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Commons Chamber

Volume 282: debated on Wednesday 24 July 1996

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

House Of Commons

Wednesday 24 July 1996

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[MADAM SPEAKER in the Chair]

9.34 am

On a point of order, Madam Speaker. During the course of preparations for today's Adjournment debate, in which hon. Members can raise various matters, I and my hon. Friends the Members for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) and for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) have been most concerned about the deficit of East London and the City health authority. In attempting to compare that deficit—of over £30 million—with those of other district health authorities, I tabled a question to the Secretary of State for Health.

That question has been answered and printed in Hansard this morning. I shall not read out the question, but it was about deficits, which is a very important matter for the health service across the country. The answer states:
"The information requested is based on estimates subject to revision. It is not suitable for publication."—[Official Report, 22 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 121.]
Every hon. Member is familiar with answers containing such expressions as "not centrally held", "disproportionate costs" and "placed in the Library", but the answer "estimates subject to revision"—which is given all the time in response to questions on finance, taxation and public expenditure—is not a reason for withholding information.

Furthermore, the phrase
"It is not suitable for publication"
is an addition to the canon of unhappy excuses that sometimes comes from the Executive.

Madam Speaker, what are the appropriate means by which I can draw that matter to the attention of others? If the practice is more widespread, perhaps my raising this point of order will encourage other hon. Members who have received similar answers to take similar action.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order, and I have seen the question and answer to which he refers. As he knows, however, the Speaker is not responsible for the content of ministerial answers. There are many ways in which hon. Members may pursue what they consider to be unsatisfactory answers, such as, for example, in Adjournment debates or by raising the issue with the relevant Select Committee. It is my understanding that the Select Committee on Public Service is currently inquiring into ministerial accountability. The hon. Member might help that Committee with its inquiries if he were to put the matter to it.

Adjournment (Summer)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House, at its rising today, do adjourn till Monday 14 October.— [Mr. Wood.]

9.37 am

There are three urgent and important issues I want briefly to address. Each of them merits a ministerial response before the House rises for the summer recess.

First, I want to raise Lord Rix's moving plea, in a letter to the Leader of the House, for a fair wind for his Disabled Persons and Carers (Short-term Breaks) Bill. His Bill won unanimous support in the Lords and I was delighted to be asked to sponsor it in this House. In doing so I have the support of right hon. and hon. Members of all parties, large and small, none of whom saw any justification whatever for the blocking of the Bill by a Government Whip when I presented it for Second Reading on 12 July. That our procedures can allow that to happen where a Bill has already been unanimously approved in another place is surely wrong and should be immediately reviewed.

While I cannot now discuss its terms, the Bill, as its title implies, is one to help disabled people and their carers who, hugely to their detriment, never go beyond their own homes. As Lord Rix pointed out in his letter to the Leader of the House, of the 130,000 adults and children with severe learning disabilities living with their families, four out of five never receive short-term care provision to relieve the pressure of full-time care in the family home.

All I will say today, as Lord Rix did in other words in seeking the right hon. Gentleman's help, is that this is bad for the disabled person, bad for carers and bad for the taxpayer.

As is accepted in other legislation on disability—not least that which I had the good fortune to bring to this House, both as a private Member and as a Minister—any failure to give the disabled person and the carer a break hastens the day when it will no longer be possible to cope at home, making long-term institutional care the only option at far greater cost to the taxpayer than that of facilitating short-term breaks. Carers may be among the most admired people in this country, but they are also among the most neglected. Helping them is not only a moral and social priority: it also makes economic sense.

While it appears on today's Order Paper only as a remaining order, the Government have it within their power to let Lord Rix's excellent Bill through this House before we adjourn for the recess. It is about a small step forward that, in Lord Rix's words, would
"add a touch of compassion and understanding to the Government's record."
He might justifiably have added that, for the Government to refuse to let so uncontroversial a measure through this House, would be both self-defeating and inhumane.

The issue is not one that divides one side of the House from the other. The divide is now one between the Government and both sides of the House, and I implore the right hon. Gentleman to do all he can to help the Bill forward. Meanwhile I must inform him that, if he is not able to assist its supporters today, I shall be seeking to discharge my commitment to the Bill in full by bringing it back to the Order Paper of this House on every remaining sitting day of the current parliamentary Session.

I turn now, again briefly, to the very deep sense of injustice that persists among people with haemophilia and their families. The tragic fate of three brothers explains why they are so aggrieved. All three had haemophilia. Two were infected with HIV by contaminated NHS blood transfusions and died of AIDS-related illnesses. The third brother was infected with hepatitis C by NHS blood products and died of liver failure. The two brothers infected with HIV received help from the Macfarlane Trust, funded by the Government, and were able to make some provision for their families. But their brother, infected with hepatitis C, went to his grave having been refused that help. He was unable to make any provision for his family.

All three brothers had become terminally ill and died from the same cause: contaminated NHS blood products. But one was denied help given to the other two brothers by a Government who provided £70 million for people infected with HIV and set up the Macfarlane Trust to give them continuing support. The Government accepted their moral responsebility in the case of HIV infection. They have the same responsibility now in the HCV cases.

It is argued that compensating those infected with HCV would take money away from patient care in the NHS. To say that is to get not just the wrong end of the stick, but the wrong stick. For the payments made in the HIV cases, including those to the dependants of people who subsequently died because of AIDS-related illnesses, came from contingency moneys, which is what the Haemophilia Society is asking for now for the hepatitis C victims. The society simply wants the terms of reference of the Macfarlane Trust to be extended to include them.

Measured against the pain and suffering endured, the claim is an extremely modest one. Hepatitis C attacks the liver and is life-threatening. Current medical opinion is that up to 80 per cent. of those infected will develop chronic liver disease. Of these, some 20 per cent. will develop severe liver problems such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. More than 50 of those infected by contaminated blood products have already died and the death rate is accelerating.

This further tragedy in the haemophilia community dates back to before 1986 when heat treatment was introduced to end the contamination of NHS blood products. But by then 3,100 people with haemophilia alone had been infected with hepatitis C. In recognition of the scale of the problem, an all-party early-day motion was tabled, in my name, urging parity of treatment for people infected with HIV or HCV. The motion has now been signed by more than 260 right hon. and hon. Members, a majority of all Members of Parliament who are free to sign such motions. As the list of signatories shows, the issue is treated not as one of right and left but of right and wrong.

In none of the many campaigns in which I have been closely involved in this House in my 32 years here have I had so strong a sense that it should not be necessary to campaign to right such an obvious wrong. The Government know we are right and that our campaign is entirely free from party animus. They know, too, that if given the nod by Ministers, this House would settle the issue within an hour. That hour could and should be found before the new parliamentary Session begins. If there is no commitment today to finding it and the campaign has to go on, then go on it will until justice is achieved for people who simply want equitable treatment.

I turn now, thirdly and finally, to an issue of urgent concern to all long-term sick and disabled people and those who work with and for them. I refer to the implications of a judgment given by the Court of Appeal in what the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation—RADAR—describes as
"one of the most important cases to date on the rights of disabled people to community care services."
The court ruled that, when a local authority has agreed that a disabled person has needs for care services under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, the authority must meet those needs and cannot take its own budgetary constraints into consideration. This landmark ruling was given in a judicial review judgment against Gloucestershire county council in relation to its treatment of a disabled pensioner, Michael Barry, in withdrawing home care services from him, among 1,500 other disabled people in the county, claiming that a Government squeeze on funds was responsible for the cuts.

The Court of Appeal's judgment, as John Keep of RADAR who played such an admirable role in helping Michael Barry to achieve the judicial review has reminded me, is totally in line with the guidance given to me as the Minister for Disabled People about the legal effect of section 2 of theAct.

I set out that guidance in this House, for the information of right hon. and hon. Members and local authorities, making it crystal clear that to reduce or withdraw a service under the section without diminution in need, was plainly unlawful. That is what the Court of Appeal has now ruled and it is, in my view as the author of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, urgently necessary for Ministers to issue guidance to local authorities about the implications for them of the court's ruling.

Clearly, service users whose needs have been assessed under the Act now have an undoubted right to have those needs provided for, and many thousands of disabled people up and down the country who had their services withdrawn or reduced for financial reasons are now entitled to have them restored. And they must quickly be identified and informed of their rights and entitlements. That there should ever have been any misunderstanding about the mandatory effect of the Act after my statement to the House is all the more disturbing when one learns that the legal guidance given to me as Minister was repeated by their legal advisers to all my successors in the post over the past 17 years.

The essential need now, however, is to ensure that no local authority is left in any doubt about its responsibilities as decided by the Court of Appeal. The right hon. Gentleman, whose genuine commitment to disabled people has so often been expressed, in opposition and government alike, fully appreciates the urgency of the call I am making to his ministerial colleagues on this issue and he needs no reminding of its importance to chronically sick and disabled people all over Britain.

9.48 am

I am conscious that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I shall be extremely brief. There is an element of continuity in the events to which I shall refer. I spoke in the Adjournment debate before the Easter recess in 1995 on the subject of Bart's, and I wish to return briefly to that subject. I shall dwell only on that single issue.

Some 30,000 people in south Hackney and south Islington, as well as my constituents in the City of London, have been adversely affected by the proposed move of Bart's to the Whitechapel site. Although the hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) referred to East London and the City health authority, it is ironic that in 1993–94 Camden and Islington used more general medical beds at Bart's. That also has some relevance to present circumstances.

I shall ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House a single question at the end of my speech, so he does not need to take elaborate notes of the events that I wish to place on record. The easiest way of describing events since late 1995 and early 1996 is to quote the first two paragraphs of a letter from the two relevant community health councils—Islington and City and Hackney—to the Secretary of State on 22 April this year:
"Just over a year ago the accident and emergency department at St. Bartholomew's Hospital closed. Assurances were given in writing by East London and City Health Authority, which agreed to the closure, that general practitioners would have direct access to the local hospital for their medical patients. In reality this has proved extremely difficult with obstacles being put in their way whenever they have attempted to get people admitted. This has led to people from south Islington, south Hackney and the City being sent down to the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel where they have had to wait sometimes for many hours before being admitted and in some cases transferred back to Bart's for admission.
In the autumn City & Hackney CHC learned from unofficial sources that there were plans to close the general medical beds at Bart's at the beginning of February 1996 so terminating entirely the services available to local people. This was confirmed just before Christmas. The enclosed letter,"—
which I shall not quote—
"objecting in the strongest terms to the proposed bed closures, was sent to the General Manager of East London and City Health Authority. These closures had not been consulted on and were contrary to the agreement that the Health Authority had made with the Royal Hospitals Trust following its decision in March 1995 to go ahead with the plans set out in its consultation document, Health Services for the Future. The Royal Hospitals Trust maintained it was quite safe to close the beds because there had been so few admissions over the past 12 months. The reasons why are explained above."
There was then a two-month gap before the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Horam), replied on 18 June 1996, with what was an essentially procedural answer on the subject of consultation. He did not dwell on the substance of the letter. I fear that the absence of any reference to its substance did nothing for morale either at Bart's or in the area to which I referred, and that is a subject on which I have commented before.

No doubt, cost has played a role. There are rumours that the special trustees at Bart's are being pressed for any money that can be used to help the Royal Hospitals trust. There is a degree of irony in that, as the conventional wisdom was that the backstop of the special trustees had previously allowed Bart's to get into lax financial ways.

That was clearly a belief in the Department of Health, as my right hon. Friend, now Secretary of State for National Heritage, made clear in comment after comment to me in 1992–93 before Bart's took itself in hand so rigorously and effectively.

It is, however, cost pressure that I want primarily to raise as a matter that should detain the House from adjourning until it is settled. The matter is urgent because there are rumours that the Government would like to sign the private finance initiative contracts relating to the hospital in Whitechapel in October, which may well be before the House returns.

My question to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, of which I have given him brief notice, is whether there have been any modifications—either upwards or downwards—in the cost stated in the outline business plan submitted by the Royal Hospitals trust in 1994 and approved by the Secretary of State for Health in 1995 in the invitation to bid for the private finance initiative and, if so, what are the percentage changes. My right hon. Friend will recognise the significance of that query from his past service in the Department of Health.

A final irony is that, early in July, I asked the parliamentary doctor for an appointment before the House rose. The only appointment available was at noon today. We NHS patients take opportunities and imperatives when they are offered to us. If it should prevent me from being present in the Chamber when my right hon. Friend replies to the debate, I apologise. I also hope to be present when my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) raises the subject of D'Oyly Carte, a cause with which I am also associated.

9.54 am

Just before the parliamentary recess, or what my brother-in-law persists in calling the parliamentary recession, we have the opportunity either to deal with the particulars—and we have heard important particulars from the previous two hon. Members who have spoken—or to speak in more general terms. I shall turn to the latter and reflect on what one may call the state of the nation as the Government stagger with great relief to the recess, having lost a number of Ministers on the way.

The Government's major concern is to survive. We have endured the politics of survival for some considerable time and that is not in the interests of the country. Therefore, it is to the state of the nation that I shall address one or two remarks and on which I shall make some reflections.

I was spurred to raise the subject by yesterday's exchange between the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition during Prime Minister's Question Time. My right hon. Friend asked the Prime Minister:
"Does he agree with his Chancellor's recent statement that he can see circumstances in which he would recommend that Britain joins a single currency during the next Parliament?"
The Prime Minister replied:
"We have made the position on a single currency entirely clear."
So my right hon. Friend continued:
"Can he, like his Chancellor, see circumstances in which he would recommend that Britain join a single currency during the next Parliament—yes or no?"
The Prime Minister replied:
"Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can tell the House whether he agrees with the argumentation in the pamphlet that I have here".—[Official Report, 23 July 1996; Vol. 282, c. 142.]
That exchange was extremely significant. The Prime Minister's response was astonishingly evasive, and one is bound to ask why. Why could not the Prime Minister give a straight answer to a straight question? If it were the case that in not even the most theoretical circumstances could the Prime Minister see a case for entering the single currency, he is surely deceiving our partners because, by remaining in discussions, he is implying that—if the circumstances were right, if the various convergence criteria were met, and if it were deemed to be in our national interests—he would be prepared to recommend to the House that we should join a single currency. However, he could not even say that he would do so in those theoretical circumstances. Why was that? He was in the awful position of having to look over his shoulder and say to left and right, "Have I done well? Have I answered correctly?" He was in the difficulty of not daring to identify his policy on that issue.

The Government's broad position is absolutely correct, however. The decision need not be taken for some years hence, when the circumstances may have changed and Britain can take a decision rationally on the basis of the configuration of countries and circumstances at the time. Why does not the Prime Minister at least say, "Yes. If the circumstances were correct, I would be prepared so to recommend"? The fact that he is not prepared to do so not only amounts to a deception of our partner countries, which let him and our Government into discussions on the basis that, if the circumstances were right, we would join, but is highly indicative of the state of the nation and of British politics.

The man in the street surely thinks of the Prime Minister as fundamentally decent. but with a wholly impossible balancing act to perform. He is seen as someone who is trying to hold together a party that is fundamentally divided. I have tried to find a character in Greek mythology who was in the same position. I recall one who was suspended between heaven and earth because neither would receive him. I thought of Sisyphus or some other character. I am sure that the Greeks would have conceived of some person on the rack or in circumstances alike to the Prime Minister's at the moment. He is certainly tortured as rivals position themselves for the post-election struggle for the leadership.

All serious commentators surely agree that this Parliament is already dead and that, effectively, we have already embarked on an election campaign. There will be some disagreement on when the Parliament died. Was it when Britain was forced out of the exchange rate mechanism, just after the then Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Thames (Mr. Lamont), so eloquently told us about its advantages? With a certain political amnesia, he is now bidding us to forget the eloquence of the speeches that he made shortly before the forced withdrawal. Certainly, for several months, the Government have been paralysed and Parliament has been dead. It cannot be right for the country that there is such politicking and paralysis in policy.

I travel fairly extensively and discuss matters with parliamentary colleagues on the continent. It is already clear that, in respect of the intergovernmental conference, a number of our partner countries are seriously considering putting relations with the United Kingdom on hold so far as is possible because they perceive the Government as a lame duck. Our partners are looking forward to a time after the election, whatever the result may be, when they can deal with a Government who are prepared to govern. I know of that position from very highly placed sources. That is sad and cannot be good for this country.

On politicking, we know that we shall return after the spillover session to an abnormal Queen's Speech. It will effectively be the Government's manifesto. It will be a shop-window Queen's Speech because, realistically, the Government will not be in a position to put into effect many of its proposals. In November and December, we shall be dealing with some Second Readings and the Budget, and in January and February, the Government will find it very difficult to get many of the ideas through. The Queen's Speech will be a parading of theory and not really relevant to the country's problems. It will be more relevant to the Government's wishes to be re-elected and their desire to encourage the country to view the form of their policies.

As the election campaign becomes shriller and more intense over the recess, it cannot have the traditional themes that the Government prefer, such as law and order and the wicked Labour party that is in thrall to the trade unions. Given our policy, that can hardly be a credible position to put before the country. One fears, therefore, that the theme chosen will be the flag and the idea of wrapping oneself in it over foreign policy. One fears a rather nasty campaign against foreigners, especially our European partners, along the lines of those in the popular newspapers that follow the Government. At home, alas, the flag will relate to the devolution policies of the Labour party and all other parties, with a slogan about the break-up of the United Kingdom.

We are, of course, in a world of slogans. "New Labour, new danger" is parroted in Prime Minister's questions like a music hall act. That is not serious politics. Serious questions need to be addressed in relation, for example, to the future shape of the United Kingdom. The Conservative party, under Disraeli for example, stole the clothes of Mr. Gladstone when it saw the way in which the Liberal party was addressing issues surrounding the urban working classes. Disraeli said that we must educate our masters and sought to address real problems. This Government are paralysed; they will not debate or try to address issues such as the Scottish and Welsh questions, which concern identity. It should be recognised that there are already clusters of government in Edinburgh and Cardiff that are not accountable. There can be a serious debate on how to address that. One cannot simply run away, chant slogans and pretend that such problems will go away.

Alas, over the next nine months, this country is likely to be afflicted by the politics of Micawberism. The Government are hoping that something will turn up. There is a smell of decay and a feeling of the end of an empire. We have heard about the Premier club and Mr. Beckwith, a gentleman who is bidding for Ministry of Defence houses and, as we are now told, is interested in buying Benefits Agency buildings around the country. Mr. Beckwith and others with the right amount of money are gaining access to the Prime Minister's ear. This smell of decay, paralysis, Micawberism, drift, this lame-duck Government, are surely bad for Britain—alas, they are likely to last for another nine months.

10.6 am

I hope that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) feels a lot better for getting that off his chest. It was a peroration reminiscent of John of Gaunt on his deathbed. I shall not attempt to follow him, but I wish him an extremely happy holiday.

I direct the House's attention to a matter that I consider to be of particular concern. I refer to a headline in yesterday's edition of The Daily Telegraph, which said, "Backwoodsmen save asylum Bill".

Of course I do. I emulate the hon. Gentleman's wonderful example. However, I shall not allow him to distract me.

I refer to the headline because I think that it highlights a matter that ought to be of acute concern to all parliamentarians: the relationship between the two Houses, especially the future of the House of Lords. It is a great pity that we are adjourning for the summer recess and returning for a brief spillover session without provision for a debate on the constitution. The other week, the other place had a very fine two-day debate on the constitution, in which many admirable speeches were made—not on both sides of the argument but on every side of it, since it is a many-sided and multi-faceted argument.

We trifle with the delicate balance of our constitution at our peril. The Labour party's proposals are fraught with danger. However, my main reason for addressing the House is that I do not believe that one can defend the automatic right of every hereditary peer to sit, speak and vote in the House of Lords.

I speak as one who basically believes in the composition and powers of the House of Lords—the powers are about right. It is a revising Chamber, a Chamber with the power to delay and to tell us to think again. It has been an extremely good institution over the past 17 years. On a number of occasions, particularly in the days when we enjoyed a very large majority in this House, the House of Lords told us to think again. In doing so, it often exercised collective wisdom of a high degree of excellence.

I think in particular of the House of Lords' rejection of the War Crimes Bill. We were most unwise to override it on that occasion. Nevertheless, when we overrode their lordships, we were doing what was constitutionally proper. It was entirely legitimate for the Government of the day to override the Lords' decision on the basis that the will of the elected House should not be superseded. That is an admirable constitutional doctrine, to which I subscribe.

However, I do not subscribe—the Leader of the House will not be surprised to hear me say this as I have said it to him privately—to using so-called backwoodsmen to vote down what is manifestly the desire of a majority of the active, participating peers in the other place. I do not want to debate the merits of the Asylum and Immigration Bill this morning. Those who were present for the debate know that I am sympathetic to the three-day amendment that came from the House of Lords. Again, I do not question the constitutional propriety of the Government's attempt to overturn that amendment. Had the Lords inserted another amendment on Monday of this week, and had we debated it today, it would also have been entirely legitimate for the Government to try to persuade their supporters here to disagree with the Lords in their amendment.

However, it is most unwise, although constitutionally perfectly proper, to bring into the Division Lobbies in the other place peers who rarely attend or take part in the deliberations there and who come up specifically to vote after a debate in which they have taken no part. Of course they have the right to vote, just as Her Majesty the Queen has the right to refuse the Royal Assent to any Act of Parliament that we pass. No monarch since Queen Anne has exercised that right, and it would provoke a constitutional crisis of the utmost magnitude if Her Majesty ever did so. I believe that a similar reticence ought to possess many of the hereditary peers.

