I have no wish to contest the motion before the House. However, there could be a case for returning on 6 November since there would be enormous advantages in that. The Government would not have to face the grevious disability of the House sitting during July, which is when most crises arise and most misjudgments are made. We would all have a good chance of escaping to our constituencies and, in the process, we would lose an entire Session of Parliament. I suspect that that is the only way in which the House can slow down the relentless load of legislation which runs to the detriment of good government in this country.
However, I want to use this occasion for the more modest and traditional purpose of raising a constituency matter—the Health Service in north Shropshire. I make this point in the presence of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House because the topic of the two proposed hospital closures—the Oswestry and district hospital and the Newport cottage hospital—is one of ambiguity. On Oswestry and district hospital there is a question of judicial challenge, and the closure of the cottage hospital has not yet been confirmed by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. He has said that he will meet a delegation before reaching a judgment. Therefore, it is appropriate that I should direct my remarks to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. I respectfully request an answer in a letter after due reflection. I also ask that the matter is not referred to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health, for the reasons I have given.
Both hospitals have a great record of service to their local community. Both, by general judgment in Shropshire, perform their task remarkably well and they are served by the inspired work of all the medical staff. It is a classic example of where the judgment of the community is outraged by what is proposed. I have no doubt that part of the difficulty comes from the central underfunding of the Health Service. That is probably the major cause of the proposed closures. There is no doubt that there is a related factor—the judgment of Birmingham regional health authority.
I want to draw my right hon. Friend's attention to a new and developing fact. With the publication of the White Paper, "Working for Patients" we now have the idea of self-governing hospitals. I accept that one cannot draw a neat analogy with the education service, but the development of Whitehall-funded schools is not unlike the proposals for self-governing hospitals.
I wish to see—I believe that it is broad Government policy—a range of self-governing hospitals from the great teaching hospitals to the modest-sized cottage hospitals and all that fall within that spectrum. The hospitals currently under threat because of decisions within the regions should not be snuffed out before having a chance to make their case for self-governing status. It is a modest request but it is highly practical. It was inspired by the fact that so many of the schools that have been granted special Whitehall funding status were confronted by closure proposals. This modest request and the emollient answer it seeks would be well received by me and by a range of political opinion in rural Shropshire.
Currently, there is a spasm of interest in the European Community, with the prospect of the elections on 15 June. Many can convulse themselves into believing that there will be a relationship between the fevered discussions at Westminster and Fleet street and the pattern of voting. Such a consideration leads them to believe that, if my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) would bestow his effusive charms as wholeheartedly in support of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister as she so uncritically supported him when he was Prime Minister, it would be a powerful weapon for Tory fortunes. In my judgment, anything we can do to repair our fortunes and give us the initiative in the health debate would do infinitely more than that—even though, as far as I can judge, that does not have the slightest relevance to the Delors package or anything else.
I make this plea in the broadest and most general political sense. If we are to give a good start to the prospect of self-governing hospitals—it is the topic in the White Paper most likely to confer upon us some sense of initiative —there could be nothing better than that prosepct being held out for the two hospitals in my constituency to which I have referred.
I believe that the House should not adjourn until hon. Members have discussed the growing scandal of the treatment of nuclear test veterans.
It is 40 years since 26,000 British service men participated in British nuclear tests, 14,000 of whom witnessed tests at Monte Bello islands off north-west Australia, Maralinga and Emu in south Australia and Christmas and Malden islands in the Pacific. The Nuclear Tests Veterans Association, of which I am the patron, has been fighting for compensation for years, but so far without success.
I want to direct my remarks to the Prime Minister, although I am glad that the Leader of the House is listening. I have given up hope with the Ministry of Defence, given the deplorable attitude that it has displayed over the years. The Prime Minister claims to have a high regard for service personnel and ex-service men. I do not doubt that for a moment, but she should take a hard look at the way in which the Ministry of Defence is behaving compared with its equivalent in the United States.
In view of the Prime Minister's close friendship with ex-President Reagan, she should compare his utterances about American nuclear test veterans with her own. When signing an Act that provided compensation to American nuclear test veterans one year and two days ago, President Reagan said:
The Act gives due recognition to the unusual service rendered by Americans who participated in military activities involving exposure to radiation generated by the detonation of atomic explosives. The nation is grateful for their special service, and enactments of (the law) make clear the nation's concern for their continued welfare.
In stark and harsh contrast, the Prime Minister said to me:
The cause and effect that he says has been proved has not been proved, and therefore compensation is not appropriate." —[Official Report, 9 May 1989; Vol. 152, c. 723.]
Hon. Members must ask which words and which actions show regard for ex-service personnel. When I
asked the Ministry of Defence on 16 may what advice it had about the genetic effects of radiation exposure, it said that although there was some evidence that radiation caused genetic defects in animals, there was no "conclusive" evidence of any genetic damage that had been passed on to children of nuclear test veterans. That is how the mind of the Ministry of Defence works. It denies compensation because there is no "conclusive" evidence, but that is rarely, if ever, available. The intelligent and reasonable approach must be to decide on the balance of probabilities. That method has been adopted by the United States but not by Britain, to the shame of Britain and the Government.
The Act signed by President Reagan compensated atomic veterans who were suffering, or who had died, from leukaemia or thyroid cancer, regardless of exposure level. It automatically compensated for cancers of the small intestine, stomach, liver, bile ducts, gall bladder and pancreas, together with lymphomas and multiple myleoma where more than one rem of exposure was established. No cut-off period for the appearance of cancer was established, although all claims must be filed by the end of 1991.
Naturally, the House is the forum for British parliamentarians, but for a few moments I wish to place on record some of the views of United States senators. In a debate on American nuclear test veterans, Senator Daschle of South Dakota said:
The scientific evidence strongly suggests a link between the exposure and the diseases listed in HR1811. Some say that we lack definitive proof. How long will we wait for that proof? Will we wait until all these veterans are dead? Are we so afraid of making a mistake in favour of the veterans—of extending benefits when they are not deserved—that we are willing to risk making the opposite mistake of denying benefits to deserving veterans?
Those important questions should be pondered by the Prime Minister.
Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia made an acerbic comment that could be interpreted as an indictment of the Ministry of Defence. He said:
I really think it is somewhat incredulous that we are even debating compensation to atomic veterans, people who could not be more deserving … for 40 years ad nauseam we have studied this problem, spent millions of dollars, US taxpayers' dollars, to do studies, and none for the atomic veterans. I think that is wrong. I think it is time to bring an end to the research and to the injustice and to respond with recognition and compassion to what these people went through in the line of duty at the orders of the US Government in the service that they were constitutionally sworn to obey. We know enough to act.
Those senators were supporting a Bill proposed by Senator Cranston of California, which provided for the payment of compensation for 13 cancers, compared with the payment for none by the Ministry of Defence. Senator Cranston said:
I believe that this measure is … both a compassionate and fiscally responsible response to the serious and continuing needs and concerns of the radiation-exposed veterans and their families. For them it is simple justice. For us, it is a fulfilment of our responsibilities to veterans injured and injured wrongly through service to our country.
Parliament is as proud of its armed forces as the United States Senate is of its service men and women. The difference is that the United States has taken positive, reasonable and compassionate action on behalf of their nuclear test veterans; we have not. It is paying
compensation; we are not. I hope that the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Defence and hon. Members will take note and act accordingly.
I should like to raise three issues with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House before the House rises for the spring Adjournment.
I make no apology for again raising the issue of drug misuse. As my right hon. Friend knows, I have had an Adjournment debate and have asked several questions about this subject. I am sure that he is aware that what causes me most concern is why money confiscated from drug barons cannot be used by the police in the fight against drugs. I cannot understand why a system that works extremely well in the United States cannot be used in Britain. I remind my right hon. Friend that within the past two months at least £4,300,000 has been taken from the profits of convicted drug offenders. Instead of that money being given to fight the battle against drugs, it goes straight into the Treasury.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the leader column in the Daily Mail on Saturday 20 May:
Two years ago the Metropolitan Police were offered a £16 million reward by the Americans for their help in smashing an international drug ring. They were unable to accept it because of the condition that the money was used in the fight against crime. That was forbidden under the rules of the Home Office, which feared that such an arrangement would result in some forces benefiting more than others.
Yet it seems right that the police should reap some advantage from their successes. A House of Commons Select Committee has now come up with a suggestion. Let the cash go to Bramshill police college, Hampshire, and then the whole force will gain. A model answer to a knotty problem—and with a bit of Thatcherite incentive thrown in.
It seems that the Home Affairs Select Committee—the Select Committee to which the leader referred—and both sides of the House greet the idea with approval. Only the Home Office seems to be out of step. I hope that, before the House rises for the recess, my right hon. Friend will give me the good news that the money will be put to good use in battling against the drug barons in the war against drugs.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the leader in today's Daily Mail—I am sorry to quote the Daily Mail twice, but it just shows how well-read I am. The leader states:
This morning we publish an impassioned and authoritative plea for the British Government to back an international ban on the ivory trade. It comes from Richard Leakey, the renowned anthropoligist who has recently been appointed to head Kenya's Wildlife and Conservation Management Department.
At least four African countries, Kenya included, demand that the elephant be listed as one of this globe's most endangered species and hence eligible for complete protection from commercial exploitation. The United States has also joined the campaign. But not Britain. Not yet.
Our Government, the Commons was told at the end of last week, is still thinking about it.
The elephant poachers are not pondering. They are continuing to kill elephants at the rate of 300 a day.
