriction in the licensing law, in its hours and Sunday opening restrictions; if it leads to the lifting of restrictions on amusement machine prizes in pubs; if it leads to the lifting of restrictions on planning procedures or the restrictions of over-zealous environmental health and trading standards officers; if it leads to the lifting of some of the restrictions that have been imposed or are likely to be imposed by EC directives on such matters as waste disposal; and if the Government prevent the increased cost of removing the head of beer, some useful and helpful steps will have been taken to ease the burden on our splendid and successful brewing industry.

I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister has seen my early-day motion which sets out the cost involved in removing the head of beer. It would massively increase the cost to the breweries, as they would have to re-equip their public houses with new glasses.

Above all, we ask for relief from unfair taxation. That is all I ask on behalf of the people of Britain, who enjoy the jobs in the brewing industry, who enjoy our beer and our pubs, and who enjoy our traditional way of life. Long may it continue.

1.14 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs
(Mr. Neil Hamilton)

My hon. And learned Friend the Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) is never more seductive than when speaking, as he has just announced he was, on behalf of the people of Britain. I am delighted that he has used the opportunity today to prevent our departure from this place for the summer recess until we have discussed an industry of great importance to British people, and to me.

As one who grew up in a pub—my grandfather kept a pub for 20 years, and my formative years were spent in that beneficent environment—I have much sympathy with what my hon. and learned Friend has said. Before I gave up thinking for myself and joined the Government, I had been known to express some of the concerns that he has repeated today, so I am grateful to him for the opportunity to speak about the brewing industry.

I am responding on behalf of the Government as a whole, but, as my hon. and learned Friend is well aware, responsibility for sponsoring the brewing industry lies with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. My Department's specific responsibility for the brewing industry includes the Beer Orders and deregulation—both of which my hon. and learned Friend mentioned—consumer affairs, and other competition policy issues.

The policies of other Departments also have a significant impact on the brewing industry, mainly the Home Office and Customs and Excise, both of which were referred to obliquely in my hon. and learned Friend's speech. The extent to which the brewing industry impinges on the policies of so many Ministers and Departments is but one demonstration of its significance to the economy.

As my hon. and learned Friend noted, the British brewing industry is the second largest in Europe and the sixth largest in the world. It has a long tradition of producing beers of outstanding quality and variety, as I can personally attest. Few countries can match us in the range of beers produced—from great cask-conditioned ales to fine lagers, keg beers, stouts, strong ales and barley wines. We also have in this country a great diversity of brewers, from some of the world's finest large brewers to regional brewers of distinction, and to the increasing number of small and micro-brewers, bringing to the consumer a variety of unique quality beers.

One has only to think of the range of beers on offer at CAMRA's annual Great British beer festival to realise the choice available to the British beer drinker—among whom I can no doubt include my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, whose presence here today I am pleased to be able to advertise to the world. This year's festival will offer the visitor over 300 fine ales to choose from.

The British brewing industry is one of the world leaders in developing innovative processes. A fine example of that is the recent technical development of an "in can" dispensing system that provides the consumer with a beer with the taste and appearance characteristics previously found only in draught beer served from the cask. The new products have been widely welcomed by consumers as providing a beer for drinking at home that is very similar in appearance and taste to their draught pint in the pub.

Of course, as my hon. and learned Friend pointed out, the industry is a major employer, with over 40,000 people directly engaged in production and a further 325,000 employed in public houses. In addition, the industry generates a large number of jobs in off-licence retailing, hotels, restaurants and clubs. The industry is also a major purchaser of agricultural raw materials, thereby generating a significant number of jobs in the agricultural sector with its demand for cereals and hops, and in the malting industry, which annually supplies about 650,000 tonnes of malt to the breweries. The brewing industry also creates jobs in other industrial sectors through capital expenditure on beer production and packaging plant, on distribution plant and on retail outlets. In 1991 overall capital expenditure totalled nearly £1·5 billion.

The brewing industry is also important to our balance of trade. It continues to forge ahead in exporting its products in increasing quantities to appreciative drinkers around the world. In 1992 exports rose by 21 per cent. to reach a value of £116 million. That continued the pattern over recent years that has led to an increase in the value of exports from £53 million in 1988—an increase of 119 per cent.

Our partners in Europe continue to increase their imports of British beer, and exports to the other member states constitute approximately 50 per cent. of total exports. American and Canadian beer drinkers have also been consuming increasing quantities of British beers, with about one third of our exports going to those markets.

It is encouraging to see that it is not only the large brewers who have expanded their exports; smaller brewers such as Bateman's of Lincolnshire have also successfully penetrated the export market.

I referred to the number of different Government Departments with an interest in the brewing industry. It is worth making the point that, just as the Government have a variety of interests in the industry, so there is a wide range of interests within the brewing industry itself. It is not accurate to speak of "the brewing industry" as a monolithic structure. It is not; nor should it be. Views about the structure of the industry or the appropriate means of taxation can vary significantly within the industry. This diversity is a strength of the industry, bur. it can make it difficult for the Government to take action that satisfies everyone, which is what we normally try to do.

My hon. and learned Friend referred, inevitably, to the Beer Orders, which I inherited on assuming my current responsibilities. The period since the Monopolies and Mergers Commission report "The Supply of Beer" in 1989 and the subsequent introduction of the Beer Orders has been one of considerable change within the brewing industry.

Much of the change—for example, the introduction of long-term leases for tenants—reflects the long-term trends in the industry. Mergers between brewers and sales of public houses were already taking place before the M MC report, but I have no doubt that the report accelerated the process of change. Similarly, changes to the size and mix of the national brewers' pub retail estates were also taking place before the 1989 report, as was the move to increased numbers of managed outlets.

It is apparent that, even without the introduction of the Beer Orders, the period since 1989 would have been one of considerable change for the United Kingdom brewing industry. It is not easy to separate the effects of the orders from other developments in the market. I have no difficulty in agreeing with the broad thrust of my hon. and learned Friend's remarks. They have, indeed, been a potent catalyst for change. To some it has been welcome; to others it has not.

The Government noted the conclusion of the Select Committee on Agriculture that the Beer Orders have not achieved their desired objective. The Select Committee concluded, however that it would be possible to assess the full impact of the changes introduced by the Beer Orders only in the long term. My right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade made it clear in January that the Government share that view. Consequently, we think that it is too early to draw firm conclusions about the impact of the Beer Orders.

After a period of unprecedented change and turmoil we now need a period of stability in which brewers can get on with their raison d'etre of running their businesses, and tenants and lessees can get on with running their pubs, within the regulatory framework created by the Beer Orders. That is why, earlier this year, my right hon. Friend took his decision that the Director General of Fair Trading should not carry out a full-scale review of the effects of the Beer Orders later this year. I am happy to say that the Select Committee supported the decision and agreed with the Government that it would not be appropriate to intervene at this stage in the regulatory framework governing the brewing industry.

I know that the Minister is taking note of what various Members are saying about the brewing industry. What time scale does he envisage before the Government are prepared to review the Beer Orders?

The Director General of Fair Trading is obliged by the terms of his appointment and the legislation which governs his responsibilities to keep markets constantly under review. Therefore, there is no question of us simply folding our hands, closing our eyes and ignoring developments in this or any other industry. It would be foolish of me to say now that we shall be able to guarantee that date X, Y or Z will be the best time to embark on a review. We shall monitor the position generally all the time.

When we feel, on the evidence available to us, that the time is right to assess the success or otherwise of the Beer Orders, we shall have a review. However, given that they became fully effective only last November, I cannot say when that time will be. If there is evidence of abuse or any other adverse reaction which is caused by the Beer Orders, or which is noticeable even though it has no connection with the Beer Orders, the Department of Trade and Industry is bound to take that into account. But it would be a mistake for us to set a date on which a review will be undertaken as it would inevitably cause greater instability, which is the opposite of what we wish to achieve.