I happen to believe also that the House of Lords as constituted now has a great deal to commend it. I should hate to see it become the creature of placemen and party. The Cross-Bench element contributes enormously to our constitution, consisting as it does of men and women of great eminence and distinction debating issues on their merits without feeling that they have to look over their shoulders to party bosses or constituents. That has a great deal to commend it, too.

The active, regularly attending hereditary element in the other place, who include some extremely able young men and women, make a real contribution as well. By way of reform, and following the precedent of the Acts of Union of 1707 and 1801, I should like the hereditary peers to be confined to a certain number, selected on a basis to be agreed—perhaps elected by themselves. They include, as I say, many who are diligent in their attendance, eloquent in their contributions and emphatic in the mark that they make.

I must tell the Leader of the House, at a time when the whole future balance of Parliament is at issue, that it is unwise in the extreme to call out these "backwoodsmen" for particular votes such as the recent one.

Quite so. Again, I do not intend to discuss the merits of that argument. Suffice it to say that, in respect of the asylum arrangements, I was on the side of the Lords; on nursery vouchers I suspect that I would not be. That is neither here nor there. Using constitutional mechanisms that are in place is one thing; bringing out the backwoodsmen is quite another. By dint of those two recent unwise actions the Government have inflicted a wound—I sincerely hope not a fatal one—on the House of Lords.

I want the hereditary element to remain—in a monarchy it is important that it should—but I do not want every hereditary peer automatically to have the right to vote and speak in the House of Lords. I certainly do not want those who rarely exercise that right to be called in to rescue the Government from time to time.

I have felt moved to raise this subject above all because I deplore the fact that we have not had an opportunity to debate the constitution and the roles and positions of the two Houses during this Session. I hope that, when we come back in October, my right hon. Friend will be persuaded to postpone Prorogation for just one day so that we can debate these matters. Failing that, I hope that we shall have a debate at the beginning of the next Session.

10.15 am

Like the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack), who had the guts to put his vote where his mouth was, I thought the rejection by this House of the three-day Lords amendment was a disgrace to our country. Meanwhile, I should like to ask five succinct questions.

My first question relates to the United Nations resolution on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. As the Leader of the House will know, the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, of which I am not a member, is being taken by its Chairman to Buenos Aires in the recess. I hope that there will be serious discussions with our colleagues on the matter of what they can say there about the question of sovereignty. There is a real opportunity to listen to what is being said in Argentina about this delicate subject. Judging by what we heard from Guido Di Telia, this morning on the radio and in person about two months ago, it appears that there is some kind of constructive solution to be had. So, before the whole thing goes sour, let the Government take action.

My second question relates to Iraq. Are the Government entirely happy with the seemingly unending mission led by Rolf Ekeus? In the Whitsun recess, the hon. Member for South Staffordshire led an all-party heritage delegation to Stockholm, where we naturally spent time talking to our Swedish colleagues. It emerged that people in the know in Stockholm—to put it at its very gentlest—entertain doubts about their colleague Ekeus and believe that the time is ripe for a change. It is certainly clear that his personal relations with the Iraqis, not just with the inner leadership, have become appalling. It is also beyond dispute that infant mortality in the Tigris and Euphrates valleys is so dreadful that it shames humanity. We are almost as far from the Gulf war now as we were from the second world war when we put Germany back on its feet. I therefore hope that the Government will take another look at that appalling human tragedy.

My third question concerns Cuba. It is perfectly clear to some of us that any pressure to stop trading with Cuba has nothing to do with the merits of the case and everything to do with internal American politics. I draw the attention of the House to Sunday's talk by Alistair Cooke. There is also a great deal of other evidence pointing to the idea that attitudes to Cuba reflect the internal situation in the United States. I do not see why British industry and trade should be disadvantaged.

The fourth issue concerns Libya, a subject on which I have had so many Adjournment debates. During the recess, can thought be given to a matter raised by President Mandela's delegation, which concerns the whole of Africa? Would not the situation be brought to a head by a trial in The Hague or, as has been offered, in South Africa itself? Otherwise, it will go on for a lifetime.

I am not in any way anti-American, but one does notice that Iraq and Libya were traditionally British markets, and that decision-makers in those countries were educated at British, not American, universities. However, it is British, and not American, industry that is losing out in those Arab countries. I hope that the Government will no longer act on the instructions—I think that that is the right word—on Libya given by Washington. Otherwise, the present situation will continue. The sanctions will be maintained—sanctions which, incidentally, are totally ignored by the Germans, the Greeks, the Italians and the French, while Britain and British industry lose out.

Finally, I wish to raise the matter of airport and aircraft security. Throughout this Session, I have endlessly raised the subject of the Lockerbie disaster of 1988, which led to major reviews in aviation security by both the British and American Governments. Eight years on, experts and campaigners for improved safety agree that it is still possible for bombs to be smuggled on board aircraft.

Among the specific measures that feature in post-Lockerbie reports, and which will now be readdressed by the investigation into the TWA flight if a bomb was to blame, is baggage reconciliation, as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation in 1987. Its implementation is mandatory in the United Kingdom from this year, but is limited elsewhere. The rather grandiose term for the vital process of ensuring that every bag loaded on board is matched with a passenger is still a long way from being carried out around the world. Airlines are particularly vulnerable to baggage being transferred from connecting flights, and the bomb may make the whole journey while the passenger does not. Eight thousand bags a day are lost worldwide—yes, 8,000 a day. Is that not proof that reconciliation is just not working? How can people talk about baggage reconciliation and safety in those circumstances?

The second recommendation was made in the 1989 report "The Lessons of Lockerbie" by Paul Wilkinson, security expert from St. Andrews university. There is no worldwide watchdog organisation on air travel that has teeth. The UN's International Civil Aviation Organisation can make recommendations but has no power to enforce them. Wilkinson and his colleagues say that that does not have to be the case, and see the same organisation's International Atomic Energy Agency as a working model. Critics in the US highlight the fact that the body responsible for enforcing safety, the Federal Aviation Authority, also has the job of promoting air travel. It may be a little difficult to do both, and the Government should think about that.

The final recommendation—that better security equipment be provided—was made by Sheriff Principal John Mowat at the 1990 fatal accident inquiry into the Lockerbie disaster. Its implementation has been limited. Systems similar to supermarket bar codes, which would aid baggage reconciliation, are being introduced only gradually. Mowat said that better X-ray machines might have detected the Lockerbie bomb and—although one must not jump to conclusions about the TWA disaster—might have detected bombs elsewhere. Many people are concerned about that matter. Standards have improved in some airports, but many others have done very little.

I ask that serious consideration be given this summer to the kind of international authority proposed by Paul Wilkinson.

10.24 am

I will be as brief as I can, and I am sorry that I have not given my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House notice of the point that I wish to raise. Before I do raise the matter, I cannot let go the crass statements and nonsense from the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) about the Prime Minister's statement on the single currency, and implications about the hon. Gentleman's Government. Those need to be answered and hit hard.

The Prime Minister has—not once, but many times—stated at the Dispatch Box and elsewhere that until we know the terms of a single currency, the Government will not make a statement about what they feel about it. Any person who believes that he can make a proper statement without knowing the facts is dealing in Alice in Wonderland politics. If the Government decided that a single currency was in the nation's interests, there would be a referendum. That is clear, and needs no argument.

No. The hon. Gentleman has had his say. He implied that the Government are on their last legs, but what is the alternative? He said that it is time for a change, but a change to what? Higher inflation? We have the lowest inflation in western Europe. Higher mortgage rates? We have low mortgage rates, and they are always higher under a Labour Government. Higher unemployment? Unemployment has been falling for four years, and it is always higher at the end of a Labour Government than it was at the beginning. We must know the alternative, and we must ensure that it is branded properly.

I wish to return to my main point, and again I apologise for not giving notice to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I much object to the interference by an Opposition Front Bencher in what is an entirely constituency matter in Woodbury Salterton. The hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) gave me no notice of his question on the Order Paper, and that is wrong. He may be the Opposition's agriculture spokesman, but he should have the good manners to let me know what he is taking an interest in. If the hon. Gentleman had come to me, I could have told him what he is seeking.

The position is that rendered carcases and meat from non-BSE cattle are being stored in Greendale Barton in Woodbury Salterton. Any cattle with the disease, or from an infected herd, must be incinerated. That is the law, but a Liberal councillor is trying to create fear by criticising the Government, claiming that they are not doing their job properly by allowing the placement of this rendered material in a large agricultural store, which has been in existence now for 15 years or so, before being taken for incineration or disposal. That disposal cannot be done immediately, and there is not enough capacity to deal with the problem at the moment. The material must be stored somewhere, and it is in a proper store that is licensed and inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to get a statement from MAFF to clarify what I am saying so that we can assure my constituents that they have nothing to fear from the storage of this rendered material in my constituency.

People should understand that the Government's policy must be to get on with the culling as fast as possible so that we can meet the requirements by October and get the ban on the export of British beef lifted. That entails a certain amount of storage around the country, including in Woodbury Salterton, but it is a measure to assist farmers and the British people to get agriculture back on its feet. That is why I raise the point. It is worrying that an Opposition Member should try to highlight something in my constituency which he could have clarified easily without stirring up problems.

10.30 am

I wish to raise several points. I agree with many hon. Members that the House should not adjourn until the Minister of State for Defence Procurement takes a definite decision about procuring equipment that the forces will need shortly. I refer particularly to the Nimrod 2000 project. That has been held back by the Treasury, whose guesstimates have been wrong more than once. I sometimes wonder whether it has lost sight of the old adage, "Look after the pence and the pounds will look after themselves." It constantly watches the billions but fails to realise that money is lost at other levels. It has to foot the bills for other votes of supply because of unemployment. Firms have their patterns changed by the delays in deciding the contracts. I urge the Government to settle the issue quickly.

Secondly, I want to discuss intimidation. Some people in Northern Ireland claim that their community is being intimidated. In reality, far more people from the Protestant community have been put out of their homes in the past few weeks than have people from the Roman Catholic community. Tragically, our people do not claim compensation as they are not part of Sinn Fein-IRA's economic warfare against the House, the Government and our people in Northern Ireland.

It may surprise some hon. Members to learn that anyone who moves out of a Housing Executive home gets £175 for reallocation. A fair number of people who have claimed intimidation have been on waiting lists for some time and are seeking to jump the queue. They also blame the social services for not giving them the proper counselling needed for the pressure of economic warfare.

I wonder whether yesterday, when the Prime Minister met representatives of two smaller political parties in Northern Ireland, he got assurances from them that intimidation and extortion by loyalist paramilitaries will cease. I speak on behalf of constituents who in the past few weeks have been told that the ceasefire is over and that they must pay £100 a week. Some shopkeepers are asked to pay £20 weekly and larger firms pay £1,000 a year. The mythology of the ceasefire should not blind us to the reality that the forces of lawlessness have been dictating the terms in the Province.

I was interested to receive a letter from a lady in Preston who encourages us because we wish to remain in the United Kingdom. She said that she became interested in 1970 because she did not like to see small people pushed down. In that context, is there not some conflict between a Government policy that seeks to maintain the Union and discourages a form of devolution in Scotland, England and Wales but that has not only sought to restore a devolved Parliament in Northern Ireland but gone further down that road and allowed a foreign Government to have an unhealthy influence in the affairs of United Kingdom in that area? That lies behind much of the trouble.

We must consider the provocation that our people endure. As they travel through Belfast, they see tricolours flaunted from high-rise buildings, one bearing the slogan, "Drumcree church will burn". Where is that being told to the British people by the British media?

My last point concerns the responsibility of the media, and especially of the BBC. Was it without significance that Kate Adie was in Northern Ireland even before the walk to Drumcree? We are constantly told about the Protestant terrorists and paramilitaries, but the religious connection of the IRA is never mentioned. We must strike a balance and have responsible broadcasting. I have twice had to have corrections in respect of references wrongly attributed to me.

10.35 am

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a constituency case. I realise that it is difficult for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to reply to a constituency case.

A constituent had a judicial separation hearing at Altrincham county court in the summer of 1995. His wife was legally represented because she was entitled to legal aid. My constituent was not so entitled because he was working, and had to represent himself because he could not afford to pay a lawyer and a barrister. The hearing lasted four hours, and it was decided that the wife should be awarded the matrimonial home, which has been paid off entirely. The husband had to pay the court costs amounting to about £1,000 and agreed to pay £400 monthly in maintenance. He also agreed with the court that, when he retired, he would commute £60,000 from his pension provision and pay a quarter of that to his wife so that she would get £15,000.

My constituent agreed finally that a £3,500 endowment policy due to mature this November should be shared between him and his wife. He accepted all that and, a few days after the court appearance, received a letter that stated the terms of the court order, to which he agreed. He was therefore surprised, a few weeks later, to receive another letter which amended the original order without explanation. He was then told that the endowment policy would go entirely to his wife rather than being split between them. He was disturbed about that, went to the court and asked for an explanation. He was shown the judge's handwritten memo, which clearly stated that the endowment policy was to be shared. He was also shown correspondence from the wife's lawyers, who had written to the judge requesting that he review the order. He had done so, amended it and ordered the whole endowment to go to the wife.

My constituent was never asked for his views. He wrote to the court and asked the judge for an explanation. He was told that the amended order was correct and that that was the end of the story. My constituent is entitled to know why the court was not reconvened and why he was not consulted. The decision was taken behind his back by the judge and his wife's legal representatives. He senses injustice, which I fully understand. He came to my advice bureau because he had tried every other means to get his grievance rectified, but to no avail. Because, in my innocence, I believed that my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor was responsible for the judiciary, I wrote to him about the case. I had a reply dated 6 March from my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor's Department, which stated:
"As you are aware the Court Service became an Executive Agency on 3 April 1995. As your correspondence concerns matters relating to operational aspects of the Courts, the Parliamentary Secretary has asked me to pass it to the Chief Executive of the Court Service … to reply."
Meanwhile, my constituent had been trying desperately hard to obtain the necessary information—all he seeks is some redress. A letter dated 12 January from the office of the courts administrator in Manchester stated:
"I accept that you should have been given an explanation of the circumstances leading to the 2nd amendment to the order and for this omission I sincerely apologise.
Turning to your points regarding correspondence being entered into between the other side, the Court and the Judge without consideration to yourself I note that you also wrote to the Court to request amendment to the original order, albeit minor alterations, and that the order was duly amended. The petitioner's solicitors suggested that the order be reviewed and this request was relayed"
to the judge. The letter adds that the judge could have reconvened a hearing
"but it would appear that he did not feel that that course of action was necessary. I am not able to comment on the decision of members of the Judiciary."
I eventually received a reply from the chief executive of the Court Service on 25 March, in which he stated that while he understood my constituent's feelings,
"I regret there is little I can add to the replies he received from the Courts Administrator at Manchester and the Customer Service Unit here at Headquarters. I enclose copies for your information. You will appreciate that the judiciary are entirely independent of Government and therefore have complete freedom in the way they deal with the cases that come before them."
My constituent was of course not happy with that reply, so I pursued the matter with the Court Service, which replied on 18 April:
"It may be helpful if I explain that if"
my constituent
"does not agree with a particular part of the amended order, it is open to him to apply to the court to have the order varied. I enclose an application form should he wish to do so. I should stress, however, that the decision whether to allow his application rests with the judge who hears the matter. I would also strongly advice your constituent to seek legal advice before making any application to the court."
My constituent senses injustice. Because he is not entitled to legal aid, he would have to represent himself yet again. He has been told to appeal, but cannot afford to take the risk. The amount at stake is £1,750–50 per cent. of the value of the endowment policy. If my constituent won an appeal, he would retain that sum. If he lost, he would receive nothing and be faced with a substantial legal bill.

The judge involved is apparently a member of the Solicitors Family Law Association. My constituent felt so strongly that he complained to the association's complaints bureau, but was told that his complaint could not be accepted and that he had no redress. This country's legal aid system should be carefully examined. If my constituent had been legally represented, it could have been a different story.

My constituent has signed over the matrimonial home, paid the court costs of the original hearing, and agreed to pay his wife £400 per month maintenance and 25 per cent. of his pension commutation on retirement. Why was the judge able to change his mind on the sharing of the endowment policy? Why did the judge listen only to the wife's legal representatives? Why did not the judge reconvene the hearing and give my constituent the chance to put his case? If British justice is the best in the world, it must not only be fair but be seen to be fair. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House can undertake some investigation before the House rises for the summer recess and explain why my constituent has been given no proper explanation, why the judge is apparently not answerable to anyone and where my constituent should go for justice.

10.43 am

I declare an interest as chairman of the Commonwealth parliamentary Cyprus group.

On Sunday 14 July, the annual Cyprus rally was held in Trafalgar square, when 5,000 people gathered to remember the events of July 1974, when Cyprus was invaded by the Turkish army. Twenty-two years later, Cyprus remains a divided country. The occupied northern area is still under the control of the Turkish army, using an estimated 30,000 troops and military equipment.

Many hon. Members, irrespective of party, work closely together for a united Cyprus and the rights and freedoms of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Britain is deeply involved in the Cyprus situation. It is one of the island's guarantor powers, and Cyprus is a member of the Commonwealth. Discussions have been held over the years, but hopes of an honourable settlement have not been realised. Many distinguished individuals have studied the Cyprus tragedy and their views are clear They include the Secretary-General of United Nations. In reports, he and others have plainly put the blame for the lack of progress on Mr. Denktash, who leads the Turkish-Cypriot community.

None of the events that has occurred since 1974 has helped to resolve the Cyprus issue. Mr. Denktash made a unilateral declaration of independence to seek, he claimed, an independent Turkish republic in occupied northern Cyprus. That achieved nothing. Years after that declaration, only one country in the world recognises that so-called independent state—Turkey. Over the years, an estimated 80,000 people from mainland Turkey have been brought to occupied northern Cyprus. They are known to Turkish Cypriots as illegal settlers. Many true Turkish Cypriots have left their homeland because they are not prepared to live alongside the people whom Mr. Denktash has brought from the mainland.

Earlier this year, Mr. Denktash made a statement regarding the 1,600 Greek Cypriots who were declared missing after the 1974 invasion. He said nothing more than that those people were dead. He gave no explanation of how they were killed and he did not say where their remains were buried. I asked the Secretary of Stale for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further action the British Government, as one of the guarantor powers, would take to secure further details from Mr. Denktash. On 29 April, the Minister of State replied:
"Mr. Denktash's remarks bring an opportunity for all concerned to renew their efforts towards resolving this tragic and long-standing issue."
I hope that the work of the UN committee on mercy and people can progress speedily, and that all parties will continue to give it their full support. Although I welcome the Minister's sentiments, the British Government have made no commitment to seek a dialogue with Mr. Denktash to discover what happened to the 1,600 people Mr. Denktash says were killed—but whom Turkish Cypriots say were murdered.

At the time of the 1974 invasion, thousands of Greek Cypriots lived in the Karpass area of northern Cyprus. Today, only 500 people live there. Many people have visited the Karpass area, including Lord Finsberg, who went only this year. He has spoken to me about the deep concern that he saw and felt about the denial of human rights to those people. To his credit, he has tried to improve the conditions of the people who live there. I highlight that incident because, in March this year, Members of the European Parliament sought permission from Mr. Denktash to go and visit the area. He refused.

I tabled a question on 1 July to the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs asking what discussions he was having with Mr. Denktash. The reply was:
"The Turkish Cypriot leadership is well aware of our views on the need to revoke the remaining restrictions on the basic freedoms in the Karpass."—[Official Report, 1 July 1996; Vol. 280, c. 278.]
That is yet another reason why many of us in the House who genuinely seek an honourable settlement in Cyprus are deeply concerned at the actions of Mr. Denktash.

We are not talking about some faraway country; we are talking about a country that is a member of the Commonwealth and for which this country is one of the guarantor powers. There are many other issues that one could raise. A year ago, I, along with other hon. Members on both sides of the House, initiated a debate on Famagusta—a city today regarded as a ghost town. No one lives there. It was once one of the most prosperous areas of Cyprus. We have had promise after promise over the years from Mr. Denktash that Famagusta will be returned to the Republic of Cyprus. Nothing whatever has happened.

Recently, the Government—I applaud them for this—appointed Sir David Hannay as their special Cyprus envoy. I have met Sir David and I warmly welcome his appointment, but I should like to find out exactly how the Government see Sir David's specific role and how they will respond to his reports and proposals. When I met Sir David some three weeks ago, he gave a clear indication that he intended to play a very active role in seeking an honourable settlement to this long-running tragedy.

I believe, as do many hon. Members, that there is at long last real hope for an honourable settlement in Cyprus. That hope is Cyprus's application for membership of the European Union. The next two countries due for consideration are Cyprus and Malta. In the view of many of us, there is no doubt that, if Cyprus becomes a member of the European Union, benefits will go—as I want—to northern Cyprus. Report after report tells us that the economy in northern Cyprus is on its knees. It gives me no pleasure to say that or know it because, sadly, ordinary men and women suffer as a result of the enormous problems that the economy in northern Cyprus now faces.

I hope that the British Government will give us clear assurances that they will support the application of Cyprus for membership of the European Union. What worries hon. Members on both sides of the House is that, more and more, we get what we term the hedge. The Government say, "Oh yes, we are considering it, but only when there is a settlement." We all want a settlement, but I and many hon. Members believe that there should be no delay in consideration of Cyprus's application for membership. That consideration should be based on the fact that, even if by then there has not been a settlement, the application for EU membership will be determined on its merits. Many of us believe that that is the only criterion that should be followed in the application that Cyprus is making for membership.

