Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday 27th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 7th June, and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 27th May until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Durant]
I shall not detain the House for long. In fact, I would not be speaking to the motion at all if the slightest parliamentary courtesy had been extended to the people of Northern Ireland, their elected representatives and, for that matter, the House by the Northern Ireland Office today, when it presented to the House a White Paper. I am sure that only you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and very few other Members of the House are aware of its having been presented. It was presented to us under plain cover, and no doubt was presented to the House under plain cover as well—or they slipped in in carpet slippers to avoid being heard.
Two important issues have already been discussed here this afternoon, and three important issues were discussed yesterday before the debate on the remaining business of the House. Here we have had a White Paper dealing with major issues regarding employment in Northern Ireland, yet once again the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland ignores elected representatives from the Province and, indeed, the whole House. That is a disgrace, and it is a disgrace that the House should adjourn before we have had an opportunity to ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland some questions about what he is proposing.
It is nothing new for the Leader of the House to hear this complaint. I have been making it regularly for the past 12 months. He will also know that I absented myself from the House for two years as a protest against the way in which Northern Ireland was being governed. During that period, the one constant whine for me to come back came from none other than the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who continually exhorted me to come here, saying that this was the place in which to discuss the affairs of Northern Ireland, not the streets of the Province. I came back 12 months ago and, with my colleagues, have been treated with nothing but contempt ever since. That contempt reached its pinnacle today with the presentation of the White Paper without a word to the House from the Secretary of State.
Of course, outside the House everything is different. The White Paper, which was not available to me until 3.30 this afternoon, was available at 11 am to the media in Northern Ireland and at midday to the media in London. At this moment the media in Northern Ireland and London are receiving a private briefing on the contents. No doubt they are asking the sort of questions that the Secretary of State wants to hear and no doubt he will answer them, but he will not be hearing the questions that Northern Ireland Members would like to ask.
The White Paper projects the concept of fair employment in Northern Ireland and how it is to be achieved. It makes it a criminal offence for an employer in Northern Ireland not to keep registers of the religious affiliations of his employees and submit an annual return on that basis. That is a significant development. Until comparatively recently in Northern Ireland, employers were criticised for allegedly inquiring into the religious affiliations of their potential employees. Now it will be a criminal offence if they do not do so. Let me say with all the conviction that I can muster—and I am sure that I speak for all my colleagues—that I believe in appointment on merit alone.
In that regard I agree with what the Prime Minister said at the Dispatch Box last week. If anyone disputes that assertion, I challenge him to go to where I was employed for six years before I came to this House and check my record there. An employer is a fool to do other than employ on merit alone, because in the current extremely difficult business circumstances, particularly in Northern Ireland, it is nonsense for an employer to believe that he can sustain and progress in his business by employing second best simply because he does not like the religion of another applicant. To make it a criminal offence not to register the religious affiliations of the work force is hardly likely to improve the position.
The Government commissioned PA International Consulting Services Ltd. to sell the nation to the business communities and others in Northern Ireland. Of course, the Government continue to contend that it is not in conflict with the principle of merit alone to ask employers to keep such registers. In a commentary on the issue, Mr. Dermot O'Callaghan made an important point:
It is important to make it clear that equality of opportunity is not the same as equality of outcome.
He has put forward the argument to try to console employers that, provided they can prove that they have provided equality of opportunity, if equality of outcome does not arise they have nothing to fear. I wonder how long that concept will be sustained.
It is almost exactly 12 years to the day that we debated the first Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Bill, which became the present Fair Employment (Northern Ireland) Act 1976. On that occasion I was told by the Minister responsible that I was guilty of mischief-making, of making misleading statements and of scaremongering by suggesting that the Act would lead one day to employers having to keep registers of the religious affiliations of their employees. I have the relevant Hansardreport with me, in case anyone disputes that. I was laughed out of the Chamber.
Just as it was clear then that ultimately the day would come when religious affiliation registers were kept, it is clear now that the suggestion that equality of opportunity is not to be confused with equality of outcome will be forgotten and that we shall move to a sytem of quotas. If an employer's register does not begin to reflect the religious composition of his area, it will be suggested that he prove that he is doing what is right by producing workplace statistics amounting to quotas.
I shall not rehearse all the arguments that we shall have when the White Paper is translated into legislation. Instead I shall pose the questions that my hon. Friend and I might have wanted to pose to the Secretary of State had he had the stomach to come and face us this afternoon. Let us take a look at the right hon. Gentleman's own record. We may expect an English politician presiding over Northern Ireland who produces a White Paper such as this to want to set a good example. Yet the Northern Ireland Office has a worse record of employing Roman Catholics in Northern Ireland than any other Government Department. It employs 14 per cent. Roman Catholics in the Province. I do not believe for one moment that the Secretary of State or those whom he employs are guilty of religious discrimination. I am sure that if the right hon. Gentleman was put to it he could explain why that is the case. There may be very good reasons that have nothing to do with religious discrimination. But he does not listen to that argument when it comes from other sources.
Lest the House should think that the record of the Northern Ireland Office is only marginally worse than that of other Government Departments, let me give the figures. The DHSS in Northern Ireland employs 49 per cent. Roman Catholics—almost 50 per cent. higher than the proportion of Roman Catholics in the community. The Department of Economic Development employs 40 per cent. Roman Catholics—well over their representation in the community. The overall average for the Civil Service in Northern Ireland is 33·7 per cent—about the same as the proportion of Roman Catholics in the community. Let us ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, as he will be asking private sector employers, "Why do you employ only 14 per cent. Roman Catholics?"
I should also have liked to ask the Secretary of State about the implications of the White Paper for the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the Ulster Defence Regiment and the prison service. Those services probably employ only between 5 and 10 per cent. Roman Catholics, and they are frequently abused as sectarian organisations because they have so few Roman Catholics. Anyone who knows anything about Northern Ireland knows that that is not because of religious discrimination; there are other reasons. What is the Secretary of State doing to encourage the Catholic community to supply more people to those services, in which they are rightly required? Or is that community to be allowed to say, "We shall opt out of playing our part in certain essential occupations in the Province but we demand our quota and more in other occupations"? I should have been interested to hear what the Secretary of State had to say about that. We must also consider the ancillary staff employed by those organisations. What are the ramifications for ancillary staff who may be occupying very sensitive positions?
Not only will it be a criminal offence not to keep a register; there will be a series of penalties. Contractors and others who fail to comply will not be allowed access to Government grants. They will not be allowed to tender for Government contracts. What will happen to that most critical of Government contracts—a contract to rebuild a bomb-damaged police station or Army camp? Does the Secretary of State really intend to say to the few contractors left that they cannot have the contract? Many contractors have been murdered. The major contractor was murdered a short time ago, as was his general manager, and there is a death threat hanging over all the remaining principals in the company. Through no fault of its own, that company probably employs a majority of Protestants as Roman Catholics are terrified to work for it. Do the Government propose to say, "Sorry. We cannot let you repair our police stations and Army bases because you do not have the right religious balance"? Are they to be denied Government grant and contracts? I should have liked to hear the Secretary of State's answer to that.
What would the Secretary of State say to employers in west Belfast? I heard the political correspondent of Radio Telefis Eireann suggest that there was 90 per cent. unemployment in west Belfast. That means that if we go on this way there will soon be 110 per cent. unemployment. Of course that is nonsense. The figure is damnable, but in fact it is about 30 per cent. That means that there is 70 per cent. employment in west Belfast, much of it provided by bona fide Roman Catholic employers. Are we really to suggest to employers who employ a 100 per cent. Roman Catholic work force of necessity that they must set themselves a target for the next couple of years to get rid of 70 per cent. of their employees and recruit people from Sandy row, the Shankill road or east Belfast, as is being suggested to employees in east Belfast?
It is not good enough for the Secretary of State to produce a glossy White Paper which is
Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland by Command of Her Majesty. May 1988
and fail to come to the House to answer essential questions affecting the well-being of all the people of Northern Ireland.
What is the bottom line? We have 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. unemployment and there will be no real improvement in the balance until there are more job opportunities. My principal question to the Secretary of State concerns the chances of real improvement in job opportunities in Northern Ireland. What policies is the right hon. Gentleman pursuing to improve the number of jobs available? Or is it suggested that to get this imaginary balance right about 25,000 employed Protestants will have to get themselves unemployed over the next few years, and 25,000 unemployed Roman Catholics will have to be slotted into their jobs? Without more job opportunities, that is the only way to achieve the balance.
It is a disgrace that the Secretary of State has not been here to answer my questions, and I hope that even before Friday the Leader of the House will exhort him to come before the House.
I wish to raise two matters with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House before we adjourn. I make no apology for raising once more the question of Manchester airport. On Monday 16 May mine was the second motion listed for debate. In my 25 years as a Member of the House it was the first time that I had been lucky enough to get into the first three, but perhaps luck was with the House, because my motion was not reached. We spent most of the time talking about planning procedures, which was of great interest to many of my friends from the south-east. Therefore, I propose to say briefly today what I would have said at greater length had I had the opportunity on 16 May.
Since 1979 Manchester airport has expanded more rapidly than any other United Kingdom airport, and for that I am grateful. I pay tribute to the work done by successive Secretaries of State for Transport in Conservative Administrations, whose efforts have been much appreciated in our area. Like Oliver Twist, we are asking for more. We want more intercontinental flights in and out of Manchester. I find it scarcely credible that there are 360 flights a week from London to the United States, but only 13 from Manchester to the United States.
It cannot be right that so many people who want to travel to America from the north of England should have to go to Heathrow or Gatwick when they have a perfectly good airport at Manchester. If there were more intercontinental flights in and out of Manchester, the economy of the north would receive an enormous boost. I believe that the economic situation in the north is improving, and I want the trend to continue. Manchester airport is one of our greatest assets—someone referred to it as the jewel in the crown. I am disappointed that we have not had a satisfactory conclusion to the applications by American Airlines, Northwest Airlines and Pan American World Airways to fly into Manchester and to provide enhanced opportunities for British airlines to fly direct to the United States from Manchester.
Over the years there has been a bipartisan approach to Manchester airport. I am delighted to see my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport in the Chamber. That bipartisan approach has been supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House and by local authorities in the north of all political persuasions. People have worked together for the common good, and particularly for Manchester airport. I am saddened by the breakdown of that approach.
Manchester airport now has a board of directors which includes 16 Labour councillors, one Conservative councillor and one Social and Liberal Democrat councillor. [HON. MEMBERS: "Too many."] Well, there was a time when the Labour party paraded on a programme of fair shares for all. I cannot see much to do with fair shares in that arrangement. For reasons best known to themselves, the directors ran an advertising campaign in support of more intercontinental flights. I agree about the need for more such flights, but I disagree with the board, in that it puts all the blame on the Government. The board was most unfair, because there are other considerations to be taken into account. The first involves British Airways, which is now running a daily flight from Manchester to New York, albeit that it starts in Gatwick. British Airways is asking for a clear run for at least two years to get the flight fully operational before it has to counter any opposition
The next problem is the view taken by the American Transportation Secretary—my right hon. Friend's opposite number in Washington. Until quite recently that position was held by Mrs. Elizabeth Dole, who unfortunately resigned to try to help her husband gain the Republican nomination. I am tempted to say, "Come back Elizabeth Dole, all is forgiven." She was much more prepared to look favourably on applications for routes than is her successor, who wants his pound of flesh. That is common sense. If the Americans are to give anything, they want something back in exchange.
I hope that that shows that the issue is not as simple as the politically motivated directors of Manchester airport have made out. By a strange coincidence, the advertising campaign was timed to appear just before the local government elections. What could have been more convenient? All my hon. Friends from the north-west were opposed to the campaign. We felt that it was a waste of money.