Other opportunities to consider the state of the market will arise, particularly in connection with the review of the block extension under European Community legislation that will be upon us shortly. In deciding whether to compound the previous reviews with the one that is to take place, we considered the fact that to overlay the reviews would place the industry in a constant state of flux and uncertainty. The more that we can do to reduce that, the better.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton referred to the deregulation initiative, which is the jewel in my crown as Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs. I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on his support, not least in matters concerning the brewing industry. Following the Prime Minister's announcement of a new drive on deregulation last year, all Departments have identified priorities for deregulatory action, which formed the basis of a discussion that we had at No. 10 in February.

We have set up seven task forces of business men to advise us on the business which they would like to arise from the deregulation initiative. Thanks to representatives of the brewing industry and others on the retail side, we can take account of all viewpoints on how to cut red tape to reduce business costs and hence make business more profitable, and reduce restrictions on wealth creation and the job creation that goes with it. We have agreed that, in future, all proposals for new regulations must be accompanied by a compliance cost assessment. So we are making progress.

Last week, the Prime Minister chaired a progress meeting on deregulation at which we discussed specific deregulation measures to reduce the burden on businesses. We agreed that an important measure that will deregulate further should be introduced as soon as parliamentary time permits. I have in mind some of the issues to which my hon. and learned Friend alluded as candidates for early action to reduce unnecessary restrictions on brewers and those who sell their excellent product, which we are here to celebrate today. I have noted my hon. and learned Friend's comments about some of the regulations with which the brewing industry is required to comply. I have no doubt that representatives of the brewing industry involved in the task forces have been making similar points.

My hon. and learned Friend mentioned several issues for which I am not directly responsible. Most of them are the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unfortunately, I cannot announce the details of the Budget today.

My hon. Friend is anxious for me to do so, but I fear that it would not benefit the Government as a whole.

My hon. and learned Friend mentioned the distorting effects of cross-border shopping to buy brewers' products. The Brewers Society estimated that in the last six months of 1992 duty paid on imports of beer accounted for some 8 per cent. of the United Kingdom take-home beer market. Following the creation of the single market, the Brewers Society commissioned an independent survey that showed that in the early months of 1993 personal imports of duty-paid beer increased to some 9 per cent. of the take-home market.

However, later figures suggest that the level of such imports has declined. The survey results now show that cross-border shopping accounted for about 7·8 per cent. of the take-home domestic beer market in the first five months of this year. The take-home trade is about 21 per cent. of the total United Kingdom beer market, so the apparent increase between late 1992 and early 1993 was equivalent to a very small part of the total United Kingdom beer market—an increase of about 0·3 per cent.

Beer duty rates, especially as they vary significantly around the Community, can have a significant impact in local markets. One cannot consider them in isolation from other indirect taxes and from other sources of revenue. However, I accept that there is a potentially distorting effect, as referred to by my hon. and learned Friend. The beer duty rates in most member states are lower than those in the United Kingdom. In Germany, Spain, Luxembourg and France, the rate is the equivalent—

Drug Abuse (London)

1.30 pm

I am grateful to have the opportunity to talk about the drugs problem in London because there is no doubt that London is the drugs capital of the United Kingdom. The vast majority of the British drugs trade takes place in and is routed through London. There is also no doubt that the Government, who make such great claims to being a Government who are committed to law and order, have failed to meet the challenge that the drugs trade poses for our citizens in 1993. The Government cannot claim that they are serious about fighting crime until they adopt a serious and co-ordinated strategy for fighting the drugs trade. The Government have not adopted a more serious strategy towards the drugs trade, perhaps because Ministers, in the communities in which they live, do not see the effects of the drugs trade as we do in London's inner-city areas.

I stress that the detrimental effects of the evil trade in drugs are manifold. First, there are the lives ruined by drug abuse, whether those of the drug addicts themselves or those of the young men growing up in communities such as Stoke Newington, where one in two young black males are unemployed. Tragically, they see almost as role models slightly older males who deal in drugs, and who make easy and quick money. That evil role model is wreaking havoc on the younger males and totally distorts the aspirations of some of the young men in our communities. One effect of the drugs trade is the lives that are being ruined, whether those of the drug addicts or those of the teenagers being drawn into the drugs trade.

The second evil effect of drugs is the crime committed by drug addicts, whether it is violent crime or robbery. In addition, many prostitutes practise their trade to obtain money for drugs. A large proportion of the rising tide of violent crime and a large proportion of some of the more mindless crime in our capital city, about which we hear and read every day, are caused by people who are on drugs or who are seeking the money to obtain drugs.

Thirdly, a new but frightening effect of the drugs trade is the increasing use of guns and the increasing incidence of shooting by drug dealers in pursuance of their trade. Those shootings have not been getting the publicity that they deserve. We are going down a frightening road. We know that in New York, Washington and the other big cities of America, the combination of the drugs trade and firearms has meant fear and terror for millions of ordinary people.

The drugs trade has many effects on the problems faced by and the quality of life of those of us who live in London. The Government have failed entirely to meet the challenge. I will raise in the debate issues that are not directly of concern to the Home Office, but I hope that the Minister will pass them on to his colleagues at the Department of Health.

One of the worst things that has happened in relation to drugs recently has been the effect of the Government's policies on drug and alcohol projects. As a direct result of the changes in community care that were brought in by the Government, many drug projects which are working with addicts face closure. The situation is worsened by the fact that, originally, the Government promised that they would ling-fence the money that was available for drug and alcohol projects. The Government went back on that promise, with the result that, as many of us forecast, drug and alcohol projects have found that they are the sector of community care which is most likely to suffer and face closure.

The problems include the fact that far fewer drug addicts are finding their way to drug treatment centres because, under the community care system, there is much more bureaucracy than ever before. Instead of a drug addict checking himself into a project to get help, he must be assessed by a local authority. There must also be an agreement by the local authority to fund the project, and often the money is conditional for a few months. The result is that far fewer drug addicts are finding their way to drug projects where they could find help.

The charity Turning Point has been monitoring 18 drug and alcohol projects since community care came into action. They have found that the numbers of people going into projects have dropped by 42 per cent., or nearly half, as a direct consequence of the bureaucracy that is involved and the unwillingness of local authorities to make funding available under the community care arrangements. As I speak, projects in London that are doing valuable work with drug addicts are on the brink of closure because they cannot get funding in the way in which they were accustomed to before the community care arrangements.

The financial arrangements are another aspect of the community care arrangements that are hurting the treatment and support that we are able to give drug addicts. All the local authorities in the country have transitional funding available to make the change from the old arrangements to the community care arrangements. Unfortunately, local authorities in London—where the bulk of the drug addicts are—have lost out under the arrangements. For example, Islington needs at least £250,000 transitional funding but it received only £104,000. Lambeth needs £323,000 but it received only £170,000. Who is benefiting under the transitional arrangements? The answer is the Tory shire counties. It seems tragic that, in the name of political gerrymandering, the inner cities, with the tremendous pressure they are under because of the traffic in drugs and the problems of drug abuse, have lost out on the money that they need to fund those valuable projects.

I hope that the Minister will pass on to his colleagues in the Department of Health my belief that the Government must examine again the arrangements for community care. At a time when we face a rising side of drug addiction in London, drug projects—far from expanding and developing—are having to close. That is a tragedy for those unfortunates addicted to drugs and for the community.

Of course, not all drug addicts are treated in the sort of projects that I mentioned. There will always be drug addicts whose condition is such that they need to be put into in-patient detoxification units. I wish to draw the attention of Ministers to the poor record of North East Thames health authority in providing in-patient detoxification units. That health authority, which covers Hackney and other parts of north-east London, which have some of the most serious drugs problems in the country, has no in-patient detoxification unit and has to send drug addicts out of the area to other units.