As I have said several times in this short speech, Britain has clear responsibilities for Cyprus. We want a settlement for the benefit of the two communities of Cypriots. Whether they are Greek or Turkish, they are Cypriots. We want only one Cyprus, and that is the Republic of Cyprus.

10.54 am

Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in this debate on the last day before the House rises for the summer recess. Under the old dispensation, we should argue that the House should not rise before urgent action is taken or pressing decisions are made. That is certainly the case with the matter that I wish to raise this morning, which is the return of the Stone of Scone to Scotland, which was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 3 July. On 16 July, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland issued a consultation paper. The consultation is to be for one month only, until 16 August.

It is almost certain that the decision on this important matter will be taken before we reassemble in October and absolutely certain that the consultation will finish in a little more than three weeks. This is an example of a familiar phenomenon in public life—controversial proposals are put out for consultation in the holiday month of August. Everyone who has concerns about the matter on both sides of the border would need to be on the alert to make sure that their views were made known. I make known my views this morning in this last opportunity here in the House of Commons.

The return of the Stone of Scone has already been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside (Mr. Walker), who was quick off the mark with his Adjournment debate yesterday week. I congratulate him on it. There was undoubtedly an element of surprise in the announcement. When the notice, "Statement: Stone of Destiny" went up on the annunciator screens, like many another I wondered what it could be about. Had the stone been stolen again? There was scarcely eager expectation of the announcement. It was that rare thing in modern politics—a decision that was not the subject of a disreputable leak or flagrant breach of confidentiality. It is a matter for commendation that that was so. Certainly the 700th anniversary this year of the removal of the Stone of Scone gave point to the announcement, and a pretext for it.

I greet the decision with some scepticism. I speak, of course, as a Sassenach—with some temerity, surrounded this morning by Scots—from well south of the border. As a Londoner born and bred, and I cannot see how these matters look from Scotland, but I doubt whether it is possible to rearrange hundreds of years of history by such a gesture.

If I speak briefly of the history of the stone, I do so as a non-historian, drawing heavily on advice. The stone consists of sandstone of a type apparently found in the Scone area and other areas of the world. It is part of the early history that is myth, but it is recorded that in 1249 Alexander III was crowned on the stone. In the late summer of 1296—hence the 700th anniversary of its removal—the stone was removed from Scone. In June 1297, the stone was formally presented to St. Edward, with the other Scottish regalia—the crown and sceptre. A bronze chair to house the stone was ordered, but in 1300 an account was presented for making a wooden chair. There had obviously been some restraint on public expenditure, which has an echo to this day.

A chair was eventually made of wood to house the stone found at Scone on which the kings of Scotland used to be crowned. Every coronation except one since 1399, or possibly as far back as 1307, has taken place in the chair. The only monarch not to be crowned and anointed on the chair was Mary Tudor, who regarded it as tainted by her Protestant predecessor.

That was the stone's early history. Then, in 1328, came the treaty of Northampton, which has been cited as one good reason for returning the stone as an overdue obligation, finally to be fulfilled by our generation. I am told, however, that the treaty of Northampton, made at Edinburgh and later ratified at Northampton, makes no mention of returning the stone.

The English and Scottish copies of the text of the treaty were lost. The 18th century Scottish historian Lord Hailes, in his "Annals of Scotland", attempted to reconstruct the terms from chronicle accounts, but copies of the terms have subsequently been recovered, and Hailes has been shown to have been wrong in some details, including provision for the return of the stone.

It is therefore incorrect to state that the Government are belatedly honouring the terms of a treaty by returning the stone to Scotland. The writ that orders the abbot of Westminster to surrender the stone, which refers to an agreement made at Northampton, refers not to the treaty with the Scots, but to a decision of the English king's council. There were no Scots present at Northampton with whom an agreement could have been made.

I am indebted for that advice to Richard Mortimer, keeper of muniments at Westminster abbey. He says that one of the myths gathering round the stone is that it once bore the inscription:
"Ni fallat fatum, Scoti, quocunque locatum Invenient lapidem, regnare tenentur ibidem".
Fortunately, it is translated as:
"If the fates go right, where'er this stone is found The Scots shall monarchs of that realm be crowned."
That prophecy was held to be fulfilled when James VI was crowned James I of England. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] James left the stone at Westminster abbey, which he also chose as the burial place of his mother, Mary Queen of Scots. The presence of the stone at Westminster is therefore symbolic of the Union of the Crown.

For 300 years or so after that, there was nothing of report except that, in 1653, the chair and stone were removed to Westminster Hall for the inauguration of Oliver Cromwell as the lord protector, and then replaced. During the second world war, the chair was removed to Gloucester cathedral and the stone buried in the abbey. In 1950, as we know, the stone was stolen. That is when it enters modern consciousness.

That is the history and the context. Obviously it would be wrong to seek to change a decision already announced by the Prime Minister and approved by Her Majesty the Queen—that is beyond my ambitions or intentions at this or any other time—so I wish to concentrate on the choice of the new location, which I regard as extremely important. One can understand the dismay of the dean and chapter of Westminster. I quote from their official statement on the day of the announcement:
"as the successor of those abbots of Westminster and Deans and Chapters who have been guardians of the stone for so many centuries, we must continue to urge those who are advising the Queen in this matter to take full account of the symbolic and emotional significance of the stone, its integral connection with the Coronation Chair and its intimate association with the sacrament of Coronation."
My purpose is to emphasise the stone's religious associations—an aspect that received little attention at the time of the original announcement. It is appropriate and desirable for the stone to be found a new resting place on consecrated ground, a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) in his question to the Prime Minister on 3 July. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside supported that principle in his bid to have the stone returned to Scone in his constituency.

I speak from the standpoint of my role as parliamentary warden of St. Margaret's and a member of the abbey family. Any decision as to the new location must reflect not only the constitutional importance of the stone to the United Kingdom, but the sacred mysteries of the coronation, to which our present monarch memorably and movingly pledged herself at the time of her coronation in 1953.

It is not easy from this distance to suggest where a suitable site might be found. My hon. Friend the Member for North Tayside suggested that there might be a site near the ruins of Scone abbey. St. Margaret's chapel in Edinburgh castle has been suggested as one option for the future by the Prime Minister. Another option would be St. Giles' cathedral, which I visited for a magnificent organ recital during the Edinburgh festival last August. It would seem most akin to the present position in Westminster abbey.

Inevitably, given its history, consideration of security for the stone will be an important factor, as will an appropriately dignified setting to match the sovereign symbolism of the stone for the Union. I make a plea that tourism be not paramount. It is true that, at Westminster abbey, it is now visited by 2.2 million people a year, a number exceeded only by that of visitors to the tower of London, but I ask that tourism not be the overriding consideration.

It would be nothing short of desecration if a stone that is already to be moved backward and forward between Scotland and England at the time of future coronation were to be lodged insensitively as part of a "Come to Scotland" campaign and not secured in the religious character that is its essence. The stone was, after all, the votive offering to Edward the Confessor of Edward I.

I look to the Government to respect those religious associations and to find a resting place for the stone that reconciles all those different interests and provides a fitting home for that all-important symbol of our historic Union.

11.5 am

Mr. Deputy Speaker, thank you for giving me the opportunity to raise an issue that has become public in recent days, which intimately concerns many of my constituents—the level of radiation around the old Greenham Common air base and in the rest of my constituency and adjoining constituencies. It is feared that there may now be, or have been in the past, some health risks associated with that radiation.

As you will know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I have tabled several questions for written answer to the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Health, which I hope that they will answer. I shall refer to some of those questions today because, although I realise that the Leader of the House may be unable to answer some of them, I hope that he will ensure that the Secretaries of State concerned provide an appropriate answer, with all possible speed, given the profound worries of some of my constituents about those matters.

The issue arose from an article in The Sunday Telegraph on 14 July, when it reported on a leak that had been made to it, apparently by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, of a report written in 1961 by two Aldermaston scientists, Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson. They reported at that time that they had found an increased level of uranium and radiation coming from uranium in the area around the Greenham Common air base in a sort of hourglass shape. That suggested that the runway at the air base had been at some point contaminated with uranium, which had been taken up on the wheels or wings of aeroplanes leaving the air base, and thus had been spread in both directions from either end of the air base runway.

Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson said that the contamination must have resulted from some form of nuclear accident on the air base, and the only one that they could highlight was an accident that was known to have taken place on 28 February 1958, when a B47 bomber had to drop two of its fuel tanks; one hit a hangar and the other hit another B47 on the ground. Mr. Cripps and Mr. Stimpson assumed that it must have caused some sort of radiation leak, probably from a nuclear bomb on the bomber. There is considerable evidence that that was not the case, but that information raised understandable worries among many of my constituents.

One of the important questions that needs to be answered is why the Cripps and Stimpson report produced in 1961 was kept secret until it was leaked to The Daily Telegraph. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defence to ask him to place a copy of the report in the Library, and I am happy to say that he promptly did so. In his letter to me confirming that he would do that, he wrote:
"I can … confirm that the 1961 report has been reviewed during the course of the day"—
on 15 July this year—
"and we have concluded that it can be downgraded and released to the Public Record Office."
It is now much more than 30 years since the report was produced in 1961, so why was it not released to the Public Record Office on 1 January 1992, in line with the normal 30-year rule? There must be some reason why the Government decided that it would not be released at that time. As it was so easily released once it had been leaked and, as those of us who have had a chance to see the report know, as there seems to have been no good reason for keeping the report secret for so long, the Government must say why they kept it secret until last week.

Another report, which is believed to have been written by a man called W. M. Saxby in 1987, also refers to radiation around Newbury and the air base. It is rumoured that, as a result of that report, the Government changed their decision about the classification of the original 1961 report. Why has the Saxby report not been released? Can it now be released to reassure my constituents about its content?

Openness and honesty about both those reports are now required if my constituents' confidence is to be regained. Several questions remain to be answered. What happened during that accident? What was the result of it? Was any uranium involved in the 1958 accident? As there seems to be sound evidence that the bomber may not have had a bomb on board at the time, could a different source of uranium have led to the later contamination of the area, either on the bomber or in the hangar, which was also destroyed? What then happened to the debris from the accident? The hangar was virtually destroyed and had to be taken down and replaced with a new one, and the bomber was burnt out. But what happened to the debris, which may have contained some form of uranium? Was it buried somewhere and, if so, was it buried on the site or elsewhere? What monitoring has since been done to reassure local residents that the debris, wherever it might be, is not contaminated?

It is understood that up to eight reports have been written about the accident by both the British Government and the United States air force. Those should now be made known and copies placed in the Library so that everybody can see exactly what happened, what happened to the remains of the accident, and what further steps are being taken to ensure that they are kept safe.

A further question is: where might the raised levels of uranium and radiation have come from if they did not arise from that accident? The Cripps and Stimpson report found genuinely higher uranium levels than would normally have been expected in the surrounding area. If the Government are to continue with their line, which I have no reason to disbelieve, that the uranium cannot have come from the 1958 accident, which was originally blamed, the question arises as to where that excessive uranium came from. Was there another accident on the Greenham air base that may have caused it? What tests have been carried out since that date to discover whether those high radiation levels still exist and, if so, where they may have come from? Do the Government now propose to carry out further tests, given the increased concern that has now arisen?

My next two questions are about health and illustrate why further tests may now be necessary. A few years ago, there was a scare about a cluster of childhood cancers around Aldermaston and Burghfield, and various epidemiological surveys and tests were done to see how they could have arisen. Although no clear answers came out, the surveys and tests showed a significant increase in childhood cancers in that area. The Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment investigated the case, but it is not clear whether it knew about the Cripps and Stimpson report and was given the full details of the accident in 1958, which might have affected its decision on how those cancer clusters arose.

Most important in terms of the modern position is that, sadly, there is now a cluster of leukaemia cases in a small section of Newbury town. Three cases in one road alone have arisen within the past few years. Even to a layman, that is an unusually high incidence of leukaemia. Several related diseases seem also to be at comparatively high levels. Whatever happened in 1958 and whatever the Cripps and Stimpson report shows, we must find out whether the high number of leukaemia cases in a small area of Newbury town is significant statistically and, if so, how the cases may have arisen and whether they could be related to the radiation that was previously discovered. What epidemiological and other tests do the Government propose, to see what the causes of an excessive leukaemia rate could be? Naturally, my constituents are concerned that it could be connected to the high radiation levels in the area, so that must be investigated.

For far too long, there has been excessive secrecy over this matter. While that might have been necessary in the cold war days when the report was first produced in 1961, I cannot see why such secrecy should be necessary in the 1990s. Those days are surely gone and now secrecy can only increase my constituents' worry. My constituents now demand truth and honesty. The secrecy must end.

11.16 am

First, I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the way in which he has conducted the business this year and for the fact that he has been able to give us more notice of what we are to discuss.

I wish to raise three brief points, the first of which is on education. This year's settlement has done great good by getting more money into the classroom. The Government must go further and get even more money out of county halls and into the classroom, and, in what remains of this Parliament, I hope, they will be able to do that by means of the new Education Bill.

I wish my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment all the best in the current discussions on state spending. She attained a good settlement for this year and we want an equally good settlement for next year. When the GCSE and A-level results come out next month, they will show a further improvement. Higher standards in the classroom are Government policy. The higher the standards, the more young people expect to go on to higher education.

I hope that the Dealing inquiry into the future of higher education will not cut across the expectations and hopes of young people and their parents as standards in the classroom rise. With the escalator taking young people into university going up, it would be extremely unfortunate if Sir Ron Dearing came out with a policy that somehow made the escalator go down and that made it more difficult for parents to help to get young people into university. That inquiry is a terrific challenge and it is vital that it recognises that standards in the classroom are going up, which inevitably means more demand for higher education.

Secondly, I raise the issue of the Child Support Agency, which is still not functioning properly. I do not blame Ministers for that but, to paraphrase the former leader of the Liberal party, the former right hon. Member for Caernarvon Boroughs, Ministers must not create a bomb shelter in which the Child Support Agency can shield itself from the splinters of public criticism. I shall give the House two examples. The first concerns a constituent whose wife left him and went to Australia, leaving him with custody of the children. It has taken a long time and much effort to make the CSA understand that he is responsible for the children and that there can be no maintenance because his ex-wife is living in Australia and has nothing to do with them.

One would think that the CSA could simply check with Bedfordshire local education authority to satisfy itself that the children are registered in Bedfordshire schools and that their father is responsible for them. However, it has taken months to get the message across to the CSA. Last month, my constituent received three contradictory letters within a week from the agency.

My second example concerns a constituent whose daughter went to live with my constituent's ex-husband. He was in employment and not on income support, so that did not trigger the Child Support Agency, and the daughter, who is approaching the age of 18, has been working for 12 months. Therefore, why is the CSA pursuing the mother for maintenance? It will require the patience of the archangel Gabriel and the wisdom of Solomon to resolve that matter. It is just another example of the CSA failing to do its work properly.

As the amount of overtime increases in certain industries, the CSA must be extra careful about calculating the level of maintenance to be paid. I have often told the CSA that overtime is not automatic; it is like the Cheshire cat—now you see it and now you don't. The CSA must not automatically include overtime in the usual weekly wage or the monthly salary when making maintenance calculations. It must be fast-footed and flexible in its calculations.

I hope that the CSA will improve one day. However, after another parliamentary Session during which I have battled on behalf of my constituents, I think that it has a long way to go, first, to attain the standards of public service outlined in the citizens charter; and, secondly, to improve communication channels with the public about its actions in relation to demands for maintenance.

Thirdly, I refer briefly to the extremely difficult industrial disputes in the Post Office and on the tube. I think that we must increase the powers of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service in order to resolve those matters. At present, ACAS can intervene only if both parties are willing—it has a semi-voluntary role. Once a case is before ACAS and the parties have agreed voluntarily to refer their dispute to it, two things should occur: industrial action should be suspended together with any management proposals that may have triggered the strike. Both sides of industry should make an equal effort while ACAS tries to resolve the dispute. If the industrial dispute is hopelessly deadlocked with no movement on either side, ACAS should have the power to intervene. If neither side will co-operate, the law should be changed to allow civil action to be taken in the courts and damages awarded.

I think that it will take most of August to resolve those extremely difficult disputes. Public opinion regarding industrial disputes moves slowly, but above all people want to see efforts being made to resolve them. The current disputes will not be resolved in front of the television cameras or on the "Today" programme: they will be resolved only under the umbrella of ACAS, without publicity stunts. I propose a small change in the law that would give ACAS greater powers to intervene. It has been resolving industrial relations disputes for 21 years and I believe that it is time to give it greater powers.

In conclusion, during the remainder of this Parliament the Government must continue to pursue policies that give greater job security, as it is the feeling of job insecurity that is making life difficult for Conservative Members. Post-1949, the Christian Democrats in Germany won five elections in a row because their policies of low inflation and low unemployment proved successful. There is no reason why the Conservative party should not do the same. Our priority must be to ensure that our economic policies give greater job security to all workers. If that can be achieved, we shall wake up on a fine May morning next year and find that the United Kingdom has a fifth Conservative Government.

11.24 am

The hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) referred to the industrial disputes involving the underground and the postal workers. He could refer them to ACAS until he is blue in the face, but there is one relatively simple solution: treat the workers like those in this place.

For instance, the postal workers are trying to get Saturdays off. At present they must work a six-day week: that is the core of the dispute. Members of Parliament come to this place for four days a week, and 10 Fridays in the year are constituency days—I will not call them days off. Hon. Members do not have to work a six-day week unless they choose to do so. Nobody drags Members of Parliament here, kicking and screaming that they do not want to do the job. Whenever there is a vacancy, there are plenty of people willing to fill it.

If the Government want to act decently, they should say to those involved in the postal dispute, "Why can't the workers have a five-day week like many other people?" It is not asking for the moon. What is more, the postal workers held a ballot and a massive majority voted for industrial action. The same is true of the underground. The main part of the workers' claim is to reduce their working week by one hour. Tories talk about breaking the back of the British economy, but those two disputes are about having Saturdays off and a one-hour reduction in the working week.

It is appalling that we must listen to attacks on the wealth creators in society—the workers—who are asking for relatively small concessions. I would go a lot further. With 4 million people out of work—that is the real figure—we must crack unemployment in Britain. We could do that by opting for a four-day week for everyone. What is the point of having technology coming out of our ears if we are calling upon people to work five and six days a week—as well as overtime—amounting to a 48-hour week or more? We should talk about harnessing that technology to enable everyone to work a four-day week.

Now that I have got that off my chest, I turn to the right hon. Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee—who has now left the Chamber. He got on his high horse about an hon. Member tabling a question about his constituency. He said that that was terrible: his area was being invaded. I remember speaking not so long ago at Coalite in my constituency, where two farmers had stopped their production because of high dioxin levels. Hey presto, shortly afterwards I looked at the Order Paper and found that there was a question from a Tory Member of Parliament—it was obviously planted—asking the relevant Minister to explain to the House what the dioxin at Coalite was all about. Coalite is in my constituency, but I did not whine or whinge; I know that that is how Parliament works. I have a vague idea—I do not wish to put words into anyone's mouth—that Ministers in the next Labour Government might ask me to table planted questions. I shall tell them to ask someone else, but I am sure that it will happen.

I come now to several issues of which the Leader of the House is aware. He served for some time as Secretary of State for Social Security and he is familiar with many areas that may appear complicated to some people. I refer to the chronic bronchitis and emphysema legislation. The Leader of the House knows that Mr. Deputy Speaker, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Sir G. Lofthouse), who represents a Yorkshire mining constituency, eventually succeeded in getting that legislation on to the statute book. Everyone knows that it does not work exceptionally well. The success rate is only 11 per cent. which is not high by anyone's standards. Thousands of miners who are coughing their lungs up have put in a claim, and only 11 per cent. have been successful.

Loads of us knew immediately that we had to do something about that. Many hon. Members—most of them are in the Chamber now—made representations at different levels. As members of the miners parliamentary group, we met the Trades Union Congress and put forward an argument that we had cobbled together with our hon. Friends. The FEV1—forced expiratory volume—test was not working properly because it provided a better opportunity for someone with a bigger physique than for someone with a smaller physique. The deterioration in lung capacity should not be decided by how big people are, so we said that that should be altered.

We said that it was unfair that people had to work 20 years underground to qualify and that no one on the surface should qualify, because people take in a lot of dust on the surface. We also proposed getting rid of the X-ray, because most people concluded that it was superfluous to the whole exercise. We campaigned on those issues. We took up the matter with the TUC, which took up our demands. It went to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, which the Leader of the House knows only too well. It is generally accepted that, when the council makes recommendations to the Government of the day, they accept them.

Those recommendations have been with the Government probably for the whole of this year, so it is high time that they told us what they are going to do. We believe that they should accept the recommendations. We have reason to believe that they have not accepted all our ideas—I wish they had. Notwithstanding that, we think that they should now be put before the failed recipients.

Yesterday, in Social Security questions, it was drawn to the attention of everyone who has studied the issue that the old-fashioned special hardship allowance, which became the reduced earnings allowance, is in a big administrative muddle. It is clear that a substantial number of people were given the reduced earnings allowance, and they were told by the Government that they had it for life. Now there is a new Government proposal to reduce the amount from roughly £36 to about £9 and to have what is called a retirement allowance. The net result is that people have lost £27, or whatever, out of that £36.

That is a problem in itself. Literally thousands of people in every coalfield are affected, as are people in other industries of course, but we all appreciate that, because of the physical aspects of mining, a considerable number of those affected used to work in the coal mines. They have lost that money.