We urge the Prime Minister to procrastinate no longer. Here is an opportunity for her to lead the European Community on an issue of anguished concern to millions of its people.
This matter was raised in business questions on Thursday by the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr.
Banks). I was not altogether happy with the reply by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. The Daily Mail leader said:
The United States has also joined the campaign. But not Britain. Not yet.
Why not? I hope that my right hon. Friend can answer that point before the House rises.
A dog registration scheme is needed as well. There are 6·8 million dogs in Britain and we are supposed to be a nation of animal lovers. I have to say that the more I see of some people, the more I love my dogs. We are told that in 1986 more than 240,000 dogs were officially registered as strays by police in England and Wales. Only about 25 per cent. were claimed back by their owners.
I do not know whether there is a great difference between Ulster dogs and English dogs. The Government have introduced a registration scheme for Northern Ireland dogs—Protestant as well as Roman Catholic dogs—but seem to think that a registration scheme in England is not necessary. That shows their lack of knowledge. I fully agree with my hon. Friend's comments.
My hon. Friend has taken the end of my speech from me. I was going to raise that point. At least 90,000 dogs were destroyed because homes could not be found for them. The total number of dogs, including registered strays, destroyed each year is more than 350,000—about 1,000 healthy dogs a day.
Despite a great campaign by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, there are still far too many people who take on a dog without thinking things through. No doubt, at Christmas they think that it is nice to have a cuddly little pet that the children can play with, but after a while they get sick of it—perhaps it does a bit of damage—perhaps it grows up, and then it is just thrown out.
Dog abuse has increased to record levels. None of this fits our image as a nation of animal lovers. The RSPCA's figures for 1987 show that there were more than 1,800 convictions for neglect, starvation and permanent chaining. I have never been able to understand people who are cruel to either animals or small children—that is past my comprehension. Unfortunately, it happens, and I am sickened when I read some of those cases in our newspapers.
Part of our problem is the difficulty of identifying a dog's owner. The requirement is that a dog should have a name tag, but people ignore that. The chances are that a dog that is roaming has no collar and therefore no tag. Often caring owners put tags on their dogs and sometimes the tags get lost. If all dogs were registered and an element of that registration required that the dog was identifiable by a permanent tag, tattoo, electronic implant or other suitable method, owners could be identified. Any caring dog owner who has lost his dog knows the agony that is suffered. A few years ago, our labrador strayed and the agony that was felt in our house all the time that it was lost and the relief the next day when we got a telephone call to say that it was safe can be appreciated only by someone who cares about dogs.
I cannot understand why the Government are so loth to act on this important issue. A recent opinion poll showed that amazingly 82 per cent. of the public were in favour of taking action. I do not think that many people would support a return to the old dog licence—it cost more to administer than was gained in receipts—but when it was abolished the Government put nothing better in its place. We need a scheme to fund the dog warden service and deter the unthinking, uncaring dog owner.
Registration would assist in identifying the dog and its owner, and indentification is essential if the law is to be enforced and stray dogs returned to their owners. As I said earlier, if the United States can use drug money to fight the drug menace, why cannot we? If in France tattooing is used to identify dogs, in Ireland—I am talking not about Ulster, but about the Republic—silicon implants are used and in the United States technology is widely used, why cannot we do the same?
Many of us have some sympathy with my hon. Friend's advocacy of the registration scheme. Will he explain whether he is anxious that such a scheme should be administered by the Government—that is what he seems to be telling the House—or by local authorities? Is there not a dichotomy? Most of the letters that we have received plead for the Government to act. Why should not local authorities take responsibility, as some are doing, by using dog wardens?
I have very caring hon. Friends. My hon. Friends the Members for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) and for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) have prejudged my comments. I was coming to exactly that point.
An Environment Minister recently saw members of the RSPCA who gathered from the Minister that the Department of the Environment thought that this issue had nothing to do with the Department and was a matter for local authorities.
I agree; it is a classic example of passing the buck. The Department seems to believe that local authorities have the power to introduce byelaws. Local authorities are anxious to do what they can—about 200 of them already employ dog wardens—but they find it hard to enforce byelaws without a link between dog and owner. The registration scheme would provide that link.
If this proposal were accepted, it would not necessitate an increase in public expenditure. Implementation of section 37 of the Local Government Act 1988 is all that is required. I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of early-day motion 348, which is supported by all parties and has been signed by about 250 Members. It shows the strength of feeling in the House on this issue.
I am sure that hon. Members of all parties could testify that their constituency postbags also show that there is a great deal of public support for this scheme. I hope, therefore, that before the House rises for the spring recess, we shall have a statement on when the Government will ensure that confiscated drug assets are used in the fight against drugs, that we shall know what the Government's response will be to backing an international ban on the ivory trade and that we shall know why the Government are refusing to be more positive in ensuring a dog registration scheme.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North Down said earlier, a similar scheme operates in Northern Ireland, where it seems to work well. The director of the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says:
Not only are dogs looked after better but fewer are suffering from irresponsible and uncaring dog owners.
I hope that when my right hon. Friend replies, he will be able to explain why the Government are being so intransigent over those three issues.
I want to raise the issue of ticket touting, which has become a disturbing and disfiguring feature of the music and entertainment industry in the west end of London and now, unhappily, of major sporting events throughout the United Kingdom. The powers of the police in this matter are extremely limited. The police are entitled to arrest a ticket tout for obstruction but, by and large, the tariff of fine imposed by magistrates is about £50 and in the case of a first offender, it may be rather less. Such a fine operates as little disincentive to a ticket tout who may stand to make many hundreds of pounds in an afternoon's work. Ticket touts deface the streets surrounding many theatres and opera houses, and members of the public are frequently deceived as to the true value of the tickets they have purchased.
Tourists are a particular target, and the reputation of London's west end theatre suffers as a consequence. In The Times on 11 February 1989, Patrick O'Hanlon reported on an investigation carried out at the instance of Westminster city council. It said:
Victims were most frequently from the United States, Canada and Europe. A couple from Canada paid £80 each to the concierge at their hotel for two tickets for The Phantom of the Opera. The tickets had a face value of £21. The largest example of overcharging uncovered was £130 paid for each of two tickets with a face value of £19 for Les Misérables, a mark-up of approximately 600 per cent'.
The survey confirmed that foreign visitors were the most likely to be overcharged and the report said:
This has important implications for tourism. Why should tourists pay more for the same product?
The issue of ticket touts is even more pressing in relation to sport. Wimbledon will soon be upon us and, once again, one of the world's greatest sporting events will be disfigured by ticket touting. People who attended the Calcutta cup match at Twickenham this year will know that to reach their seats in the stadium, it was at times necessary almost to push ticket touts aside bodily. In spite of the best efforts of the Rugby Football Union, it appears that tickets allocated to a school somehow found their way into the hands of others with rather more commercial instincts.
It is in the context of football that the issue of ticket touting requires the most urgent consideration by the House. Witnesses at Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry last week made it plain that the existence of ticket touts and the opportunity to buy tickets at the ground encourage supporters who do not have tickets to attend some football matches. That makes it clear that the activities of ticket touts now have a direct influence on the safety of spectators at major football matches.
Most hon. Members regard ticket touting as morally reprehensible. The Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), in a reply to my question about 10 days ago, described the practice as "obnoxious". It is obnoxious that, on the day that Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry into the Hillsborough disaster opened, ticket touts were selling £30 tickets for the cup final—which was a remarkable display of skill and ability on Saturday—at £250 each. If ever there was a clear example of a willingness by people with no love for or interest in that occasion to exploit the special nature of a sporting occasion, that is it.
There is a brazenness about ticket touts which passes most understanding. One ticket tout told a reporter from the Daily Express, in an article that appeared in the northern edition on Monday 15 May 1989, that he was rather disturbed by the fact that people were exploiting the cup final between Everton and Liverpool. However, he then said:
Anyway, I can always pull it back a bit by putting even more on the price of Wimbledon tickets.
There is brazenness and an inability to understand how offensive such acts are.
Even some hon. Members claim that ticket touting is merely an exercise in market forces. If that is so, that exercise should be repugnant and obnoxious to anyone with any sensibility. It is now clear that ticket touting may be an important adverse factor in the safety of spectators at football matches. In the evidence heard in the past week by Lord Justice Taylor's inquiry, the link has been clearly proved. As a matter of extreme urgency, we should have a statement from the Government on that before we go off on holiday.
I am delighted to follow the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell), because we share a certain affinity and love for sport. I hope that he will remain in his place to hear my few remarks which are on the same subject, although from a different angle. In this wide-ranging debate, I want to talk about a subject of which I may have inadvertently given my right hon. Friend notice in business questions last Thursday—the basis of the Government's attitude to international sport and, in particular, the Government's attitude to sporting relations with South Africa.
As my right hon. Friend will remember, I was somewhat disturbed to learn last Thursday that the three Ministers responsible for sport in England, Wales and Scotland had sent a strongly worded statement to the secretaries of the Rugby Football Union, the Scottish Rugby Union and the Welsh Rugby Union, saying that they should pass on any invitations that might be received from the South African Rugby Board for the forthcoming centenary celebrations on the basis that, as my hon. Friend the Minister for Sport said, should British players accept those invitations, it would have an effect on the future of the Commonwealth games and British competition in sport throughout the world.
It was a sad day when Ministers of the Crown began to take the attitude that players who exercise complete freedom of choice—in this case, they are amateurs who are under no contract of employment and do not have binding business commitments to any employer, as professional sportsmen do—should be not only discouraged, but almost banned from accepting such invitations, although they are entitled to accept them. Many Conservative Members question the Government's wisdom. The Government advocate, rightly, that we should continue our economic ties with South Africa, yet they ban those who want to go to that country to play sport from doing so. Many of us find that argument difficult to understand.