We were promised a 20-bed, in-patient detoxification unit at Homerton hospital, but the health authority is reneging on that promise, for no reason that any of the doctors or health workers involved can understand. I cannot say strongly enough that it is disgraceful that a health authority covering an area with such serious problems as Hackney and the rest of east London is not making basic provision available to treat drug addicts. That in-patient drug detoxification unit was agreed to be essential, especially by people working in the drug dependency unit at Homerton hospital. They are alarmed that the health authority is backtracking on its promise to build the unit as part of developments at the hospital.

I want to take the opportunity to make a plea to Ministers, and through Ministers to the relevant people in North East Thames health authority, to reconsider and meet their responsibilities to the community and to people suffering from drug addiction in the Hackney area.

The drug problem in Hackney is not only a question of treating drug addicts and of the health aspects of addiction; it is also about law enforcement and the role of the police. Londoners find it extraordinary that, at a time when the drug problem in London has never been more acute, the Metropolitan police does not have a London-wide strategy for fighting drugs. Activity is going on in different parts of the Metropolitan police area and much of it is very worth while. Drug dealers are being picked up every day and no one doubts the commitment of ordinary policemen on the beat; but a London-wide strategy on fighting drugs is long overdue. Without it many of us must suspect that, at best, the effort does not have the co-ordination that it should have and, at worst, the police seem happy to contain the drugs trade in certain parts of London, to the detriment of those communities.

It is important for Ministers to understand that the people of Hackney do not want the drugs trade contained in certain areas or tolerated in certain communities. They want the drugs trade swept off the streets of London—every street in London, not just the streets in Hampstead and Belgravia but the streets in Stoke Newington, Dalston and Clapton. The residents of communities such as Hackney, Dalston, Clapton and Stoke Newington are people too. Why should they have to live and bring up their families in areas where one can see people trading drugs on the street?

The Metropolitan police has for years pursued a policy whereby it was happy to contain prostitution in certain areas rather than seek to eradicate it. There is a suspicion that the Metropolitan police has sought to contain the drugs trade in some areas rather than eliminate it altogether.

There are several things that we want the police to do in my part of London. People in my community of Hackney and Stoke Newington strongly feel that there should be more specific operations to deal with problem estates and streets. Every so often, we hear of a highly publicised raid or of the police picking up a larger number of dealers on the street, and then everything goes quiet. People in areas such as Hackney—and, I dare say, in similar areas of London—want a sustained operation to make our streets and estates drug free.

How would the Minister like to he a pensioner or a young woman with a small child living on an estate where he knew that specific flats were being used as retail drug outlets and drug dealers were walking around the estate day and night'? Many Londoners face that situation and the police say that they do not have the manpower, that they are keeping it under surveillance or that they are focusing on the suppliers rather than on the local drug dealers. People in London are not content with containment strategies or strategies that focus on suppliers rather than on drug dealers on the street; we want streets that are free of drug dealers.

Where I live in Stoke Newington, I should not have to see people standing on street corners dealing in drugs when I push my baby in his buggy from my home to the local shopping centre at Dalston junction on a warm sunny evening. That is not acceptable in any community. It is important to stress that all communities in London, whatever their income level or however they are regarded, have a right to be drug free—free of the menace of drugs and free of people openly trading in drugs on the streets. In Stoke Newington, we want to see greater involvement at local level. We have tried to trace drug suppliers, rather than leaving it all to the drug squad.

When we examine the drug problem in London, we are struck by the absence of reliable drugs prevalence data. The number of arrests—the figure is often bandied about —does not accurately show the scale of the problem. If Ministers are serious about fighting a war on drugs, the first weapon in any war is intelligence. We want the Home Office to put more effort and thought into what relevant drugs prevalence data could be collected so that we would have relevant statistics that give a real idea of the incidence of drugs and the changing patterns of drug use. Locally, when police officers arrest drug addicts, we want them to give addicts more information about the services that are available.

When we discuss the drugs trade in London, the questions that arise continually are: first, do Ministers understand the seriousness of the problem; secondly, are they prepared to do what is necessary; and, thirdly, do they understand the need for co-ordination between law enforcement, health authorities and the funding of drug and alcohol projects? A London-wide multi-agency strategy is necessary.

It is important to remember that behind the drug dealers on the street are the suppliers and behind them are the wholesalers—the money men who make the drugs trade work internationally. This is an important point for Treasury Ministers rather than Home Office Ministers: we cannot have an effective war against drugs if we do not make war on the people who are laundering the profits from the drugs trade.

I want the Government—as an individual Government and in their work on the Basle committee on bank regulation—to look at bank secrecy laws and the extent to which those laws, both here and overseas, help the money launderers. It is all very well to target drug dealers on the streets, but they are the end of the chain, and there is more to be done about bank secrecy laws and money laundering.

When the Bank of Credit and Commerce International closed, there was much talk about how it had laundered drugs money. I have no reason to doubt that, but no one should believe that BCCI was the only bank to launder drug money. The Government must take action.

Order. I am sorry to interrupt, but if the Minister is to have any chance to reply, the hon. Lady must close her speech soon as time is running out.

I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

In closing, I shall refer to the recent case of the two female drug couriers who were pardoned in Thailand. I, and many of my constituents, would not go so far as to say that the Government were wrong to seek a pardon for those girls, but millions of people would be concerned if the girls were seen to benefit from their crime by selling their story because those young women are admitted dealers in heroin. The girls were young and gullible, but many thousands of drug couriers in British prisons are also young and gullible. It is a shame that some of the sympathy of the tabloid press for the two young women in Thailand is not spared for some of the thousands of drug couriers in British prisons who are also young and gullible.

The drugs trade is a terrible menace to the quality of life in London. It generates an enormous amount of crime —whether to obtain drugs or to further the drugs trade through the increased use of guns. I do not believe that the Government are co-ordinating sufficiently the work of the different agencies in fighting drugs. The people of Hackney and London want the Government to wage war on drugs. They want not mere rhetoric about law and order but recognition of the scale of the problem in London and a genuine multi-agency effort—a true war on drugs.

1.52 pm

I congratulate the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) on raising this important issue. The Government recognise and share her concerns about the devastating effects that drug misuse can have on people's lives. We are determined to do everything possible to thwart the dealers and traffickers whose one aim is to make a profit—gained at vast human cost.

Drug misuse is difficult to measure. We collect information about the notification of addicts to the Home Office, the seizure of drugs by customs and the police, and the number of people dealt with for drug offences. However, none of the elements is perfect as an indicator of the overall picture. Even when taken together, they give only a general impression of the problem. This year., to improve our assessment of drug misuse, we shall carry out an extensive household survey and analyse the findings of the latest British crime survey. However, even without that further information, we all know that drug misuse is a serious and growing criminal, social and health problem. It is complex and constantly changing.

The Government's strategy is to reduce the demand for drugs and the supply of drugs. Therefore, we support the most vigorous enforcement action against trafficking, the provision of treatment for misusers and preventive education, especially for young people. Our strategy consists of five elements: first, improving international co-operation in order to reduce supplies from abroad; secondly, increasing the effectiveness of police and customs enforcement; thirdly, maintaining effective deterrents and tight domestic controls; fourthly, developing prevention publicity and education; and, fifthly, improving treatment and rehabilitation. That strategy is so important that it is co-ordinated by a ministerial sub-committee chaired by the Lord President.

The Home Office is responsible for co-ordinating the measures which give effect to the Government's strategy. I have particular responsibility for drug misuse policy and work closely with colleagues responsible for health and education, and those from the Foreign Office and the Scottish and Welsh Offices.

Is the sub-committee studying the effect of community care on drug and alcohol projects?

The sub-committee will want to look at all subjects that impact on drug misuse in the community. It will want to hear representations that people make through their Members of Parliament, and therefore to Ministers, on what are the real problem areas. If the sub-committee determines that that is a problem area, we can look forward to action on it.