It is clear that the Government should resolve that problem. I have again a simple recommendation. The Leader of the House knows the facts well. The matter involves part of the Department that he used to run. He should say, "Look. There is only one way to clear this up. Never mind going backwards and forwards to commissioners, appeals and all the rest. The Government have made a mistake and should allow the reduced earnings allowance to continue." I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) is listening, because she can make that proposal when the next Labour Government get into power, and tell the putative Chancellor of the Exchequer that we shall need the money.

Many things in social security need to be sorted out by the next Labour Government. I am not expecting them all to be sorted out in the first year. I will be moderate on that issue, but we have been hammered on the social security front. The welfare state has almost been torn apart by the Government. I say that en passant. We shall probably hear a lot more about it from Conservative Members after May, or whenever the general election is, when I shall be sitting in the seat of the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath).

There have been strikes by firefighters in Derbyshire, as there were in Merseyside some time ago. As we all know, there is a problem with firefighting and with how much money can go into it. Local authorities have been deprived of money. There have been cuts in Derbyshire in the past six years. The net result is that there are problems in coming to some form of agreement.

I have made it clear that I am on the side of the Fire Brigades Union. That will not surprise many people, but it is a problem. People cannot afford to act the fool when they are talking about people who have to put out fires. Not so long ago, hon. Members talked in the House about the three firefighters who had been killed, all within the space of a few weeks. People were saying that it was terrible. Every time there is a disaster in Britain, people say that the firefighters are doing a wonderful job, that they were first on the scene and all the rest of it.

What I have asked for is simple. Along with my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), I have asked to meet the Home Secretary to put the case and to try to get the cap lifted by the Secretary of State for the Environment, so that we can resolve the problem and take account of the transition to a new fire authority next year.

With local government changes, it will be a problem not for Derbyshire county council, but for Derby and Derbyshire. Therefore, it is imperative that the firefighters know that, when the new authority comes into being, the financial base will be better than at present.

I compliment the Leader of the House because, when I raised the matter last time, he said that he would consider it and produced a letter from the Home Secretary. I know that he is never out of court and that he is a busy man—he has to keep defending himself; he is a bit of a recidivist. Nevertheless, he sent a letter to me saying that he did not have time to meet me, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield and my hon. Friend the Member for North-East Derbyshire.

I thought that it was general practice in this place that, if Members of Parliament made representations to meet a Minister, somehow or other, we would be able to meet him or someone from his Department. We are finding it extremely difficult. We are not on some errand, but trying to resolve the problem. We are trying to put out fires—a different kind of fire—on behalf of the firefighters.

The Leader of the House has gone so far. He has stirred the loins of the Home Secretary. We want the firefighters and Derbyshire county council to have the opportunity to meet the Home Secretary so that they can put their case, with a view to ensuring that the matter is resolved and, when the transitional authority takes over next year, that the financial base can be secure, so that fires can be put out in Derbyshire and elsewhere.

11.37 am

It is important that I declare an interest. My interest is in Gilbert and Sullivan. It is important that the House realises that what I am going to say is a direct result of an unashamed interest in preserving for all time the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, which have made an essential and unique contribution to our English national heritage.

Some months ago, the House became aware of the danger—I think it is a new danger—facing the much-loved D'Oyly Carte Gilbert and Sullivan light opera touring company. The problem, when the curtain fell at the end of May, was whether it would ever rise again. The difficulty has simply been how to find some 20 per cent. of the money needed annually to run the D'Oyly Carte. The other 80 per cent.—amounting to £2 million—is raised from box office receipts, from private subscriptions and from local authority support. Just the remaining 20 per cent.—the £500,000—is needed to keep going the D'Oyly Carte company, which has been running for over 100 years.

The problem is that the Arts Council is the proper vehicle for funding the arts—it does a very good job, but it seems to have some failings. It tends to like grand opera, so the Royal Opera House, wonderful work though it does, receives 80 per cent. of its income from the Arts Council and has to raise the remaining 20 per cent. from private sources. On the other hand, the D'Oyly Carte has to raise 80 per cent. privately and needs only 20 per cent. from public subscription. There is a similar story with other companies that favour grand opera. When the Welsh Opera performs Verdi, Puccini and the like, it is favoured rather than Gilbert and Sullivan. Such funding offers grand opera to the privileged and wealthy. I have nothing against that, but those companies are getting the strawberries and cream, by 80 per cent. of public funding for their enjoyment.

My hon. Friend should not place too much emphasis on the figure of 80 per cent. at the Royal Opera House. He might find, on research, that that figure is not precisely accurate.

Obviously, if a former Secretary of State for National Heritage tells me that the figure of 80 per cent. is too high, I bow to his knowledge. The figure may be 70 per cent. or 60 per cent., but it is certainly very high and, in cash terms, the figure received from the taxpayer is about £14 million, whereas the amount given to the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan has, at the highest, been only £30,000 a year and, at the lowest, £15,000.

If the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan are part of our national heritage, perhaps they should be treated a little more generously—perhaps more in line with the grand opera approach of the Arts Council. Tens of thousands of people want an evening's entertainment in a language that they understand. It is no good going to grand opera and listening to Italian, French and German—most of the tens of thousands of people in the provinces want to hear a light operetta in English. From Birmingham to Glasgow and from Coventry to Plymouth, people flood to theatres in their droves and leave feeling better and happier. Whenever I go to see a Gilbert and Sullivan production, I come out in a merry mood, whistling some of the infectious tunes.

I will not whistle one now, although it is tempting.

Gilbert and Sullivan is as much part of the British culture as cream teas, cricket at Lord's or the unpredictability of the weather.

I shall explain what has happened, as I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House want to understand the facts. I am delighted that the former Secretary of State for National Heritage has not yet had to leave for his doctor's appointment as he can put the facts right if I should get anything wrong in the next few minutes.

The D'Oyly Carte operated without any grants from 1880 to about 1982–102 years. In 1987, the company was reformed, sponsored by private institutions, and given a home in Birmingham, thanks to the generosity of the city council, which has been funding it to the tune of about £250,000 a year, although that grant is decreasing. The Arts Council has argued over the years that it cannot make an award to Gilbert and Sullivan's D'Oyly Carte largely because the Government have reduced its Treasury grant. In effect, whatever it is funding at the moment has to stay, but nothing new can be taken on board. That means that the existing orchestras and other good work must receive preferential treatment, but nothing new can be considered.

I wonder whether that is a correct analysis. I wonder whether the Arts Council is taking the right approach. Whether it is or not, there is a solution to the problem: lottery funds. The Arts Council receives £325 million a year from the national lottery. Many of the people who buy lottery tickets enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan. Can we find £500,000 from that £325 million to keep the D'Oyly Carte and Gilbert and Sullivan going? The answer is uncertain—the bureaucracy, rules and regulations surrounding the giving of lottery money are so complex that it has been difficult to see how money can be given to the D'Oyly Carte to keep it going, or to anyone else.

One would be forgiven for thinking that it should be otherwise. One may wonder why 0.5 per cent. of the total of the Arts Council grant from the lottery cannot be given to the D'Oyly Carte. I have been told the reason by the chairman of the Arts Council. Whereas the Arts Council's funds are governed by Treasury rules, lottery awards are covered by different rules that come under the lottery regulations. Rules and regulations seem to be the problem in this case. The plot, which is worthy of Gilbert and Sullivan—perhaps mixed with Whitehall farce—is steeped in bureaucracy. The dramatis personae, which in this case includes Lord Gowrie and the Secretary of State for National Heritage, is peppered with petty bureaucrats proffering little lists that contain certain items. If a company is involved with quartets, madrigals or grand opera, it is on the list, but if a company is involved with low-brow Gilbert and Sullivan, it does not appear on the list. The list excludes popular culture and touring operettas.

We must give encouragement to the Secretary of State for National Heritage and her officials to achieve a little less restrictive regime on lottery funds. To give the Secretary of State her due, she has encouraged the setting up of a stabilisation fund, established to help organisations pay off any outstanding debt and put themselves on to a sound financial footing—we are all for that. I think that it is a splendid initiative, but the trouble is that it is surrounded by more red tape, with more criteria and more rules and regulations. It may take so long before the stabilisation fund comes on tap that the D'Oyly Carte will not be around to benefit.

The officials are also trying to free the lottery money so that some funds can be given to on-going touring operations. At present, the lottery money is precluded from paying for touring operettas or touring companies. To give credit where credit is due, the Secretary of State is trying to release lottery money for things other than buildings. If the D'Oyly Carte had applied for a new theatre to be built, there would be no problem. The problem would involve finding the money to do anything in that theatre.

The Leader of the House should find a way of not allowing the House to adjourn today until we have saved one of the most peculiar and important of our British institutions: the D'Oyly Carte and its Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire.

11.47 am

The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) referred to the importance of Gilbert and Sullivan in this country's cultural heritage and I want to speak about something that is important to its natural heritage.

The House may be aware that I have long been interested in hedgerows, the landscape and British wildlife. Hedgerows are important, but unfortunately, over the past 30 or 40 years, we have seen the destruction of thousands of miles of hedgerow. In the 1970s and during the passage of the Wildlife and Countryside Bill in 1981, I sought to gain protection for hedgerows, but the Government blocked the move. In 1982, with all-party support, I presented a Bill to protect the most important hedgerows in England, but the Government blocked it. Further attempts followed and in 1987, the then Prime Minister, Mrs. Thatcher, who was guest speaker at the centenary celebrations of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, called for the protection of hedgerows. I was delighted with that call because, as a member of the council of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, I was to present a Bill in the House that very afternoon to accomplish just that provision.

Unfortunately, on the following Friday, despite the fact that the Bill was supported by Conservative Members as well as by Opposition Members, the Government blocked it, on the instructions of the then Prime Minister, who had called for such protection only a few days before.

Early in 1982, I reawakened interest in the old enclosure hedgerows—or the parliamentary hedgerows, as they are called in some parts of the country—and told the House that such hedgerows seemed to be legally protected. The Minister told me, "Those old laws no longer apply; but they have never been repealed." I made representations to the Minister and inquired of him, "You do realise that you're paying out grants to people to grub hedgerows that may be protected in law?"

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food then moved with enormous speed, ending all grants for grubbing out hedgerows. Trying to put matters right, the Ministry then introduced grants to plant new hedgerows. I welcome that measure, but point out the fact that it may take those new hedgerows a couple of centuries to develop the ecological interest possessed by those that have been grubbed out.

The Government failed to act to protect hedgerows. Furthermore, unfortunately, conservation organisations did not pursue the test case that I had thought desirable. Subsequently, the Government continued to block initiatives by Back Benchers on both sides of the House to protect hedgerows.

In the Environment Act 1995, the Government gave themselves the power to take action to protect hedgerows. Although they have received credit for assuming that power, they have, so far, not earned it by doing anything to implement their power.

About an hour ago, I left the House to make a telephone call, in which I learned that we now have the beginnings of a test case and that we have received a judgment stating that individuals who are concerned about the destruction of hedgerows of parliamentary character—the old enclosure hedgerows—have locus standi. The case was initiated by Mr. Colin Seymour, who has a great deal of experience in this matter, and I have supported it, as has the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, of which I am patron. We have now flushed the matter out into the open.

A few months ago, the Government refused to make a declaratory statement on the matter to confirm the legal position, as they should have done. They will now have to do so, or face a flood of cases across the country.

The House should understand that no one involved in this issue is being Luddite about it. The common land of England was enclosed in the industrial revolution to enable the production of more food for an increasing population. However, when the common lands were enclosed in 4,000 parishes—with each enclosure before 1840 requiring a separate piece of legislation—the landowners who carved up the land between themselves were given not only ownership but an on-going legal responsibility to protect hedgerows for all time. That responsibility applied to them, their heirs and their assignees, and those laws have never been repealed.

The Government's actions have allowed the irresponsible to maintain ownership of that land, and to get rid of the responsibilities and obligations that the ownership entails. The Government cannot continue to ignore that fact.

I had hoped that this would be my last speech in the House—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] NO; the Government should go, and they should go quickly. If there is an early election, this will be my last speech in the House. However, if we do not have an early election—in which case I shall have to make another speech—I hope not only that sensible hedgerow protection is introduced under the 1995 Act, but that the Government will start to act responsibly on the obligations and responsibilities placed on landowners by the 4,000 private Acts of enclosure passed by the House before 1840.

11.53 am

I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) will be pleased to know that my wife and I have been busy planting hedges all round our land in Scotland, as some of us do care about hedges.

I believe that the House should consider the constitution of the United Kingdom. In particular, I believe that we should have a debate about the crazy, unworkable and dangerous proposals for devolving power to a Parliament in Scotland. The House should also consider viable and deliverable alternative proposals.

Hon. Members are aware of the Liberal Democrats' proposals for a federal structure, in which Scotland would have a Parliament in Edinburgh, the English regions would have regional Parliaments and Wales and Northern Ireland would have their Parliaments. That is theoretically possible, but, unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats and for others who support a federal structure, the 83 per cent. of the UK population who live in England have, thus far, shown no real interest in such proposals.

In a democracy, there is no viable way in which the minority of the population who live in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can force the vast majority of the population, who live in England, to accept a federal structure against their wishes. Consequently, any proposals for constitutional change must seem viable and be acceptable to the majority of the UK population.

Labour's proposals—which have created great rifts within the party and opposition to the proposals from outside the party—are neither viable nor acceptable. That is why the House should debate the constitution, and, in particular, the relationship between Scotland and England.

I believe that Labour's proposals are dangerous and unworkable. They are also unsaleable in England, because the English voter's right to enjoy the same decision-making structure as Scotland has been ignored totally. Does anyone seriously believe that voters in England—who comprise 83 per cent. of the UK population—will accept Labour's devolution proposals?

In simple language: what devolution proposals does Labour expect 83 per cent. of the population to support at the next general election? It expects English voters to agree to a Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. Blair), who is a Scot, educated at a fee-paying Scottish selective school, and who is proposing to lead a Government at Westminster. Most of the major portfolios in his Administration are likely to be filled by Scots from Scottish constituencies. The right hon. Member for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) is expected to be Chancellor of the Exchequer; the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) is expected to be Foreign Secretary; the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) is expected to be Secretary of State for Scotland; the right hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) is expected to be the Patronage Secretary and Chief Whip; and the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) may turn out to be the Secretary of State for Transport. Furthermore, the Law Officers and many of the Ministers of State will be Scots from Scottish constituencies.

If that were to happen, English voters would say, with considerable justification, that the Labour Scots are expecting to run Westminster—which would be perfectly legitimate in a unitary Parliament. However, those same voters will find that proposal unfair and unacceptable if that proposed Scottish-run Government also ask them to support proposals for a Scottish Parliament to be run by Scots in Edinburgh.

What about Labour's proposals for a referendum? In my judgment, it is nonsense to pretend that there is any logic in having a referendum on constitutional change without spelling out exactly what the referendum will contain. The details of a referendum are not merely to deal with constitutional anomalies but will be critical in determining how people will vote. The only time to hold a referendum on constitutional change is after Parliament has fully debated the matter and voted a Bill through both Houses—only then will the details be known and only then should the question be put to the people. It is nonsense to pretend otherwise—just a fig leaf to cover Labour's embarrassment.

I believe that the right hon. Member for Sedgefield knows that the package that Labour is proposing is unsustainable and that he understands that it is unsaleable in England. That is one of the reasons for the Opposition's U-turn. As I have outlined, Labour's latest proposal for a two-part referendum is also unsaleable.

English-based voters will not accept that only Scottish-based voters should be allowed to vote for proposals that would allow the Scots to run Westminster, with Scottish Members voting on English law and order, education, local government and other politically sensitive English matters, while English Members would have no say on such matters affecting Scotland. The West Lothian question cannot be ignored. It has to be answered, but there is no answer yet.

To add to the irritation, Labour expects to retain the Goschen/Barnett formula which takes into account sparsity and population numbers in Scotland so that anything up to £1.40 of UK taxpayers' funds can be spent per head of the population in Scotland for every £1 per head spent in England—and the Scots are going to be running Westminster.

Such a notion is unsaleable in England because any party with a majority of Scottish Members could, if it so wished, take all Scottish legislation, including controversial measures, through all its stages in the Scottish Grand Committee. That is the obvious, viable, deliverable and workable alternative. As has recently been shown, thanks to the work of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Scottish Grand Committee can sit anywhere in Scotland and, with minor changes to the rules, can have UK Ministers attending and participating in debates.

So why is there deemed to be a need to set up a Parliament at great cost—£47 million, I understand—in Edinburgh? That £47 million would be only the beginning and the continuing revenue costs of this unnecessary, constitutionally dangerous Parliament could run into many hundreds of millions of pounds. Why, then, is the Labour party proposing such a badly thought-out scheme and putting the UK constitution at risk? It is doing so for short-term political advantage at Westminster and in Scotland.

No attempt has been made to accommodate the need to reassess the number of Scottish Members of Parliament; nor has any attempt been made to consider the amount of taxpayers' money spent in Scotland. The only way to prevent a damaging and debilitating English backlash is to make all the electors throughout the UK aware of the real hazards of the scheme. The crazy and dangerous proposals should be scrapped. We need a full debate to expose the realities.

I am pleased to see the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) here. I believe that the answer to the Northern Ireland situation, which is often brought up as the red herring, lies in giving people there the same structures as the United Kingdom—local government with all the powers and authority that it has in the rest of the United Kingdom. For example, it could be in the form of a regional council. With a unitary Parliament, we cannot have one part of the United Kingdom enjoying benefits that other parts do not. That is neither viable nor deliverable.

The 83 per cent. of the UK population living in England must be made aware of the realities of Labour's crazy scheme. Were it ever implemented, not only would the Scots under Labour be seen to be having their cake and eating it, but the English voters would be expected to bake the cake, ice and deliver the cake and pay for it.

We should be aware of the hazards and recognise that there would be an English backlash. I am not suggesting that the backlash will come only from Conservative Members. The British people as a whole have a gut feeling about what is right and wrong—they would know that Labour's proposals are wrong and would not accept them.

12.4 pm

This has been an interesting debate. I should like to comment on many issues, but because time is limited, I shall concentrate on a constituency matter, namely a company called LORE, or Land Owners Rights to Enforcement which is involved in wheel clamping on private land.

Wheel clamping is a cause of great concern in my constituency and throughout the Wakefield area. As you know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, people are being allowed to park their cars only to find that, as soon as they leave them, the cars are clamped. LORE is demanding £95, or £100 in one instance, to have the clamp removed. That is extortion and something will have to be done to control such companies which are not registered and which recruit all kinds of people to carry out their work and extort money from unfortunate people.

I had hoped that the matter would be cleared up by the Home Secretary before the recess. I understand that he is aware of the situation and is on record as having promised to consider regularising the way in which wheel clampers operate.

In my constituency on Saturday—market day—three cars were clamped. The municipal car park borders on to the car park of a public house. One car owner had purchased a ticket from the municipal machine because he thought that he had parked in the area run by the local authority. The person involved—a Mr. Robinson—had his car clamped and received a demand for £95 to have it removed. A group of 50 people gathered round to support the claim that those whose cars had been clamped should have the clamps removed free of charge. The police were called because the situation could have become serious. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are aware of the problem which has affected your constituents.

In a further case, Mrs. Mountain who lives in my constituency went to buy a ticket only to find that her car had been clamped when she returned to it. The people who carry out such operations are often large and heavy and are frightening in themselves. Something needs to be done because the situation becomes serious when people say that they will not allow clampers to get away with it.

Indeed, a constituent of yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, took the initiative only last week. Her car was clamped but instead of waiting for the clamping company to tow it away, she towed it away using her own tow vehicle, had the clamp removed and demanded £95 from the clamping company for the clamp's return. I regard that as true initiative but it is dangerous because the heavies—the people employed by LORE—demanded the lady's home address and telephone number, which she refused to give. She regarded that as intimidation.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) spoke about intimidation and extortion in Northern Ireland. It is being used by wheel clamping companies in our local communities. I hoped that we could have found a solution or at least asked the Home Secretary do something about this dirty business before the House goes into recess. Sadly, that will not happen, but hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that something must be done about companies that are not registered.

Wheel clamping companies should be registered with the local authority and there should be reasonable charges. I am not suggesting that there should be no charge, but £95 is totally unreasonable. If a car is towed away, a further charge of £25 per day is imposed. The House must address that issue and find a solution.

12.10 pm

We have had a useful debate with a high level of interest on both sides of the House. Therefore, there has been a great demand on time and some hon. Members who are present have not been able to speak. My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-East (Mr. Timms) was particularly disappointed that he was unable to discuss the catastrophic £32.5 million deficit faced by his local health authority.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is well known that I am the only hon. Member who speaks for an entire county and represents more than 100,000 constituents. It is also well known, as it has been in the media, that I represent the only seat in the House where there has been a serious call for devolution and independence from the United Kingdom constitution. It is a matter of the utmost regret that the House has not found time to allow me to debate that issue today.

That may be so, but it is not a point of order for the Chair. The hon. Gentleman has made his point.

Notwithstanding that, we have had a useful debate and many hon. Members have raised important issues.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) opened the debate and it was no surprise to the House that once again he raised his long-term concern with the difficulties facing disabled people. I hope that the House continues to focus on those issues when my right hon. Friend retires. He has served the House well by drawing those matters to our attention on numerous occasions.