Having said all that, I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to understand how strongly we feel about the negotiations that are going on between the United Kingdom and the United States. I ask them to press the case for the north as strongly as possible.
American Airlines already flies direct from Manchester to Chicago and has made an enormous success of the route. If its application to fly from Manchester to New York were granted, that would give an immediate stimulus to the economy of the north.
The other issue that I want to raise is, perhaps, more controversial. It is the need to establish in legislation a new upper gestational limit for abortions. I am not now suggesting what that limit should be, but there is no doubt that to millions of people in Britain this is a matter of national importance on which there is a pressing need for Parliament to reach a decision.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton) introduced a Bill earlier this year which would have provided the House with the opportunity to arrive at a conclusion on this matter, but the Bill was scuppered by a small but determined group of opponents who used the procedures of the House to prevent it from making progress.
I cannot see what the opponents of the Bill are worried about. All that we were asking for was a little extra time to ensure that all the votes were taken. The arguments have been made. I do not think that people outside the House understand why Parliament can be prevented from expressing its will. They saw a Bill, which had a comfortable majority on Second Reading, being blocked in its final stages. They feel that there is something undemocratic about that.
I was saddened when, on business questions a couple of weeks ago, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he was unable to make additional time available to compensate for the time lost on Friday 6 May. I say that because the only reason for the Abortion Act becoming law in 1967 was that the Government of the day provided extra time to ensure that the legislation could go through. If that Act, which has led to the abortion of 3 million babies, is not to remain for ever enshrined in stone, the House must find time to have the necessary votes.
All the arguments have been marshalled. All that is required is that a decision be taken. This problem will not go away. If the Abortion (Amendment) Bill fails, similar Bills will keep appearing, and the more the opponents of abortion reform do to prevent a decision being reached, the more the House will be brought into disrepute.
I do not think that there is one right hon. or hon. Member who has not been overwhelmed by the sheer weight of correspondence from constituents on this issue. That shows how strongly many people feel about the matter. There is great public outrage and frustration at the failure of the House to complete the remaining stages of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill. I hope that we will be able to reach a conclusion on it before the House rises for the spring recess.
Perhaps I might make a passing reference to the motion before raising the matter that I wish to address.
It has been the recent habit to bring the House back on a Tuesday. Unless our other procedures are changed, that will cause chaos when we try to organise our affairs, such as participating in Question Time and getting ticket allocations. Above all, it will cause chaos for hon. Members who are serving on Standing Committees. Whether a Government Back Bencher or an Opposition Member, if one serves on a Standing Committee and the House comes back on a Tuesday rather than a Monday——
It is not as easy as that. Hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, who are serving on a Standing Committee and want to meet outside advisers and colleagues to discuss the business for the week ahead cannot do that when the House is closed on a Monday. This may sound a pettyfogging complaint about an administrative inconvenience, but our coming back on a Tuesday is a recent innovation. It came to my attention during the Committee stages of the Local Government Bill and the Local Government Finance Bill. I am pleased to say, however, that I am not serving on any Standing Committees at the moment and I have no intention of serving on any for the rest of the Session.
The change was made entirely for the convenience of the House. Many Members asked for it. I think that I, in a previous incarnation, had something to do with it the first time it happened. The main reason for the change was that hon. Members who live a long way from London would not have to travel down on a Sunday. The change was for the general convenience of hon. Members.
That is the one respect in which I can see that the change is a convenience. In all other respects, however, such as those which I have mentioned, it is negative rather than positive.
Far be it from me to stick to the motion, but I should like now to raise a matter in respect of which we should have some answers before the recess. I freely accept that I shall not get those answers, but the matter must be raised.
This is a follow-up to the matters that I raised with the Home Secretary at Question Time on 21 April. I raised the issue of the Wormhoudt massacre of unarmed British prisoners of war on 28 May 1940. Therefore, this coming weekend is the 48th anniversary of that massacre, about 12 miles from Dunkirk, by one of Hitler's SS units.
About 80 or 90 British troops—we will never know the exact figure—unarmed members of the Royal Warwickshire and Cheshire regiments, were gunned down on the orders of one SS officer. From all the information I have read and according to the survivors, only one officer was known to be with those British troops at the time—Captain Lynn-Allen—who, in fact, was one of the first British soldiers to be killed.
From the history of the period—it happened before I was born, but I have talked to people who participated—the events of that day and of the days previous must have been chaotic. Untold acts of heroism must, and did, take place, as British Tommies fought against overwhelming odds to protect our forces retreating to Dunkirk. Many of those troops were captured. However, the vast majority of those captured were treated properly, under the Geneva convention, by professional German soldiers.
Everywhere the SS units went death followed. That is absolutely the case. Of course, there was not just this one incident, but this is the one that I wish to highlight. In fact, there was an incident two days before when an SS unit massacred unarmed British prisoners of war, who were members of the Royal Norfolk Regiment. The officer responsible for giving those orders was executed in 1949. In other words, the matter was followed up and a trial took place.
As I said in the House on 21 April—and as other hon. Members are also aware—it is clear that the responsibility for the Wormhoudt war crime is clear and unambiguous. The man responsible for that order was the then SS Captain Wilhelm Mohnke, later to rise to SS Major General and Commandant of the Reich Chancellery Defence in 1945. He escaped from Hitler's bunker on 1 or 2 May 1945. If anyone doubts that there is a prima facie case against that officer, I put on record two quotes which could be without challenge, but, unfortuntely, they come from documents which have not yet been released.
The first comes from the War Crimes Interrogation Unit Report No. 1500. It is dated 1947, but it was clearly prepared prior to June. On page 12, there is a paragraph headed "Responsibility", which states:
Responsible for the crime of WORMHOUDT is the CO of—
then there is the particular SS unit—
MOHNKE, who gave an order to shoot the prisoners concerned.
That report was superseded in June 1947 by Report No. 1650. Again that report related exclusively to the Wormhoudt incident. I do not intend to quote the names of the people mentioned in this report, because some of the Germans who gave evidence are still alive. On page 8 it states:
MOHNKE gave the NCO of the second party of prisoners … the order to take them all to the Barn and eliminate them.
The next paragraph states
The evidence to show that MOHNKE gave the order to shoot the prisoners is well and clearly stated by"—
and two Germans are listed as giving statements.
On page 16 the report states:
His (MOHNKE's) words were, '… What do you mean, by bringing in prisoners contrary to orders'".
Those are the words of a German soldier.
The report further states:
we had orders from MOHNKE to shoot the prisoners.
The 60-odd pages of this report, relating to this one incident, finger one German SS officer. That officer did not even shoot any British Tommies, but that is not the point. In this case it is the officer who gave the orders. That is the line which I draw and the line which was drawn by the people who conducted many of the trials following the war.
These reports show that there was a prima facie case to answer. The matter was passed to the Judge Advocate General's office. Mohnke's name was added to CROWCASS—Central Registry of War Crimes and Security Suspects—and later the British Government lodged it with the United Nations War Crimes Commission, where it remains today listed as case 128/U K/G/28.
Many attempts have been made to have the truth told about this massacre. I do not claim any credit; I have just added a piece to the jigsaw puzzle. I do not know when Mohnke was first discovered.
Since raising this matter in the House, a London bus driver has contacted me and said that he had identified and located Mohnke in 1972 on behalf of his uncle, who was at Wormhoudt on that day but was not put in the barn. He was taken as a prisoner of war by a non-SS unit and was therefore treated properly.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) raises an important point. One of the most disturbing things about this former SS officer is that not only did he serve later in the war as the commander of the guard around Hitler's bunker, but that he has achieved—though untried—a degree of quasi respectability with historians. He has become a major source of information for international historians, who spend a great deal of their time recreating the events that occurred in Berlin in April 1945.
The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) is quite right, but those are not matters that I wish to go into now. There are many questions to be raised about this former SS officer. What happened to him between 1945 and 1955 when he was in Russian hands'? What happened to him when he came back to the West—if I can use that term—and it was known that he had come back?
As I said, many attempts have been made to get to the truth of this massacre. There must be a degree of embarrassment in certain high places, both military and political, in this country. In fact, the deafening silence in certain quarters is testimony to this. Anyone who has read the stories in the papers during the past few weeks will have noted—by their absence—quotations from certain quarters that one would expect to have more than a passing interest in what happened to those British prisoners of war. Those are points that must be raised later when the Minister of Defence, hopefully, takes positive action.
There is no embarrassment whatsoever in this matter being raised for Reginald West, Charles Daley, Alfred Tombs, Albert Evans and Brian Fahey, who were all privates with the Royal Warwicks and the only known living survivors of the massacre. Of the 12 to 14 survivors, those alone remain. They cannot be precise about the number of survivors; no one will ever know exactly how many British Tommies were murdered and how many survived. All their identification tags were removed. A year after the bodies were buried, they were allegedly dug up and reburied elsewhere. No one knows whether all the bodies were removed. All identification was removed, contrary to the Geneva convention.
Nobody believed the story told by these men when they returned to England—the first in 1943—following repatriation, when they were swapped for Germans. They were not believed. How could they be? Seventy to 80 British Tommies were left at Wormhoudt with one or perhaps two officers, as reference has been found to another officer. There was perhaps one officer to protect the rear of those who had gone to Dunkirk. They never arrived. They never returned. No one knew what happened to them. There were no records. No one knew until 1943 when repatriation had taken place. No one even expected that there had been a massacre. There was no one to tell about it. Of course, officers and the press in Britain were stunned. Originally, no one believed these men when they told their story. In fact, one of my constituents did not return until late 1946 or early 1947.
To encourage the Ministry of Defence, I should add that there is no embarrassment among the relatives of those killed at Wormhoudt, or among the relatives of the survivors who are now dead. Sons, daughters and grandchildren have written to me in the past few weeks. supporting the desire to see justice, because it was known among the families and in the close circles of those men that something bad had happened, and nothing ever appeared to be done about it. Many who lost relatives al. the end of May 1940 and who received letters from the then Ministry of War or the various regiments to say that their loved ones were missing in action and presumed dead can never be really certain whether they were in that barn at Wormhoudt.
None of the relatives can understand—nor can many hon. Members—why the two reports from which I have quoted are closed, under the Official Secrets Act, until 2021—to be precise, until 1 January 2021. They are closed for 75 years after the end of the war. Why? Most of the British personnel who are mentioned En the reports are dead and not all the survivors were involved in giving depositions because they were not all known about at the time. At least two and perhaps three out of the four members of the interrogation unit are still alive, although Colonel Scotland, who headed the unit, is no longer alive.
Surely those reports cannot be closed for 75 years to protect Herr Mohnke, or the Germans who gave evidence against him, from embarrassment. I know that in the early 1970s when writers were seeking permission from the Ministry of Defence to look at some of the documents, they were told—I have seen the correspondence—"You must not attribute or refer to those Germans in a derogatory fashion because it may embarrass them or their relatives." Funnily enough, the two Germans who were referred to in one letter were both dead, and anybody who knew anything about the case history would have known that they had been dead for years. However, the Ministry of Defence laid down those rules to British inquirers, writers and academics, and said, "You must not embarrass the Germans. You must not give the source of your information. You must not say that you have been allowed access to reports 1500 and 1650." There is no earthly reason why those reports, or any others, should remain closed for 75 years.