Although it is difficult to quantify the resources allocated to the Government's strategy, they have been calculated to be about £500 million a year. The success of our strategy depends on the commitment not just of Government; it also demands much of local authorities. That was why we set up the drugs prevention initiative in 1989, to respond quickly and effectively to local concerns and to stimulate, encourage and support ideas or work to prevent the spread of drugs misuse.

Twenty teams have been set up in high-risk areas. Six of those teams are in London—in Brent, Hackney, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham and Southwark. Each team has £75,000 per annum available to provide grants to prevention projects in its area. There are currently more than 200 such projects in London. Since 1989, more than £11 million has been spent on the initiative. Almost £650,000 has been spent on prevention work in schools. The success of the initiative has been confirmed by evaluation and research and we intend to identify good practice and ensure that it is replicated.

I shall talk for a moment about the work and achievements of one of the teams which I have mentioned, and of which the hon. Lady will be particularly aware. Since being set up in 1991, the Hackney team has supported more than 60 projects in the borough and provided more than £150,000 in grants. The team works closely with the local council, health authority, police and community organisations. It has helped to collate one of the United Kingdom's largest collection of drug information and training materials in local libraries. A drugs education adviser was appointed with team support to help schools to develop programmes and policies for tackling drug misuse. The team supported Project Charlie, a rare example of a drugs prevention programme for younger children in three local junior schools. It supported tenant-led plans to reduce drugs misuse on the Baggerston estate and several other areas of the borough. It is currently working with the Dalston city partnership to develop a drugs and crime prevention strategy for the city challenge area.

That multi-agency approach is one which has been wholeheartedly embraced by the police officers involved in fighting the menace of drug misuse. They recognise the importance of working with the local community to tackle the problem at its roots—by reducing the demand for drugs. The importance of the role which the police play in educating people—especially the young—about the dangers of drugs cannot be overestimated. But they also know how important it is to bring to justice those who supply the drugs. That is why the work of the Hackney drugs prevention team is backed up by the hard-hitting measures taken by the police to combat drug dealing in Stoke Newington. Operation Tean, which has been running for nine months, is only one of many police initiatives in the area. More than 60 dealers have been identified by surveillance operations and a large number of them are now in custody.

In Operation Welwyn, the very successful operation to clean up the King's Cross area, surveillance and the work of undercover officers has resulted in almost 100 dealers and users being arrested. But that is only half the story. The local authorities in Camden and Islington have made a commitment to build on the successes of that police operation by making environmental improvements—better street lighting, better traffic flow and cleaner streets.

It is the responsibility of the Government to support and enhance the efforts on drug dealing by making international efforts, by providing clear and effective laws and by making the necessary resources available. We have a good story to tell. The Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently awaiting Royal Assent any hour now, toughens up even further the law on confiscating drug traffickers' assets. All over the world, law enforcement officers—those at the sharp end of the fight against drugs—will tell people that the ability to get at the profits of those who take part in this evil trade is one of the most effective weapons in their armoury. We shall ensure that the provisions in the new Act are brought into force speedily.

We have also taken action to ensure that our laws controlling the trade in precursor and essential chemicals —the substances necessary to turn the raw material into the finished product—are tough enough. We are the first country to implement the relevant European legislation, thanks largely to a splendid degree of co-operation on the part of the British chemicals industry.

The Government are determined to tackle the problems of drug misuse with all the powers at our disposal. We shall not cease to seek out those who control the evil trade of drug trafficking. We shall not be deflected from finding ways of inflicting the maximum punishment on them and their associates and we shall never accept the inevitability of drug misuse.

M1 (Widening)

2 pm

I am extremely grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me a few minutes of the House's time on this extremely important subject—probably the most important subject that my constituents will have to tackle over the next few years as the widening of the motorway proceeds.

Let me say at the start how grateful I am to my hon. Friend the Minister, in a relatively new post, for replying to the debate, and indeed to his predecessors, my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Carlisle) who is fortunate enough to carry the same surname as myself, hence our close co-operation, and before him Mr. Christopher Chope, whom my hon. Friend and I remember with much affection, and who laid the ground work for the widening of this important road.

The M1 is at the spine of England. It was built in 1959 and now carries about 140,000 vehicles per day through my constituency. I fully support the proposed widening of the road as I believe do the majority of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House, many of whom, enjoying the pleasure of my constituency but cursing the amount of traffic, realise that the road needs widening and some improvement has to be made to one of Britain's major highways.

Coming into the debate this afternoon, some of my colleagues were wondering why we were proposing to widen the road only from three lanes to four. Given the current debate on the M25, which could be as many as seven lanes either side, perhaps we should build more lanes now to ensure that the M1 remains the spine of England.

Some 25 per cent. of the traffic that passes through my constituency between junctions 10 and 13 is heavy lorries. I am grateful to the British Road Federation, which has provided me with statistics and expressed anxiety that the improvements are completed as quickly as possible. There has been a considerable increase in traffic, and the motorway is important to the industry and to the economic well-being not only of ray constituency but of the entire country. For that reason, we certainly welcome the proposed improvements.

There is some concern, voiced mainly by Bedfordshire county council and those who live near the motorway, about whether this will be the end of the roadworks. Perhaps my hon. Friend will confirm that the new four-lane motorway will take traffic until the year 2006, when we may have to consider a further increase in size. Whether my hon. Friend and I are still here is another matter, although I am sure that you will be, Madam Deputy Speaker.

However, one has to ask whether, after going through the hassle of the next two or three years—we appreciate that it will be a difficult time—future generations may curse us for putting in only four lanes. Perhaps we should have made it even bigger, but that is another subject on which I shall not detain the House.

I shall concentrate my remarks on the stretch of motorway between junctions 10 and 11, which goes through a heavily populated area and affects many houses. According to the Department's figures, some 1,600 houses and households could be affected by the widening of the motorway—those in the immediate vicinity by the loss of their homes and by blight on their homes, and those further away by increased noise and nuisance. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) has also been involved in the deliberations, and we are anxious to represent the best interests of our constituents during the next few years, which we both know will be a difficult time.

Three factors bother my constituents—noise, nuisance and the pollution caused by the increased traffic. This magnificent new motorway, the first of its kind in Britain, was built in 1959, and some of the early pictures of it show the occasional lorry on the horizon. Those who live near the motorway have been described locally as the forgotten people because at that time, although those who lost homes were compensated, it was never envisaged that it would carry the amount of traffic that it does today.

My constituents have been extremely tolerant of the noise and nuisance that they have had to suffer. Some of them have their back gardens, nay their bedroom windows, close to the road, and the traffic it carries has increased dramatically during the past few years. Noise levels, about which my hon. Friend may know more than I do, have at times risen above the recommended level of 70 decibels. The great fear is that, despite the Government's admirable efforts to reduce noise and pollution, traffic increases will lead to increased noise levels.

We shall soon be facing not only the long-term nuisance of the traffic but the short-term nuisance of contractors' vehicles and machinery. My constituents are concerned that their sleep may be shattered by the noise that goes on. They share my anxiety that the work should be undertkaen as quickly as possible, but many of them, some of them night shift workers in local factories, are worried that they may find it difficult to sleep during the contracting work.

For that reason, I make no apology for emphasising that we are particularly concerned about the noise level. The noise barriers that will be erected must be the most up to date, a subject on which much research has been undertaken. If nothing else comes out of the debate, those barriers, and other noise relieving measures, must be in place before the contracting work begins. Residents will suffer from contractors' noise and the inevitable hammering and excessive noise which, at a conservative estimate, will continue for between 18 months and two years.

The Department of Transport has hinted that it may be possible for noise barriers to be erected before the contractors' work takes place, particularly in residential areas, and if that is done, my constituents will be grateful. They view with some horror the prospect of vehicles in and around the area and the noise and nuisance that they will create. If barriers could be installed at the start of the work, it will be of enormous benefit to my constituents, and will, I hope, bring them some peace and quiet.