Other hon. Members also mentioned long-term problems, including those in their constituencies. The right hon. Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) mentioned Bart's and the health service in London. My hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy) mentioned hedgerows and the hon. Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) mentioned the Child Support Agency, which is becoming a long-term problem. Despite all the assurances that matters are improving, most hon. Members know from their case work that many problems remain in respect of the CSA. I was glad that the hon. Gentleman mentioned some of them today.

Other hon. Members have raised topical issues. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Normanton (Mr. O'Brien) spoke about wheel clamping. He gained the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House when he described the outrages that are well known to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in your constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) spoke about issues that he has raised previously. I am thinking particularly about what he said about airport safety. As he said, had the lessons, of Lockerbie been learnt, perhaps the events of the past few weeks might have been different.

The hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) asked the Leader of the House for a constitutional debate, if not during Prorogation, early next Session. He gave the Government an extremely mature warning about the misuse of backwoodsmen in another place. The hon. Gentleman referred to the Asylum and Immigration Bill. The vote in another place on the amendment that concerned him would have been very different had it been a vote of life peers and not hereditary peers. The same applies to the decision affecting Ministry of Defence housing. He was right to caution the Government against playing into the hands of those who want to reform the House of Lords. Every time the Government get their way by dragging in every hereditary peer who is entitled to vote, the result is often different from the will of the life peers and that does not serve the Government well. I commend him for making that warning.

I referred not just to life peers, but to hereditary peers who regularly attend the House of Lords.

On both occasions, the attendance was much greater than usual.

Perhaps the most topical issue this morning was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson), who mentioned the Premier club and the role of Mr. John Beckwith. It is urgent and important that before the House rises there should be a statement on the role of Mr. Beckwith in the sale of Ministry of Defence housing and the possible sale of social security property—an initiative that seems to have come from Mr. Beckwith himself. The value of the properties is reported to be £2.5 billion. Therefore, there are massive implications for the taxpayer and for the reputation of politicians.

We know from the Sunday newspapers that Mr. Beckwith is also chairman of the Premier club, which solicits donations to Tory party funds of up to £100,000 from very rich business men in return for contact with Ministers up to and including the Prime Minister—hence the title Premier club. At the same time, Mr. Beckwith is having discussions with management advisers to the Secretary of State for Social Security and the Secretary of State for Defence and urging the sale of all that property to consortia which he leads. That puts Ministers in an intolerable position as there is a conflict of interests. It also raises some important issues that should be addressed before the House adjourns for the summer recess. It demonstrates how much wiser it would have been to refer the issue of party political funding to the Nolan committee as soon as possible rather than delaying until after the next election.

The hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) raised another topical issue that concerns both sides of the House. He was concerned about defence procurement. There is real concern that has been mentioned almost on a daily basis over the past two weeks that the Government have not yet announced their decisions on three vital contracts—the hon. Gentleman mentioned one of them. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are in jeopardy and there is great uncertainty within the armed forces. Ministers previously gave the impression that announcements would be made before the summer recess, but it now appears that the Chancellor is blocking decisions or announcements on those contracts.

I raised the matter at business questions, as did Conservative Members, yet we have not had a decision. There is great concern that the decision will be made without hon. Members having the opportunity to question Ministers. It would be unfortunate were such a decision to be made immediately the House goes into recess. Several hon. Members on both sides of the House raised that important point. Indeed, Conservative Members, as much as Labour Members, have said in this debate that several decisions are imminent—whether they be on the funding of London hospitals, defence procurement, or the Stone of Scone, to which the hon. Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) referred. We have been told that decisions are imminent but that they will not be announced in the House. I do not think that that is satisfactory.

My hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, East speculated on what it will be like when the House returns in October and said that we shall have a very sparse Queen's Speech that might be no more than an outline of the Conservative party's manifesto. I am not sure whether we shall return for more than a formal Prorogation in the autumn because I would not be surprised if, effectively, today were the last day of this Parliament before the election. I certainly hope that that is so. I think that hon. Members on both sides of the House would consider it beneficial to everyone if a phoney Session did not begin in October.

12.20 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons
(Mr. Tony Newton)

It will not surprise the House to learn that I do not intend to be tempted too far by the remarks by the hon. Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor). I assure her that the Queen's Speech will not be phoney. I have spent a great deal of time on it. It will be a good, solid Queen's Speech, containing measures that we intend to carry through for the benefit of the people of this country.

The remarks by the hon. Member for Dewsbury represent only one of the temptations with which I am faced at the end of this debate, which has been the most extensive of its kind that we have yet had. If I count the point of order from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) as something akin to a speech and include my speech, we will have reached an historic high of 20 hon. Members taking part in this debate. That leads me to the first of various temptations. I wonder—it is very dangerous to do so in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), the Chairman of the Procedure Committee, and certainly totally against my own interests—whether the opportunity provided by this debate would not be rather a good use of a number of Wednesday mornings. Although it is perhaps not appropriate to consider that now, it has been observable that we have had a very good debate and hon. Members have valued the opportunity to raise a variety of issues.

Were there not a risk of my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Sir M. Neubert) thinking that I might be flippant, which is the last thing that I would wish to be on the subject that he raised, I would be tempted to say that no stone has been left unturned in this debate. Certainly no hedgerow was left unexplored in what we all fervently hope will not be the last speech by the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy).

I see that the hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) is not present. I personally thought that his speech was rather outside the normal tone and terms of this debate. A large part of his speech rested on the proposition that this place was dead, yet it has seemed very much alive this morning, which, in a sense, disproves what he said at the outset. His pretty extraordinary speech, on which the hon. Member for Dewsbury sought to build and which was effectively demolished by my right hon. Friend the Member for Honiton, was apparently based on attacking my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister for taking a position with which the hon. Gentleman declared that he agreed. I do not understand quite what he thought that he was at. He also succeeded, as did one or two others, in referring to devolution in the presence of the author of the West Lothian question without seeking to address it in any way, shape or form.

Leaving aside such points, I am faced this morning with an even more impossible task than usual because I have been invited to range across the entire future of the British constitution by my hon. Friends the Members for South Staffordshire (Sir P. Cormack) and for North Tayside (Mr. Walker). When I put together the remarks by the hon. Members for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) and one or two others, I realise that I have also been invited to range virtually across the entire British foreign policy—all in less than 10 minutes.

The hon. Member for Linlithgow knows very well that the Government have very strong objections to the United States' extra-territorial legislation, which is one of the things to which he referred. I assure him that, although we share the United States' desire to promote political and economic reform in Cuba, we differ fundamentally on the means by which to achieve it. I cannot comment on all the points that he made, but I shall of course ensure that his particular point on airport security is drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.

The hon. Member for Tooting is an indefatigable contributor to our debates because of his experience in many parts of the world. I cannot range over the whole situation in Cyprus, but I am grateful to him for recognising that Sir David Hannay's appointment as our special representative is a sign of our determination to help reinvigorate the settlement process.

I briefly touched on the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Romford, but I should also say that he knows that consultation is going on about the future location of the stone. I am quite sure that his remarks will be taken carefully into account in the course of that consultation.

Since the issues that the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) raised have by and large been the subject of extensive discussion and correspondence in various ways, he will not be surprised to learn that I am not in a position to add to what has been said on earlier occasions about the Bill to which he referred or, the unhappy—indeed, tragic—problem of haemophiliacs.

On the legal case concerning Gloucestershire county council, the Government are considering the judgment and its implications. Leave to appeal to the House of Lords has been granted and the Department of Health will consider whether to revise any of its guidance—which was of course the right hon. Gentleman's request—in the light of the House of Lords judgment. In any case, we shall shortly be discussing the details of the case with the local authority associations.

My right hon. Friend the Member for City of London and Westminster, South (Mr. Brooke) asked a specific question. I have an answer in front of me and I shall simply read it. Whether he regards it as an answer is a matter for him to judge, but we can no doubt return to it if he does not. It says that, in line with the investment appraisal process used throughout all NHS trusts, the final costs of the project to which he referred will not be known until the full business case has been produced. That will take into account the details of bids received from potential private sector partners in September and continuing discussions with the purchasing authority.

However, the trust is confident that the costs will be in line with those in the outline business case. That is certainly a relevant comment that my right hon. Friend will want to consider very carefully.

A number of references have been made to defence procurement. Although I cannot add to what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said when questioned about the matter yesterday, I assure the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth) in particular that I will ensure that the concerns and interest that he expressed on that front, together with the comments that he made on others, are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and other right hon. Friends as appropriate.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised a constituency case, and I well understand that. He had kindly given me notice of it. I must repeat that, as all hon. Members know, it is not possible for Ministers to intervene in judges' decisions. In view of what he said, however, I shall specifically ask for his speech to be drawn to the attention of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor.

I shall ensure that the remarks by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) are carefully studied. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence has asked the National Radiological Protection Board to undertake an independent inquiry into the contamination levels in the area to which the hon. Gentleman referred. It might also be possible for the Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment, which has a wide-ranging brief, to take account of any new information that arises concerning the position in his constituency.

I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South-West Bedfordshire (Sir D. Madel) recognises that it is no more possible for me to range across the entire education policy than it is for me to do so on foreign policy and the constitution. I have, however, noted with care his remarks, which I thought were interesting on that front as well as on industrial relations.

I thought that the usual knockabout by the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was quite good this morning. As ever when he gets to constituency matters, he made some important points, but I am not in a position to comment on them in detail. I am sorry that my success in getting him a letter from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has not satisfied his appetite. His appetite for a meeting remains and I shall ensure that the matter is drawn to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend.

As for the IIAC recommendations, with which, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, I am familiar, he slightly exaggerated the amount of time the Government have had to consider the proposals. As I understand it, the report was given to Ministers in March and published in May. These are complicated matters; a response will be made once all the issues raised have been given full and careful examination.

Lastly—I am doing rather well having referred already to hedgerows—I note the strong support for the D'Oyly Carte expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen). I know that the company is in the middle of complex commercial negotiations on its future, and I do not intend to comment further.

As for hedgerows, section 97 of the Environment Act 1995 requires that regulations be subject to consultation and approval by both Houses before they can come into effect. We expect to publish draft regulations for consultation later this summer, with the aim of laying the regulations before Parliament by the end of the year.

Apart from wheelclamping, which I shall bring to the attention of the Home Secretary as he is familiar with the problem, I believe that I have now touched on every subject raised this morning.

Social Policy (Europe)

12.30 pm

I welcome my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) to the Front Bench today. This is the first time he will have had the pleasure of engaging in debate with me, so my welcome for him is even greater than it might have been for any other Minister who might have attempted to yawn his way through the debate. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will not do that.

I make no apology for raising this subject again, the fifth time I have done so in the House since 1992. I promise my right hon. Friend that, if he accepts all my recommendations, I will never speak on this subject again. I suspect that that is a promise neither of us will be able to keep.

Our greatest problem in relation to European social policy has been our failure fully to understand how the treaty of Rome and its amendments work and have worked, and how the institutions of Europe have implemented the treaties. I refer to the Commission, the court and the Council of Ministers.

We have endlessly been told not to worry too much about the wording of the treaties; that they are vague, that they can be interpreted as we like, and that, after all, it is the nation states that will drive forward implementation of the treaties, so all will be well. In short, we are told that the vagueness of the wording will constitute our defence. I, on the other hand, have endlessly repeated that the language of the treaties, beginning with the preambles—even though they are officially ultra vires—is very important, because it allows the court to understand the precise direction in which the treaties lead.

Comments made by Advocates General and justices of the European Court have shown time and again how they see the vague treaty obligations being implemented. The problem of the 48-hour working week is a clear practical example of what I mean.

I should like to start by reading out some of these preambles. In wonderfully general language, one of them states:
'The Community shall have as its task… a high level of employment and of social protection, the raising of the standard of living and quality of life, and economic and social cohesion and solidarity among Member States."
Article 3 further states that
"a policy in the social sphere comprising a European Social Fund"
shall be pursued, and that
"the strengthening of economic and social cohesion"
shall be the guiding principle.

It is important to understand that the justices believe that such language gives them a sense of Europe's direction, which is eventually to act as one on such matters.

Too often, I believe, my right hon. and hon. Friends fail to understand the language in which these documents are couched. Articles 117 to 122 all concern social policy and are written in wonderfully general language. For instance, article 117 says:
"Such a development will ensue not only from the functioning of the common market, which will favour the harmonisation of social systems, but also from the procedures provided for in this Treaty and from the approximation of provisions laid down by law, regulation or administrative action".
Article 118 states:
"the Commission shall have the task of promoting close co-operation between Member States in the social field, particularly in matters relating to: employment; labour law and working conditions; basic and advanced vocational training; social security; prevention of occupational accidents and diseases; occupational hygiene; the right of association and collective bargaining between employers and workers".
Article 118a, which comes under qualified majority voting, is relevant, because, in the titanium dioxide case, the court has decided that such matters will be decided not by unanimity among the member states but by QMV. That is of course relevant to the 48-hour working week. It reads:
"Member States shall pay particular attention to encouraging improvements, especially in the working environment, as regards the health and safety of workers, and shall set as their objective the harmonisation of conditions in this area".
I do not intend to read out all the articles, but I do suggest that my hon. Friends read, re-read and re-re-read them.

Especially I would ask my hon. Friends to read article 5, which stipulates that member states
"shall abstain from any measure which could jeopardise the attainment of the objectives of this Treaty."
That is critical, because our social chapter opt-out is in Europe's sights.

The Minister's predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), assured me at the time of Maastricht that the court would not be a problem: that it was in the business of decentralising, and would rule in favour of nation states. Since then, there have been judgments against us on the transfer of undertakings and on fishing. Most recently, the Advocate General made his remarks about the 48-hour working week.

I was told after a previous speech that I was attacking the court. That is not my intention. It is only carrying out what it has always done—it sees itself as the architect of political union, just as it always has since 1954. Indeed, Judge David Edward told a Committee of the House exactly that. It is therefore quite wrong to think that I am attacking the court. What I am attacking is our failure to understand what we have signed up to. While we are contemplating the implementation of the social policy opt-out, Europe is already planning how the social chapter will work.

Back in 1960, Advocate General Roemer said:
"The European treaties are nothing but a partial implementation of a grand general programme, dominated by the idea of a complete integration of the European States".
Lasok and Bridge, authors of one of the premier reference works on the subject, have this to say:
"references to the spirit or the aims of the Treaties enable the Court to fill in the gaps in the system and so to 'update' the text. In doing so the Court has consciously acted not only as the Constitutional Court of the Community but also as an architect of European integration".

Labour Members—[HON. MEMBERS: "Where are they?"] None of them is here, and nor are the Liberals. Still, both parties make great play of the fact that, if they ever came to government, jointly or on their own, they would increase expenditure on a new range of social benefits. As I understand my hon. Friend's argument, however, what they say does not matter at all. This whole policy area has been taken over by Europe, which will decide how much we spend on it. So what the Labour and Liberal parties think is wholly irrelevant.

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. I am told that, if Labour gains power—God help us if it does—it will think the unthinkable, but I urge him not to think the unthinkable—that Labour will get into power. The resistance that the Government have put up has slowed the process, although it will not stop it. Labour will simply help to accelerate the process by acquiescing to everything laid down by Europe.

The latest and most important example of the process in action is the working time directive, of which my right hon. Friend the Minister will be only too well aware. Although limitations were set in the Council on the way the directive works, it will cost in practice up to £2 billion to implement, with a further £1 billion needed in the following two years.

The costs to industry will be severe and will be borne across the economy in lost employment, as the flexibility to employ under the previous conditions changes. The directive also breaks the historical way in which successive British Governments—ironically, even socialist Governments—have accepted the more laissez-faire and relaxed view on the way in which employers and employees negotiate contracts in this country.

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this debate? If I may say so, he is an entirely worthy successor to his honourable predecessor, the noble Lord Tebbit. I wish to give an example of the effect that the social chapter and the 48-hour week will have in my constituency.

Cleveland Potash—based near Whitby in the northern end of my constituency—is by far the biggest employer in the area. I was told last week that, if the 48-hour week is imposed, the company will have to lay men off. It is the only potash mine in this country, and competes, with mines in South America. The fact is that one works when the work is there, not when the Commission says so.

I totally agree with my hon. Friend, who has practical experience in these matters—something that too few hon. Members have. He has run a business, employed people, and, no doubt, laid people off at times.

If the working time directive is so successful, Spain—which has implemented all the measures—should be rocketing away in trade, and should have no unemployment. Everything in Spain should work according to what Labour believes and the proposal allows. Instead, Spain has more than 23 per cent. unemployment, more than 30 per cent. youth unemployment and a stagnating economy.

The idea that this country would put up with those problems and not have constant turmoil on the streets is unbelievable. This country, which has implemented none of the measures, has the lowest, and still declining, level of unemployment in Europe, and an enterprise economy on which we pride ourselves.

The interesting thing about Spain is that it gets £8 million a day from the EU, but, in spite of all that public subsidy, it does not succeed.

My hon. Friend makes yet another powerful point. The same applies to Germany, which has rising unemployment, and France. Having taken hard decisions—from changing the nature of pension rights to deregulating and making the work force more flexible—the Government are seeing those successes bear fruit. It would be a tragedy if we allowed that to change by implementing the directive.

Although there are practical reasons why implementation would be a disaster, there is also a principle involved. If we allow this matter to go through, and if we do not make it clear to the Commission and to our colleagues in Europe that we will not accept it and that we are prepared to do almost anything to stop it, a flood of further regulation will follow the directive. That regulation would restrict the flexibility of the British work force, and would bring it into line with the sclerotic and declining state of employment in Europe. That is why, for once, the principle is critical. Even though it is said that the situation is not as bad as some make out, the principle makes it devastating.

My right hon. Friend the Minister must demonstrate that he will resist implementation at all costs, because behind it lie increased holiday rights for fathers, increased regulations on employers on sex discrimination, more stifling controls on part-time workers, workers' privacy regulations, and restrictions on an employer's ability to dismiss employees. It goes on—the catalogue is endless.

Another matter of social policy which may even affect the would-be move to a single currency is the issue of pensions. We have made our pensions provision flexible by putting it out into the private sector. Funds have been provided, and people now have security for the future in a way that they never did before. In Europe, none of that is happening. I understand that an estimated £10 trillion-worth of liability exists across Europe, and that would be imported to this country were we to go down the road of a single currency. The process of social policy is about moving us to the lowest common denominator that exists across Europe.

We must make it clear that there is no point in putting a line in the sand and having an opt-out, if we accept that that opt-out can be bypassed by treaty obligations. We must make it clear that we will not only resist implementation but will absolutely refuse to allow it to happen. We must also seek a different relationship with Europe.

It is inconceivable that a Conservative Government could allow social provisions as contained in the articles of the treaty to dictate to us on the flexibility of our work force, which has better employment provisions than elsewhere. Now is the time for us to debate a different relationship, which would allow Britain to be the enterprise centre of Europe and the flexible trading partner with the rest of the world that we have always prided ourselves on being.

12.46 pm

I shall be extremely brief. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) on securing the debate. Some of us have been accused over the years of heinous and dastardly crimes against our country, our Government and our party, but he is saying in substance nothing new—we expressed these opinions in this place during the debates on the Maastricht treaty.

My hon. Friend will recall that we assembled some comments taken from debates on the treaty in a pamphlet that we called "Game, Set and Match?" In a debate on 20 January 1993, he said:
"Therefore, the route that I have demonstrated leaves the door open for substantial Community interference in social policy, effectively undermining our exclusion from the social chapter."
In the same debate, I said:
"Even though we may wish to opt out of the 48-hour working week directive … it is impossible to imagine a situation in which, 11 member states having voted for a particular directive, the court will not rule against us if we continue to defy that directive."—[Official Report, 20 January 1993; Vol. 217, c. 413–22.]
It is clear that we are not saying anything new, and what we said was not startling then—everyone else in Europe was saying pretty much the same thing.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister on a tiny ray of hope in "A Partnership of Nations", the Government's White Paper on European policy, in which paragraph 20 states:
"The Government is considering ideas for limiting the scope of Community action".
That may not have been enough for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory)—who made it clear that he did not believe that our European policy is working—but that is what we must pin our hopes upon if we are to stop European social policy wrecking our economy.

12.48 pm

I am honoured to be replying to the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford (Mr. Duncan Smith) has had the good fortune to secure. I am grateful for his welcome.

The Government's position on European social policy is already well known to the House. Since the Maastricht negotiations in 1991, the UK has been in a unique position in Europe. We and our European partners have taken separate paths as far as increasing the burden on businesses of social legislation is concerned. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Chingford will agree that the path taken by the UK is the better one.

I need only cite as evidence the decisions by LG and Siemens to locate major new manufacturing facilities in the UK to demonstrate that our policy is working. We are by far the most attractive destination for overseas investment in Europe. A significant factor in those investment decisions is our social opt-out. Though we participate to the full in the single market, we have chosen not to be bound by commitments taken on by our partners under the agreement of the Fourteen on social policy.

There is some confusion about what our opt-out means. It is not correct that we are not bound by any elements of European social policy. The European Union treaty has always contained several provisions relating to social policy, such as health and safety and equal treatment: we are bound by them, and we honour them in full. In fact, the UK has a much better record than most member states on that.

However, we are not bound by any agreements concluded by the Fourteen under the Maastricht social agreement, such as the European works councils directives. Some sections of the press have trumpeted the fact that, in spite of that, some British multinational companies have decided to adopt works councils. The crucial point is that those companies had the freedom to choose, and made their decisions voluntarily. It is vital for businesses that they, not Government, make such decisions.