The hon. Gentleman was good enough to refer to our common interest in sporting matters. However, our views are diametrically opposed on the topic he is raising today. Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that it is legitimate for the Minister for Sport and for the Secretary of State for Scotland to draw to the attention of the Rugby Unions the consequence for other sportsmen and, in particular, those who have aspirations to compete in the Commonwealth Games, if the invitations to which he has referred are taken up by individual rugby players?
I accept what the hon. Gentleman says about his connection with South Africa. Indeed, he is a man of great sporting prowess himself. The objection that I was making to the move of my hon. Friend was on the basis—as reported by The Daily Telegraph on Thursday —that it
would strongly discourage taking action that would facilitate sporting contact with South Africa".
Under the Gleneagles agreement, a declaration on sport that was not signed by this Administration or by any previous Conservative Administration, the Government have a commitment without force of law to point out to those sporting authorities the possible effects of such action. However, it is not the business of any Minister of the Crown to try to put any pressure on the players or the sporting bodies of what is still a legitimate occupation. If it were illegal to play sport against South Africa—or to smoke—it would be a different story.
Therefore, in view of his party's history and his own participation in sporting events, I wonder whether the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East believes that the time has come for Governments to interfere in the selection of sportsmen and sportswomen, whatever country they are playing against. This whole question has arisen at a particularly interesting time——
I cannot give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman again now, although perhaps I shall later if he still wishes to intervene.
This whole question has arisen at a particularly interesting time, given that, only 10 days ago, on the Saturday before last, when the England rugby team played against Romania, a country that has been castigated with equal vehemence by members of the royal family, the Prime Minister and hon. Members of all parties, not one voice of protest was heard, either from within the Chamber or from outside. Nothing was heard from those anti-sporting bodies that set themselves up to object to sport with South Africa.
I shall give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman later, although I must get on. He must accept that many people find it extremely strange that we can —and I believe that we should—play rugby against a country from behind the Iron Curtain of which there has been such recent vilification in the House, with Oppostion Members using the phrase "that vile regime", but that not one word of protest against that sporting link was raised either by the hon. Gentleman's party, the Labour party or the Government and the party to which I belong.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Will he try to distinguish in his own mind, for the benefit of the House, between the actions of the Minister for Sport last week when he wrote to the Rugby Football Union and the actions of his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister towards the British Olympic Association in 1980?
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that issue before the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) does so, because that will save another intervention. I agree that at that time many Conservative Members felt unhappy, just as my hon. Friend the then Minister for Sport must have felt unhappy, about the objection of the Government of the day, led by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, towards our teams going to Moscow. I have said before and I shall say again that probably the silliest political mistake that I have made was in following my right hon. Friend and my Government colleagues through the Lobby that evening. I have always said that, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that point.
On other matters, I am totally behind my hon. Friends who are responsible for sport; my argument with them is purely on this point, but it is regrettable that they have now aligned themselves to various bodies in the anti-South African brigade which they must find strange bedfellows.
Only an hour or so ago, as I came into the House, I met Mr. Sam Ramsamy who is the general secretary of SANROC, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee, who is a charming man. He is a South African who has not been near the place for 15 years because he keeps refusing to go there. He runs an organisation that works on the theory that we should not have normal sport in an abnormal society. However, Mr. Ramsamy has found the ground somewhat cut away from him now because the founding father of that organisation, Dr. Dennis Brutus, who has reappeared miraculously from America, and who is a man of far greater stature than Mr. Ramsamy, is now beginning to say that, because of the great advance that has been made in the system of sport in South Africa—in so far as sport can advance within the system of apartheid—we should now be looking towards some form of contact. However, Mr. Ramsamy and SAN ROC continue to peddle the anti-South African line, being fuelled with funds from Eastern Europe, the World Council of Churches and any organisation that wants to support them. That is why I find it somewhat sad that my hon. Friends almost seem to have seen fit to support their line.
The other people who are affected by this are our friends in the Commonwealth, especially in relation to the Commonwealth games. That was one reason why I found the intervention of the hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East so interesting, representing as he does a Scottish constituency. Many people are beginning to say, so be it if—just because British sportsmen and sportswomen choose to exercise what I repeat is their fundamental right of choice to participate in South Africa in sports which, in many cases, are not represented in other countries—decide that because of that participation they do not wish to take part in the games themselves.
It was a tragedy that at Edinburgh last year, for all sorts of reasons, including the treatment received by Miss Zola Budd, who is a British citizen and who was accepted legitimately into this country—[Laughter.] Opposition Member laugh, but I wonder whether they would have laughed if Miss Zola Budd had been black rather than white—[Hors. MEMBERS: She would never have got into the country."]—and I wonder what the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Grant) would have said. Be that as it may, the Commonwealth games went ahead and the losers were not those who took part in the wonderful competition and who achieved so much; the losers were the black African countries. Their support comes from the Commonwealth and from the Commonwealth Secretariat, an office in London run by Sir Sonny Ramphal, who is, of course, a man of certain doubtful parentage from Guyana, on the basis of his attitudes towards the well-being of the Commonwealth and towards South Africa.
If the Commonwealth games can be played only on the basis of looking over one's shoulder the whole time to see whether someone is offending in relation to South Africa, which is a country without any connection with those games, something must be wrong somewhere.
I may give way a little later, if the hon. Gentleman can contain himself.
Added to all that, there is the machinery of protest from the United Nations. Only recently the United Nations appointed yet another Sports Commission against Apartheid. Of course, it had certain difficulties in finding members. On 3 October 1988, the first meeting ended in failure because only eight nominations were received from various countries and the commission should have comprised 15 members. Later, however, it was decided to appoint a chairman and a vice-chairman. The representatives came from Nigeria, Peru, the Philippines and the Ukraine. They were noble gentleman in their own way but one begins to question their attitude to and interest in South Africa.
Time and time again, reference is made in this House and elsewhere to the United Nations blacklist, which must have been thought out in the middle of the night by certain people who have what I believe to be an evil intent towards the people of South Africa, whatever the colour of their skin, and especially to those who are sportsmen and women. However, the blacklist was passed by the United Nations and those sportsmen and sportswomen are then vilified wherever they go just because they have exercised their freedom of choice and their right to go to an area or a country where, as I shall explain, they believe that great progress has been made in sport in breaking down the constitution of apartheid.
For the sake of brevity, I shall refer to only two examples. The first refers to rugby which, as many hon. Members know, is almost a religion in South Africa. The South African Rugby Board has made tremendous progress in raising funds, especially in the rural areas, to make absolutely certain that those who play that sport in that country do so on the basis of being free from discrimination on the grounds of "race, colour and ethnic origin" as stated in the Gleneagles agreement. At no club in South Africa that is affiliated to the South African Rugby Board could any hon. Member find any discrimination in selection, the way in which the club is run or the spectators who go to the grounds, unlike the position with those that are affiliated to the South African Council on Sport.
Such enormous strides have been made that Dr. Danie Craven visited Lusaka to meet members of the African National Congress to discuss a basis for the fulfilment of South Africa's desire to return to international sport. The silence from the Opposition was deafening; they said not a word against that initiative. Indeed, words were said by Conservative Members because of the apparent naivety of Dr. Craven. However, that meeting established that even the ANC is prepared to consider whether there should be a place within the international fold for people of whatever sport, and of all colours, who are prepared to promote their sport, despite Government laws of the day, on the basis of no discrimination.
The other major sport where enormous progress has been made is cricket. The South African Cricket Union enjoyed its centenary only a few weeks ago and many notable British cricketers visited South Africa, including myself. No doubt that will prompt the hon. Member for Walsall, North to recite his usual catalogue from the Register of Members' Interests.
How many trips has the hon. Gentleman made to South Africa? Were they paid for by the South African authorities? If, as the hon. Gentleman has previously admitted, that is the case, would it not be better for his reputation if he prefaced his remarks with a declaration to the House?
If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, had felt such a declaration to be necessary, I am sure that you would have asked me to make one. The hon. Member for Walsall, North has made similar interventions so many times—in fact, almost every time that I speak—that he is probably more up to date with the register than I am. He knows full well that the majority, although not all, of my visits to South Africa have been financed by various authorities within that country, be they sporting bodies, Government, Round Table or Rotary. I have been to that country many times, and always travelled first class and stayed in first-class hotels—information that I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to have.
I can claim, which the hon. Gentleman cannot, to have some personal knowledge of events in South Africa. His criticism, both inside and outside the House, is always made from afar, as is that of Sam Ramsamy and Sonny Rampha. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not suggesting that we cannot criticise a country—we have done so in respect of Romania and other countries—without some sense of authority. However, as I and some of my hon. Friends have been to South Africa in various guises, we have a knowledge that the hon. Gentleman, who sits there in his white coat, does not have. I suggest that he accepts the various offers to travel to that side of the free world in the way that his hon. Friends accept offers to travel to the other side.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Does not the Register of Members' Interests state:
The registering of interests is additional to, and in no way a replacement of, the requirement on Members to declare their interests when they speak in debate"?
That requirement is not a convention, but a rule of the House. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) should have declared his free visits to South Africa at the commencement of his speech.
I confirm that the words quoted by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) are correct. If hon. Members have interests to declare, it is the custom that they do so at the outset of their speeches.