That is right. The fact that I have copies of both reports—not just extracts—shows that copies are in circulation and that they were not all at Kew or in the Ministry of Defence. Clearly, bona fide original copies are available, but not enough people have had sufficient pieces to put the jigsaw puzzle together. Not everyone knew that Mohnke was still alive. Those who knew the background were not certain. In the early 1970s the evidence was that he was either dead or still behind the iron curtain. I have seen that written up as late as 1972. Yet he was seen, as I understand it, at a trade fair in the late 1950s—in 1958 or 1959. The Germans have cleared him twice—in 1974 and in 1976. I do not know whether the German authorities have ever asked the British whether they could look at our information. One reason why I want the Ministry of Defence to take the lead in this is that it is beholden to do so.
Together with my collaborator, Ian Sayer, who publishes "World War II Investigator" and who gave me Mohnke's address, I arranged for Reginald West, my constituent, to make his own private complaint to the Lubeck authorities recently so that they cannot say that none of the survivors has contacted them. As none of the survivors has ever been contacted by the German authorities, that cannot be used as an excuse. We gave the Germans the reference numbers of the two reports and the West German ambassador in London received a copy.
I have told the Ministry of Defence that I am going to be patient. I have been so far, and I intend to continue to be moderate and modest in my demands. However, I will keep the issue before the House in one way or another. Later in the week an early-day motion will be tabled, with support from hon. Members of all parties, including the Father of the House, the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine).
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I am sure that he knows that one has the impression that there has been great reluctance to open up or to look again at events which took place 40 years ago. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the Home Secretary has set up a small commission to look into the wider issues of unresolved war crimes. Will the hon. Gentleman help us by submitting his evidence to the panel that the Home Secretary has set up?
I am glad that I gave way. That has already been done, but the panel said that the matter has nothing to do with it. The operation that the Home Secretary has set up will not cover this case. I make no complaint about that. I am raising a wholly different issue. I do not seek to confuse matters, but the Home Secretary's operation will not affect and is nothing to do with this case. Contact has been made and the panel politely pointed out that its terms of reference did not cover this case. I make no complaint about that at this point; perhaps later the panel's terms of reference will change.
The youngest of the survivors is 68 and the oldest is 81. They are not getting any younger. Time is not on their side, and they understand that as well as everyone else. In the past few days it has been disclosed that one of this country's eminent lawyers has offered his services free to the survivors, and they have accepted because other avenues can be explored. If the Ministry of Defence says, "Ministers have looked at this and taken a decision; the matter is to remain closed"—I sincerely hope that it does not—that decision must be challenged, and it can be challenged in places other than this House. However, that needs people with better and other professional expertise than I have.
I have sought to raise only a few of the points relating to this case. I do not wish to bore the House or to take up a lot of extra time in raising matters which I know could not be answered today. I gave notice to the Ministry of Defence last week that I would seek to keep the matter before the House and to keep up the pressure on Ministers and on those in the Ministry of Defence. They may not have been under pressure from certain quarters—that is a matter for criticism, and I will make that criticism at the appropriate time—but they will be kept under pressure from myself and from hon. Members of all parties until we get a satisfactory conclusion and justice for the survivors and the fallen.
The House has listened with great respect to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who has taken the lead on the matter that he raised and has earned the appreciation of many Members for the investigation that he is making.
I hope that in the few minutes available to me I shall be listened to with equal respect, especially by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), on the matter that I wish to bring before my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House before the House rises for the spring Adjournment. It is a matter that I tried to raise on the Adjournment some time ago but neither the Home Office nor the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would take any responsibility for it. It is the continuing picket outside the South African embassy.
With the tourist season and the summer approaching, I believe that the House should hear about the terrible scourge of that picket, or demonstration, on Trafalgar square; about the shame that it is bringing to London and to this country by the fact that it is allowed to continue virtually unabated; about the fact that Her Majesty's Government have seen fit not to take any notice of the picket; and about the fact that the police have had great difficulty in the various prosecutions that they have brought in trying to bring some sense of law and order into events outside the embassy.
It is a disgrace that a bunch of Left-wing political extremists, paid, of course, by Camden council, the World Council of Churches and other organisations to attend, should be present on a 24-hour basis outside an embassy in this country. The demonstration bears no comparison with the understandable vigils and other demonstrations that have taken place outside embassies throughout London in the past. For example, candlelight vigils have taken place outside the Russian embassy and many hon. Members on both sides of the House have participated in them. Quiet and peaceful demonstrations and protests have taken place outside the embassies of South American countries and of many other countries. The demonstration outside the South African embassy has nothing to do with peaceful protest. It is a continuing scourge and the House should understand that many of my right hon. and hon. Friends are becoming cross at the apparent inactivity of the authorities to do something about it.
No other demonstrations are taking place in the capital outside the embassies of countries that equally, if I might use that term, violate human rights. I have always said that I consider apartheid to be a violation of human rights. There are no demonstrations outside any of the black African embassies, for example, which represent countries where some human rights violations are far worse than in South Africa. There are no demonstrations outside the embassies of iron curtain countries. There are no demonstrations outside the Indian embassy or the high commission because of what has been going on in that country. The House should understand that the continuing demonstration outside the South African embassy is becoming rather more than a nuisance.
The demonstration is mounted by an unashamed political body through the anti-apartheid movement, which receives funds from eastern European countries and some British sources. Those who take part in the demonstration might well demonstrate in support of an animal welfare rights campaign along Whitehall, or in a campaign to protest against the recent parliamentary activity of the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton).
The same people turn up day in and day out, year in and year out, for any sort of protest, and they always exaggerate their numbers. They are known, quite rightly, as rent a mob. They are especially violent and spiteful in the demonstration that they are mounting against the South African Government outside the embassy. I have personally experienced violence on the campuses of universities and polytechnics, which has rightly been condemned by Members on both sides of the House, and the fact that this violent element exists in our capital is a disgrace to us all. The demonstrators are supported by the so-called respectable arm of the African National Congress through its offices in London.
The non-stop picket has taken place in many and various ways——
I am glad that my hon. Friend has brought the matter before the House; it has received scant attention until now. Will he deal with the apparent unwillingness of the Metropolitan police or my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to pursue the legitimate complaints that have been made, partly by members of the public who have suffered at the hands of these people, and partly by police officers who have been injured by them?
If my hon. Friend remains patient for a few moments, I think he will find that I shall cover the issue that he has raised. It is one that concerns many throughout Britain.
The activities of the group of demonstrators outside the South African embassy include a continuous presence. There is an unashamed 24-hour protest outside the embassy on the pavement, which is about 20 ft. wide. This tends to spill over towards the embassy and thus causes great inconvenience to passing visitors. The group's activities include the daily use of a megaphone, the loudness of which varies. What do not vary are the slogans that are shouted through the megaphone at the embassy, at passing visitors, at the police and at anyone who is in the vicinity at the time. Typical slogans are, "Ambassador Killen is a Fascist killer" and "Racist murderers, out of Britain." Those who shout the slogans accuse the police of sexism and racism. The slogans are directed at any visitor in the area or those entering or leaving the embassy.
Every Thursday afternoon or evening there is the playing of a brass band, by what might be called a motley crew of musicians. They set up shop outside the embassy and play all types of music, again to the nuisance of those working within the embassy and to those outside.
Street collections have been mounted on many occasions, and these are illegal if they are not supported by the proper licences. Encouragement has been given to various groups, such as the British Communist party and the Labour lesbian group. Who knows, there may be some members of that group on the Opposition Benches. British Labour Members have stood outside the embassy, and in many instances they have deliberately caused themselves to be arrested in the demonstration. On occasion the demonstrators have set up on the pavement outside the embassy a stall at which they have sold T-shirts, pamphlets, stickers and posters. There has been a continuous attempt to coerce members of the public into signing petitions.
Worst of all has been the abuse, both verbal and physical, that has been directed at those legitimately walking in the area. This has been virtually unnoticed by the House. Whoever walks by the embassy these days is accosted by one of the demonstrators. This may he done by young men or young women, if they can he so described.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. Perhaps he has not walked by the embassy recently. Perhaps he does not realise the extent of the picket. On many occasions it spreads across the pavement. which means that pedestrians cannot walk by without being accosted or physically jostled by the demonstrators.
The hon. Gentleman may be pleased to learn, if he is in one of his rare listening moods, that I walk past the embassy regularly and am never accosted by the demonstrators. I walk past without let or hindrance. The House will note that the Metropolitan police maintain a presence and that their officers rarely have to take a hand.
I do not have time to list the various offences that have been committed. Probably the hon. Gentleman is recognised by those who maintain the picket, who know him to be sympathetic to their cause. The general public are accosted regularly and the embassy officials are jostled, spat at and abused as they enter or leave the embassy, whatever the colour of their skin. This abuse is a continual nuisance to the public, and especially to those who are working in the embassy.
I suppose the most famous offence in recent times was the one that took place in May 1987, when three canisters of red paint were thrown at the embassy. Perhaps some Labour Members would argue that that was a form of peaceful protest. However, arrests were made on that occasion. When police barriers have been erected, they have been moved. After the red paint incident, the mob was moved to the pavement of Duncannon street, which runs along one side of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, and for about five weeks it carried out its protest there. The House, including my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary should ask why the Metropolitan police allowed the mob to return to a place outside the embassy after it had committed an offence against the embassy.
The police have been involved in violent scuffles outside the embassy on many occasions. In one such incident a policeman was injured by the demonstrators. If the demonstration was peaceful and non-violent, did not harass those working in the embassy and those walking by it, and was a genuine protest—I understand the feeling of some Opposition Members and some of my right hon. and hon. Friends about that which the demonstrators are protesting against—we would have no cause for concern. Unfortunately, that is not the position, and Opposition Members delude themselves if they think otherwise.
I promised my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) that I would discuss the prosecutions that have taken place. This goes back to the incident outside the South African embassy in Kensington in 1984, when some violence took place. Although various arrests were made, no one was ultimately brought to trial, sometimes for technical reasons and, one hopes, sometimes because there was no case to answer. If that is the way the law is, so be it. However, there is no doubt that because of that "success" the police have been extremely reluctant to bring prosecutions against people who are violating the law in no uncertain terms.
In April 1986 there was a discussion between the police, the Foreign Office, the embassy and members of the diplomatic corps. It was promised then that every effort would be made to alleviate the problem. Since then nothing has been done to alleviate the problem. Some prosecutions have been brought, but most of them have failed, and virtually no prison sentences or punishments have been given, although there have been one or two. [HON. MEMBERS "Shame!"] The shame is that these people can flout the law, week in and week out, without attracting the attention of the authorities or the police.
Two questions must be asked about this sorry affair, and I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to take the first of them to the Foreign Secretary. Are the Government fulfilling their obligations under the Diplomatic Privileges Act 1964, under which a responsibility is placed on the receiving state to protect the peace and dignity of a diplomatic mission as well as the persons and possessions relating to such a mission? Under the Vienna convention we are ignoring our responsibilities by allowing this demonstration to continue in its present form.
The second question is whether the Government are wholly satisfied that the police have to rely on local byelaws to arrest those who offend, and that cases can be brought only against individuals, not against groups. Will my right hon. Friend ask our right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to consider bringing in legislation to prevent this sort of thing happening to embassies?
Finally, I bring a related issue to the attention of the House. On 11 June the BBC is making a 10-hour broadcast of a concert from Wembley which is organised by the anti-apartheid movement to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday. Mandela is a terrorist who was committed to gaol in South Africa 26 years ago. He can walk out of gaol any time he wants to, provided that he renounces violence against the state.