Another example is the directive on parental leave, to which my hon. Friend referred, which was also recently agreed by the Fourteen. British companies are, of course, free to provide generous benefits for employees after the birth of their children, but we will not force them to incur high costs, regardless of their ability to meet them, by relinquishing our social opt-out. The most likely result would be not higher social standards but higher unemployment.

The UK's flexible and deregulated labour market encourages employment and growth. We want it to continue to do so. Had the UK signed up to the social chapter, legislation on working conditions could have been imposed on us by qualified majority, whatever the views of the British Government, employers and workers. That is why the Government will not sign up to the terms of the Maastricht social chapter. We certainly could not sign up to the social chapter and then control it.

I am sorry, but I do not have long. If I have time, I will come back to my hon. Friend.

We could not pick and choose the bits of the social chapter that suit us. The moment we signed up, the scale of legislation would undoubtedly increase, and Britain would be overruled on many matters vital to our economy.

What do we believe to be the European Community's legitimate role in social policy? It is certainly not the case that we see no role for the European Community at all in employment or social matters. There is vital work that the Community can do, but its social policy and employment agenda must be founded on three important principles.

The first is competitiveness. Significant and sustainable growth is impossible in an uncompetitive economy. If Community businesses are not able to maintain and improve their competitiveness, jobs will not be created in the Community but be increasingly located outside it. Europe will not be able to compete in the global marketplace. Many provisions of the agreement of the Fourteen on social policy will lead directly to a loss of competitiveness. Many British and foreign businesses also believe that.

Secondly, we insist on diversity. That is, or should be, one of the Community's greatest strengths. The diversity of our institutions, traditions and legislation is as great in employment and the labour market as in almost any other sphere, and it must be respected. No one can believe that the measures necessary to combat unemployment in Greece or Spain are the same as those required in Britain. Are the problems of regulating working practices the same in Sweden as they are in Portugal? I think not. Unnecessary harmonisation risks raising costs and damaging competitiveness.

The third essential is subsidiarity. European social policy must respect the division of legal competence between the Community and member states that is laid down in the treaties, and the principle of subsidiarity that is now enshrined in them. Much of the action required to combat unemployment must be, and often can only be, undertaken by member states themselves. The Community's role is to support and complement action by them, not to try to supplant that action altogether or to tell them what action they must take.

When the treaty on European Union was concluded, the UK succeeded in including the principle of subsidiarity in its text. In the current intergovernmental conference to consider treaty changes, the UK will make proposals to entrench subsidiarity still further.

We are also committed to doing everything in our power to convince our European partners of the dangers of creating a two-tier labour market: one tier of people with permanent jobs, well paid and with all the benefits of pension rights, holiday pay, and employment protection legislation; and a second tier either with no job, or forced into temporary contracts—or even the black economy—because employers are deterred by excessive regulation from offering permanent jobs. We are bound by a simple moral principle: it is wrong to favour those in jobs at the expense of those without them, or to concentrate on protecting the employment of the first tier while failing to increase the employability of the second.

It is clear that adding yet more employment law or social legislation will do nothing to help the people of Britain, or those of the rest of Europe.

Conservative Members fully endorse all that my right hon. Friend has said, but what will the Government do to renegotiate our obligations under the various treaties, and limit the powers of the European Court of Justice to bring in by the back door the very things to which he is rightly opposed?

If I have time, I shall come to that.

We are not going to add more employment law or social legislation, because that will not help the people of Britain or of Europe. Europe's employers are well aware of that. A large-scale survey carried out by UNICE, the Union of Industrial and Employers Confederations of Europe, last year found that employment law was the second highest cause of concern for business men. A survey last summer by the European Enterprise Centre found that two thirds of Europe's smaller companies were worried that higher social costs resulting from the Maastricht social chapter would make them less competitive.

Some member states are seeking to extend Community competence over employment at the intergovernmental conference. The UK will strongly oppose this, just as we shall oppose any suggestion that our social opt-out should be abolished. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made that very clear.

The need to create more jobs and to tackle unemployment is one of the highest priorities in Europe, but it is businesses and employers who create jobs and the Governments of individual member states who create the right conditions for employment. Jobs cannot be brought into being simply by legislating for them in the treaty. The way to create new employment in Europe is to improve competitiveness and productivity.

I must mention an issue that has been the subject of much lively debate inside and outside the House. The Government are awaiting the judgment of the European Court of Justice on the UK's challenge to the working time directive. The UK believes that the directive is a piece of social legislation that has been foisted on us in the guise of a health and safety measure.

We hope that the court will confirm our interpretation of the health and safety article 118a, which would exclude its use for such measures. If the court does not endorse our view, we will ensure at the intergovernmental conference that our concerns about possible erosion of our social opt-out, and about that directive in particular, are addressed. The Government's IGC White Paper "A Partnership of Nations" expressed our determination to ensure that the health and safety article of the treaty should not be used for social policy by the back door.

Now that some Labour Members are present, I can refer to their leader. He has tried to calm the fears of British business on several occasions, because the Labour party remains committed to signing the job-destroying social chapter. In that, it is playing true to form—more regulation and higher costs for employers, which will lead inevitably to firms going bust and to higher unemployment.

The right hon. Gentleman has tried to maintain that the Labour party would sign up to proposals for social regulation only if they did not inflict economic or competitive damage on British business. That claim is disingenuous, to say the least. The right hon. Gentleman constantly refuses to accept that, if Britain gives up its social opt-out, it will sign up to a future of European labour law, with unquantifiable consequences. The social agreement between the other EU nations contains substantial sections governed by qualified majority voting, and with QMV one cannot pick and choose those bits one likes and those one does not. The right hon. Gentleman's proposition is pure doublespeak.

One reason why more social policies have not been put through the social chapter is that Britain has an opt-out, and other countries do not want to give British business a competitive advantage. Our opt-out is protecting businesses across the whole of Europe from giving away competitive advantage to the rest of the world. Labour would give all that away. Adair Turner, director general of the Confederation of British Industry, has said that the way to pick and choose is not to sign up to the social chapter at all.


1 pm

I am pleased to introduce this short debate on the future of Kashmir. I have notified the Minister that the hon. Members for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) and for Keighley (Mr. Waller) hope to contribute briefly. I am glad that my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Godsiff) and for Tooting (Mr. Cox) are in their places, together with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Greenway)—all of whom have taken a considerable interest in the Kashmir dispute over many years.

Since 1990, there has been a popular insurrection by the people of Kashmir in support of the right of self-determination, for which they have struggled in the face of a determined effort to eradicate their state. We have seen the displacement of 2 million Kashmiris over a long period, the killing of 40,000 Kashmiris, the murder of an entire generation of young Kashmiris, and the transfer of large numbers of non-Kashmiris to Kashmir, with the clear objective of diluting the indigenous population and facilitating a more favourable electorate.

We have seen the occupation of Kashmir by 700,000 members of the Indian forces—one member of the Indian security forces for every 10 Kashmiris. We have seen the systematic destruction of the local economy, grievous pollution of the Kashmiri environment, gross human rights violations, systematic curfews, house searches, rape, torture, detention without trial and disappearances.

We have seen an orchestrated bid to remove political and other leaders of the Kashmiri people by assassination and disappearance, and sustained efforts to erode the Kashmiri language and culture. All that has occurred over many long years.

The recent elections in Kashmir were widely condemned by the international media, who reported widespread intimidation and coercion of Kashmiri people by Indian military forces. Before the elections, there was one member of the Indian military forces for every four Kashmiris.

The British Government have equivocated in the face of challenges to the free and fair nature of those elections. It was absurd of the Government to refuse to publish a report by a British high commission official from Delhi who observed the Kashmir elections, on the ground that it was a confidential internal document. That absurdity caused widespread concern in the House and outside, and I hope that the Minister will say today that the report will be published, so that we may all know the views of the British official who was asked to observe the elections.

The current view of the Indian Government is that state elections will take place in September. It is important that candidates should not be required to sign a declaration of support for the Indian constitution, and essential that a large number of international observers are present in Kashmir to monitor the elections.

The new Indian Government have received an overwhelming welcome. We all wish Prime Minister Gowda well in overcoming the awesome problems facing his country. Senior members of his Cabinet are known for their sympathetic understanding of the Kashmir dispute, which they have demonstrated in courageous ways in the past. I think particularly of Foreign Minister Gujral, Home Minster Gupta, and Defence Minister Yadav of the United Front Government of India.

A recently published document, "The United Front: A Common Approach to Major Policy Matters and a Minimum Programme" concludes:
"India today is in the midst of a major transition in its economic, social and political life. This is a transition period which will be guided by the need to strengthen the principles of democracy, secularism, federalism and social justice. The ethos of our humanist tradition and the aspirations of the Independence struggle inspire the United Front Government to carry out the above programme. In the building of this new India of equality, justice and fraternity, we seek the fullest participation of all citizens. The hallmark of the United Front Government's approach will be the greater and greater involvement of our people in all its endeavours."
The section on Jammu and Kashmir states:
"the problems of Jammu and Kashmir will be resolved through giving the people of that State the maximum degree of autonomy."
That important statement comes from a new Government who have clearly broken the mould of Indian politics, which will never be the same again now that the Gandhi dynasty has been broken. In the climate of enormous opportunities and challenges that that presents, the British Government should say what they propose to do. This country has a shared history with the Indian subcontinent. The core reasons for the Kashmir conflict go back to before independence in 1947. We carry an enormous responsibility for the present situation. The situation in Kashmir today is unacceptable to the international community and to the vast majority of the British public, including the Kashmiri community in this country.

Do the Government have the will and political determination to encourage talks between the Governments of India and Pakistan—if necessary, talks about talks? The UK convened several conferences to resolve the Bosnian conflict. Why not a conference in London to find a way out of the Kashmir conflict? We have appointed a special envoy to try to resolve the Cyprus dispute. Why not a special envoy to do the same in respect of Kashmir? There are close parallels.

Will the British Government press the Indian Government to allow access to Kashmir by UN rapporteurs—particularly those responsible for investigating torture and executions? It is intolerable that successive Indian Governments have isolated the people, problems and conflicts of Kashmir from world and international opinion. They have consistently refused Amnesty International and other human rights groups access to Kashmir and the right to move freely around the country.

Will our Government now press the new Government of India to allow human rights groups access to Kashmir? Will they press the new Government of India to grant visas to Lord Avebury and an international mission which applied for visas weeks ago, which wishes to mediate on the hostages taken more than a year ago in Kashmir? We shall all appreciate it if the Minister gives us the latest reports on the hostages.

We should remember that the people of Kashmir have demonstrated against and condemned the taking of hostages and condemned those who were responsible for taking the hostages, who were kidnapped more than a year ago. Several leading Kashmiri politicians have sought to mediate and ensure that those hostages are released immediately alive and well. So Kashmiri politicians and the Kashmiri people do not condone hostage-taking. Indeed, their struggle is for the right to self-determination and it is clearly based on democratic means.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that, since 1947, there have been elections in Kashmir, and democratic Governments have been established who have not at any stage demanded independent status for the people of Kashmir? Does he accept that there is outside interference, and that the terrorists who are killing ordinary people are being armed from outside? Those who have taken up arms are not even citizens of Pakistan, but citizens of other countries.

My hon. Friend has a perfect right to express his views. I do not agree entirely with all that he says. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, it is clear that a popular insurrection is under way in Kashmir, which is based on the determined struggle for the right to self-determination. The outcome of self-determination is for the people of Kashmir. We are concerned that the people of Kashmir should be given an early opportunity to decide the destiny of their country.

Will the British Government press the Government of India to allow journalists from around the world freely to report what is happening in Kashmir, and to allow Members of this House and the other place easy access to visas to enable them to visit Kashmir and talk to the people of Kashmir?

Kashmir represents today the most serious threat to regional peace. Both India and Pakistan have gone to war over Kashmir. Both now have nuclear capability. Both countries are using enormous amounts of scarce resources to purchase military hardware and pursue a military solution in Kashmir. That is unavailable; there is no military solution to the Kashmiri conflict. There can be only a political solution. We need to encourage India and Pakistan to declare war on poverty and use their scarce resources to relieve the awesome poverty that both countries confront, and not to pursue military means of resolving the Kashmiri conflict.

Her Majesty's Government have a key role to play. They have a responsibility to find a lasting, peaceful, political settlement. I hope today that we may hear from the Minister some change of thinking and, more particularly, some indication of what action Her Majesty's Government are prepared to take. A more proactive, robust role would be widely welcomed, and might bring a resolution to the conflict earlier rather than later.

1.13 pm

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) for the opportunity to participate in this most valuable debate. One of the encouraging aspects of the long dispute in Kashmir is that, for many years, there has been a bipartisan or tripartisan approach to the issue among Back-Bench Members.

The long conflict over Kashmir can be regarded only as a terrible tragedy, not only for the people of Kashmir but for all the people of the subcontinent. Kashmir's status is essentially the nub of the serious tension which exists between the two great powers of India and Pakistan. It is difficult to imagine the enormous cost to both countries of maintaining such substantial defence forces, which are largely devoted to this single conflict in a small part of south Asia. As the hon. Member for Bradford, West said, the cost greatly outweighs the resources devoted to education, health and social services in the subcontinent.

Britain and other aid-giving countries cannot be indifferent to the disparities in Kashmir. Therefore, although the conflict cannot ultimately be resolved without the commitment of both India and Pakistan, we have a duty to express our concern, and exert some pressure on the parties to negotiate seriously about the future of the territory.

As the hon. Member said, the irregularities and abuses in the most recent elections were well documented in the world's media. New elections for an assembly are now planned by India, and it is most important that international observers should be allowed to be present. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will put some pressure on India to allow that to take place.

The nature of the powers in south Asia in the world today make the dispute in Kashmir one of the most intransigent and dangerous. I hope that, in the 50th year since independence and partition, if we cannot look forward to an imminent resolution, at least some significant progress can be made towards that happy outcome.

1.16 pm

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) for allowing me a little time to intervene in this debate. It is a shame that we have such a short debate. I should like us to have a long debate in the House in Government time about Kashmir.

We are all aware of the documented evidence of torture. We know that cases of rape occur daily. It is intolerable for the people of Indian-controlled Kashmir that the situation should continue. I hope that the Government will use their good offices with the new Indian Government—there is hope now because there is a new Indian Government—to persuade them to come to the negotiating table along with Pakistan to find a just solution and to consult the people of Kashmir. The people of Kashmir have a right to self-determination and to discuss and decide their own future. We cannot continue in this way.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will give us some reassurance today that he and his Government are prepared to put pressure on India to make sure that the human rights abuses stop and that India comes to the negotiating table.

1.18 pm

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) for requesting this debate. I know that the Kashmiri situation continues to be a matter of great concern to him and his constituents and to many others on both sides of the House, as the debate demonstrates. It is also a matter of serious concern to the Government, as I am sure everyone is aware. Therefore, I am pleased to have an opportunity to explain the Government's thinking on this difficult issue.

I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox), who is the new Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. As from the end of this debate, he will have direct responsibility for south Asia, in which I wish him well. He is assiduous in his research.

I can assure the hon. Member for Bradford, West that we pay close attention to developments in Kashmir. That has always been the case, and it is even more so now. Indeed, for more than a year we have had a permanent presence in Srinagar as part of our continuing efforts to secure the release of two British citizens, Paul Wells and Keith Mangan, who were kidnapped by militants last summer. They were taken, together with an American, a German and a Norwegian, in early July 1995. Very sadly, the Norwegian was killed in August 1995, and we have not had proof of life for the others since 28 August 1995.

We should not debate the subject of Kashmir without remembering the suffering that all the hostages' families have been through, and continue to endure. Members of the Foreign Office's consular division are in contact with them daily. Our thoughts are always with them and their loved ones as efforts continue in Delhi, Islamabad, Srinagar and capitals throughout the world to find out what has happened to them. These four are caught in an issue that is not of their making, and we owe them all our efforts.

Hostage taking is counter-productive. The kidnapping of Paul, Keith and the others has done nothing but harm to the Kashmir cause. Political leaders in the valley know that. We are grateful to those who have demanded the release of our citizens. We ask those political leaders, and others, to redouble their efforts to help us to establish what has happened to the four of them.

Kashmir has been a theatre of conflict for far too long. The Kashmiri people deserve better than to live their lives in an atmosphere of violence and intimidation. It is 10 years since I was last there, but I remember the beauty of the landscape and the friendliness of the people. Kashmir's reputation has led many thousands of tourists to the edge of Lake Srinagar, to trek into the hills or to buy the excellent carpetware for which the region is rightly famed. Kashmir had a successful tourist industry, but it is no more—the insurgency has ended that. It has brought danger to the region. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office now advises British visitors not to go. We do not want more kidnaps.

Kashmir has been a theatre of conflict for too long. It continues to bedevil relations between two great countries, India and Pakistan, two great friends of the United Kingdom. We regret that.

I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members are familiar with our policy on Kashmir. We believe that the way forward must involve simultaneous progress on three fronts. The first is bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan. Self-evidently, both India and Pakistan are crucial to a settlement, but it is not easy, because they are two neighbours who do not talk. We would like them to, not only on Kashmir but on the full range of bilateral issues, and we have told them so and written to tell them so.

The atmosphere now is encouraging—better than it has been for some time, as the hon. Member for Bradford, West rightly deduced. Since the election of a United Front Government in Delhi, both sides have expressed a willingness to resume talks. We warmly welcomed that. This might initially be at senior official level, continuing talks last held in January 1994. There is no agreement to do so yet, but quiet diplomacy is continuing behind the scenes. We take this opportunity to urge both sides again to agree to hold talks.

Now is surely the right time. It is 25 years since India and Pakistan last went to war. Twenty-five years after the second world war, victors and vanquished had formed new alliances. They had recognised that it made more sense to work together for common prosperity, as equal partners, than to turn their backs on one another. The same could be true in south Asia.

If India and Pakistan do resume talks, I hope that they will agree to open a new chapter in their relationship, to try to establish greater trust between the two Governments and the two peoples. We are keen for greater links to be developed between the two—more trade, more tourism, more exchanges. The hostility that has existed between these two great countries, both Commonwealth nations, with so much in common, has spawned, fanned and sustained the violence in Kashmir.

But what about the Kashmiris? Should they not have a say in the future of their home? Yes, of course they should. An improvement in the relationship between India and Pakistan is a sine qua non for any lasting settlement to the Kashmir problem; but equally important is the development of a genuine political process in which the aspirations of the population can be accommodated. We have not spelt out what that process should be, because it is not for us to do so, but we have said that elections can be part of the process.

There has been much interest in the House in the parliamentary elections held recently in Kashmir. Members on both sides of the House have criticised them, noting specifically the allegations of coercion that were reported in the Indian and international press. We saw those reports of pressure being exerted on people to vote, reports which we are not in a position to dismiss. The elections were not perfect—the statements of the Indian election commissioners implicitly recognise that—but the issue is peace and how to get there.

As my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said in the House on 10 July, free and fair elections can play a part in leading the way from violence towards dialogue and a political settlement of these difficult problems. The voting in the parliamentary elections showed that elections there can take place, and that many of the population want to vote. They are fed up with violence; they want peace. We can all sympathise with that, because terrorism does not offer a way forward. Democracy does.

The hon. Member for Bradford, West mentioned the publication of the high commission's report on the elections. The report was written by one member of our high commission who visited Kashmir during the elections. It is not possible to publish a copy of the report, and it is therefore not possible to place it in the Library of the House, because it is a confidential internal document. I believe that it contains critical information, which we should absorb. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we take the internal report very seriously.

It is important that we try to encourage elections, and that they be free and fair.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, because I know that time is short.

I too very much welcome the opportunity for the Kashmiri people to express their opinions, but does the Minister accept that it is crucial to a democratic process that people be allowed the right to say what they want and to express their opinions on the whole political position? Is it not the case that the elections that the Indians are talking about would take place on the basis that, unless candidates subscribed to the Indian constitution, they would be committing acts of treason, were they to advocate, for example, that Kashmir should not be part of India? That surely cannot be a true democratic process.

The House should be aware that the Indian authorities want to hold state elections in Kashmir in the autumn; these will be the first state elections since 1987, and will bring an end to President's rule from Delhi. It is only right that the people in Jammu and Kashmir should have the right to elect local representatives and be governed by them, and we hope that, if elections are held, militants and political leaders in the valley will allow those who wish to participate to do so, and that the wishes of those who prefer not to vote will be respected.

If the Indian Government decided to invite international observers to monitor the elections, we would definitely welcome that, and it would enable the elections—

I said "briefly". In welcoming these provincial elections, will my right hon. Friend make it clear that it would be quite wrong if anyone was scared off voting by militant terrorists?

Absolutely; indeed, I have just said that. I agree with my hon. Friend.

If the Indian Government decided to invite observers, we would welcome it; it would allow the elections to take place in an atmosphere of greater trust—that is something that has been lacking in previous elections. Furthenmore, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs said on 10 July, it would make an important and significant contribution to the credibility of any electoral process in such a sensitive area.

Elections must be part of the process, but there must be a dialogue between the Indian Government in Delhi and the political leaders in Kashmir if peace is to return, and the development of a genuine political process is important. So too is the improvement of human rights there. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms Lynne) spoke graphically on that subject.

The situation continues to cause us grave concern. Members of the security forces continue to be implicated in allegations of human rights abuses. Recently, there have been some improvements in the position, but we should like to see more.

The greatest threat to human rights in the region is the cycle of violence that the local population has had to suffer since the insurgency began. We have long called for an end to external support for this violence, but, sadly, it continues. Indeed, it seems likely that many of those responsible for the kidnapping of Paul Wells and Keith Mangan were not Kashmiris.