I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will take my original words on the basis that, had I declared an interest that is well known to the House—and I apologise for not doing so—the number of interventions from the hon. Member for Walsall, North would have been pre-empted because he would have had to think of something else to say—which, in his case, is somewhat difficult.
The progress made in cricket is, perhaps, the crux of what is happening in South Africa. Within the past two years, 60,000 black children, who have never even held a cricket bat because they thought cricket a white man's sport, have been coached by players from Britain and South Africa and have enjoyed a game that many hon. Members enjoy. That initiative has, on the whole, been financed by South African companies. The crucial part of that programme has been the arrival of British coaches who often spend the majority of their time in the black townships. Despite that, in January the International Cricket Conference passed regulations that will discourage and possibly even prevent many English coaches who have aspirations to represent their country from going to those black townships to help those children.
The House—like, indeed, the International Cricket Conference—should ask itself whether it is fair or moral for those children to be denied coaching by players from this country and elsewhere simply because the ICC thinks that that will preserve international cricket. If the only way to preserve an international sport is through blackmail and hypocrisy, there is something wrong with sport. Children in, for example, Alexandria will not now receive coaching from some of the lesser players on the English cricket circuit. Do hon. Members really believe that that helps those children? I believe it to be a barrier to one of the greatest sporting challenges of the past few years.
We shall no doubt return to this subject, which has bedevilled the sporting world for some years and will continue to do so until, perhaps, just men and women of true call, "Foul; enough is enough." It is time that we were fair to those whom we are trying to benefit. It is extraordinary to say that, because we do not like the colour of a Government or the way in which they run their country, we should deny their sportsmen and women the opportunity to improve their status and their standard of life. That is why I regret certain moves made by Ministers. I hope that the Government will be sensible and remember that freedom of choice should be not only at the heart of Conservative policy but a basic right of mankind.
It is unfortunate that I find myself following the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), whose speech has shown the degree to which he has been bought and sold by the South African Government.
I intend to raise a matter that has ramifications for the Lord Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House from time to time find themselves involved in cases where children have been abducted following matrimonial proceedings. The particular case that I wish to raise relates to my constituent, a Mr. Winstanley. Following a long and fraught divorce battle in the courts and court reporting on the after care and custody of his two children, the High Court in Greater Manchester decided that he should have custody and that they should remain in the United Kingdom until the age of 18. Mr. Winstanley's former wife is a Bulgarian national. In February, without the consent of the court or reference to the family, the children were abducted and taken to Bulgaria. It took from February until 8 May, with the full assistance of the Foreign Office, to establish first, where the children were; secondly, whether they were with their mother; and thirdly, whether they were being properly cared for.
Current law does not provide sufficient protection in abduction cases, irrespective of the decision about whether the children should remain with their father or their mother. It is usual for the courts to take the children's views into account before making a decision.
We require a change in the law to ensure that a child is protected from the activities of a parent or people acting on his or her behalf. For example, at this moment it is quite possible for a child to be removed from the United Kingdom without immigration authorities knowing that the child is a ward of a county court or the High Court. It is possible also for a child to be removed when he or she is still under the care of a social services department. When the High Court determines that a child should remain in the custody of the mother or the father, the parents' passports should be clearly marked to show that the child is in the custody of a parent. That would ensure that immigration officers would be alerted to the fact that a child may be in the process of being abducted by a parent or his or her paid representative. Unless the law is changed, such tugs-of-love will continue.
There are emotional difficulties on both sides. My constituent went through the due processes of the law, and the court determined that it was in the best interests of the children that they remain with the father. Those children, who expressed that wish to the court, were abducted and taken to a country far away from their father, with no opportunity to say that was not what they desired. With the assistance of the Foreign Office, we have been able to ascertain that the children are living with their mother in Bulgaria. However, the Foreign Office is unable to act. Its activities are limited to stating that the children are in good health and that there are opportunities for the father to visit them if the Bulgarian authorities will allow him to do so. It is important for the Home Office to consider reciprocal arrangements with other countries.
Unfortunately, my constituent is one of hundreds of people who will find themselves in a similar position this year, either because of one parent removing children or people being paid to act as agents to abduct children from the United Kingdom. When a custody decision is handed down by a United Kingdom court, it is important to protect not the parents but the children. However, a court order was blatantly broken by a parent disregarding the order or an agent being paid to remove the child. When a child is removed, it is not the British court's responsibility to seek redress in the court of the country in which a child winds up. The parent is responsible for trying to make his or her way through the legal proceedings of a foreign country and to find the financial resources to do so. That is unacceptable. Many parents are unable to pay for legal proceedings in another country.
I appeal to the Bulgarian Government to take urgent steps to ensure that my constituent is allowed to go to Bulgaria and that all facilities will be available to him in term of access to the children and to legal proceedings so that he can determine whether the children wish to remain with their mother or make the journey back to the United Kingdom and present themselves to the court of confirm or vary the custody order that was made earlier this year.
It is important also to amend the Child Abduction Act 1984. It is virtually ineffective. It is effective only if parents or children have prior knowledge of a possible abduction. They can seek a High Court restraining order. It is a major flaw in the law that, unless there is prior knowledge of an abduction, one cannot use the Act to prevent a criminal offence or try to put pressure on the Foreign Office to ensure that children are brought back to the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts. It is part and parcel of reciprocal arrangements that there should be legal aid in the country in which further court proceedings will be held. When a child is abducted from the United Kingdom and court proceedings must take place in the country in which they are residing, it is important that the parents are given full rights within the law, limited as they may be in some countries, and the financial resources to ensure that their rights and those of their children are exercised.
In many cases we are concerned about parents' anxieties, but young children who were born and bred in the United Kingdom and are abducted to a foreign country cannot speak the foreign language, are completely disorientated and are unable to see the other parent or air their views on whether they wish to remain in that country or return to the United Kingdom. It must be a traumatic experience for them. From my interviews with him I understand that it is traumatic for my constituent and his family. Far too often, such trauma cannot be eased. Because of the lack of reciprocal arrangements the Government are unable to take international action. Unless they are given notice, immigration officers, police and social services departments are unable to know whether a child is being illegally removed. There are many measures to ensure that people enter this country legally, so surely we can take some steps to ensure that children are not illegally removed.
This is the second such case that has been brought to my attention. About 18 months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and I were involved in a case in which, against their express wishes and those of the social services department, two young girls were removed to Iran. The mother was also removed. Because the authorities had no jurisdiction or prior knowledge of the abduction, the father went to the port of Hull, got on to a ferry to Holland, went across Europe, and then got on a plane to Iran. To this day, the mother does not know whether her children are alive or are being cared for. The British courts and the Government are unable to assist parents in such cases.
Mr. Winstanley's case shows the need for the Government to examine possible reciprocal arrangements and ensure that, whenever a custody order is made, both parents' passports are marked accordingly so that authorities at ports of embarkation can be aware of possible abductions. As I said, there should be reciprocal agreements so that parents have full legal rights and financial resources to take their cases to the court of a foreign country.
I hope that the Leader of the House will respond positively. If he cannot respond specifically, will he at least give a commitment that the three Departments involved will follow up discussions with myself and other hon. Members who regularly face these cases? The lives of many of our constituents are shattered because of the inability to protect children who are abducted by a parent or his or her paid agent.
I give my full support to the passionate plea that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has made, through my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to the Foreign Office and to the Government of Bulgaria. I believe that it is well established in British law that the welfare of the child is paramount. In the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described, legal aid or financial assistance should he provided so that the wronged parent can pursue the children in the country to which the mother had taken them.
I wish to refer to two matters in this short debate. First, I want to make a vehement protest about the way in which British Airways treated its passengers at London airport while waiting for the 6.30 pm flight to Belfast on Friday. Those passengers were eventually told that they had to wait for the back-up flight to be made available. I had gone from Westminster to London airport to catch that flight and I know what the other passengers had to endure.
More than 100 passengers were made to stand for an intolerable time—between 40 and 45 minutes—on the ramp leading down to the departure lounge for the Belfast flight. One side of that ramp is glass and through it the full afternoon and evening sun shines. On Friday, the heat was intense and the temperature hovered at about 100 deg F. One can imagine the debilitating effect that that would have on the fittest and youngest, but among the weary passengers standing on that ramp—many of whom had travelled from abroad or within the United Kingdom—were elderly people, children and at least one pregnant woman. It is scandalous that no attempt was made by British Airways staff to find out whether the passengers were in a condition to stand in that heat for so long. No one offered chairs, no one offered any advice and no one said when the back-up plane might be made available. No one seemed to care about the passengers.
The well-advertised back-up aircraft was not available and no one was able to say when it would be. I trust that British Airways will abandon its advertising of such back-up services. I remember one advertisement showing a British Airways aircraft carrying a solitary passenger immediately after the regular flight, which was full, had taken off. That advertisement belongs to the realms of fantasy as I have never seen that happen in reality. The 6.30 regular flight was an hour late leaving for Belfast because, according to British Airways staff, the airline had run out of kerosene. It is incomprehensible that no fuel was available for that flight.
It is possible that there are an insufficient number of staff available and British British Airways must ensure that such staff are available in the future, but that does not stop me condemning the way in which British Airways staff treat passengers for Northern Ireland. The incident on Friday was not unique. I have always thought that the way in which passengers are treated is similar to the way in which cattle are treated. The excuse that is always given is that the staff cannot cope with so many passengers and that the numbers take them by surprise. British Airways seems to be taken by surprise regularly every summer and every winter due to holidays or whatever. It never seems to learn or to care. It is high time that the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, resigned, because, if the buck stops anywhere, it must stop with him. I give notice that in the future the people of Northern Ireland will not accept such intolerable treatment from the staff of British Airways at London airport.