Why is this concert going ahead and being sponsored by the BBC? Where will the, presumably considerable, fees come from? I suggest that it is outside the BBC's charter that such an unashamedly political organisation should obtain 10 hours of time and receive the considerable sums of money from the public purse and the licence payers that the concert will generate. I hope that before 11 June the Home Secretary will scrutinise this matter and ask the BBC those questions. It is a disgrace to the House and the country that we consistently support terrorist organisations with our money and time.
What has been disgraceful is not the daily demonstration outside the South African embassy but the manner in which the apartheid regime is defended and justified at every opportunity by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). He has made a number of trips to South Africa at the expense of the South African authorities and has never sought to deny that. During the time he has been in the House he has continually used it as a platform from which to put across the point of view of the South African authorities.
The Opposition have made their position clear on numerous occasions. We are against the system in South Africa. It is an outrageous tyranny that discriminates against the majority of the people there because of the colour of their skin. We have been told by the Government that they accept our point of view; the argument is what should be done about it. Time and again, Ministers have said that they agree with our interpretation of events in South Africa—not with that of the hon. Member for Luton, North.
We want sanctions against the South African regime. However much my views may differ from those of some of the people involved in the demonstration, I am pleased that Londoners and all who come here are constantly reminded that there are people in this country who are very much opposed to the tyranny of the South African regime, just as we opposed the Nazi tyranny in Germany before the war.
I come now to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker). It is difficult to understand how the Government can be indifferent to the fate of the British and Canadian soldiers who were massacred nearly 48 years ago. If the person responsible is living in Germany under a respectable guise, as the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) said that he was—and I understand that he is a fairly successful business man—I find it difficult to understand how the Government can be indifferent to what happened. After all, the allied Governments in the war—including the British Government—made their position perfectly clear: they said that all those responsible for Nazi crimes against humanity would be brought to justice when the war ended. Surely we should be concerned about the massacre of British soldiers at the hands of this Nazi fanatic, and should bring every sort of pressure to bear on the German authorities to ensure he is brought to justice.
My main point in this debate concerns the partial compensation that will be paid to people who have lost more than £2·50 in housing benefit. We have been informed that a special unit of the DHSS has been set up to deal with applications from such people—pensioners and others—who are now forced to pay £15, £20 or more weekly in rent and rates out of a limited income. Some of those affected are my constituents. These substantial additional payments of rent and rates are expected from those who have had their housing benefit withdrawn or much reduced, and many of the pensioners who have been thus adversely affected are finding it almost impossible to come up with the extra money now required.
An 84-year-old constituent came to my surgery to tell me that she had been asked to pay £18 a week more out of a very limited income. As a result of pressure from Opposition Members and the public, the Government partly climbed down. The Secretary of State for Social Services announced the transitional arrangements, but how long will they last—for one year, or more? I see no reason why the first £2·50 should not be compensated; but it appears now that there will be no compensation for rent and rate increases in the current year, either.
A good deal of red tape seems to be involved in applying for the compensation. It will not be paid automatically. Applicants will have to fill in a form which has to go to the special DHSS unit in Glasgow. Local authorities will have to be consulted about how much housing benefit the applicant was paid before the cuts and how much is being paid now. All that will take time.
The special unit will not be established until the beginning of July, so during the eight weeks or more people on a limited income will pay substantial increases in rent and rates. That is wrong. I hope that tonight the Leader of the House will give us more information about the transitional arrangements. The Secretary of State should be here to make a statement.
My second point concerns the Home Secretary's decision on concessionary television licences as announced in a written answer on 18 May. It could be argued that I have an interest, not because I am a pensioner—I have quite a few years to go yet—but because I introduced a private Member's Bill on this subject. I was fortunate in winning first place in the ballot and on 16 January 1987 my Bill, which would have provided a concessionary television licence fee for all pensioners, was defeated by 21 votes. That was a shameful result arising from the Government's decision to oppose my measure.
A week later in the High Court it was ruled that local authorities could provide concessionary television licences for pensioners where there was some common facility. Several local authorities, including mine, submitted applications, some of which were successful so that pensioners would receive a concessionary television licence where there was, for instance, the Piper warning system. The Home Secretary has now reversed that. Not only has the 5p fee increased to £5, but it will be necessary for the accommodation to be warden-controlled. Pensioners on a limited income were hoping to get a concessionary licence—we should bear in mind how important television is for elderly people, especially in the winter months—but their hopes have been dashed.
It is difficult to understand how in the Budget the Government can provide the richest in the community with hundreds of pounds a week extra—those people certainly do not need that cash—while many of our retired constituents living on the smallest income are denied a concessionary television licence. As I say, the Government have made it far more difficult for them.
If the licence fee were £5 for all pensioners I would have no complaint, but that is not the case. Far from it. I hope that today we shall be given information on housing benefit and concessionary television licences for pensioners, and that there will be a debate on the latter.
We are enjoying a good, sound boom in economic growth and nowhere is that more clearly visible or wanted than in overseas exports. I am sure that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, on your travels around the world have enjoyed the excellent performance of the BBC world service. It is rewarding to hear of students in parts of China listening to the BBC world service and gaining an understanding of this country. But we must recognise the strength of the BBC and how it is often thought to reflect British policies and even how this House views the countries at which programmes are directed. I can find little fault with the BBC world service, but recently the penchant of the BBC in its current affairs programmes has been for trial by television, and one or two examples of that have been discussed in this House. When the BBC gets it wrong, the BBC gets it excruciatingly wrong.
I have not visited south-east Asia for many years, but I was talking to some leading business men who have high hopes of exporting there capital goods on a large scale, providing employment for thousands of British people. They drew my attention to the extraordinary impact of "Newsnight" on 4 May which was about the new Prime Minister of Malaysia. Apparently it was constructed from a 45-minute interview with the Prime Minister which was whittled down to two minutes of him on screen and 18 minutes principally devoted to the views of his political opponents.
The BBC and the press have every right to say whatever they want, but the impact of such a programme should be borne in mind, especially considering the hard time that British exporters have had in building up their exports over the past seven years. Four years ago there was an active "buy British last" policy in Malaysia and other parts of south-east Asia. It not only affected the export of capital goods, but Concorde was denied rights to fly down the corridor to reach Singapore. The BBC is recognised as an important and valuable national institution, so when a programme is biased against a foreigner it is regarded as a direct criticism by this House and our Government of a particular foreign power and its leader.
I shall not dwell on whether a foreign power or its leader is correctly portrayed. I am concerned that British exporters, having spent four years gradually beating back the "buy British last" policy, and being on the verge of substantial orders, could be undermined by such an unfortunate programme. I have illustrated a specific case, but I hope that my right hon. Friend will review the general case and perhaps discuss with the governors of the BBC the impact of that type of programme and the effect of misreporting on the fortunes of and relationships between two countries such as Malaysia and the United Kingdom.
I have no interest to declare. I raise this matter because I am worried about the delicate nature of such a relationship, and how the BBC is regarded around the world. I am rarely a critic of the corporation which in general is excellent, but perhaps my right hon. Friend would be kind enough to review the position and reassure the Malaysians and others interested in trading with us that we base Government policy not on media opinions, but on good relations developed between this Government and those overseas.
I wish to contribute briefly to the debate on an issue of great importance to my constituency—an issue that arouses the interest and concern of every hon. Member when it is relevant to his constituency or area. The Leader of the House had experience of this matter this time last year, as he told me in response to a recent business question.
The issue that concerns me is that of Nirex and its consultative arrangements in respect of its document, "The Way Forward", which seeks to find a solution to the thorny, vexed and long-running problem of the disposal of nuclear waste. It is significant that the consultative period will end during our parliamentary recess. Therefore, I bring to the attention of the Leader of the House and of hon. Members the considerable legitimate worries about Nirex's method of consultation and the options in its report. I wish to draw the House's attention to the feelings of people in my constituency which has been listed as being of potential geological suitability for possible further evaluation with a view to long-term nuclear waste disposal.
The consultative document considers three concepts for dealing with the problem. The first is disposal under land, the second is disposal under the seabed with access from the coast, and the third is disposal under the seabed with access at sea. There are several reasons for refuting each of those concepts as a possible way forward, but I shall confine myself to one.
Each of those methods would involve the long-term locking away of nuclear material in an unreclaimable form. It is nonsense, when scientific knowledge at this juncture is not sufficient to offer a full solution to the problem, to lock ourselves away from a possible future solution if scientific knowledge can deliver it. That is the fundamental criticism inherent in each of those possible categories of disposal.
Nirex is not consulting about one form of interim disposal—on-site storage at surface level at existing nuclear installations. There is considerable evidence of public support, if I may call it that, for that approach rather than for the three methods upon which Nirex is currently consulting. Its consultation process is flawed because it has not chosen to evaluate and test public reaction to the perfectly feasible and scientifically sustainable method of storing nuclear waste materials on site at existing nuclear installations.
I hope that the Leader of the House will draw the concern of many hon. Members to the Secretary of State for the Environment who, ultimately, will have to consider whatever recommendations Nirex may make. I hope that the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Secretary of State for Scotland will bear in mind that Nirex did not consult upon that evident way of proceeding.
I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Gentleman has said. Does he agree that, as we are only days from the end of the consultation period, it is crucial that every hon. Member should express his view on the consultation document—I suspect that many hon. Members share his view—by the end of the consultation period so that Nirex is in no doubt about our views?
I am aware of the prominent and consistent view taken by the hon. Gentleman in respect of his constituency during the last Parliament and I know that he will have made clear his thoughts to Nirex. I echo his plea that the more hon. Members make known their views to Nirex, the greater will be the input that Nirex receives.
I wish to refer to the distinctive form of public consultation which has been carried out at Easter Ross in my constituency. Nirex has not been particularly forthcoming about the geographic knowledge that it is willing to pass on to those concerned about possible disposal sites. However, within those constraints, a mini-referendum was recently held within Easter Ross, supervised by the Electoral Reform Society. The ballot motion stated:
A company called UK Nirex has found several areas of Britain in which it may be possible to bury low and intermediate levels of nuclear waste below ground level. Part of Easter Ross is one of these areas. NIREX intend carrying out more tests in order to choose an area in which they can site an underground waste repository. Are you in favour of these tests being carried out in Easter Ross?
That motion was approved by the Electoral Reform Society, and I hope that the House will agree that it was not a loaded question. It is a straightforward, unbiased account of the proposition currently being considered. Of all the valid returned papers, 96·36 per cent. came out against such tests in Easter Ross; 142 people voted in favour of the proposition that further tests could be carried out and 3,761 voted against it. In all, 5,130 papers were distributed and 3,915 were returned, of which 12 were blank or spoilt. The response to the ballot, including blank and spoilt papers, was 76·31 per cent. As a result of that straightforward and unloaded public opinion survey, which required people to mark the ballot paper and then go to the bother of returning it by post, there was a definitive answer that, in common with many other parts of the country, my area categorically said no to Nirex. I hope that Nirex will take that into account.
Nirex has not given a very warm welcome to the result of that ballot. I regret the criticism that it has levelled at the ballot because it was invited to participate, with myself and other members of the local community, in a series of four public meetings in which the arguments for and against were thoroughly aired and the technical matters involved were constructively explained. Nirex chose not to participate in that exercise, which, again, does not reflect much interest on its part in a genuine consultative process.
The way in which Nirex has approached this matter is shot through with flaws and we reject its approach. I also speak for others in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland where there is considerable anxiety about this matter. We share a common view that on-site disposal or storage is more preferable than the options being canvassed by Nirex. We believe that there should have been consultation on the option of on-site disposal or storage.