I hope that the final decision about the barriers is made as late as possible. I hope also that the barriers will be the most up to date and aesthetically acceptable. Most people have been impressed by the barriers that have been proposed so far and the layout that the Department has put before the public. Having said that, we are anxious to ensure that the barriers are the most modern and sound absorbent available.

The road surface is very important when considering noise. My hon. Friend will know that, with 140,000 vehicles—who knows what the figure will be when there are four lanes—going by people's houses every day, the noise level is considerable. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Minister nodding in agreement. I hope that he will have some comfort for my constituents.

I know that compensation is not strictly within my hon. Friend's responsibility, but I know that he cares about it. The district valuer has already made decisions about the value of properties under the Land Compensation Acts of 1961 and 1973. I appreciate that it would not be fitting for my hon. Friend or myself to become too involved in individual cases. Obviously, we hope that the district valuer will be fair—I am sure that he will be—in compensating my constituents. It is a strange enigma that we are still looking at values on the basis of a market that has fallen considerably.

It is difficult to explain to constituents whose homes were worth a considerable sum some time ago that not only has the value of their home fallen out of bed—to use the popular phrase—but that they will not receive the compensation that they expected to receive when the rumours were going around two years ago about the widening of the road. A public relations exercise must take place.

The Department at Coventry has been extremely helpful and sympathetic. It has tried, where possible, to ensure that those who have to be compensated are compensated fairly. My hon. Friend will know that those most affected are the 16 or so who will have to lose their homes. In fact, the number may have increased since my hon. Friend and I corresponded about a certain cul de sac.

As my hon. Friend knows, the compensation for those who lose their homes is the current value of the property plus 10 per cent. In France, 40 per cent. is given in compensation rather than 10 per cent. My hon. Friend knows of my strong and tough line on public expenditure, but, if the road is to be delayed because people are not offered adequate compensation, some additional help might have to be considered, although probably not as much as the French propose. I would hate to see the road delayed because of a penny-pinching exercise by the Department, through the district valuer, in not giving people the compensation they need to find alternative homes.

It does not happen to many of us, and let us hope that not too many people are involved in this, but the heartache of having to lose one's home, particularly for the older generation, is considerable. Some people who have come to me have lived in that area for some time, and suddenly find that their homes are to be bulldozed away. They are the most distressed, and we must look after them.

To lighten the load on my hon. Friend, I can tell him the story of an older lady who came to me during the inquiry on the proposals at Dunstable. She remonstrated with me about the proposal, which meant that her house would have to be knocked down. I assured her that we would do everything possible to compensate her. She was not satisfied with that and kept remonstrating with me and with officials from the Department.

I eventually persuaded her to look around the exhibition and then come back and have another chat with me. She was still very upset about losing her home, but her rather elderly husband came to me quietly and said, "Mr. Carlisle, I shouldn't take too much notice of what my old lady was saying to you; we've been trying to sell this house for 30 years, so we're actually delighted to get out of it." So there is another side, and there may be those—although they are very few—who will not be sorry to leave the area.

Blight, which is the second aspect of the basis for compensation, is one of the most difficult factors to evaluate and compensate for. My hon. Friend the Minister knows that there will be many blighted properties in the area, not only because of the noise but because of the future value of the properties after the road has been extended. Compensation will be given for loss of gardens and for the fact that the road is closer to homes, but, as my hon. Friend will realise, property values are bound to drop, yet there seems no mechanism by which compensation can be given for that.

People whose homes are relatively distant and who will be affected mainly by noise will be able to get compensation only when the road has been built and noise levels have been assessed. Then help may be given towards double glazing or some other form of sound insulation. I must tell my hon. Friend that that is a difficult story to sell to constituents who know that, assuming that the public inquiry goes through fairly swiftly—I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that it does—the road is scheduled for 1995, or whenever my hon. Friend has in mind, so they will have to wait until that time for compensation for any increase in noise. That seems a long time to wait.

In the few moments left to me, I shall touch briefly on how the rural area in my constituency between junctions 11 and 13 will be affected. We are worried about my hon. Friend's hints that the Thame-Stevenage bypass—an important road—will be delayed for some time. My villagers in Toddington and Chalton are somewhat disappointed by hints from the Department that that road is still some way off. However, it has been scheduled, and public consultation is taking place, so I hope that on that basis my hon. Friend will consider planning some form of junction, albeit south of junction. 12.

It would seem prudent for the Department to consider at this stage where a junction, either on to the motorway or over it, might be sited. The Thame-Stevenage bypass is badly needed by my constituents, especially those who live in the north of the town and in some of the surrounding villages, and I urge my hon. Friend to ensure that provision is made for bridges, and that we know as soon as possible where they will be.

Apparently junction 12 will be enormous—I hope that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, will forgive me for going into so much technical detail, but I know that my hon. Friend will understand what I mean. The junction could be of advantage to some of my constituents in business terms, but there is much local opposition to its size. Hints have been dropped that it could be made a little smaller, and my hon. Friend should consider that idea sympathetically.

The villagers of Toddington and Chalton are anxious not to be too greatly affected by the works. They hope that the problem of traffic passing through will be alleviated as much as possible, and that consideration will be given to a Toddington bypass—my hon. Friend will already have taken that idea on board. The people of Flitwick and Westoning, too, see the development as an opportunity to obtain a bypass in their area. Those attendant matters are most important to my constituents, but I do not wish to enlarge on them at this stage.

The noise, the compensation and the basis for it, and the blight on the landscape, are the main concerns. I fully support the road, in the interests of the national economy, as do most responsible citizens in my constituency, but if my hon. Friend can find a way of alleviating the problems that I have outlined, it would be of enormous benefit to my constituents and to people in the surrounding area.

2.19 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) on gaining this important debate. It is important for his constituents and it gives me the opportunity to lay out some of the thinking in the Department of Transport about the sensitive issues which can impinge on the lives of many of our constituents for many years. I am delighted at my hon. Friend's enlightened attitude in accepting that doing nothing is not an option in the circumstances. I am grateful to him for welcoming the road improvements.

As my hon. Friend pointed out, Bedfordshire county council has an interest in this. Indeed, I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, South (Mr. Bright) and for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel). My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South-West brought a delegation to see me about other matters in his constituency. Inevitably, we cannot ignore the knock-on effect of such schemes on traffic and communities. Incidentally, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am sure that you will be here in the year 2006, as will my hon. Friend. I fully intend to be here then. Whether I shall still be talking about the M1 through Luton is entirely open to speculation.

I accept that, between junctions 10 and 11, we have a heavily populated area and that many households will be affected. I shall come to noise in a moment. First, I should like to reassure my hon. Friend that one of the most important roles of the Department of Transport is to communicate with those who may be affected to make sure that they know what we are seeking to achieve and how we plan to achieve it. We shall pay great attention to communications and public relations during this programme.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the compliment he paid to my officials in Coventry. He gives me the opportunity to echo it. All Department of Transport staff, whether in Marsham street or in our regional offices, do their level best to ensure that the schemes that we put in place are not only acceptable, but beneficial. After all, each one of them is on the end of some other road building programme or has transport needs of its own.

My hon. Friend is right that a large number of houses will be affected by noise. However, we have estimated that more than 800 properties in my hon. Friend's constituency can expect to experience a reduction in noise levels after the opening of the widened M1 because we are using the most modern techniques in noise abatement. That, too, must be borne in mind. That estimation includes road surface as well as engine noise. I have given careful consideration to that. There is also the question of noise barriers and earth mounds through Luton. There will be some seven miles of them on the M1. We cannot always put them up in advance, but we shall endeavour to do so wherever we can.

Double glazing for protection against traffic and construction noise is available in accordance with our standard rules on where it is required. It can be installed in advance, which may be of some comfort to my hon. Friend's constituents.