I recognise that terrorist violence makes life difficult for the security forces in Kashmir, and that they are there in large numbers. As hon. Members know only too well, terrorism must not be allowed to triumph, and tough action is necessary. But the fight against terrorism must not compromise respect for human rights. We know that from Northern Ireland, where our forces are conscious of the need to respect human rights in maintaining law and order.

I am grateful that the Indian Government are showing a willingness to give access to outside observers and international humanitarian organisations. A key development was their agreement in the past year to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross access to Kashmir.

So what can the UK do? First, it is not right for us to seek to impose a solution. It is for those directly involved to discuss the way forward. I am often asked by those who fail to understand the complexity of the situation why the UK could not mediate. Mediation would work only if the fundamental conditions were right, and both India and Pakistan wanted it.

Order. The next debate is on the defence industry in the north-west. I call Mr. Nigel Evans.

Defence Industry (North-West)

1.30 pm

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this vital issue concerning the importance of defence manufacturing in the north-west and I am delighted to have the support of so many of my colleagues from both within and outside the north-west. Those include, from outside the north-west, my right hon. Friend the Member for Northavon (Sir J. Cope) and my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and, from within the north-west, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins). My hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth) will be interested in some of what I shall say and would wish to participate if he could, but I am extremely grateful to see him in his place.

I am also pleased to see my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), for Southport (Mr. Banks), for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and for Wyre (Mr. Mans). Opposition Members from the north-west include the hon. Members for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), for Burnley (Mr. Pike) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne). The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) must also be interested in this debate.

Britain has a long and distinguished history in international affairs, which has bequeathed us a unique role on the world stage today, from the time when the sun never set on the British empire to present-day conflicts. We are the only country to be a member of NATO, the European Union, the Western European Union, the Commonwealth and the Group of Seven leading industrial countries, and a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

As President Chirac noted earlier this year, Britain has a long tradition of action abroad. That proud tradition has continued under this Government, with our troops, aircraft and Navy not only protecting our protectorates and assets abroad, such as the Falklands, but participating in grand coalitions of states enforcing the rule of law. That can be seen time and again—for example, in the Gulf, when our Tornado fighters, built in the north-west, were the first to brave enemy anti-aircraft fire and bomb Baghdad, and, more recently, in Bosnia, with UNPROFOR enforcing the peace process.

We are still a nation with a global reach. Even if it is not all that it once was, we can still hold up our heads with pride. For example, in one month in 1995, British forces were deployed or carrying out exercises in more than 30 different parts of the world. We are proud to continue that tradition, but we must ensure that our troops continue to be the best armed in the world.

Defence procurement now goes some way to achieving that goal. It accounts for 40 per cent. of our defence budget. It is important to maintain technical superiority, the like of which we have in the north-west. The importance of defence procurement to the economy as a whole and in the north-west in particular is beyond question. Some 38 per cent. of net manufacturing output in the north-west is directly related to aerospace products, which are affiliated to the Consortium for Lancashire Aerospace. Its 127 member companies range from British Aerospace, Rolls-Royce and GEC to smaller companies, some with only five or six employees.

The number of jobs involved is staggering. Up to 40,000 people are employed in the industry. At least two other jobs depend on every aerospace job. We can see the devastating effect that the cancellation or refusal of an order can have on the area from the loss of a 10-year lead in electronics and thousands of jobs when the TSR2 was cancelled by the then Labour Government in 1965 because it allegedly cost too much.

That was especially important to British Aerospace in Preston, where thousands of jobs were lost. The effect on the local economy was so severe that people still discuss the loss of that order today. We must not allow such catastrophes to happen again, as they would if Labour ever had a chance to put into operation its plan to slash defence by £4.5 billion. New Labour would certainly mean new danger to jobs in the north-west.

Today, the British armed forces are better armed and equipped than they have ever been, not only in high-tech weaponry but in boots and clothing, and I congratulate the Government on that considerable achievement. To continue it, we must guarantee the success of the British defence industry, especially the expertise and skills for which the north-west has become famous.

My right hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble and I have visited British Aerospace, Samlesbury, in my constituency several times and marvelled at the skills there. Many people from all our constituencies work in the factories there, and at Warton just outside my constituency. Their projects include the Eurofighter, which is set to be a major success, despite the fact that, only a few months ago, there was a major dispute between the four partner nations—Britain, Germany, Spain and Italy—over who should get how many finished aircraft, and over the flight control system.

The Eurofighter is a magnificent aircraft, which I saw in flight at Warton recently. It has advantages over all its competitors, particularly the American F22, which, although it allegedly has a better flight control system, could cost £20 million more per plane. The French Rafale, although roughly the same price, is easily out-performed by the Eurofighter, and the far cheaper Swedish Grippen is much inferior.

We must never forget the strategic importance of having a manufacturing base that is capable of producing aircraft such as the Eurofighter. It has an extremely good chance of being a commercial success, which can but benefit this country. An amazing number of jobs are tied into that project. Once British Aerospace has received the production investment go ahead, the number of people directly employed on the project will be 2,000. That does not include outside contractors or service industry providers, of which there are many.

According to an article in The Times earlier this week, if the aircraft is as big a success as early indications suggest, as it has advantages over all its main rivals, it will have a significant impact on dole queues in the Lancashire area. I urge the Government not to ignore that.

Defence is the life-blood of the north-west economy, and we have become world beaters in that area. It is essential, however, that the Government make the right choices in their procurement programme—unlike the Labour Government of the 1960s who, through their short-sighted penny pinching, consigned many skilled Lancashire workers to the scrap heap and lost us a massive lead in military technology, which filters through to civilian life and benefits us all.

Opposition Members call for diversification, but we must remember the importance of the defence manufacturing industry to the north-west, the fact that the skills base remains in the north-west, and that exports and research are important.

I was about to refer to the Nimrod upgrade.

As the prime contractor and design authority for Nimrod 2000, British Aerospace will take responsibility for many aspects of the plane, including the flight and test evaluation. All management and integration tasks will be carried out at Warton, thereby ensuring the retention and development of those key technologies for future airborne weapon system platforms.

But it is not only British Aerospace that will benefit directly from a contract of that size. Arrangements are in place for north-west industry to gain from contracts. Indeed, 68 companies already benefit from the £50 million-plus-worth of business that comes their way each year as subcontractors to British Aerospace Military Aircraft division alone. However, the Nimrod contract will be worth £212 million to the region as a whole.

Several hon. Members from the north-west contacted me earlier to ask whether I would give way to them during the debate. I said yes to all those hon. Members, none of whom included Opposition Members.

The Nimrod contract represents a total of 5,825 jobs in the north-west. Of those, 3,000 jobs will go, directly and indirectly, to British Aerospace, Warton. In addition, more than 1,500 jobs will go to subcontractors in the region, and a further 1,250 will go to other British Aerospace plants in the area.

As well as the immediate effects that a contract will bring, the export potential for the Nimrod 2000 has been examined by British Aerospace and the Department of Trade and Industry. They have estimated that the export market is worth more than £9 billion over the next 25 to 30 years, addressing both upgrades to existing fleets in the short term and the building of new aircraft after 2015 in the long term.

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. I know that he would wish to associate his remarks with our hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack), in whose constituency Warton is located and who cannot be present for the debate due to ministerial commitments. Will my hon. Friend, the Minister and his scribe accept that it is not acceptable to delay the procurement projects that affect the north-west and other areas beyond the next few days? The decisions have been taken, and the agreements have almost been made. The Treasury must now give the go-ahead, and we expect that to occur very soon.

I am extremely concerned about the delay in giving the order for the replacement maritime aircraft. I understand that the Ministry of Defence has already made a decision. Many workers in the north-west and elsewhere expect that order to be given, and the delay is extremely worrying for them.

I apologise for intervening in a debate about the north-west, but the issue is also important for my part of the country. I think that the Treasury must realise that, if it abuses the tender process by delaying beyond the arranged timetable, future orders will cost more.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. I have referred to the Nimrod's export potential when the contract is awarded. A union official from British Aerospace contacted me this morning. He said that, if the awarding of the contract is delayed further, firms may not be able to keep their technical work forces together. We risk losing that skills base if we delay much longer.

The Chamber must send a message today, on behalf of those hon. Members who are interested in the matter, that the Government must pull their finger out. Many people are waiting for the order to be given; they want to get on with it, as many jobs and export orders depend upon it.

Does my hon. Friend agree that those in the north-west, like the two of us, and others, would be wronged if the process were reopened after decisions had been taken at the instigation of an American aerospace company? That would go down badly in the United Kingdom, particularly in the north-west.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We understand that the decision has been taken, and the Government must now act to secure those jobs in this country.

The people in the south of England care about the matter very much. Has my hon. Friend had an opportunity to read today's Defence Select Committee report on the defence estimates, which says that it will not be able to recommend the defence estimates to the House when they are debated in October unless the Government fulfil the contract and the rest of the defence estimates as promised?

I have not yet had the happy opportunity of reading that report. However, I know that it is important to hon. Members that the contract be awarded as soon as possible. Many people expected that to occur before the House rose today, but I understand that the contract will be given during the recess.

Our message is loud and clear: the order contract must be awarded as soon as possible. I am delighted that my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester, who cannot speak in the debate, has heard that message. I am sure that he will pass it on to those who need to hear it, so that action can be taken.

Other aircraft and missile orders besides Nimrod are important. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Dover) is interested in the matter as well. For instance, there is the Hawk trainer aircraft. I am delighted to see several Labour Members in the Chamber, some of whom signed the early-day motion in an attempt to prevent the export orders of Hawks to Indonesia using bogus information supplied by people who have no interest in defence manufacturing in this country. They would happily see those jobs exported to France, Germany and Sweden. I am delighted that the Government are turning a blind eye to them, and will support those exports. It is important for defence manufacturing skills in the north-west that we support the Hawk trainer aircraft.

As well as jobs in the defence manufacturing industry, many other jobs in related industries will be affected. Local hotels, shops and other businesses provide services to defence manufacturing. We saw the damage that was done during the 1960s when the TSR2 order was cancelled. British Aerospace in Preston lost many jobs, and there was an enormous knock-on effect throughout the economy. People talk about those job losses even today.

I turn now to Royal Ordnance, as I have concentrated mainly on British Aerospace aircraft. It is a major employer in my area. Other companies involved in the defence industry provide many jobs in my constituency.

Including Leyland Trucks, as my right hon. Friend has mentioned.

Royal Ordnance has three offices in the north-west, at Chorley, Blackburn and Radway Green, which between them employ 1,500 highly qualified technical and managerial staff. They also use several dozen subcontractors, and that accounts for a further 5,000 jobs. The peace dividend has meant falling orders for the north-west. The company is finding it difficult to compete against overseas competitors, which are often state-sponsored.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. According to the Register of Members' Interests, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has taken several trips at the behest of British Aerospace. Should he not declare an interest in the debate?

That is not a point of order for the Chair. The Chamber is not the place to make such complaints. All hon. Members are familiar with the procedures of the House. They know that they can declare an interest in the House if they so desire, or through the Register of Members' Interests.

I have no problems with that; the information is there for all to see. British Aerospace, Samlesbury, is in my constituency, and, unlike the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike), I stand up and speak in support of my constituents' jobs. I am not trying to destroy their jobs; I am backing them.

I call upon the Ministry of Defence to look seriously at the imminent contract for the SRA 1236 competition for a stand-off bunker-busting weapon, and to consider the implications for the north-west, without compromising the quality of weaponry in the infantry, should the contract go abroad. I am sure that some of the old doubts remain: such as, should we spend vast sums of money developing our own aircraft and munitions when we could buy cheaper abroad? That is an extremely dangerous path to tread.

No one could call me a friend of subsidies—I deplore the propping up of ailing state industries, many of which would be recreated under a Labour Government. However, our lean armaments industry is neither subsidised nor ailing. I am afraid that, if we ignore the strategic importance of the defence industry in the north-west and destroy it, we will never get it back. We will lose those skilled workers to France, Germany, the United States and elsewhere. We cannot afford to lose the technological and the strategic edge.

For example, if we were to import cheap Russian planes because the market is good at present and there is easy access to spares and munitions, what would happen if a hardline nationalist or communist took over in the Kremlin and denied us access to those parts? We would have squandered our technological lead, and we would be at the mercy of an unfriendly power. I urge the Government to take that factor into consideration.

There are other projects in the pipeline, such as the future large aircraft and the future offensive aircraft. We must ensure that we award the orders and contracts and look to the long-term future of the British defence manufacturing industry—of which hon. Members should be proud, rather than sitting back and carping at every opportunity. We must get behind that industry and support those men and women who are producing the aircraft, and who are taking a lead in exporting to the world and providing a great service to this country.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I mean no disrespect to the Minister for Competition and Consumer Affairs, but several hon. Members were expecting the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to come to the Dispatch Box and make an announcement about the replacement maritime patrol aircraft, which affects hundreds of my constituents who work for British Aerospace in Prestwick. I ask you to demand that the Minister of State for Defence Procurement comes to the Dispatch Box today to answer the call by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and to make that statement.

The hon. Gentleman knows full well that it is for the Government to decide who appears at the Dispatch Box.

1.48 pm

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) on his success in securing this Adjournment debate, and on using the opportunity to raise the defence industry's interests in the north-west. I know that he and other hon. Members representing constituencies in the region—not least my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester (Mr. Brandreth), who is in his place sharing the ministerial Bench with me—work hard to impress on the Government the importance of the industry.

I also mention my right hon. Friends the Members for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins) and for Northavon (Sir J. Cope), and my hon. Friends the Members for Wyre (Mr. Mans), for Southport (Mr. Banks), for Chorley (Mr. Dover), for Blackpool, South (Mr. Hawkins), for Salisbury (Mr. Key) and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). If I have missed out any others, I apologise. I shall be even-handed in this matter, because I recognise the interest of the constituency of Bury—

Burnley—I beg the hon. Gentleman's pardon. I know Burnley, at the top end of the Rossendale valley, because my father came from Whitworth, so the hon. Gentleman will have to accept that it was a mere slip of the tongue.

I recognise the interest of the hon. Members for Burnley (Mr. Pike), for Pendle (Mr. Prentice), for Hyndburn (Mr. Pope) and for Rochdale (Ms Lynne), where my mother was born, and the interest of even the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

That was an unworthy intervention. I recognise the interest of my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Now that the Leader of the House is in his place and as he is responsible for business, would it not be appropriate for him to bring the Minister of State for Defence Procurement to the Chamber so that he could be told—

Order. I have already ruled on that. It is a matter for the Government to decide who is at the Dispatch Box.

It is important for me to place it on the record, for the benefit of Members on both sides of the Chamber, that the questions under consideration are for decision by the Government. They are under the closest consideration, and there is not much more to it than that—except that, in our different roles, I share with my hon. Friend the Member for City of Chester the responsibility for letting other Ministers know just how forceful have been the opinions expressed, and their importance in relation to the north-west in particular, and to other regions as well. I assure my right hon. and hon. Friends that I will not short-change them in getting across the strength of their message.

At least I am here, unlike the Minister of State for Defence Procurement, who has not had the guts to come in and explain to the House why important defence contracts, which have been delayed for a year, have been further delayed. Why is he not here to respond to the defence procurement issues that have been raised?

I defer to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in all matters of order. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was rising on a point of order, so I resumed my place. As it is, he has merely taken up valuable time that I should like to have spent addressing my right hon. and hon. Friends.

The contribution of the north-west to this industry is a major one. It is estimated that, in 1993–94, 12,000 people were employed directly by the defence industry in the north-west. The full employment impact is, of course, much greater, given the multiplier effects on indirect employment.

There are well-known centres of excellence in the north-west. British Aerospace Military Aircraft, based at Warton and Samlesbury, is world famous for producing a succession of splendid aircraft. The Hawk, Harrier, Tornado and now Eurofighter are all world-competitive products, of which the region can be justly proud. British Aerospace is the United Kingdom's leading exporter of manufactured goods. GEC Marine's VSEL shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness is another such centre. As Minister with special responsibility for the north-west, I visit the region regularly, and I hope to visit the Barrow region in the near future.

Behind those companies, however, lies a long supply chain of smaller companies whose interests must not be ignored. They are the backbone of the competitiveness of our major defence equipment suppliers.

I accept that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) has rightly made the case for British Aerospace, but many small companies are also involved in the Orion project. Will the Minister recognise that those companies and their jobs are just as important to the north-west and to Lancashire as British Aerospace is?

The north-west and small companies in the north-west have been handsomely represented by my right hon. and hon. Friends. They have no equivocation in their responsibility for supporting—

Order. I should be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would address the occupant of the Chair.

I fell to the temptation of wanting to be direct in engaging with my right hon. and hon. Friends, but I should like say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that my right hon. and hon. Friends have no difficulty or equivocation in standing up for small business, for large defence contractors and for the defence of their country generally. They have no difficulty reconciling those duties, and they discharge them admirably.

I cannot say the same for Labour Members, who have a long history of not wanting to be associated in any way with the export of arms that are intended for destruction. Those who can come to terms with this country's fighting requirements can look that straight in the eye and have no problem with it, but Labour Members are humbugs on this subject.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Minister is making statements that are not correct, and he should be careful that he does not mislead the House.

The Minister is responsible for his own speech. I hope that I shall not get any further points of order that are not genuine points of order. I have waited in vain for many years to get one of those in this place, and I have not succeeded yet.

Having been rebuked, but kindly, by you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, once already today, I shall endeavour to discharge the rest of the debate in a manner that is as helpful as possible to my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley.

I want my hon. Friend to know that my Department has been active in seeking to ensure that smaller suppliers' interests are not ignored. This activity has included working with the Consortium for Lancashire Aerospace in developing their role in providing support to companies in the north-west. The Department of Trade and Industry has also funded the Society of British Aerospace Companies' competitiveness challenge programme. The British Aerospace Military Aircraft division at Warton played a significant part in the programme by leading the work on supply chains.

If I may, I should like to focus on the aerospace industry for a moment, as it accounts for the largest element of Government expenditure, in terms of both defence programmes and important civil programmes, the latter of which are supported by Government through launch aid and the DTI's research and demonstration scheme, CARAD—the civil aviation research and demonstration scheme.

My Department has an especially strong relationship with the industry, which was reflected in the joint statement issued by the DTI and the Society of British Aerospace Companies towards the end of 1995. Our developing relationship was fully recognised by the society through the launch of its national aerospace framework earlier this year.

This is an impressive document, and I pay tribute to the society and to its leading company members for producing one of the most systematic documents produced by an industrial sector that I have seen. The framework provides an excellent basis for the trade association, member companies and the Government to work together in partnership to benefit industry and the economy as a whole. I hope that the society will continue to work with the DTI on updating the document.

Government are, of course, close to the defence industry.

No. I have little time to try to conclude the debate.

The Ministry of Defence is British industry's largest customer, and all its decisions on major procurements impact greatly on industry, including companies in the north-west. My Department is the sponsor of the industry, and we have recognised the importance of the sector by setting up the aerospace and defence industries directorate earlier this year. The directorate provides the focus for the DTI's relations with the industry, and works with the MOD on defence procurement policy and projects.

The Government have made it clear in their statements on defence procurement policy—for example, in the "Statement on the Defence Estimates" presented to Parliament by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence in May—that industrial implications will be thoroughly examined in all procurement decisions. That is certainly true of the current procurements that my hon. Friend has mentioned.

Earlier this year, the Defence and the Trade and Industry Select Committees made recommendations regarding my Department's role in assessing the bids for Ministry of Defence procurement competitions. Indeed, the Committees expressed some satisfaction with the DTI's role in major procurement cases. The Committees urged the Government to extend that role to include smaller procurements.

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

Sitting suspended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 10 (Wednesday sittings), till half-past Two o'clock.

Oral Answers To Questions

Education And Employment

Assisted Places


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what recent consultations she has had with independent schools concerning the assisted places scheme. [37265]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment
(Mrs. Cheryl Gillan)

I regularly discuss the assisted places scheme with representatives of independent schools.

Is my hon. Friend aware of the importance of the assisted places scheme to many children and their parents in Batley and Spen? Is she also aware that many people consider the scheme to be good value for money? It would be abolished by the Opposition, who cannot even get their own sums right.

I am well aware of the value of the assisted places scheme to many families and children throughout the country, including, in my hon. Friend's constituency, those who attend Batley grammar school. My hon. Friend is right: assisted pupils obtain good results—better results than similar maintained school pupils. Assisted pupils obtain up to three A-level grades over all subjects. The Labour party is completely wrong—at best, it has got its mathematics wrong and at worst, it is playing a con trick. Completely phasing out the assisted places scheme would still save only about £24 million a year, provide fewer than 1,000 extra teachers and reduce average infant class sizes by less than half a pupil. It is still nowhere near the Opposition's pledge to eliminate classes of more than 30 pupils.

Does the hon. Lady know that, since its inception, the scheme has taken approximately £20 million in Wales? Does she accept that it would have been far better to have spent that sum on modernising, extending and refurbishing the older schools? Why not ditch the assisted places scheme, and the wretched voucher scheme?

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. The average cost of an assisted place is somewhat higher, but of the same order as an average maintained pupil place. The hon. Gentleman should be well aware that 80 per cent. of the assisted pupils come from socio-economic groups C1 and E—the lower-middle and working classes. The scheme is of great value to parents and pupils throughout the country.

I endorse everything that my hon. Friend says about the scheme, but may I urge my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to consider reintroducing in the next Parliament the direct grant scheme, which was infinitely better than the assisted places scheme?