I hope that before the consultative period ends hon. Members will make known their views to Nirex, and that, in due course, both the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Secretary of State for the Environment will evaluate carefully what will no doubt he strong opposition from many parts of the country. It is all too easy on this issue to say, "Not in my back yard," as the referendum in my constituency showed. Surely it is more constructive for the future to say of those three methods of disposal, "Not in anyone's back yard," because it is not a responsible way to deal with the problem. We should choose on-site disposal rather than any of the three methods in the consultative document.
The charm of these debates lies in the wide variety of issues that are canvassed. I have listened with considerable interest to many of the contributions this evening, not least to that of the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy). I want to return to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) about an hour ago and deal with the procedures of the House.
The Order Paper is filled with motions on procedure, but matters of procedure do not receive the attention that they deserve. Many misconceptions and misunderstandings follow, particularly outside the House, because people have an inadequate grasp of the reasons for the procedures and the fact—which is vital—that our procedures are impartial and work for the benefit of the whole House, not for any particular hon. Member. In that connection I want to refer, as my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale did, to the Abortion (Amendment) Bill.
I declare with out any hesitation that I am an unashamed supporter of the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton). I recognise that many people disagree strongly with my views on this subject. If I had my way—and I know that I shall not—we would rely on the old common law relating to abortion and the Abortion Act 1967 would never have reached the statute book. I recognise that many people disagree very strongly with that view.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I want to draw attention to the fact that I have just entered the Chamber after having a cup of tea in the Tea Room where I saw that my name was on the annunciator screen. I want to bring that to your attention, so that I shall not be recorded as having spoken today and therefore lose my chance to be called later today or tonight.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). In trying to find my way around this place I have from time to time found that there are opportunist advantages in my path in being able to follow the hon. Gentleman. Perhaps from time to time he feels that there is some advantage the other way. Both he and I shared some of the correspondence to the former right hon. Member for South Down. Such are the ways of the House.
Controversial legislation such as reform of the abortion law is quite unsuitable for private Members' legislation. Private Members' legislation procedures, if properly followed, cannot possibly be used to bring about such a controversial change. If only those outside had been properly cautioned not to expect too much of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill when it was before the House, a great deal of disappointment might have been avoided.
Perhaps my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will confirm that only one substantially opposed private Member's Bill has become law without Government intervention since 1958. I was not a Member of the House then. The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) is nodding in agreement, and he has been a Member for most of the time since 1958. I have not.
In the 1960s the Wilson Government allowed private Members' legislation procedures to be altered to allow sufficient Government time for measures of considerable public controversy to be carried. Although I was not a Member of the House then, I deplore Governments making such time available. Although I am a strong supporter of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, I strongly support the view taken by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that Government time should not be made available for this measure, because if it were it would be changing the goalposts in the middle of the game. Time is of the essence in carrying all private Members' legislation. I am fully aware of that. I was fortunate enough to be almost at the top of the ballot for private Members' Bills and I was able to carry through private Members' legislation. I am all too well aware of the loops, difficulties and potential pitfalls in those procedures. However, we must respect the fact that there is only so much time.
The tactics of those who oppose or delay private Members' Bills are governed by the fact that there is only so much time. When people claimed that the Abortion (Amendment) Bill failed the other week simply because another hour and a half or whatever was not made available, they could not be more wrong. If another hour and a half, five hours or 10 hours had been made available and that extra time had been announced in advance, the tactics of the Bill's opponents—people have every right to oppose the Bill and I deprecate all comments from some supporters of the hon. Member for Mossley Hill that the procedures of the House have been abused in some way—would have been different, but I have no doubt that the result would have been the same.
Private Members' Bills are a valuable way of handling certain matters that need to be in the public domain, but they are utterly unsuitable for dealing with matters of major public controversy such as the reform of abortion law. Although my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale was right to say that the issue would not go away, I hope that all hon. Members will bear in mind that if they seek to follow the path taken by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill, and others in previous Sessions, the result will be the same. Public opinion should be aware, before the procedures are started, that that is the almost inevitable consequence of introducing such a measure. The public should not be encouraged to imagine that because a Bill has received a Second Reading, or has a measure of support, those who have every legitimate right to oppose measures in the House are in some way abusing the procedures.
The abortion conundrum must be resolved, but the solution does not lie in introducing a private Member's Bill. The Government should grasp the nettle. Fortunately, they will have that opportunity. I understand that in the next Session of Parliament the Government are likely to present a Bill to deal with many of the matters raised in the Warnock report. Such a Bill will deal with many matters of conscience and it is likely that on the Conservative Benches at least there will be a free vote. That is the advice that I have received.
There can be no more sensible way of resolving the abortion problem than for a clause to be inserted in a Government Bill such as the one to which I have referred—if one appears—to amend the Abortion Act 1967. The House would be able to consider that in Government time, with all the differences in procedure which that necessarily involves. No doubt a free vote would be allowed. In that way the House could quite properly deal with a matter that must be dealt with. The House and the public could be spared the unnecessary difficulties that have arisen as a result of absurd expectations about what private Members' legislation can achieve.
I stress that the procedures of the House should be respected by all hon. Members. They are available for use by all Members, and it is wrong to say that they are abused merely because they are used.
I understand that on Report a new clause is to be proposed to the Criminal Justice Bill. It may that the clause will be in order, in that it will lie within the long title of the legislation to which it is to be added, but I hope that when the new clauses and amendments are selected for debate those who are responsible for that selection will be extremely cautious about selecting it, because it amounts to nothing less than tacking.
Tacking was a tremendous game that was played in the early 18th century. There is nothing that more encourages the natural sense of mischief that lies within most of us than the opportunity to tack on to legislation. That happens in the United States Congress, with the utmost mischief and the greatest of joy. Years ago I used to study with considerable interest the career of a notable member of the United States Senate, the former Republican leader Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen. He was a master of parliamentary tactics and he used to tack mercilessly on to every Bill that he could. Much of what he tacked on was thoroughly mischievous.
If we allow tacking to take place here, we will find that it will become an ever-growing industry. It was rightly stopped in the 18th century, and it would be foolish and unwise if it were reintroduced. I hope that that will be borne in mind and that a proper selection of amendments and new clauses will be made. There might be other reasons why the proposed new clause should be selected, but it would be a most undesirable precedent. I say that as someone who supports the efforts that have been made by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill. The supporters of change to the abortion law must not try to misuse the procedures of this House and then accuse those who seek to oppose them of being the misusers. That has been going on, and it is undesirable and must stop.
The relationship between Standing Committees and Select Committees is another matter that requires a great deal of thought in the months and years to come. Departmental Select Committees are a welcome and, I hope, permanent feature of the work of the House. They have been running for nearly 10 years. There is a degree of criticism of the work that they do, but that criticism should not be allowed to undermine the part that they can play in the proceedings of the House.
The time has come for the House to give careful consideration to the work that is done by Select Committees. The House should consider whether some of the work that is done by certain Standing Committees should be referred to Select Committees for proper consideration. Obviously controversial major legislation must be dealt with by Standing Committees. That procedure, although it is open to criticism. is by far the best way to handle major legislation in detail.
From time to time all hon. Members receive invitations to attend Standing Committees on statutory instruments. I have served on a number of such Standing Committees, and I must say that in nearly every case they have been a waste of time. Most of the hon. Members who serve on such Committees have no conceivable interest in the subject. Sometimes the work has been completed within minutes, and on one or two occasions I recall it being completed in less than one minute.
Surely some of the delegated legislation that is dealt with by Standing Committees could be referred to the Select Committees. They have a greater expertise in such matters and they could consider whether it would be appropriate for the House to take a greater interest in the legislation, instead of it being considered by a Standing Committee.
It seems to have become regarded as necessary for every departmental Select Committee to make at least one trip abroad every year. It would be something of a surprise if people were aware of some of the matters on which Select Committees spend so much of their time. I note that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) is in his place, and he is—he may not have sought the role—one of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of local government. The Select Committee on the Environment has been in existence for about 10 years, but I understand that it has never considered the subject of local government. In the past 10 years, however, every Session of Parliament has devoted an enormous part of its time to local government. Perhaps it is something to do with the fact that local government does not involve travel abroad and is of less interest to members of that Committee than it is to the House and the public.
It comes as a surprise to discover some of the matters that the Select Committee on Transport has considered. Such consideration has enabled that Committee—in the course of its duties, of course—to go abroad on fact-finding missions. I have no doubt that the Committee Members have derived considerable benefit and experience from such trips.
I believe that some of the statutory instruments relating to transport, local government and the environment, which are of no interest to most Members of the House but which are a necessary part of our legislative activity, could be referred to the Select Committees for proper consideration. We should pay particular regard to the fact that statutory instruments are not amendable. If they are laid before Select Committees in draft form for consultation with the Government before they come to the House for consideration, that is likely to lead to better parliamentary scrutiny than currently takes place.
I expect that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will say that all these matters are for the Procedure Committee. He may even be kind enough to refer to the fact that he has tabled a motion that has my name to it.
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The debate can last for only three hours—it used to be open-ended but the Establishment cut it down—and there is a convention that hon. Members should try to keep their speeches to a reasonable length, bearing in mind the amount of time available. The hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) appears to be filibustering for no useful purpose, and that seems to be an abuse of the procedures that he is discussing.
I have heard nothing out of order from the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell). Perhaps this is a suitable moment to remind the House that there are a number of hon. Members who still hope to get in and this debate must end at 7.52 pm.
I was in the process of drawing my remarks to a close and I apologise to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) if he feels a degree of impatience. He is able to contribute frequently to the proceedings of this House, and I have raised a matter which I do not believe has been canvassed before on the Floor of the House. It is a matter that needs more careful scrutiny than it has received so far. When my right hon. Friend replies to the debate I hope that he will say that the Procedure Committee will be established soon. It will then be able to get to work on all sorts of matters of procedural reform that are important to the House.
I want to bring to the attention of the House a matter that is of urgent importance to my constituents—the cuts that will be imposed this year on the Health Service in Nottingham. They are causing great concern and distress to my constituents, to the trade unions and to the organisations representing workers in the Health Service.
I have had representations from Nottingham BMA representing the doctors and consultants, from the Royal College of Nursing, NUPE and COHSE representing the nurses, from the General Municipal Boilermakers and Allied Trades Union, NUPE, COHSE and other unions representing the ancillaries. If they were free to speak, no doubt I would have received representations from the senior management of the district health authority.
Yesterday, we saw the collapse of the lottery designed to assist the National Health Service. Even if it had not collapsed, the amount of money that it could have contributed would have been minimal, given the needs even of Nottingham's health service, let alone the National Health Service.
Before making any critical remarks, I wish to pay tribute to the staff, the nurses, the ancillaries and all those involved in making the Nottingham district health authority work, papering over the cracks and holding the Nottingham health service together with sticking plaster, working day and night beyond the call of duty. They deserve a tribute from everyone who uses the Health Service. I must, first and foremost, say that to them.
Yesterday, Princess Margaret came to Nottingham to declare open a scanner. As well as the sights that royalty are normally shown, I hope that Princess Margaret was given an insight into the cuts that will be taking place this year in Nottingham district health authority. At every possible opportunity, local Conservatives paint a rosy picture which belies the reality of the health service in Nottingham.
A document produced by the Nottingham health authority, the Nottingham district and medical staff committee's report on the financial situation and its impact on clinical services, outlines how poorly the health service in Nottingham will fare during the next year. It estimates that in the current financial year pay awards in Nottingham's hospital units will be under-funded by approximately £439,000. The report states:
This factor exacerbates all other problems.
For as long as it is Government policy not to fund all pay awards in full, it will be essential that local financial planning must reduce pressures within the health authority and that will always mean a reduction in services., a reduction in ancillary services, and, now, a reduction in clinical services in the health authority. The district health authority will have to set aside three quarters or 1 per cent. for possible pay award shortfalls in the coming year.