I know that my hon. Friend is rushed but may I urge him seriously to consider installing double glazing in advance? It would be of enormous benefit and comfort to my constituents.

It certainly can take place; I am grateful to my hon. Friend for intervening. Clearly, it is a matter of great importance. If he will give me time to look into that, I shall see what further I can do to communicate with those who may be affected the method by which they can apply for that help. I know that some people find that a problem.

Under the proposals that we published last autumn, some 65 properties could lose at least some land. The owners were contacted individually and an experienced official was available at the exhibition in Luton to advise people on their rights to compensation. Many local residents expressed the wish to move in advance of the works, and are being assisted by the Department where our criteria are met.

Some 70 applications for the purchase of properties between junctions 10 and 15 have been received, and 38 have been approved. Incidentally, three quarters of the applications were from the Luton area.

My hon. Friend mentioned the area's long-term needs. Dual four-lane standards may not be able to cope with continuing traffic growth in the long term, so we are considering further studies to identify long-term needs and how they can be met. My Department is often accused of short-termism. That is most unfair, because we spend an enormous amount of time, make great efforts and apply professional skill to trying to think, as far as we reasonably and legitimately can, into the future.

The 1989 White Paper, "Roads for Prosperity", announced our expanded road programmes, the main element of which was the widening of some 600 miles of motorway and improving more than a third of the motorway network. The widening of the Ml, with 10 proposed schemes over 145 miles between the M25 and Sheffield, is a significant part of the total.

The objectives of the national roads programme are to assist economic growth, improve the environment, enhance road safety and obtain maximum value from the existing network. Motorway widening is intended to help meet all those objectives. It emphasises the existing capacity needs of routes and tries to minimise the impact on the environment. Wherever practicable, we seek to improve the conditions of those who live near existing motorways.

For example, the Department of Transport is the biggest planter of trees in this country. We plant some 500,000 trees and shrubs a year, which is more than the Forestry Commission plants. All our new schemes will bring substantial economic, safety and environmental benefits to road users.

Much of the M1 was opened to traffic in the late 1950s and early 1960s. It is now heavily congested, and carries as many as 150,000 vehicles per day in places. Up to a quarter of this traffic is heavy goods vehicles—a higher proportion than the national average. At peak times, extensive queues develop in the Luton area, particularly on uphill sections and at junctions. Congestion regularly occurs.

As my hon. Friend acknowledges, we need to widen the Ml.

I did not mention the basis of the public inquiry. I know that my hon. Friend will be subjected to a public inquiry. Will he ensure that it is carried out as speedily as possible, because those of my constituents who are waiting to see what compensation will be available and what the future will hold will be held back if the inquiry is unnecessarily delayed?

Yes, I can give that assurance. Furthermore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are seeking to speed up the delivery of such schemes without infringing on people's democratic rights to put their case and make objections. We recognise the need to speed up the process because the average time to build or improve a road is far too long.

Coincidentally, I am today announcing the publication of volume 11 of the design manual for roads and bridges on environmental assessment. Environmental considerations must play a full part in the design of new roads. We are committed to ensuring that environmental impact is given full weight alongside other costs and benefits of road schemes.

That updated version of the manual sets out the general principles that should guide environmental assessement and will mean formal assessment requirements at key stages in the development of trunk road schemes—before programme entry, at public consultation and at the point of publication of the environment statement. It applies to all future studies and all schemes that subsequently enter the roads programme. For schemes currently being prepared, the revised guidance will be prepared on a scheme by scheme basis.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that part III of the manual, which deals with disruption due to construction, covers many of the points that he has raised. The effects on people and the natural environment that can occur between the start of pre-construction work and the end of a contract maintenance period, for example. are covered. That section of the manual describes the appropriate level of assessment at key stages that covered, for example, the localised increase in noise, vibration, dust and dirt and the loss of amenity due to the presence of construction traffic.

My hon. Friend has made representations before about roads in the area. He visited my predecessor only in May of this year. I know that the concerns of the residents of Toddington and Chalton, for example, have been listened to with great care by my Department, but we must progress in that partnership, as a partnership it is, if we are to improve our roads, the quality of life and the prosperity of the country. We must proceed with care but some determination, and a great sense of realism about the needs. As I said earlier, doing nothing is not an option.

District Auditor

2.32 pm

Everybody would agree that there is no place for corruption in public life and no one in the House would be expected to support it. However, there are increasing problems with the role that we have reserved for the district auditor—and with the fraud squad—which is clearly exemplified by recent events in the two boroughs of Westminster and Brent. Four years have passed since the district auditor began to investigate allegations that Lady Porter, while she was leader of Westminster council, abused her position to try to achieve political change in several key marginal wards in the run-up to the 1990 election.

As I recall, when the district auditor investigated events at Lambeth and Liverpool councils, the issues concerned were resolved in the best part of a year. The councillors who had acted contrary to Government policy and had incurred extra charges because of it were found guilty, were debarred and were out of office in a year of the events for which the investigations took place. That has not been the case with Lady Porter and those around her. We have seen a systematic attempt to delay the district auditor's investigation as leading members of the Conservative-controlled Westminster council have refused to meet the district auditor when requested to do so and meetings have been put off to such an extent that the district auditor had to invoke his powers to command their presence.

I do not know how far that inquiry has gone. The last furnished bit of evidence about Lady Porter that came to my attention was an article in The Guardian on 3 March 1992:
"A Whitehall source told the Guardian the district auditor's inquiry is finely balanced between surcharging her up to £4 million with a disqualification from public office for five years, and severely reprimanding her for misconduct."
Another year or more has gone by since then and yet it is still not possible for the district auditor to publish his findings. The reason for that has now become clear. Many of the documents that the district auditor wished to examine to see whether Lady Porter and her close cohorts had been breaking the law were shredded by the chief executive of Westminster council, who was appointed by Lady Porter and is her close confidante.

It is completely unacceptable that a senior public official of a major local authority should shred documents that the district auditor needs to investigate the possible corruption of local government and public funds in excess of £4 million. I wonder what would have been said if Ted Knight and Derek Hatton had refused to meet the district auditor and the chief executives of Lambeth and Liverpool had been shedding documents.

As well as speeding the district auditor on his way in Westminster, we should now look for a full public accounting of activities of the former chief executive Bill Phillips, although I have already raised the matter in an early-day motion. Fortunately, in other departments of Westminster council, it has been possible to find duplicates of many of the documents that were shredded. I hope that we shall soon see a clear resolution of the problem. Clearly the district auditor's powers have not been sufficient to enable him to proceed with the investigation in a reasonable time and to allay public concern and fears.

The second—much more murky—question concerns what has been going on in Brent. Everyone will be aware of the hilarity of some of the antics of the council since the Conservatives took control—for example, the calls for female circumcision in Britain, which completely wrecked a meeting designed primarily to discuss education cuts.

We must also look in some detail at what has been happening to the council's finances. Following the 1990 election, Brent council was a huge council. It developed a Conservative administration when a succession of Labour councillors were persuaded to cross the floor. One of those interesting characters was Councillor Harshad Barot, who had previously been convicted of fraud following a successful attempt to get from the council a housing improvement grant to which he was not entitled. He managed to keep that quiet and was elected to the council. When the truth emerged following his election to the council, he was suspended by the Labour group, and the council set up an investigation.

While the investigation was under way, further problems arose with Councillor Harshad Barot. The Brent Asian Professionals Association, of which Mr. Barot was the director, suddently discoverd that thousands of pounds and computer equipment had disappeared. Once again, an investigation was launched. Lo and behold, Councillor Barot decided to resign from the Labour group and to sit as an independent.

By then, some Labour people had been persuaded to defect, and what was then the Conservative majority on the council voted to discontinue the investigation. Surprise, surprise—Councillor Barot has voted with the Conservatives on every occasion since. Moreover, he actually voted with the Conservatives, at a council meeting, to stop the investigation into his case. That runs contrary to all local government law. When it was suggested that the matter should be referred to the district auditor as a case in which a councillor had voted on a matter in which he had a direct financial interest, the council, under the Conservative leadership, voted to accept Councillor Barot's explanation, which was that he had turned his hearing aid off by mistake and did not know what he was voting for. That beggars belief, although one admires the man's imagination.