The second matter that I wish to raise concerns elderly people. In the previous general election, my principal opponent —whose campaign was largely run by those now regarded as the organisers of the North Down Conservative group—stated that I was elected, no doubt for the last time, on a dying vote. That is an insulting way to refer to the retired people who voted for me because of my concern for their well-being. Such arrogance and indifference towards pensioners ignores the fact that everyone who lives long enough will become old, and many of those who become old do not have enough money to take care of themselves.
A percentage of pensioners in my constituency were in receipt of what used to be known as supplementary benefit but is now called income support. Recently, when the old-age pension was increased by a relatively small amount, those pensioners were no longer eligible for income support and the slight increase in pension was thus cancelled out by the loss of the supplementary sum. They have also lost other benefits because their incomes are no longer regarded as being below a particular financial limit. In other words, those pensioners are worse off, although the cost of living has increased with inflation at more than 8 per cent. and continuing to rise.
I have visited the homes of many pensioners in my constituency and I have seen how they have to think carefully about how they spend their pittance, budgeting carefully to decide what they can afford and what they must do without. I appeal to the Government to reconsider this grievous situation. There is an undeniable case for doing justice to our senior citizens who have worked hard throughout their long years. In my view, what is required is an immediate and substantial increase in the old age pension.
I fully support what the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said about pensioners. Pensioners are being treated with contempt by the Government. My advice to the hon. Gentleman is to support the Labour party in every way he can, although I appreciate that he cannot actually do so in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) again sought to defend the indefensible. As I understand it, part of his argument is that he has the advantage of going on trips to South Africa. He was forced to declare his interest as a result of an intervention from the Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman knows very well that he did not declare his interest and that he was forced to do so by the Chair. He should at least agree with me on this, as the events took place just half an hour ago.
Although the hon. Member for Luton, North has the advantage, if it may be so described, of visiting South Africa, he has always done so at the expense of the South African authorities or South African organisations. I believe that he once claimed in the Chamber never to have paid for such a trip. I have never been to South Africa, but I do not have to prove my point, which has been proved on so many occasions—that South Africa is isolated and will remain so until the apartheid regime is ended. I do not believe that there can be the slightest doubt about that.
I had the honour of being a Member of this place in the mid-1960s, and during that period I protested with other Labour Members constantly about the tortures taking place in Greece. Some hon. Members went on trips to Greece—we know all about those trips—and when they returned they painted a rather different picture of what I knew was taking place in Greece. In 1974, when the colonels' regime came to an end, all that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I had been saying about the torture and other terrible happenings was proved right. We knew that we were right when the colonels were in power. We do not have to go on sponsored trips to find out what is happening, any more than our predecessors needed to go to Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia or Mussolini's Italy to find out what was going on in those countries.
If hon. Members go on trips, sponsored or otherwise, it does not mean that they return with the opinions of the bodies that organise them. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who is not in his place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), the Minister of State, Home Office, and others have been to South Africa, but have returned with views entirely different from my own. Individuals can travel to other countries and return with different opinions, and sometimes their opinions are at odds with the organisations that sponsor their trips.
In the main, those hon. Members who go on sponsored trips tend to return with the views of the organisations or countries which invited them to make the trips. The hon. Gentleman's illustrations are very much the exception. He demonstrates all too well the point that I am making. When he speaks in the House, he says that he speaks on behalf of South Africa. I would claim that he does not even speak on behalf of all the whites of South Africa, but on behalf of a regime and its supporters which have been ostracised and are isolated from the rest of the world. The view that I have expressed is echoed by the Government. Ministers tend to say what I say and not what the hon. Gentleman says. He is an isolated figure in the House.
Before taking up a domestic issue, I wish to say a few words about the happenings in China. It would be unfortunate if the House ignored what is going on in that country. The students in China are to be congratulated on the way in which they have organised and sustained such a massive demonstration under a dictatorship. Ironically, those who follow events in China are aware that limited reforms have undoubtedly taken place in that country, especially since the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976. Had the reforms of the past 13 years not taken place, it would have been virtually impossible for the current demonstrations to occur. Demonstrations cannot take place very well in conditions of terror. I accept, therefore, that there have been changes—the changes have been welcome and they have been recognised by the House in debates and at Question Time—but the fact remains that they have not been anywhere near sufficient to satisfy those who have been protesting.
I have been taken by surprise, however, although I have followed the demonstrations that have taken place in China in the past and I know what usually happens to demonstrators in that country. I know of those who have been imprisoned. For example, a dissident who is well known in international circles is currently in prison, having been sentenced to 15 years.
We do not know what will happen this week, let alone in the weeks and months to come. I only hope that the basic demand of the students will be met. Hundreds of thousands of students have been demonstrating day and night, and I salute their tremendous courage. It is not so easy sometimes to demonstrate in a democracy, and it is that much more difficult to do so in the conditions that prevail in countries such as China. The students have been joined by workers and many others and I believe that their demands should be met. They are saying that there should be a dialogue between the leadership of China and the representatives of those who have been demonstrating.
We are aware, of course, of the changes and reforms that have occurred in the Soviet Union, especially in the past three or four years, and it is understandable that many people in China want to see the same sort of progress. They do not argue necessarily for parliamentary democracy on the western model—perhaps it is not possible to have that form of democracy at this stage in China, or for some time to come—but many Chinese people want further and substantial changes. They see a neighbouring Communist party ruling the Soviet Union which has brought about many significant changes, including in some instances genuine contests at election time. Many Chinese demonstrating now are also concerned about corruption and favouritism in very high places.
Perhaps the position of Hong Kong has a more direct bearing on the United Kingdom than the events taking place in China. I was not opposed to the agreement made by the British Government with China for the future of Hong Kong. I believe that it was the right agreement in all the circumstances, and I am sure that it would have been made by a Labour Government. The best guarantee for stability in Hong Kong, however, is for the people there to see substantial steps being taken towards democratic change in China, and it is understandable that there were demonstrations in Hong Kong in support of the students. Whatever may be written on paper, and whatever agreement may have been reached with China, the fact is that China remains very much an authoritarian type of dictatorship, if not now a totalitarian state.
If changes can occur in China on the same lines as those taking place in the Soviet Union, I believe that there will be some confidence among the people of Hong Kong, which will perhaps make them more willing to accept that there is a future there for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
The domestic matter to which I wish to refer is causing a great deal of concern in the borough within my constituency. The Walsall health authority has submitted an expression of interest—that is the phrase used in the White Paper—in two hospitals opting out of the existing National Health Service management structure. One of the hospitals designated for opting-out is the main hospital in the borough. Only two weeks ago I attended the official opening of a large extension to it. I refer to the Manor hospital. There is no support for opting out within the borough, and certainly none within my constituency, and I have received many letters from constituents expressing their disquiet. They have asked me to do what I can to support the efforts being made to ensure that the two hospitals remain in the existing NHS management structure, and I have responded in a way that would be expected of a Labour Member.
Opting out, as many of my constituents who have written to me have rightly observed, is a half-way house privatisation. It is all part of the Government's attempt to erode and destabilise the NHS. That is not the view of the Labour party alone. The Joint Consultants Committee has stated:
These proposals inevitably change the prime aim of the management of these hospitals, from the provision of adequate care to the community as a whole to the financial success of the hospital. The considerable experience of such hospitals in the USA shows clearly that there will be pressure to encourage admission of patients with conditions that can be treated with financial benefit to the hospital rather than to admit those patients—often the chronic sick—whose treatment is likely to lead to little or no such financial benefit.
I imagine that most of the members of the Joint Consultants Committee do not vote for the Labour party, but I accept entirely what they have said. I have said repeatedly in my constituency, and I have written to this effect to the Secretary of State, that the Government talk constantly about participation and insist that voting is essential.
Before any decision is made for the two hospitals in my constituency to become what is described as NHS hospital trusts—that is, before any decision is made by the Secretary of State—there should be a ballot. Surely that is not asking too much. Is not that part and parcel of democracy? I have argued that in every ward and polling district within the borough the residents should have an opportunity to decide whether they want those hospitals to opt out. I am quite willing to abide by the decision reached. If it goes against my views, so be it, although I do not think that that is likely. There should be a ballot for the people to decide.
The Secretary of State for Health is not in the Chamber, but I should like to know whether he would be willing to abide by such a decision. If he says that no ballot is needed, the inevitable response from Labour Members will be, "Why not?" Is he afraid of the outcome? Does he accept my view that the overwhelming majority of people in my borough, which covers three parliamentary constituencies, are completely opposed to the hospitals opting out of the existing National Health Service management structure? Many of the people who express that view were not Labour voters, or at least not at the last general election. When the Leader of the House responds, I hope that he will pass on what I have said in the usual way to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
There will be a meeting in the borough on Friday at which those who oppose the decision to opt out will make their views clear. I am certain that there will be many more meetings. The point that I shall make at the meeting is that it would be undemocratic and incompatible with any concept of democracy for the hospitals concerned to be withdrawn from the existing NHS management structure without any ballot of the residents. Nor has there been any suggestion that the medical and non-medical staff at the hospitals should be balloted. They have not been asked for their views either. I therefore thought it only right and proper that that issue, which is of great concern in my borough, should be aired at the first opportunity on the Floor of the House.
Before the House adjourns for the spring recess, which actually feels more like the summer recess, I want to raise three brief points.