That will cause a number of problems for the Nottingham district health authority and for people in Nottingham who wish to use the health service. In previous years a temporary ward has been funded at the City hospital to cope with the increased intake of medical patients during the months of January and February. This year medical patients will spill over into beds for other specialties, thus reducing their throughput. Therefore, a ward will not be provided this winter through lack of finance. Clearly it is unsatisfactory to leave it to chance that that money will be available should the need for additional beds become obvious. Therefore, it needs to be prioritised. If it is not prioritised through cuts in other areas, there will be no winter ward in the City hospital in Nottingham.
The traditional buffer for overflow of medical patients has been general surgery. However, the scope for that has been reduced following the cut in general surgical beds at the University hospital in Nottingham. It is accepted that additional difficulties are created by trying to accommodate an overflow of medical patients. I propose to consider other areas in which cuts will be affecting the Nottingham district health authority and the service to patients which in many cases will mean a diminished service which I hope will not produce dramatic cases such as that of Matthew Collier. I hope that the Government will have a change of mind and a change of heart and will properly fund the Health Service.
Medical equipment clearly becomes obsolete very quickly. The report states:
As a result it needs to be replaced regularly … At the two major Units the cost of planned replacement would be in excess of £1 million for this year. Approximately one quarter of this can be funded.
In other words, three quarters cannot be funded. The report goes on to say that £300,000 is required for pathology equipment, £45,000 for endoscopic equipment and £300,000 for X-ray equipment replacement. Those figures cast great shadows on the Government's policy towards the Health Service. The people of Nottingham will suffer for those failures.
The report continues:
As a short-term measure the Authority will be recommended to allow Units to retain a larger proportion of their Cost Improvement Savings in 1988–89 to invest in equipment.
However, it suggests that
the sensible way forward is to establish a planned replacement and renewal programme rather than the current arrangement of bidding against a limited (and normally inadequate) non-recurrent allocation.
These people are not manning a picket line and demanding the scalp of the Government; they manage the health service in Nottingham. They are at the end of their tether; they cannot make ends meet.
The report, referring to operating theatres, states:
At the two large Units"—
the City hospital and the University hospital in Nottingham—
during the summer a total of 175 operating lists had to be cancelled because of the shortage of nursing staff due to holidays. The smaller Units have difficulty in maintaining general anaesthetic lists, because of the lack of ODAs, and it has also not been possible to transfer sessions from Central Notts in order to make an impact on the very long Oral Surgical waiting lists.
Many health authorities have difficulties in maintaining their levels of nursing staff. At the University hospital, where the nursing budget allows only for under-recruitment, the report says that improved recruitment has led to overspend, so that the unit has to return to planned under-staffing. The largest hospital in Nottingham is deliberately under-staffing itself so that it can break even on the targets that have been set by higher authorities. The result is pain and anguish for people in Nottingham who are on the waiting lists, particularly those waiting for hip and joint replacements. A job description for a consultant orthopaedic surgeon has been prepared and agreed.
I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman has had more than enough opportunities in other forums to make his points.
The possible revenue consequence of such an appointment at the City hospital unit is a sum of about £200,000. The report states:
This funding is not available and the appointment is to be delayed with consequent effects upon the ever-increasing waiting lists for this type of operation.
Throughout the report there are clear signs that the health service in Nottingham is falling under greater stress despite the heroic efforts of the people who work in it.
The major constraint at the general hospital is the overspending pharmacy budget because of the escalating costs of cytotoxic chemotherapy which at the moment is not being met by Trent regional health authority.
In the neurosciences there are problems with pathology and nursing. The budget for neuropathology at University hospital is approximately half that provided in equivalent sub-regional centres. The enormous increase in the neuropathology work load has produced an overspending and, as a result, there will be a reduced diagnostic service with all that that implies for therapy and potential litigation. On nursing under neurosciences, dependency studies show that insufficient nurses are available to cope with the work load.
The report highlights the fact that the Nottingham area is faced with increased and uncontrollable work loads at
the same time as having imposed upon it cost improvement saving targets. The report clearly and strongly says:
Existing clinical services will almost certainly have to be reduced in order to demonstrate the savings, as there must come a time when no further savings can be made in non-patient services.
The report goes on—this may be of interest to the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell)—to say:
We are concerned that this is not acknowledged and the public are assured by bland statements in the local press that clinical services will not be affected.
The health service in Nottingham is under tremendous pressure. The Government are doing insufficient to maintain the current services. Services are being reduced and the end result will be more people on the waiting list, more people whose operations are cancelled and more people in desperate need and in desperate pain.
I ask the Leader of the House to take those views away with him. In my view, and I hope in the view of my constituents, the House should not adjourn until something has been done about this situation.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) rightly referred, in a point of order a moment ago, to a convention regarding debates such as this. Another convention is that hon. Members are supposed to raise matters that need to be discussed before we adjourn for the recess.
To me and to many of my constituents, going home is a pain. It is a pain because the Department of Transport has never been able to get its act together. Anyone who wants to travel to the north-east of England up the A1 will come up against no fewer than six lots of road works, repairs not to minor potholes, but to major sections of the road.
You can imagine my joy, Mr. Deputy Speaker, when, on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, I heard on the radio that those thinking of travelling in Yorkshire would find a two-mile traffic jam on the Doncaster bypass, a four-mile traffic jam at Catterick and a six-mile traffic jam at Dishforth. Those who are not too familiar with the English countryside or the glories of the north may think that those places are a long way apart, but they come within a radius of 40 miles. Imagine setting out on such a journey. Imagine a British exporter trying to get his goods to the Channel ports when his lorry driver is faced with that.
Almost everybody acknowledges that it is time for a new motorway to be built on the eastern side of Britain, linking the Channel ports, London and Scotland. We have such a road on the western side of Britain. Why should we on the eastern side be denied such a facility?
Every time I communicate with the Department of Transport, I am told that the evidence does not justify the major expenditure that such a road would require. But who is preparing that evidence? Who is compiling the statistics? Who is advising on the conclusions to be drawn? It is the people who gave us the M25—the same technical experts, the same transport boffins.
The Department of Transport is not ignoring the problems of the A 1; it is making them worse by working almost simultaneously on every junction and stretch of the road to try to upgrade it a little. That is like trying to make a pair of long trousers out of a pair of shorts. It just will not work. To have a dual carriageway for a major arterial road at this end of the century denies us the facilities that people have in other parts of Britain.
Recently, I raised this matter in the House and I was rubbished in The Daily Telegraph by some spotty boy called Simon Heller who said that I threatened to put concrete over the whole of east or west Yorkshire. I did nothing of the sort. However, I must tell you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and spotty Heifer that I am not alone in my quest. It has the unanimous support of every political party in the north-east, and that includes the Green party. We need to open up the arterial roads between the north-east, London and the Channel ports, yet, as far as I can make out, we are spending billions of pounds on repairing a road that is already inadequate. Even when that money has been spent and traffic can flow on that road, it will still be insufficient for the needs of the future.
I challenged my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to join me in a drive from here to my home. I said, "Come and spend a few days with me. We will spend only six hours in the car." He said that if he had to go to the north-east he would go by train, or fly. That is fine for my right hon. Friend, but it is not fine for families who cannot afford British Rail's fares, and it is not fine for every business man in the north-east who has all the expense of running his business but none of the road facilities that are available to people in other parts of the country.
We have the M4 and the M40, the M1 and the M6. Why cannot we have a major arterial road from Doncaster to the north-east of England? Its route would go through the county of Cleveland—that is if I have not been successful by then in having an enactment of the recommendation of the Teesside chamber of commerce, which again has universal support in my part of the country, to reorganise local government and do away with Cleveland county council.
When I set out on my journey home tomorrow with my wife, daughter, dog and all the other things that I have to take, it is no good my right hon. Friend telling me that I should fly or go by train, because that is no good for families. I urge the Government to stop spending money, stop tinkering with a road that is already there, and give serious consideration to the needs of the north-east. They should take on board the recommendations of all the people who require, need and use that road. They must stop listening to the officials—who play with their abacus and computer and always come up with the wrong answer—and give us what we in the north-east of England need so that in future I can get home in less than six hours.
Twenty six years ago to the week, I made my maiden speech in the House. A few months later. Harold Wilson, then Chairman, put me on the Public Accounts Committee, and, as Dick Crossman's Parliamentary Private Secretary, I worked with, and had an admiration for, Dame Evelyn Sharpe, the late Lady Sharpe, the permanent secretary of the Crossman diaries. I say that because I will not have it alleged that I am lighthearted about the Civil Service or insensitive to the rights of individual civil servants or oblivious to the difficulties of their position.
In 26 years, I have only brought on to the Floor of the House the names of Miss Colette Bowe and the dramatist personæ of Westland. Pre-1986, in 23 years, I had riot mentioned a civil servant, other than uncontroversially. I was, and am, an admirer of the British Civil Service.
Against that background, I believe that the House should not go into recess until the Prime Minister comes to the House to explain what appears to be deep impropriety at the very heart of Government. She should make a statement tomorrow, after Prime Minister's questions. This is not posturing—it is a matter of belief. Other than introducing the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Prime Minister has not made a speech in the House since the general election. This is a profoundly unsatisfactory state of affairs, which may partly account for the ill-concealed disdain for Parliament which some civil servants seem now to be developing.
I refer to early-day motion 1142 and a series of press reports suggesting that Mr. Charles Powell has turned down the offer of an ambassadorship in Stockholm and is holding out for an ambassadorship in either Washington or Paris. His picture appears on page three of The Guardian for Friday 20 May over the caption
Charles Powell … waiting for a plum posting.The Guardian commented:
Powell has another string to his bow: he knows where the bodies are buried in the Westland affair. He escaped appearing before a select committee, but not their sharpest criticism for his orchestrating role in the leaking of a letter from the then solicitor general, Sir Patrick Mayhew, which ultimately resulted in Michael Heseltine's resignation.
I may add that it resulted in the resignation also of the scapegoat—the right hon. and learned Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan).
The implication is clear—that knowledge of wrongdoing by the Prime Minister places Mr. Powell in a position to demand the ambassadorship of Washington or Paris and to turn down Stockholm. I cannot imagine what other interpretation could be drawn from that article in The Guardian on Friday 20 May.
I went into great detail about the Westland affair in Hansard for 25 July 1986, for 29 October 1986, and in the Adjournment debate of 22 April 1988. As there remains only a short time and other hon. Members wish to speak, I just mention the long, detailed setting out of that case. The background, and my view of Mr. Powell in particular and of the Westland affair in general, is known to the Foreign Secretary, who took the initiative of writing to me; to the head of the home Civil Service, to whom wrote and who very courteously replied twice; and, prompted by an unusual approach, to Sir Patrick Wright, head of the Diplomatic Service, who also replied most courteously.
The press has clearly implied that the Prime Minister, in saving her own political skin over the Westland affair by misleading the House, has created a situation in which a senior civil servant has something on her—a hold over her—which, if he wished, would enable him to make demands.
Unfortunately, Mr. Powell cannot answer for himself, but the Prime Minister can, and she should. Having made him an accomplice in deceit over Westland, she should now tell the House of Commons what she knew about the Law Officer's letter, and when she knew it. She should also explain why she told my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 27 January:
I did not know about the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry's own role in the matter of the disclosure until the inquiry had reported."—[Official Report, 27 January 1986; Vol. 90 c.657.]