Councillor Barot still serves on the council. The thousands of pounds lost by the Asian Professionals Association have never been found and its computer equipment has never turned up. No satisfactory explanation for any of this has ever seen the light of day.

Another little gem is the case of Councillor Judith Harper, who resigned from the Labour group in protest at what happened when she became homeless. She was offered a flat on the local Stonebridge estate—which she represented as a councillor—but decided that it was not adequate for her purposes. She went to the Labour group and said that it should take up her case and ensure that she received a better offer. When the Labour group refused, saying that there was no reason why she should be offered anything better than anyone else, Councillor Harper promptly resigned. The leader of the council, Councillor Bob Blackman, suddenly decided that there might have been a grave injustice in the case and said that he would investigate it personally. Lo and behold, Judith Harper voted with the Conservative administration thereafter. Then—wonder of wonders—it was decided that another offer should, indeed, be made, and a nice home in a leafy road in Barnet was found for her through a housing association.

There the matter would have lain—and that was bad enough—had it not subsequently been discovered that Judith Harper already owned a house in Brent. She had gained further accommodation completely illegally. When the matter was raised by the Labour opposition, Councillor Harper suddenly announced her resignation from the council—the day before she was due to be interviewed by auditors from the housing department. Far from saying that here was an outrage and that he would send the papers to the fraud office or the district auditor, the council leader, Councillor Blackman, said that Councillor Harper had been hounded out of public life by a wicked Labour campaign. One wonders what he would have said about Asil Nadir or the other sundry crooks who now seem to litter the political scene.

Those two were, in a sense, the small fry. The two big fish were Pauline Nyaga and Councillor Nkechi Amalu-Johnson. They managed to defect from the Labour group after one year, while it was suspending both of them and investigating various unsavoury aspects of their political views, such as their support for !di Amin and their weird proposals to sack all Asian staff and replace them with Africans. By sheer miraculous chance, Councillor Bob Blackman, the leader of the council, suddenly decided that those two people were fit to be the chair of housing and the chair of environment. With those appointments came a personal assistant, an additional attendance allowance and the provision of a council flat for Councillor Nyaga to conduct her advice surgeries from. It is an amazing thought that if that should become a national practice. about 60,000 council flats would stand empty while councillors conducted a surgery in them once a week.

Councillor Amalu-Johnson's chairmanship of the housing committee did not last very long following the arrest of her son. It was discovered that he had been rehoused by a community group dealing with the needs of African women after he had been evicted from his Brent council flat. It seems rather embarrassing that the son of the chair of Brent's housing committee owed £6,000 in arrears, but that did not cause Councillor Blackman to bat an eyelid.

Equally depressing for Councillor Blackman was the discovery that Councillor Amalu-Johnson owed the council more than £6,000 in the form of a car loan that she had been given when an employee of the social services department. The council took its normal proceedings and started action to recover the car loan after several years. Lo and behold, on the day that the case came to court, who should turn up to defend her but the deputy leader of the council, Conservative councillor John Warren, who said that he was just there as a friend. It is interesting that friendship should stretch to helping a colleague, but we must remember that Councillors Amalu-Johnson and Nyaga were still voting to keep the Conservative group in power.

It is a difficult question. One must depend on what people say. I know that deals have been in the news this week, but where immediate financial rewards flow they become rather dubious. The biggest problem resulted from Councillor Blackman's promise to those two defectors that, if they changed sides and started to support t he ories, they would be given a £1 million community centre in Chapter road. That was an interesting project; so interesting that Councillor Blackman authorised Brent council's public relations department to issue a press release about the wonders of the organisation that was going to take it over.

The local community association—a group that was also bidding for the property—conducted an investigation and, amazingly enough, virtually all the people on the list of directors of the proposed African community centre turned out either not to exist or to be uncontactable. Let me run through the names to give hon. Members the flavour.

A Mr. Yeshie Abele listed his address as 1A Westview close, NW 10, which turned out to be a false address. No telephone numbers were listed on the public relations handout from Brent council and none of the names could be found in the telephone book—quite remarkable. Mr. David Mkwawa, the chair of the group, was another characer who was not living at Westview close. He was eventually traced to Tottenham, where he refused to give his telephone number. Jonathan Cook, who was listed as the secretary, had given his address as Technic house, which is completely untraceable. Clive Townsend, who was listed as the treasurer, was said to live at 53 Wyndham avenue, W13, which also turned out to be a false address, and he was not on the electoral roll. His claim to he chairman or marketing director of Power Silver United Kingdom Ltd. and two other companies proved hard to confirm when none of those could be found in any list of companies or telephone book. The public relations officer. Thomas Heard, who was listed as living at 28A Burgess avenue, had a problem; that property turned out to be empty.

The other names on the list are equally entertaining. A man who listed himself as "Ambassador" Isaac Jacob Sagay at an address in Maida Vale could not be traced and the Foreign Office protocol department has no record of that name on any diplomatic list. Mrs. Barbara Beyder of 23A Canterbury road, Morden, Surrey is not in the telephone book and cannot be traced. Dida Halake of 41 Ansleigh place, W11 is not in the telephone book. The public relations department of Brent council claimed that he was a founder of the Ladbroke grove Methodist supplementary school, yet the Methodist school and colleges department and the Methodist central office have no record of that school or that person.

It is a remarkable list of non-existent people who are taking charge of a £1 million community centre as a reward for swapping their party allegiance. This is a fit and proper matter for the district auditor to investigate—or at least the fraud squad. However, it gets difficult: who said what to whom at meetings?

Fortunately, there were some people with integrity in the Conservative group in Brent and there was a major effort, in the run-up to the annual general meeting of the council this year, to replace the Conservative leader and deputy leader of the council, Councillors Blackman and Warren. That would have been successful—they would have been defeated by one vote. We all know the importance of one vote in the Chamber. However, as Conservative councillors arrived at the annual general meeting, Councillor Blackman announced that he had admitted two new members—the aforementioned Harshad Barot, who is the benefactor of doubt on a grand scale, and another Labour councillor who had defected, Mr. M. Patel. I have nothing to suggest anything unsavoury about why he should have defected.

The Conservative members of the group turned up and found that there were two new members whom they had not voted to admit and who had not yet become members of the Conservative party because their applications had not been processed. Lo and behold—Councillor Blackman and Councillor Warren survived by one vote the challenge to their leadership.

I am not saying for one moment that all Conservative councillors are corrupt. But this is corruption on a grand scale—the dangling of a £1 million community centre before a couple of people, one of whom is now facing 16 charges of fraud. Nkechi Amalu-Johnson is facing 16 charges of fraud after her brief conduct as chair of the housing committee. Councillor Blackman defended her throughout that period and Councillor Warren, the deputy leader, turned up to defend her in court against his council's action to try to reclaim the money.

The examples of Westminster and Brent are not typical of the Conservative party, any more than they are typical of the Labour party or the Liberal Democrats. However, it seems that the powers of the district auditor are wholly inadequate to deal with the people who have managed to resist and drag out an investigation for four years in Westminster. The chief executive of Westminster is prepared to shred documents that the district auditor needs.

Certainly, when we get into the nightmarish jungle of the politics of Brent, with such bribery and vote-buying taking place continually at meetings, and with completely fictitious lists of people circulated on the orders of the council leader, Councillor Blackman, as the beneficiaries of the £1 million community centre, which was to be a reward for the defection of Nkechi Amalu-Johnson and P. Nyaga, there is nothing to say except that it is corruption. It is the use of public votes to buy office and hold office. It involves a complete double standard that is totally unacceptable. The district auditor should be investigating the personal financial details of all the people involved to see what moneys have changed hands and where Hashad Barot's missing grant has gone.