I will listen carefully to what my hon. Friend says about the direct grant scheme but, as we all know, many of the direct grant schools were forced to become independent schools by the policies of the last Labour Government, if anyone can remember them.

I congratulate the Secretary of State on obtaining extra money for the assisted places scheme, thus enabling the imminent Labour Government to reduce class sizes more quickly. Will she now fight for equivalent funding for the 86,000 extra children who are to be in the system this year and the 60,000 who are to be in it next year on the same basis as she proposes to subsidise the independent schools under the assisted places scheme?

The hon. Gentleman is up to his old tricks. He knows that the cost of the scheme is £114 million this year, rising to £118 million next year. He also knows that he could not phase out the scheme immediately as, under present legislation, it would take three years to phase it out. He has repeatedly asserted that the money would be used to reduce class sizes, but in the first year of phasing out, he would save no more than £5 million. However, if those children were educated back in the maintained sector at the cost per head of educating a child at Hackney Downs, there would be no change from the money that we put into the assisted places scheme.

Does my hon. Friend find it extraordinary that the Labour party is against assisted places in schools but in favour of assisted places in the shadow Cabinet?

If the Labour party is so keen to abolish assisted places, it had better start at home first.

Access To Work


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what measures she has taken to monitor the impact of the new employer contributions on support for disabled people through the access to work scheme. [37266]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment
(Mr. James Paice)

TheEmployment Service will be monitoring the new arrangements for access to work to ensure continuing effective help for disabled people.

Is it not already clear that this new scheme, by its reduced funding compared with that of the original scheme, is already having an adverse effect on both employed and self-employed disabled people, as they must now rely for equipment on their employers or fund it themselves? Does the Minister accept that the scheme will have a particularly adverse effect on people who are self-employed, who work in small firms or who are in voluntary organisations that employ many disabled people? Does he think that it is fair for the Government to impose a penalty on employers who have the best record on employment of disabled people?

No, I do not accept the points made by the hon. Gentleman. First, there is a considerable increase in funding for access to work this year compared with funding for the original scheme—it is up by 50 per cent. Secondly, the contributions that would be expected either from an employer or from a self-employed individual are capped, and the average contributions are extremely low. On average, a self-employed person would be expected to pay £240, and, based on experience, it is likely that an employer would be expected to pay £540. I think that those are perfectly reasonable contributions to expect people to make to help disabled people. I emphasise to the hon. Gentleman that the access to work scheme is designed to help employers and individuals overcome problems created by disability. As has always been the case, if people are unemployed—I think that we would all agree that they are in the most need—they will make no contribution at all.

On all the evidence available to the Minister, does he accept that employer contributions are unfair to small businesses and to the self-employed? If the Minister really wants to support small firms and self-employed disabled people, will he now review their liability to pay up to £2,000 a year under access to work? Does the Minister accept that small firms simply do not understand why they are exempt from the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 but not from employer contributions under access to work? What is the difference?

It is interesting that the hon. Gentleman is making these points, because he totally opposed any exclusion for small firms in the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. The Labour party—to a man and to a woman—went through the Lobbies on that legislation against the interests of small firms. It is somewhat hypocritical now to pray in aid the support of small businesses. The fact is that, as always, we have had to find a balance between cost to the taxpayer and the help that we want to provide to the disabled. I am amazed to find that the hon. Gentleman continues to be part of that group of Labour Members who seem to believe that the public purse is bottomless.

Schools (Security)


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what action she is taking to enhance the security of schools. [37267]

This question is about school security. Given that the matter of children's safety is involved in the answer to it, however, I should like to express my sympathy and that of Conservative Members to the parents, family and friends of Caroline Dickinson, the Cornish schoolgirl who was so tragically murdered last week in France. I should like also to express our sympathy and support for the head, governors and staff of her school, Launceston college.

The Government have accepted in full the 22 recommendations of the working group on school security.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her reassuring comments. What she said about the recent tragedies is endorsed by all hon. Members.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the successful bids made by two schools in my constituency—St. Felix middle school in Newmarket and Mildenhall upper school—for closed circuit television, which will be greatly welcomed not only by parents, governors and teachers but by the community at large?

I thank my hon. Friend for that welcome. More than 100 schools have been able to benefit from the Home Office's CCTV scheme, which will be a useful addition to the security of children at the schools involved.

I know that the Secretary of State has already expressed sympathy to the parents, children and, indeed, the whole community in Wolverhampton, who were devastated by the tragic attack on the children and adults at St. Luke's school two weeks ago. I should like to say a very sincere thank you to all hon. Members who have, through the early-day motion that I tabled, expressed their good wishes and sympathy to everyone involved.

In view of that tragic accident, and many others that we have witnessed, would the Secretary of State consider bringing forward the moneys that I know that she has earmarked for next year into this year's budget? There was a call at the Conference of Local Education Authorities' conference last week, urging the Secretary of State to make more resources available. Wolverhampton is spending £60,000 this year, but that is wholly inadequate to meet security needs in our schools. Will she please consider giving the money in this financial year rather than the next?

This is of course a matter of great concern. As the hon. Gentleman said, I have been in touch with St. Luke's school in Wolverhampton. As he knows, schools and local education authorities are already spending on school security. The way in which the money will be spent is important. Schools have varying needs, and it is necessary that LEAs and schools conduct a thoroughly professional risk assessment of the type of arrangements that need to be made to improve school security. That is why they have already acted on some of the working group's recommendations on security, why we have already allocated more money through the CCTV scheme, why I announced yesterday that 60 schools would benefit from the schools renewal challenge fund to help them with their security arrangements, why LEAs already have guidance to help them decide how best to allocate the extra money when it comes and why schools will receive guidance in September. A great deal of work needs to be done. We will make new moneys available, but we have to be certain that they are allocated according to a school's need and spent in the best way.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that part of the money that will be raised from this year's Burbage charity bike aid in my constituency will go towards CCTV in local schools? Will she congratulate the organisers on that decision and wish them well at that popular event, which is enjoyed by thousands of my constituents each year?

I congratulate my hon. Friend's constituents on their effort to help with arrangements for school security. There will no doubt be other such money-raising efforts but, of course, any money spent has to fit into a sensible framework to ensure that it is spent in the best way. As I said, the Government will be making extra money available.

I join the Secretary of State in her expressions of sympathy to those affected by the recent tragedies and repeat my congratulations on her seeking and gaining widespread support for the measures now being proposed to improve school safety. Although it may be impossible to implement immediately, does she agree that it would be sensible to agree in principle that, over time, all schools should have a single boundary?

Although I realise that the question was sensibly meant, that would be extremely difficult to put into practice because of the different geographical locations of school premises. It is important that schools assess their needs in the light of their own physical circumstances. In some cases, they may need a single boundary or entry point. The purpose of the conference that we intend to hold in the autumn will be to discuss best practice. Although there is a great deal of good practice, we found that those in the working group did not necessarily know about it. I take the hon. Gentleman's suggestion on board and the conference might be able to disseminate it, but there will also be many others.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's comments about making additional funding available for school security. However, is it not important that we should not allow local authorities to get away with hiding behind the Government in respect of such an important issue? If a local education authority believes that priorities need to be addressed in terms of school security, should it not use the funds that are currently being wasted elsewhere rather than blame the Government for its own failure to act?

Many local education authorities are extremely concerned about those matters. They already have—as we have just dispatched it—guidance on the arrangements that will be made for the new GEST—grants for education support and training scheme—money that will be earmarked for school security. The money will be available next year. If there were any local education authorities that needed reminding, they have their reminder.

New Businesses (Failure Rate)


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what assessment she has made of the impact of the failure rate in new businesses on employment opportunities in the United Kingdom. [37268]

No direct assessment has been made, but research shows that new business survival, and hence employment potential, is affected by the level of business management skills and experience of the proprietor.

Is not investment crucial to the long-term success of new businesses and the creation of jobs? Does the Minister accept that Britain now has a lower level of investment than in 1989? Could that be why the number of jobs in manufacturing has fallen by 500,000 over the past five years?

The hon. Lady falls into the trap of equating numbers of jobs in a sector—particularly manufacturing—with the health of the sector. For decades, jobs have been shed in manufacturing because of automation and technology. That does not mean that the sector is less advanced or profitable—probably the reverse. All businesses need to invest, both in equipment—which is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor—and in their work force—which is my responsibility. That is why the Government have made a range of proposals targeted at small businesses and businesses generally to encourage them to invest in their work force.

We all support reductions in the failure rate of small businesses. The Government are doing a great deal—through business links and other schemes—to reduce that failure rate. Does my hon. Friend not deplore, as I do, the emphasis that the question places on the failure rate? The main employment effect of small businesses has been a massive increase in employment as a result of the massive increase in the number of small businesses since 1979 of about 1 million.

My right hon. Friend is entirely right. There are now more than 50 per cent. more businesses than there were in 1979. That in itself is good for employment. He is also right that we should not dwell on what are often described as failures. Just because a business may cease to operate does not mean that it is a failure. [Laughter.] In their laughter, the Opposition demonstrate how little they understand about businesses. A business may stop trading in the same name because it has been sold or because the proprietor has retired, or for a whole range of reasons. The NatWest survey of small businesses demonstrated that 73 per cent. of cessations were for reasons not associated with bankruptcy or solvency.

May I associate myself and the Opposition with the words of concern and sympathy expressed by the Secretary of State about the tragic death of Caroline Dickinson last week?

Will the Minister confirm that the company failure rate, which we believe is significant, is running at nearly 1,000 a week and increasing, and that, each day, in the first three months of 1996, 2,500 people lost their jobs? Will he also confirm that, contrary to the impression that Ministers like to give—that unemployment is falling—the more accurate labour force survey shows that the number of people in employment fell by 74,000 in the first three months of this year and that there are still 1 million people fewer in jobs than there were the day that the Prime Minister entered Downing street? Is he not ashamed that, since 1979, Britain has had the worst job creation record of any major industrial nation?

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman took so long in asking his question because as he did so his facts became more and more obscure. Unemployment has been falling consistently for a considerable time, thanks not only to the Government's economic policies but to our resistance of policies that would have damaged employment prospects: the social chapter and the minimum wage. Those are the Labour party's policies and they would destroy employment. Wherever the hon. Gentleman would care to look throughout the rest of Europe, he will find countries suffering from those problems. Unemployment in the major European countries is much higher than ours, and is often still rising.

Is it not inevitable that, if there is a substantial increase in new business start-ups, there will also be a corresponding increase in the number of business failures? Is not the creation of new businesses the best way of increasing employment? Will my hon. Friend commit himself and the Government to maintaining that momentum by opposing the national minimum wage and the social chapter, which are so destructive to businesses and so often lead to failure on the continent?

My hon. Friend is entirely right. It is important that we do whatever we can to encourage small businesses and the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that leads to their success. That is what the Government's policies are directed at. He is also right to remind us again about the minimum wage. Conservative Members have always been amazed by the fact that the Opposition have never said how they would resolve the problem of the restoration of differentials—a problem that is underlying the minimum wage and would destroy more jobs than anything else. We await with interest to see how they plan to address that issue.

Unemployed (Policies)


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what policies she intends to pursue in respect of those unemployed for 12 months or more. [37269]

We shall continue to pursue the policies that have seen long-term unemployment fall by more than a quarter since the start of 1994.

When will Ministers apologise for the fact that the number of people out of work for 12 months or more has more than doubled since April 1979? Does that figure not show that unemployment has increased substantially during the 17 years of Tory government? The Minister is nodding. How much more human misery is to be inflicted on the country before this wretched Government are turned out at the election?

I can indeed confirm that unemployment is higher now than it was in 1979, as it is right across the European Union. The hon. Gentleman should cast his mind back to the 1970s, when everybody was doing well in terms of employment and unemployment. In the 1990s, life is tougher and more difficult. Compared with our European partners and competitors, we have served the employed and unemployed so much better because our policies have turned out to be more relevant to the needs of the 1990s. Opposition Members persist in turning the clock back to the 1970s—not only in their faulty memories but in their yearnings for policies that have long since passed—but the result of putting such policies into effect would be a return to the conditions of the 1970s, which were so much worse than they are today.

As part of the Government's programme of encouraging the unemployed to seek work, they have signed a contract with a company called Trinity Newspapers, which produces for distribution in jobcentres in England and Wales a magazine known as Jobsearch. Among other things, the magazine invites vulnerable unemployed men and women to take up prostitution as a business opportunity. My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Hanson) has asked the Minister to withdraw that offensive magazine and its job advertisements, but was refused on the ground that the Department believes that the unemployed should have the widest possible access to job opportunities.

It is scandalous that such a magazine and such advertisements should have been distributed to vulnerable unemployed people. The Government's history of massaging the unemployment figures is wholly unacceptable. Will the Secretary of State today issue instructions for the withdrawal of the magazine and its accompanying advertisements, and initiate an inquiry into how it was ever distributed in the first place?

Before the hon. Gentleman massages himself into hysteria, I advise a little more calm. Of course I shall have a look at what he has described. If there is any substance to it, we shall see what can and should be done. [Interruption.] There is no point in pushing a piece of paper across the Table at me, because I do not know its provenance or the circumstances in which it came to be written. I prefer the approach of calm investigation and reflection to the hysterical outbursts that characterise the behaviour of Opposition Members.

We shall have a good look at what the hon. Gentleman has said and then, I have no doubt, we will take the appropriate action.

Sensorily Impaired People


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what measures she has taken to monitor the levels of employment and unemployment among young people with sensory impairments after they leave full-time education or training. [37270]

The Department is funding a new national survey of disabled people and their employment, education and training, to provide information on different age groups and the impact of different disabilities.

Given that the unemployment rate among those who are hearing impaired is twice the national average, and that only one quarter of those who are visually impaired are in work, can the Minister guarantee that this survey will give us the tools that we need to analyse the pattern of discrimination? In particular, will he see what happens to people who have been through training programmes, to find out how effective those are, where the people end up, and what is the long-term impact of the training programmes?

Yes, I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. The survey will investigate the nature and severity of disability, employment status, characteristics of employment—permanent, temporary, part time, full time—qualifications and training, income and benefits, equipment, aids and adaptations, working arrangements, attitudes and experiences in the labour market, and household composition. What is more, the exercise starts today.

Sensorily Impaired Pupils


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment how many pupils with hearing impairments are being taught in mainstream schools. [37271]

Statistics on the number of pupils with hearing impairments in mainstream schools are not collected centrally.

I am aware of the Minister's close personal interest in this matter. In the light of that, does she agree that we need data on the numbers and experiences of youngsters with disabilities in mainstream schools so that we can ensure that mainstreaming is working effectively for them? Should not such data be collected by the Government?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for acknowledging my interest in this matter; of course I shall look at what he says. Subject to certain conditions, local education authorities have a duty to provide mainstream places for children with special educational needs when that is what parents want. We have encouraged LEAs to integrate children with SEN in the main stream. I have seen radio aids being used in the classroom very effectively—they certainly level the ground for children with a hearing impairment.

While I am on my feet, the hon. Gentleman might like to know of Langdon secondary school, in his constituency, which has a learning support department that has recently twinned with the effectiveness division of the Department for Education and Employment. Teachers and pupils have visited the Department, and art from that school is on display in Sanctuary buildings.

Does my hon. Friend welcome the nursery voucher scheme, which gives an opportunity to spot at an early stage children with special educational needs, particularly those with hearing difficulties?

Of course I welcome wholeheartedly the nursery voucher scheme. I am pleased that, from April next year, parents of four-year-olds will have access to good-quality nursery education throughout the country, whatever the needs of the child.

A-Level Results


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what research has been carried out to investigate the factors underlying the difference in A-level results between boys and girls. [37272]

A number of independent studies have been published, including a recent report funded by the Nuffield Foundation.

The Minister is no doubt aware of the recent report that the differences may be due to the extra flair and self-confidence that young males are said to have at that age. If that is anything like the truth, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that it is not simply the format of A-level examinations that is producing the difference between males and females?

I am not sure to what the hon. Gentleman ascribes that series of assumptions. It is interesting that the gender difference at GCSE level is dramatically reduced by the time children get to A-levels. We also know—although I cannot explain it—that boys get more grade As while girls get more of all the other pass grades. No clear lessons can be drawn from that, but we are anxious to ensure that exams—whatever form they take—are right for all young people, regardless of gender.

Is it not essential to maintain single-sex education for girls and boys, given that girls develop at a different rate in schools assigned to their sex only? This is the Government's policy and not that of the Opposition, who would destroy single-sex schools, grammar schools, city technology colleges and grant-maintained schools and go back to the old 1960s notion of neighbourhood comprehensive schools.

My hon. Friend knows that the Government's policy is based on diversity and choice. It should be for children—when they reach a reasonable age—and their parents to decide on the right form of education, whether it be at grant-maintained schools, LEA schools or single-sex schools, but they must also decide which qualifications are right for them. That is why we have set out not only to maintain and improve the rigour of A-levels, but to provide general national vocational qualifications and modern apprenticeships so that something is available to everyone to make the most of their talents.

Does the Minister accept that we are seeing a significant change in the relative performance at examination level of boys and girls, and that the consequences of that change extend far beyond the classroom? Is it not the case that the Government have failed to recognise this change and to take any action on the important issues that it raises? Will he give a commitment today that, as a useful first step, he will require the Office for National Statistics to provide statistics and information on how boys and girls perform as part of individual school inspections?



To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment if she will make a statement on teaching skills and methods employed in schools. [37273]

All teachers need to be equipped with the most effective teaching methods and to know when to use them.

Have not a number of reports highlighted the results of the trendy lefty education and training methods that we have had in far too many schools, particularly in inner cities, since the 1960s? Will my right hon. Friend assure us that, having introduced testing in the teeth of Labour opposition—which has highlighted where the shortcomings are to be found—the Government will continue their work on teacher training and get back to the proper teaching methods that will bring the results that the country is crying out for?

We have put in place several reforms of initial teacher training to ensure that teachers are equipped as practically as possible. We are also reviewing in-service training. Among the things that we have already announced are the 25 literacy and numeracy centres, the headlamp scheme to train newly appointed heads and a new national professional qualification for headship. In September, I intend to announce plans to reform initial teacher training and to introduce a national curriculum for it to ensure that all teachers are trained in the most effective manner.

Does the Secretary of State agree that whatever the teaching skill, and whatever methods are employed, the effectiveness of teaching is enhanced if class sizes are smaller rather than steadily increasing, as they are at present?

We have heard a great deal from Opposition Members about smaller classes and how they would seek to fund them by raiding the assisted places scheme budget, thereby depriving children from some of the worst-off families in the land of the chance of an excellent education in the independent sector. I wonder whether the hon. Lady knows that the National Foundation for Educational Research in England and Wales has told her Front-Bench spokesmen that their figures take no account of how the extra money identified by them would reach schools or of the extra costs of, for example, accommodation for the additional number. I am sure that she will be concerned about the fact that Labour's advisers say that its figures do not add up.

Over the summer, will my right hon. Friend reconfirm that traditional methods and whole-class teaching have much to offer to improve primary school standards, and will she give strong support to the chief inspector, who is doing admirable work to highlight both good and bad performance and to offer some leadership in the profession?

Yes, the chief inspector has provided some stringent comments on what needs to be done to improve education standards. Teachers should certainly be equipped for whole-class teaching to provide active instruction rather than passive supervision. That is what we intend to put in place.

Higher Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what proposals she has to maintain standards in higher education. [37274]

Prime responsibility for maintaining standards in higher education rests with the academic institutions, acting individually and collectively.

Does the Minister agree that quality in higher education depends on having common degree standards in different institutions, from Birmingham to Bradford and from Leicester to Luton? What is his response to the evidence, now confirmed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, that institutions differ markedly in degree standards both between institutions and between subjects, sometimes deliberately? Is not that unfair to students who rely on degree standards for entry to postgraduate work? Does it not devalue higher education?

The hon. Gentleman must know that there is a system of quality assurance in place and that there is a continuing effort to try to improve it to make it even more effective. I wonder whether his comments reveal the hidden threat to the academic autonomy of our higher education institutions that his party poses. One could readily conclude from his words that he would seek to impose a straitjacket on our higher education sector, which has for so long prided itself on its autonomy and independence of government.

Nursery Education


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what measures she has taken to ensure access to nursery education for children with special needs. [37275]

The Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996 will ensure that all children, including those with special educational needs, have an equal opportunity to experience good-quality nursery education.

Has not research in Britain and America shown that flat-rate vouchers impact against children with special needs because their education requirements inevitably cost much more? Precisely what is the Secretary of State going to do to ensure that children with special needs will not be denied places, which are of particular importance to them, in nursery schools?

I agree that nursery education is particularly important for children with special educational needs, to which a lot of attention was paid during the passage of the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill. The new money made available as a result of the voucher scheme will contribute to meeting the needs of all children, including those with special educational needs. Local education authority budgets will be reduced only by £1,100 for each four-year-old who has a maintained place. If a place costs more, the difference is left with the LEA. If a child returns to the LEA for its nursery place, so does the money.

Higher Education Funding


To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what representations she has received regarding the planned funding of higher education in the period 1996–97 to 1998–99. [37277]

My right hon. Friend has received nearly 700 representations about higher education funding this year.

Will the Minister comment on Cambridge university's decision to accept money from British American Tobacco in view of that company's falsification of data about the addictiveness of tobacco? Does the Minister think that it is desirable for higher education institutions to be pushed into a financial position so extreme that they must accept money from such sources?

No, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on a decision by an entirely autonomous higher education institution.