We should assert ourselves, as Members of the House of Commons, in order to know the truth. The truth, for the House of Commons, goes far beyond party. The all too clear implication in the press is that we have a Prime Minister—a Head of Government—who by wrong doing and by giving civil servants a string to their bow, in their knowing
where the bodies are buried in the Westland Affair"—
which is the way in which the press put it, not me—has opened herself to the exertion of pressure or threats in an attempt, especially unfairly, to influence her actions. That phraseology is precisely the definition of the word "blackmail" given by Collins dictionary.
Before the House adjourns, it should consider a subject that is of importance to every hon. Member. Despite that, very few hon. Members are interested in it. I refer to the subject of community care, particularly for the elderly but for every other group as well. I imagine that every hon. Member has a relative or friend who is in need or receipt of community care services. In recent years, there has been a plethora of reports on the subject of community care, whether they have come from the National Audit Office, the Select Committee, Griffiths, Wagner, or the Firth working party. Those reports are now being digested by the Department of Health and Social Security, but in my view we are missing an important opportunity.
It is appropriate for this House to have the opportunity of discussing such matters before any decisions are taken about where responsibility for community care should properly reside. I say that knowing that there are thousands of social workers working under difficult and frequently dangerous conditions. They are overstressed and exceedingly anxious about both the extent of their powers and the degree of protection they can secure from the law, in the knowledge that if they make the slightest error they will be hauled before the bar of public opinion, either through the press or through this House, as if it were entirely their fault that some of the most difficult, distressing and dangerous cases with which anyone in society has to deal have gone wrong.
Social workers' morale is now low. Uncertainty about the future of community care and about the recommendations of the Griffiths report are contributing in no mean way to that lack of morale. Complex issues are involved. There are anxieties about, for example, the fact that this week has seen a three-year training term granted to nurses which has been refused to social workers. That raises many questions about where the responsibility for community care lies. If it is left to officials of the Department to take final decisions as to what should be done, and which are only then brought to the House for debate, it would be as though the whole of the jigsaw was assembled by someone else with only one small corner left for social workers and the social services. That would be the wrong way of making decisions about a service of such complexity and importance.
The social services embrace housing, social security benefits, and difficult issues such as child abuse and who should or should not be asked to leave home. They are also concerned with the question of how people should spend a dignified old age. It is entirely appropriate that the House should discuss those matters as a matter of urgency so that hon. Members may contribute their views and experiences into the mix before any decisions are taken.
I am pleased to have been called, having been here throughout the debate. I have seen some Conservative Members wander in and be called after five minutes, which seems to suggest a somewhat unbalanced view of the way in which debates should be conducted. I should have thought that some preference would be given to those who had troubled to attend the whole debate.
I do not intend to speak for long, because my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), who has been here throughout the debate, wants to contribute. However, before the House rises for the recess I want to draw attention to the subject of school buildings in Bradford. This is a fairly mundane subject with none of the glamour of some of the topics that have been raised, but the facility is none the less vital for our schoolchildren in a major city.
Forty per cent. of Bradford's schools were built before 1906 and need refurbishing. Some are attractive, and I do not urge that they be replaced by modern concrete and steel-frame buildings, which are often ugly and unsatisfactory. But refurbishing Victorian schools, often affected by such radical difficulties as dry rot, is expensive. Refurbishment and replacement will require a great deal of money.
Bradford has an expanding school roll. It is one of the few major cities in this country to be in that position. Most of the problems being considered by education committees relate to diminishing rolls and what is to be done with school buildings, but over the past few years Bradford has seen the development of what might be called shanty-town schools, with temporary classrooms to accommodate the increasing numbers. In March this year, for example, there were 451 temporary units housing 567 classes, 17 nursery classes, three halls, 13 kitchen and dining units, five administration units and 11 toilets. Such accommodation should not be allowed to be based in temporary units to that extent.
There are other difficulties. In many cases the temporary units are becoming permanent, which means that they need repair. A mounting bill is inevitably placed on the local authority—which has a duty to provide the accommodation—to ensure that the temporary units fulfil their function and are kept wind and water tight. That means, in some cases, the local authority having to use capital expenditure to maintain temporary units when priority ought really to be given to permanent extensions to schools or, in some instances, completely new schools.
There was a fire in one of the temporary classrooms not long ago. It was reported by the local evening paper, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, a copy of which was sent to the Secretary of State for Education and Science by the chairman of the education committee. As the Leader of the House will know, Bradford is an acutely fire-conscious city after the Bradford city football club fire disaster. It is felt that the temporary units, constructed of rather more inflammable materials than brick and mortar, may be more vulnerable than the ordinary permanent buildings. As one of the units has been set on fire, probably through arson, the citizens of Bradford are concerned that the units should be replaced at the earliest opportunity. Some temporary units are inevitable, but not on the current scale.
More money is needed to finance the permanent construction of schools in Bradford. I recently visited a school in Queensbury in my constituency where there are four temporary classrooms. Another two are to be added because of the expanding numbers, and a toilet block is to be built to serve all six. In 1988, a local authority, because of central Government meanness, is to build an open-air toilet block to serve a number of temporary classrooms. The children will have to troop outside their classrooms across an open space to go to the toilet. For years in Victorian schools we have been trying to get rid of open toilets at the bottom of playgrounds. In winter, children have had to go out in bad weather and cross wet playgrounds. Yet, in 1988, those circumstances have been recreated because there is not the money to provide permanent extensions that have been badly needed for a number of years.
In another school in my constituency, in Wibsey, 12 temporary units are housing virtually a complete school. When I made representations to the local authority I was told that it did not have the money to do anything about the matter, although it acknowledges the need for a permanent extension to the existing school.
The Government have the money if they have the political will. They have given nearly £2 billion to the well-off. People in Bradford who are concerned about the issue may well bear in mind that the tax concessions to the rich in the recent Budget—indeed, a tiny fraction of that amount—could have been used to embark on a serious and wide-scale programme of building new schools and refurbishing tried and trusted but well-used Victorian schools which are badly in need of it.
The Government are embarking on the building of a new nuclear power station at Sizewell B. That is not necessary—our coal measures can supply us for the next 300 years—but we are to spend £1·5 billion at Sizewell. The Government have put through a statutory instrument that makes objections rather more difficult. Public inquiries will be held more speedily, so that Hinkley Point B nuclear power station can be given the go-ahead more quickly. That means a minimum of another £1·5 billion. We could be using some of that money for a basic construction purpose: providing new schools in my constituency, and no doubt in others as well.
Eleven billion pounds have been forked out by the Government on Trident. Only yesterday the Prime Minister spoke about Christian values and morality. Is the mass extermination of innocent men, women and children part of her Christian morality, and that of the Leader of the House? What section of the Bible will the Prime Minister quote to justify mass extermination by the use of nuclear weapons? We are to get more of them than ever before, and at a cost of £11 billion.
I plead with the Leader of the House for increased resources for Bradford—not even the money spent on nuclear power stations or nuclear weapons, but just the £3·5 million spent by the Department of Trade and Industry on giving prominence to the cronies of the Secretary of State and saying how wonderful the internal market of 1992 will be. What a waste of money. Would it not have been better to put the money into schools in Bradford to give our children a decent start in life?
I do not know whether Bradford is blessed with a city technology college, but my constituency has a CTC nearby. That one CTC in my patch will cost more than the combined capital programme of all the schools in Nottinghamshire. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) is present. All the schools added together will not account for more expenditure than that one project. I do not know whether similar circumstances apply in my hon. Friend's constituency.
I shall respond briefly because I know that we are rather short of time due to various Conservative Members' interventions.
The Secretary of State for Education and Science had the cheek to comment on the schools in Bradford and the enormous shortages that I have outlined to the effect that the local authority could find the money. He did not know whether the local authority could find the money or not. He is ignorant about education. In reality, Bradford is hard-pressed. That self same Secretary of State for Education gave the chairman of the chamber of commerce £30,000 simply to investigate the possibility of establishing a CTC in Bradford. That is a measure of the absurdity of the Government's priorities. I am happy to say that the investigation came to naught because Bradford has more than adequate facilities in the public sector for the provision envisaged in CTCs.
If we are to provide a proper education for our children and young people, we need adequate facilities. Bradford's schools are under pressure and they do not deserve to be. I hope that the Government will come up with some money to ensure that we have proper schools because children in Bradford deserve no less.
I am wholeheartedly in favour of the motion. It would be hypocritical of me not to say that, as last week I introduced the Working Life (Reduction in Hours) Bill, which provides for longer statutory holidays. Therefore, I could not possibly object to the suggestion that we should take our holidays. I take this opportunity to remind the House that that Bill is to have its Second Reading on 8 July. As it is a pretty enlightening and far-sighted measure in the interests of working people, I am confident that the Government, true to form, will ensure that it is thrown out on 8 July.
My hon. Friends have drawn attention to the inadequacy of the Government—their failure to deliver on promises, the inadequacy of their funding for key services and the mistaken priorities that they have chosen. I am sure that the House will forgive me if I refer to a major development in my constituency.
A near-unique state of affairs is developing. Wrekin district council is beginning legal proceedings against the Telford development corporation because of the Government's repeated failure to deliver on their promise of a ballot for Telford development corporation tenants who are anxious to know who their future landlord will be. Ministers repeatedly promised a ballot among tenants. Then they heard the devastating news that in a ballot held last November Peterborough tenants opted overwhelmingly for the local authority as the appropriate landlord to take over the houses after the conclusion of the development corporation.
As soon as the Government realise that a ballot will have results that they do not like, they postpone that ballot. In my constituency, tenants are now faced with a long period of uncertainty—up to two years—before being asked whether they want the district council or housing associations to take over their houses when the Telford development corporation is concluded. That delay is disgraceful, and the message from my constituency is that we must consult tenants on the matter.
I do not want to be entirely churlish in my concluding remarks. One heartening thing has come out of the Government in the past few days. It is perhaps in the spirit of the religious festival that we celebrated last week at Whitsuntide that the Prime Minister has at last decided that the political debate is a moral debate. I have held that view for many years, and I welcome the Prime Minister's conversion to it. I look forward to our debates on the subject because I am quite sure that her decision that we should now deal with the moral aspects of political argument will turn out to be the most monumental own goal in recent political history.
I have read the Sermon on the Mount many times. I have also read the 1987 Conservative party manifesto many times—purely for professional reasons, I may say. The only similarity that I have been able to discern between the versions of the two documents that I read was that they were both written in English. My hon. Friends have drawn attention to some of the moral issues that I hope will be at the forefront of political debate in the months and years ahead.
I am sorry that only five of my hon. Friends were able to contribute to the debate. They had a common theme, however. Every one of them drew the House's attention to the values that need to be espoused and the choices that need to be made by the country and the Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), who told us that he would be absent at this stage, rightly drew our attention, albeit 48 years after the event, to one of the profound evils of Fascism as it affected a case that came to his attention—the massacre by the SS of British troops. I know my hon. Friend's tenacity is such that he will persist in drawing that case to our attention.
I find it ironic that my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr was followed by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), who took a selective view of Fascism. He congratulated my hon. Friend on drawing our attention to Nazi atrocities but went on to act in his usual role as an apologist for the South African Government, ignoring the fact—which he should know as an expert on the subject—that key members of the Broederbond and the National party which has ruled South Africa for 40 years were active and keen Nazi supporters during the second world war.
They wanted Hitler to win. I hope that the hon. Member for Luton, North declares his position on that, and I hope that he will condemn them when he gets the opportunity. He appears to think that the major moral issue facing the nation is the can of red paint thrown at the South African embassy. Nothing could contrast more dramatically with the issues that concern Opposition Members.