I am not simply attacking Conservative councillors. When I was the leader of the Greater London council, I received information that one of my members had tried to use his influence to get preferential treatment in gaining a commercial letting. The day that I discovered that, the papers went to the fraud squad and I urged the fraud squad to deal as harshly as possible with that individual. When I heard rumours that four members of the last Labour-controlled council for Brent had intervened in planning applications to benefit themselves, I went to the fraud squad and asked for an investigation. My position is absolutely clear. I have opposed corruption by Labour members on councils with which I have been involved and I expect the Conservative party to do the same with its crooks.

2.49 pm

The speech of the hon.Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) was a good, end-of-term political knockabout which I am sure will read well in the next issue of Tribune.

We are determined that local government will perform to the highest possible standards of public life and public accountability, irrespective of party complexion or political control. We expect local authorities and local councillors to act within the law and to seek to uphold the best traditions of public life in this country. One of the means to enable us to achieve that objective is the district auditor.

The district auditor has a number of duties in addition to those associated with a normal audit. The auditor of a local authority has a statutory duty to consider whether spending is legal and proper, and whether economy, efficiency and effectiveness—value for money—have been achieved through the use of public funds. While the auditor does not question policy, he considers the effects of policy and examines how policy decisions are reached. He considers whether decisions were reached with appropriate authority, and on sufficient and reliable financial data. If he concludes that the policy has resulted in financial loss, the auditor can apply to the court to have those responsible surcharged.

The auditor's powers are substantial. He can identify recommendations in a management letter which is presented at the conclusion of the audit. The local authority must consider that letter at a full council meeting and must respond publicly. The auditor must have the right of access at all reasonable times to all such documents relating to the organisation whose accounts are required to be audited. Any person who, without reasonable excuse, fails to comply with any of the auditor's requirements shall be liable to a fine and an additional fine for each day on which the offence continues.

The auditor has powers to make any report on any matter that comes to his notice in the course of the audit. Such reports must be considered by the local authority involved. If the auditor believes that an item on the account is unlawful, he can appeal to the courts for such a declaration, and if an item of account is declared unlawful the person authorising that expenditure may be required to repay it. If it appears to the auditor that a loss is due to wilful misconduct, he can set about recovering the amount from the person or people responsible. A member of any local authority who authorises an unlawful sum in excess of £2,000 shall be disqualified from being a member of a local authority for five years.

It is evidence of the auditor's impartiality and the effectiveness of the system that, in recent years, the district auditor has published reports on local authorities of different political complexions. Public interest reports are made for a number of different reasons, so the issue of a report cannot necessarily be interpreted as a criticism of the authority involved.

Let us consider the past three years and the London boroughs involved. In 1990–91. reports by the district auditor were published in relation to the following boroughs; Hackney, which was then Labour controlled; Lambeth, which was then Labour controlled; Camden, which was then Labour controlled; the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames, where there was no overall control; Ealing, which was under Conservative control; and the London borough of Tower Hamlets, which was controlled by the Social Democrats. Therefore, any suggestion by the hon. Member for Brent, East that the district auditor is partial in the way in which he applies his powers is totally unfounded and discreditable.

Last year—1992–93—the district auditor published reports on the London borough of Haringey and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which were both Labour controlled. But he also published reports on other local other authorities around the country, including at least two which were controlled by the Liberal Democrats, one which was controlled by the ratepayers association and the residents association, and one which was controlled by independents.

We are determined that the district auditor will perform his duties. He has considerable powers. We are determined that there will be the highest possible standards of public life. I have every confidence that the district auditor will investigate fully any allegations of malpractice in any local authority. Were he to conclude that any of the allegations were true, it would be for him to take consequential action.

The hon. Member for Brent, East was quiet on whether he had referred any of the complaints about Brent to the district auditor. On the question of Westminster, all he did was to read out some tittle tattle from press cuttings. I very much hope that if he thought there was any evidence relating to any local authority, he would refer it to the district auditor.

It is strange that, of all Labour Members, it is the hon. Gentleman who is seeking to uphold the standards of local government. After all, it was under his stewardship that the GLC's precept rose by 118 per cent. while inflation rose by just 14 per cent. Indeed, local government has not caused as much disappointment as the GLC. Even Labour Members were forced to acknowledge that it had been rightly described as the slowest bureaucracy this side of the Kremlin and the sooner it was abolished, the better.

Of course, the Labour party in London valued the GLC because it was prepared to finance lunatic left-wing activity. That source of funds for bizarre extremist groups has dried up and no longer is the hon. Gentleman able to lavish money on such bodies as the Marx Memorial library and Babies Against the Bomb—[Interruption.] It is very sweet of the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) to turn up as the political minder of the hon. Member for Brent, East. Indeed, if the hon. Gentleman were making speeches on my patch of local government I, too, would turn up as his political minder.

When the hon. Member for Brent, East was leader of the GLC, he actively boasted that it had more billboards than any other advertiser in London and that it had the best sites. He said that the Labour party could never have access to such funds as the GLC had. Therefore, I do not think that the House is prepared to take lectures from the hon. Gentleman about how local authorities should perform. Indeed, local authorities in London spent about £20 million—

No, I will not. The hon. Gentleman wallpapered about 15 minutes' worth of Hansard with ailegations, using parliamentary privilege to do so. When he had the stewardship of the GLC in 1984–85, it spent £20 million on Labour propaganda—[Interruption.] If hon. Members cannot read the Order Paper, let me tell them that the debate is about the role of the district auditor. It is about standards in public life. It is a timely reminder that, when the Labour party had control of the GLC, its standards were despicable. It was the hon. Member for Brent, East who declared:

"Fighting alongside the miners we can create the conditions for a general strike to defeat the Tory Government."
Of course, during those times in Lambeth there were instances of funeral cars carrying white feathers being sent to those who wanted to set a legal budget—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Leicester, East, who sits on the Front Bench and exhibits such mirth, might like to reflect on something that is a sober fact for the Labour party as it disappears for the summer recess. Last week, there was a by-election in a safe Labour ward in Lambeth and the Labour party lost.

I do not think that the House will take any lectures from the hon. Member for Brent, East about public standards and public life. Of all Labour Members, he is the most disreputable when it comes to local government. I suggest, not that he spends the recess lying down in a dark room, but that he takes a happy walk in the countryside and has a good holiday. Perhaps he should take one of the DOE Ordnance Survey maps and go for a long walk along one of the routes formed by the Countryside Commission that was established and funded by the DOE. Then, hopefully, when he returns to the House in the autumn he will be in a position to make a more sensible and balanced contribution to the debate.

I wish you, Madam Speaker, and every hon. Member a very happy recess and hope that we can all find a newt.

I can take no points of order as it is now 3 o'clock. Our debates are now concluded, but as a message from the Lords is expected, I am required to suspend the sitting until the Royal Assent to Bills passed by both Houses can be signified. I understand that this may be a matter of several hours. I shall arrange for the bells to be rung five minutes before I intend to resume the Chair.

3 pm

Sitting suspended.

7.15 pm

On resuming—

Royal Assent

I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Acts and a Measure:

  • Appropriation Act 1993.
  • Finance Act 1993.
  • Education Act 1993.
  • Criminal Justice Act 1993.
  • Agriculture Act 1993.
  • Highland Regional Council (Wester Bridge) Order Confirmation Act 1993.
  • Pwllheli Harbour (Amendment) Act 1993.
  • Allied Irish Banks Act 1993.
  • Leeds Supertram Act 1993.
  • Incumbents (Vacation of Benefices) (Amendment) Measure 1993.
I wish all those here and those who are not present a happy and relaxed holiday.

It being seventeen minutes past Seven o'clock, MADAM SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to Resolutions [16 and 26 July], till Monday 18 October.