My first point concerns Basildon district council, which has increased its rates this year by 57·9 per cent. I can understand my hon. Friends being aghast at that, because that is the largest rate increase in the country. That increase has nothing to do with the provision of essential services, but everything to do with the enhancement of leisure facilities.
During the past year in Basildon, we have experienced what could be described as a hung council. It was a hung council by virtue of a Liberal councillor who described himself as an independent——
As my hon. Friend asks, where are they now?
On every conceivable opportunity, that Liberal councillor voted with the Labour party and—surprise, surprise—after the county elections this year this so-called Liberal-cum-independent officially joined the Labour party.
One of the many aspects that we must consider in dealing with this very damaging rate increase in Basildon is that of the direct labour organisation report. I have a copy of a note from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment which states:
Basildon's DLO report for 1987–88, sent to the Department, does indeed confirm a current loss of £634,000 on building maintenance work. Since this represents 58 per cent. of the turnover in this category, it is a serious financial failure. The deficit was charged in the first instance to the DLO reserve fund with the balance charged to the general rate fund as required by the DLO legislation … The Secretary of State is empowered ultimately to order closure of a DLO if it
fails to achieve the financial target of a 5 per cent. rate of return on capital employed and the authority are unable to provide a statutory explanation.
My constituents will rightly ask how on earth we have managed to lose £634,000.
However, it gets worse. We built a theatre at a cost of £8·5 million. I applaud any local authority which wishes to build theatres for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately, in Basildon we did not have a penny to finance the theatre's costs. Through creative accountancy, a company was set up and the theatre has been so organised that if every seat was occupied 365 days of the year, it would still lose a considerable amount of money.
The people I represent in Basildon welcome the community charge. We believe that Socialists are afraid of the community charge because the ratepayers will see clearly the result of irresponsible financial expenditure like that which occured in Basildon.
My second point relates to the plight of travelling people, which is hardly a new subject for us to consider. I fully recognise the enormous difference between gipsies and travelling people. Recently I drove through Maldon, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I noted that a number of travelling people had arrived in his area.
We have an organised site in Basildon which travelling people are welcome to use. However, a ridiculous state of affairs arose two weeks ago, when travelling people arrived at a municipal car park next to a leisure area and set up home. That has caused serious disruption locally involving enormous financial consequences in the amount of money required to clear up their mess. Although I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware of this, I remind him that travelling people can cause disruption to local schools.
I live next to a gipsy caravan site and had no objection to supporting the application for it to be built. One of the problems with the overspill of travelling people or gipsy families involves the irresponsibility of some Conservative-controlled local authorities which refuse to be designated under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and utilise resources which I congratulate the Department of the Environment on providing to local authorities. The Department sometimes provides grants of nearly 100 per cent. to provide facilities to prevent overspills. If the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) is concerned about local government expenditure, he should have a go at Conservative-controlled authorities which turn a blind eye to those problems.
The hon. Gentleman will not satisfy my constituents. I know how closely he has been following my speech, during which I said that we have a Socialist council in Basildon—which I know he would applaud—and we have a site which the travelling people are not using. The irresponsible way in which Socialists, whether they be Members of Parliament or district councillors, can applaud those travelling people is very unfair.
My final point relates to abortion. I had understood that all Members of Parliament regarded life as the most precious gift of all. We all fight to get to the House because we want to participate in the legislative process, and I had understood that legislation was all about organising people's lives. The 649 other hon. Members in this place must regard life as the most important thing for us all. Why then do we always fail to have a vote to determine the stage at which an abortion can he obtained?
It is extraordinary that hon. Members who all have hospitals in their constituencies are very concerned about what goes on in the special baby units where pre-term babies are being kept alive 24 hours a day after being born at 22, 23 and 24 weeks when in those same hospitals it is possible for someone to obtain an abortion at up to 28 weeks.
I certainly find it strange. My views on capital punishment do not contradict my views on abortion, but I shall not detain the House with further details.
There is great unrest throughout the country, with people failing to understand why it is that an abortion Bill could come before the House last year, but that for procedural reason we were unable to continue voting on it. What are right hon. and hon. Members frightened of?
My hon. Friend speaks with passion of his concern about abortion law, but what is he doing to help the 5,600 disabled children who are in institutional care because their families cannot cope with them? What is he doing to help find families for those children? Does he not think that handicapped children are in even greater need of love and care than normal children? What is he doing to help them?
My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that subject. If he will consult my constituents, they can give him chapter and verse on how I am involved in helping disabled people locally. However, that has nothing to do with the subject of my contribution. I refuse to compromise. As far as I am concerned, life begins at conception.
However, I recognise that politics is the art of the possible. If 1 vote for termination at 18, 19 or 20 weeks, of course I am compromising myself—but I welcome any measure that will reduce the period of time during which an abortion can be obtained if that saves even one life.
I hope that before the next general election the House will be allowed to reach a conclusion on abortion reform. When that happens, I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member will deny to others that which they would not deny themselves, but will join me and other right hon. and hon. Members in protecting the unborn child.
I want to raise the subject of the need to tell the truth to the House of Commons. For 20 years, I believed more or less automatically anything said by Ministers of whatever party at the Dispatch Box. If I now seem unduly suspicious, it is a matter of being once bitten, twice shy. I wish to raise one subject briefly, and one other at far greater length.
The first concerns this afternoon's statement about the expulsion of Russian diplomats. I have a question for the Lord President of the Council that he can send to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to answer. It is the same question that I put to the Foreign Secretary this afternoon which he did not answer. My question concerns the "incontrovertible evidence" that gave rise to the expulsions. Was it in any way raised with Lord Griffiths and his fellow members of the Security Commission? If not, what is the purpose of the Security Commission'? Some right hon. and hon. Members would like a second opinion of that "incontrovertible evidence". I am not asking to see that evidence myself. I am not even suggesting that those of my right hon. Friends who are Privy Councillors should see it. But after all that has happened, a judge of the Court of Appeal should have agreed that the evidence was incontrovertible.
We have been through Zircon, Westland and GCHQ. There has been a whole series of economies with the truth. It is in that context that I ask whether Lord Griffiths and his colleagues were consulted about that decision.
The second issue I want to raise relates to the unpopular subject of what happened in Gibraltar. Right hon. and hon. Members will see from a letter to me from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office that he has placed in the Library copies of a statement made by a Spanish police officer concerning the surveillance of three IRA personnel—Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage—in the period prior to their deaths at the hands of the SAS in Gibraltar on 6 March last year.
That statement, which maintains that the Spanish police "lost" the three IRA members on 4 March, two days before the shootings, was presented to the Gibraltar coroner during the inquest. The coroner refused to answer my letter to him. I do not complain, but I received a very courteous reply to my letter asking certain questions of the coroner, which he declined to answer. Nevertheless, following the Gibraltar coroner's rules, he declined to accept that statement as evidence because there was no witness to testify under oath.
The statement then surfaced in The Sunday Times and I understand that it was passed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Lord Windlesham during his inquiry into the Thames Television programme "Death on the Rock". I say in parenthesis that Lord Windlesham did an honest job and that the response to his inquiry by Lord Trefgarne in another place was among the most odious and unacceptable statements made from a Front Bench that there has ever been during my 27 years in the House.
The apparent purpose of disclosing that statement was to discredit the programme's claim that the IRA personnel had been under Spanish surveillance up to the time of their arrival in Gibraltar. I see from the Minister's letter that the Spanish police officer's statement was given at Malaga police station to the Gibraltar coroner's officer, Chief Inspector Correa. According both to the Minister's letter and to the chief inspector's sworn evidence to the inquest, no Spanish judge was present when the statement was given. In his evidence, Chief Inspector Correa said that no Spanish judge was available that day.
That assertion raises a central question in the Gibraltar controversy, for it is a matter of record that the Spanish Interior Minister, Mr. Jose Luis Corcuera, told his country's senate on 11 April this year that the Spanish police officer concerned made his statement about surveillance before a judge in Malaga. Last week, I visited Spain officially as a member of an all-party group, and had informal conversations in the Cortes. Considerable concern was expressed about the matter, because at issue is the truthfulness or otherwise of a Spanish Minister in making a statement to the Spanish Parliament. "This," said Mr. Corcuera, "is the way in which it should always be done"—that is, the hearing before a judge.
Only last week, on 19 May, the spokesman for the Spanish police in Madrid, Mr. Manuel Jimenez Cuevas, announced publicly that the statement had been made on 8 August 1988, in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga. Thus a contradiction has arisen. If the statement placed in the Library of the House of Commons by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the genuine account of events by the Spanish police, the Interior Minister of Spain has misinformed his country's Senate about the circumstances in which the statement was taken, and the Spanish police themselves appear to be under a serious misapprehension.
If, on the other hand, the Spanish Interior Minister was telling the truth in his country's Senate, that raises a still more serious question: is the statement placed in the Library of the House by the Minister of State the only Spanish account of what took place between 4 and 6 March, or are there two separate statements—one taken in peculiar circumstances by the Gibraltar coroner's officer, Chief Inspector Correa, and the other made in accordance with normal Spanish practice in front of an examining magistrate?
May I ask the Lord President whether he can obtain clarification from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on whether it has in its possession a second Spanish statement on surveillance made on 8 August last year in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga? If it received such a statement, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explain why it apparently made no attempt to introduce it at the coroner's inquest in Gibraltar last year, and will it now place a copy of that second statement—made in front of an examining magistrate in Malaga—in the Library of the House of Commons?