I did not hear a comment from the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) to that effect, but if a comment was made that cast aspersions on the integrity of an hon. Member, I am sure that it will be withdrawn.
The hon. Gentleman was right—I did make that comment and I would not wish to deny it. Perhaps I can seek your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has not denied that he has visited South Africa at the expense of the South African authorities. That assertion has not been challenged, so surely I am right when I say that the hon. Gentleman is paid by South Africa.
Time is short. All I am saying is that it is not in order for an hon. Member to cast aspersions on another hon. Member. If the hon. Member felt that that is what happened, I hope that, with his usual courtesy, he will make it clear that that was not his intention.
The values of my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) were shown clearly in his speech. He described how he would like the country to develop and spoke about the effects of the social security changes. Almost any right hon. or hon. Member could give examples of difficulty. My hon. Friend gave the example of an 84-year-old constituent who is paying an additional £18 a week in rent. We all know about the delays involved in making minor concessions such as the Government say that they will make.
My hon. Friend also mentioned the need for a fairer system of television licences for pensioners. I am sure that, if we appeal to the country not on the level of self-interest but on the basis of values and caring for other people who need assistance, my hon. Friend's appeal will be understood.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) spoke about the effects of Health Service cuts in his constituency. Once again, we return to priorities and the moral choices that a Government have to make.
We then heard a speech characteristic of my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). It is a clear illustration of Conservative Members' failure of judgment that they cannot see that tenacity, even in the face of ridicule and constant prevarication and blocking tactics by Ministers, is the essence of parliamentary democracy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow will not let this matter go, whatever the jeers or sneers from Conservative Members. The issue will not go away, whichever party is in power. Anybody who thinks that this is an anti-Tory vendetta does not know my hon. Friend very well. He pursues injustice wherever it occurs. He is entitled to an answer to his questions. I regret to say that I doubt whether he will get an answer, but one will be forthcoming, even if it has to be written in the history books.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) also considered priorities and choices. He talked about the Victorian school buildings which are characteristic of much of his constituency. Once again we return to the choices which the Prime Minister told us that we should be making—the moral choices in politics. I suppose that our political opponents can say that the electorate is much more cynical than we in the Labour party would like it to be and that almost one year ago—we were all campaigning one year ago today—it opted for the party with the creed of self interest and rejected the idealistic approach.
I take heart from some recent polls. I wonder whether the Prime Minister knew the result of one of them before she decided, quite suddenly, to address herself to some of the moral issues in politics. A Harris poll shows that, although 48 per cent. of the population think that the country is richer than it was 10 years ago that is hardly surprising, in view of the bonus of North sea oil—no fewer than 61 per cent. of the population believe that people are more selfish. Only 19 per cent. think that people are more generous.
When asked whether, by and large, people are happy, the clear majority said that people are unhappier than they were 10 years ago and that the quality of life has deteriorated. For all the supermarkets and the phoney gloss of commercialism, the majority of our fellow citizens believe that the quality of life has declined in the past 10 years.
Although we shall undoubtedly adjourn for the spring recess, I welcome the political debate that will come when we return. I hope that hon. Members will find a few moments during the recess to skim again through the New Testament, as the Prime Minister has advised. I look forward to seeing to what extent the Government's actions match up to the New Testament. We all look forward to the debates that we shall have after we return.
We have heard several good speeches, in which hon. Members have raised many constituency, national and international issues. As always on these occasions, I shall do my best to reply to all the points that have been raised, but in the event of time running short I shall refer any outstanding matters to my right hon. Friends to ensure that an appropriate reply is given.
The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Mr. McCusker) asked why there was no oral statement on the fair employment White Paper for Northern Ireland. As the White Paper, which has been published today, develops proposals that have already been announced by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, he thought that a statement today was not appropriate. The hon. Gentleman knows that Northern Ireland questions come top tomorrow, and I shall be surprised if some of the issues in the White Paper are not raised by the hon. Gentleman and some of his hon. Friends then.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have repeatedly made clear the Government's determination to eliminate religious discrimination in Northern Ireland and to promote genuine equality of opportunity. Compulsory monitoring is central to the success of that policy, and the fact that the Government propose that failure to register with the Fair Employment Commission or to submit monitoring returns should be a criminal offence reflects the seriousness that they attach to solving this serious economic and social problem. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for expressing some of the arguments that he will make in the debates that we shall have on this issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) spoke about Manchester airport. He has raised the subject before, and I make no complaint about his raising it again. The Government have made repeated attempts to persuade the United States Government to negotiate traffic rights for United States airlines to serve Manchester airport. The United States Government finally agreed in March this year to negotiate on the issue, but no agreement was reached because the United States Government insisted that all their demands should be met, or none at all. They rejected a very reasonable package offered by the Government. The package would have permitted the immediate commencement of a daily non-stop service from Boston to Manchester, and a daily one-stop service from New York to Manchester. The United States Government have put off any further negotiations until early next year, but the Government hope to raise the matter before then if there are any suitable grounds for doing so.
My hon. Friend also mentioned Manchester airport's campaign against the Government. I am pleased to note that the airport board has decided to discontinue its confrontational and counterproductive campaign.
Manchester airport's efforts would be better used to encourage interested United States airlines to bring pressure on the United States Government to negotiate quickly and realistically.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, about which I know he feels strongly. As I have said on a number of occasions, it is a well-known and long-standing practice of this Government not to provide additional time for any individual private Member's Bill. The rules that govern the conduct of private Member's business are decided upon by the House, and it is important that the Government, as much as individual hon. Members, should abide by them.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker)—who told me that he unfortunately had to leave—raised the question of General Mohnke and the serious allegations that have been made against him. The evidence is being examined as a matter of urgency. This country has no jurisdiction in the matter—this was the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo)—and that is why it is not covered in the Home Secretary's review of some of these matters. When the evidence has been assessed, we will know what basis exists for approaching the Government of the Federal Republic of Germany.
As I have said, the matter is being pursued as a matter of urgency, because we believe it to be important. However, it is not right for me to speculate on matters connected with the evidence now that it is being reviewed.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) referred to the demonstrations outside the South African embassy. I admire the courage with which he puts his views, often unpopularly and at great personal and physical risk to himself. I do not always agree with what he says, but I admire the courage and the tenacity with which he puts his views. The day when hon. Members are not able to speak their minds will be a bad day for democracy.
The right to demonstrate, assemble and protest peaceably within the law is, of course, fundamental to our democratic way of life. However, the police can, and do, take action when demonstrators step over the line from peaceful protest to behaviour amounting to criminal conduct. There have been 46 arrests so far this year for offences such as the obstruction of police officers and a breach of the Westminster city council's noise byelaws. I shall refer my hon. Friend's concern to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised the question of housing benefit and the transitional unit. On 5 May my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security and the Disabled sent a helpful letter to all right hon. and hon. Members. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State explained during oral questions how the special unit that is being set up will operate. There is no need for the Minister or the Secretary of State to make a further statement to the House, but it is proposed that the special unit should last for two years, and the situation will then be reviewed.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North also raised the question of concessionary television licences. As we have made clear on a number of occasions, we do not consider that it would be right or sensible to give free or concessionary television licences to all pensioners, irrespective of need. That would be very expensive and would mean that other licence payers would have to pay a lot more. On 18 May my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department explained that many of the people for whom the scheme was never intended would have qualified under the previous regulations. The new regulations restore the scheme to its original intention, which was to benefit pensioners and disabled people in residential care or in equivalent sheltered accommodation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye (Mr. Warren) rightly raised the question of the British Broadcasting Corporation. As he says, the Government have no control over the programming of the BBC, which is editorially and managerially independent. It is clearly a matter of regret if the BBC strays from its normally high standards of programme making, thereby causing offence to the Governments of the countries with whom we have friendly relations and with whom we hope to do economic ] trade. It was right for my hon. Friend to raise the matter in the House and I hope that those responsible will take note.
The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) referred to Nirex. I recognise the concern of the hon. Gentleman and his constituents. I remind him that I had to express the concern of my constituents during the time that I was not able to make a speech in the House. Fortunately, my right hon. Friend the Father of the House at that time seemed from time to time to utter thoughts that were not completely dissimilar from mine and those of my constituents. I have shown how grateful I was to him during my period of silence.
I cannot say very much about the issues that have been raised. Nirex has a responsibility. I am sure the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that Members of Parliament should make known their views and the views of their constituents on the issues for which Nirex has responsibility. When I made my views and those of my constituents known to Nirex, I found that it listened to me, even though, as I said, I had to remain silent in the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) raised two matters, one about abortion and the other about Select Committees. I listened with interest to what he said about the procedures of the House and whether the reform of the abortion law is a suitable subject for private Members' legislation. I am not completely persuaded by his arguments, although he put the point persuasively. The Government do not take a collective view on the moral issue of abortion, but consider that any new legislation of this kind is best kept to the initiative of private Members.
I noted what my hon. Friend said about the possibility of combining the abortion issue with any future Bill on the Warnock recommendations, but I am not sure that the issues are quite as comparable as he suggested.
The House of Commons Commission has approved the total amount of expenditure for overseas travel by Select Committees and has delegated to the Liaison Committee—as the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) tells us from time to time—the responsibility for allocating that sum to individual Select Committees. I do not think that it would be very wise of me to interfere at this time.
The hon. Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) rightly raised a number of questions about the Health Service in Nottingham. I do not know as much about the Health Service in Nottingham as he knows—or at least he should know—but I thought that his comments were to some extent unbalanced. For instance, he did not say anything about the fine teaching hospital and the fine work that is done on breast cancer in that area. I join him in the tribute that he paid to the nurses and staff who work in the Health Service in Nottingham.
I do not believe that any reasonable comments on the position would ignore the fact that Nottingham is a RAWP gaining area. There have been substantial increases in resources in Nottingham, there are about 200 more nurses in Nottingham this year than last year, the waiting lists have reduced over the past five years by about 30 per cent., there has been an enormous increase in the number of patients treated, and there has been a substantial increase in the capital expenditure in that area. Although there may still be some shortcomings, if one were to set the factors that I have mentioned against those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, one would get a more balanced view.
My hon. Friend the Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt) told us of the difficulties of getting home to his constituency. I shall make sure that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport takes on board the points that he made. There are three major schemes on the A1(M) and we regret that they inevitably cause delay. On that highly trafficked section of the route, as on other sections of the A1, we are accelerating the work to the maximum extent possible through the use of lane rental contracts. Our programmes have improved the A1 to dual three-lane standard and have increased the capacity of the road generally. However, I recognise that my hon. Friend will be inconvenienced for some time to come.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) carries on his campaign with increasing extravagance. However, I have to tell him—I do not think that he had the slightest expectation of anything else—that I have nothing further to add.
No, I shall not give way. I am about to reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who raised the question of community care.
The Government are considering the recommendations of the Sir Roy Griffiths and Lady Wagner reports. We have said that we will bring forward our proposals on them in due course. The issues raised are complex and there is no obvious perfect solution. However, it is right that we should devote the necessary time to identifying the right answers. In the light of that, it is too early for me to comment on the form and timing of the Government's eventual response.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South referred to the level of capital allocations in his area. He is right to do that. I accept that Bradford has substantial capital problems in the school sector. Three main factors are responsible: rising rolls in the inner city, an unusually high proportion of very old buildings, and a serious accumulation and backlog of maintenance. In recognition of especially the first of those problems, Bradford has received comparatively large capital allocations for some years. Its allocation for 1987–88 was £6·303 million—the third highest among the metropolitan authorities and the eleventh highest in England. The hon. Gentleman was right to voice his concern and we recognise that there is a problem.
From the tone of the debate, no one seems to be against——