I have four questions. First, was the statement made by a Spanish police officer on 8 August 1988 in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga ever received by the British authorities? Secondly, on what date was the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga received by the British authorities, and on what date was that same statement passed to the coroner in Gibraltar? Thirdly, where is the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga now held? Fourthly, will the Government place the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga in the Library of the House of Commons? The two statements are in the Library's possession, and, indeed, in mine.
I believe that this is an important matter of truthfulness to the House of Commons or otherwise, which should be cleared up somehow before we go into recess.
Finally—I will be very brief—there is the now well-known statement by Sir Leon Brittan. The Lord President will be thankful that I do not propose to regurgitate the subjects that he and I have so often bandied across the Floor of the House. I think, however, that it would be healthy if the Prime Minister were now to come to the House and say, "Yes, Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell did keep me fully informed about the progress of my quite improper idea to get the Solicitor-General to write a letter and then leak it. They kept me fully informed about the role of Sir Leon Brittan, and when I was under pressure I did tell a self-preserving fib to the House of Commons.'
Parliament really cannot operate properly if Ministers, however senior, get away with lying.
I wish to raise three issues, two briefly and one somewhat more thoroughly. The first, touched on briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), is the problem of itinerants and their proper control.
In my constituency, which has designated sites, we have had persistent trouble with itinerants for many years. We have had outbreaks of trouble in Headcorn, Staplehurst and Hunton, but now we are suffering a serious outbreak in Marden—and I mean trouble in the truest sense of the word. My constituents have been physically threatened, and in one case assaulted, by people who have encamped themselves illegally without permission, and who insist on staying.
It is not very surprising that they insist on staying when enforcement procedures are so inadequate for what is required, and when the workings of the law take so long that any itinerant can encamp himself illegally, get connected up to essential services and sit and laugh while the authorities try to remove him, no matter what trouble he may be causing. This is not a new problem; it is an extremely old one, and is certainly not peculiar to my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon. Yet there is a lack of will to tackle the problem, and I do not believe that we should adjourn until we have examined it in rather more detail.
It is not very difficult to make the law easier to enforce. If, in accordance with the recommendations of the Carnross report, we made stop notices applicable to caravans—as they are to other dwellings and constructions —it would be possible to bring about immediate enforcement of the law. If we made it impossible for people to obtain connection to services when illegally encamped, it would be much more uncomfortable for them to stay. Meanwhile, the nuisance continues and there is an absence of will. I find it difficult to face my constituents in Marden when I can deliver them no promise of firm action. The problem has been raised time and again, and I know from experience that action is unlikely to be forthcoming.
Secondly, I should like to raise two issues connected with the aerodrome at Headcorn in my constituency. The first is the nuisance of low-flying aerobatic planes, which have caused considerable problems to neighbours. They certainly appear to have flown lower than they are supposed to, and on one occasion one of them came out of the aerodrome on to a road. I have in my possession a petition signed by hundreds of Headcorn residents.
Almost more serious is the problem of parachuting at Headcorn. I am sure that the House will remember two instances in the past two years of civilian parachutists being killed as a result of collision with aircraft. The first concerned one of my constituents, a young girl making a jump for charity, who fell on to the rotating blades of a helicopter that was on the landing ground. When I raised the issue and asked how landing parachutists and aircraft taking off could possibly have been allowed to mix, I was told, "It was her first jump: she was inexperienced. Had she known what to do, the tragedy might have been averted."
The second incident did not involve a constituent, but it happened at Headcorn. This was a very experienced civilian parachutist, again a young girl but in this case on her 35th jump. As she was landing, she fell on to the propellors of an aircraft. It would be very simple, and it would alleviate a great deal of distress both to relatives and to others, to separate completely, by law, the areas where parachutists land and those where aircraft land and take off. I have no idea why that suggestion is being so comprehensively ignored and why such a mountain is being made of what I believe would be a molehill of legislation that could save lives.
It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend if I make a plea to him that is in line with the third matter that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon. At this moment, as we propose to adjourn for the spring recess, during which we shall not consider any legislation, there is a law that allows one child in an incubator to be loved and cherished and to have all the resources of medical science put at his or her disposal in an effort to save it while another child, of exactly the same age, at exactly the same level of development and with exactly the same level of sentience, can be dismembered alive in its mother's womb.
If hon. Members can adjourn for the spring recess leaving a law of that sort on the statute book, there is something seriously wrong. I urge my right hon. Friend at least to use the time offered by the spring recess to reflect seriously on the fact that we shall not let this issue rest, that it will not go away and that it is a thoroughly bad law that treats two identical children in such a completely different way.
Every time that an hon. Member raises the plight of the unborn, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) gets to his feet and demands to be told why we are not talking about those who have been born. My hon. Friend's interest in handicapped children and his own position with regard to a handicapped child are known and respected. However, when he talks about handicapped children, I do not intervene and demand to be told why he is not talking about old-age pensioners. When another hon. Member is talking about old-age pensioners, I do not ask why he or she is not talking about single parents. If another hon. Member refers to single parents, I do not demand to he told why he or she is not talking about the disabled in general. It is foolish to say that if one is raising the plight of the unborn one cannot therefore possibly care about those who have been born and that one is neglecting one's duty towards them. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East to reflect on that fact.
An anomaly of our crazy abortion laws is that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 provides that it is illegal to destroy a child who is capable of being born alive but that it is perfectly legal to poison the foetus before abortion in order to ensure that it is not born alive. A horrific anomaly of that kind requires urgent attention.
Then there are the activities of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. That service seems to be limited entirely to terminations. We have had endless reports of unsympathetic treatment when those who turn to the service for help say that they do not want terminations. There is the case of the Carlisle baby who was born alive but who is still not registered. The request for an inquest was turned down, although an inquest would normally have been a formality.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon referred to the fact that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members are in favour of some reform of the abortion law, although I recognise that there is division as to where exactly the line should be drawn. Despite that overwhelming majority, a small group of people, arrogant in their motives, wish to thwart the will of Parliament. Their methods and procedures are impudent and they have consistently frustrated the will of the House.
Why would it be such a major shift in their thinking if the Government decided to deal with this question? If embryology is a fit subject for the Government, if a small baby not yet 14 days old in the womb is a fit subject for the Government, how much more is it a fit subject for them when that baby is fully developed and sentient at 18 weeks? I have asked my right hon. Friend before, and I ask him again now, to say when this matter will receive the attention that Parliament wants it to receive and that the country wants it to receive but that a tiny group of people are determined that it should not have.
My concern is the catastrophic decline in the population of the African elephant, due to illegal ivory poaching, which is becoming more desperate by the day. It has reached the point where I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the spring recess until we have had a full debate on the subject.
Recent reports from conservation groups have produced incontrovertible evidence to show that we are now at a critical point. Ivory poaching activity has increased dramatically over recent months and years. One of the problems is that a number of dirty wars are going on in Africa—civil wars and terrorist activities. Those wars are, in part, being financed by the illegal trade in endangered species—live animals and animal products, especially elephant ivory and black rhino horn. The tirade is abominable and immoral and a crime against the living world.
I know that there is considerable sympathy in the House for the plight of the African elephant and that the Leader of the House shares that concern. He answered a question to that effect last week. Words, however, are insufficient. We need political action, which must be immediate and dramatic. Time is not on the side of the African elephant.
The population of African elephants has fallen from 2·3 million in 1970 to around 700,000 today, and 80,000 African elephants a year are being slaughtered. It is believed that by the year 2000, if the current trend continues, the African elephant will be all but extinct. Although it is claimed that there is a 50:50 balance between legal and illegal ivory trading, I estimate that perhaps 75 per cent. of all ivory trade is illegal at the outset. That is because certain corrupt African Governments and officials give export permits to illegal ivory.
The convention on international trade in endangered species—an organisation that is supposed to be regulating this trade—retrospectively legitimises what it knows to be illegal ivory. There have been a number of examples in this country. A recent example involved a shipment of illegal ivory that was landed at Gatwick airport—1,464 kilos from Zaire. After CITES allowed the tusks to be renumbered, the Department of the Environment granted a licence. It appears that that process is about to be repeated again, this time with a cargo of 1,025 kilos of illegal ivory, again from Zaire, which is now at Heathrow airport.
Why is that allowed to happen? Why does CITES accept money from ivory dealers, for example, which must put in question its impartiality? Why does the Department of the Environment retrospectively legalise cargoes of illegally imported ivory? Britain is clearly being used as one of the world's major staging posts for the passage of illegal ivory which then goes to Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan, often with false papers, where it is made into jewellery, billiard balls and snooker balls, carvings and piano keys for export back to Europe and North America.
I ask the Leader of the House to put it to his colleagues, because I know that he is on our side, first, that the British Government must impose an immediate ban on the import and export of raw and worked ivory as an example both to the world and, in particular, to the EEC. We must do that as a prelude to establishing a worldwide ban on the ivory trade.
Secondly, there must be a ministerial inquiry into the actions of the Department of the Environment in colluding with CITES in legalising retrospectively the illegal import of ivory. Ivory that is known to have been illegally imported and that is impounded at the port of entry should not be auctioned off or legalised. It should be seized and destroyed. That is the only way to try to stop the trade.
Thirdly, the Government should insist that CITES must no longer accept funding from ivory dealers. Fourthly, the Government should give immediate assistance by means of human and material resources to those African countries that are desperately trying to protect their remaining elephant herds from the activities of poachers. In certain cases, the British Government should give military assistance, if that is requested.
The African elephant is one of the largest, most gentle and most intelligent creatures on our planet. It would be a crime against the world if we allowed the African elephant to become extinct. This country, with all its special connections, cannot stand by waiting for someone else to take action. The screams of the slaughtered elephants of Africa should torment our consciences until firm, decisive and, above all, immediate action is taken. The elephants of Africa desperately need action to save them. The country demands action, and the Government should not hesitate to act.
I support the motion, because I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will take the opportunity to study care in the community during the short break. We know that the Government are deliberating on their response to the Griffiths report. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has any part in those deliberations but I hope that, if he has, he will take the opportunity to study some of the reports being prepared in Bolton. Bolton has been described by the district audit committee, in a report produced in September last year, as
very much to the forefront of developments nationally.
Bolton has had a pilot scheme for care in the community since the concept was first heard of in Britain. The town was visited by the Select Committee on Social Services when it was preparing its report. The council has now produced a comprehensive report entitled "A Way to Go: Goal 2000". An active handicap action group has been set up, and it has campaigned and produced reports.
My concern was aroused strongly during the general election campaign when a number of parents came to me and said that they were unable to cope with their problems at home with grown-up children who, because of mental handicap, still had a young mental age. Because of plans to close hospitals, they were left in great doubt about the future for their children. They wanted to know what provision could be made to avoid the development of a two-tier service, in which people coming out of the closed-down hospitals would be provided with adequate dowries, whereas others would be left with a second-rate service, if anything. The tension between the voluntary carers who often have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week of the year, and people who are employed by the local authority on a nine-to-five day, five days a week with plenty of holidays, became clear.
One of the ladies to whom I spoke said that she could not accept the power that the local authority held over her life in determining what care services should be provided. The worst aspect of the care services is that those in need of care get the least. The report prepared by the council makes that only too clear. When it talks about people who have challenging behaviour—the most difficult to look after—it found that there was virtually no service provision specific to the needs of those people. In other words, the more help people need, the less they get. Is is unrealistic to regard local authorities as the salvation for these problems. I take some exception to the conclusions reached in the Griffiths report, paragraph 30 of which says:
if community care means anything, it is that responsibility is placed as near to the individual and his carers as possible.
Sir Roy Griffiths argues that the priorities should be determined
as local as possible and with the locally elected authority.
That does not necessarily follow. I do not see why we cannot set up locally based groups—they may be called neighbourhood care groups—and follow through the first part of Griffiths recommendation that
responsibility is placed as near to the individual and his carers as possible
We should give as much of the budget provision and responsibility as possible to those groups, and let them be run by voluntary carers. That is what people want. That is what the Bolton Handicap Action Group, which is chaired
by John Seddon, and which has achieved official recognition as the body which represents handicapped people in Bolton, told me. Leading people, who are known in the town for their concern for the handicapped have written to me. I have had a letter from Mary Kershaw and Barbara Ashman saying:
We feel that public sector funds could be better used in Bolton if directed by a volunteer care management group.
Could you ask the Government to set up a pilot scheme along these lines in Bolton?
Perhaps my right hon. Friend will put that argument to his colleagues.
The council says:
We recommend increasing the involvement of other agencies, voluntary or private, with consideration being given to the development of joint projects between two or more agencies, or setting up consortia of several agencies … Parents can be equal members of any such body as long as they see their role as expressing parents' views, and, indirectly, the consumers' `voice'.
Mr. Oliver Holt, who is well known for his work with Mencap and others, says that many problems have arisen because
over those years the people with the power to make decisions were all `itinerant' professionals and politicians (local + national)) who did not have an absolute commitment to producing a solution. They made their decisions which affected our lives and then passed on to other challenges in other fields.
The parents have at last seen through this charade and must now insist on being genuinely involved in the planning and providing of these services, not just as consultants, but as real partners. I hope you can help to make this happen.
I ask my right hon. Friend to spend a little time during the break considering what can be done to provide more power to the elbow of those who are responsible for keeping the show on the road and providing everyday care.
The value of voluntary carers for the mentally handicapped could be worth nearly £1 billion, but it is not paid for. If anybody thinks that the solution involves paying for care, they should realise that it will cost a lot of money. At the moment, about £1 billion of public money is spent on the care of the mentally handicapped, but the vast majority of that goes on the 60,000 people in residential care. The 100,000 people in domestic care cost the taxpayer only £300 million a year. If they were charged at the same rate as the others, an extra £900 million would have to be provided each year.
If the Government want to harness the energies of the voluntary sector, they can use them in the management and direction of these services. It should not be left to local authorities to harness their energies. I am told that in one local authority area, if voluntary drivers brought disabled people to a day centre, they had to discharge them on the perimeter of the premises because only trade union drivers were allowed to come on to the premises, as that was their job. That shows how conflicts between trade union-dominated local authorities and the voluntary sector can lead to unsatisfactory results. I leave that thought with my right hon. Friend and hope that he can give some attention to it over the short break.
Other hon. Members have mentioned the need to tell the truth. I have also heard the phrase, "the right to life". I shall refer to what might seem a small matter of definition but one which I believe is vital to my constituents and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other people. I refer to the definition of poverty.
Recently, we have heard Ministers challenge the use of the word "poverty", perhaps with an idea that they can simply define poverty away. This morning, before I came down to the House, I met a young mother of a seven-week-old child. She brought me a letter from the Yorkshire water authority threatening to cut off her water supply. She came to see me because her private landlard had served her notice that he would evict her next month, and as an afterthought she told me about her problem with the water bill, as she could not see how on earth she could pay that bill from her income. I am more than likely to be spending the recess meeting my constituents, many of whom will be asking me how on earth can they cope with their water bills and electricity bills on their limited incomes and reduced housing benefits, which has been referred to earlier. Many people in my constituency are genuinely strugglingg to balance their weekly budgets.
I urge the Leader of the House to take up with his colleague the Secretary of State for Social Security a particular suggestion and invite him to move towards arbitration on the definition of poverty in Britain by re-establishing the Royal Commission on wealth and income distribution in Britain which his Government so readily abolished when they were elected in 1979.
In recent weeks the Secretary of State for Social Services has declared that he believes poverty to be redundant. The title of his recent lecture was, "The End of the Line for Poverty". It seemed to me that he was telling the poor to get off the economic vehicle as they had reached the terminus. One issue that has been and will continue to be highly contentious is the Government's claim that all are sharing in the benefits of booming Britain. That is not true. Every person in our society is not participating in that much-vaunted increase in wealth. Some are not participating, and some are falling into increasing poverty as a result of the Government's tax and social security policies.
The Secretary of State claimed that his Department has set up a comprehensive list of indicators of standards of living. Yet, in a parliamentary reply on 17 March, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security warned us against using the "Households Below Average Income" statistics. He said:
It should, however, be noted that the principal objective of the 'Households Below Average Income' statistics is to measure improvements in living standards in different parts of the income-distribution for the population as a whole. The tables are not designed to measure the living standards of individuals by economic status within each decile of the population.
He went on to suggest that the tables do not provide
a meaningful guide to improved living standards."— [Official Report, 17 March 1989; vol. 149 c. 390–1]
It appears that the Department of Social Security does not have an agreed means of determining the living standards of those on below average incomes.
Last July, the Select Committee on Social Services challenged the statistics on households below average income with the remark:
the new series does not give complete information about the numbers on low incomes.
Once again, the Secretary of State was determined to blame the victims for their plight, and suggested that it was nothing to do with the policies of the Government, but was the fault of the victim. He referred to
the margin for inefficiency of expenditure.
That was a remarkable phrase. He also referred to
an allowance for unskilled shoppers".
He seems to think that the problem is that people do not do their shopping properly. The problem is that, on £48·60 a week, with a reduction of £2·15 in help with their housing costs and then being short-changed by 2 per cent. on the allowance for inflation in a single pension, those single pensioners cannot buy the same goods in Morrison's supermarket in Bramley this month as they could in March. If that is not a decline in their standard of living, I do not know what is.
When the Secretary of State has the gall to refer to the skills with which families spend their money, he displays a remarkable lack of knowledge. In my experience, those who have to pay the price in society display remarkable arithmetical accuracy as they have to do their weekly shopping on low budgets. I am tempted to challenge the Secretary of State and ask him whether he can remember the price of the last meal that he ate out. I am sure that most of the people that I represent could say exactly how much they paid for the goods in their shopping trolleys.
In another parliamentary answer, the Under-Secretary of State warned us that
Any suggestion that 'poverty' can be measured by the distribution of the cake without regard for the changing size of that cake must be questioned."—[Official Report, 21 April 1989; Vol. 151, c. 337.]
I entirely agree. We should take into account the distribution of wealth and income in society instead of focusing only on poverty. In that respect, the return of a royal commission that focused on wealth as well as on income would be welcome. Perhaps that royal commission could do worse than explore the concept of participating in the life of society as a source of the definition of what it means to be poor in modern Britain.
Poverty is not simply a lack of money or physical necessities. It excludes certain people in society from that in which the Prime Minister claims to believe in most of all —the freedom of choice. The freedom to eat as we wish, to go where and when we like is not open to everyone. I certainly do not believe that people choose to be poor when it could be suggested that there are other options. Poverty could best be understood comprehensively as a state of partial citizenship. In the context in which the Prime Minister believes that there is no society, it would be difficult to find a basis for common citizenship. The Government seem determined to wipe out any sense of one community of human beings who can only flourish together; and when that happens, the deprivation of the poor becomes invisible. They are marginalised and pushed out of the main economic text.
The Secretary of State said in his lecture:
Of course as a Government we must keep a careful eye on what is happening to the numbers and the characteristics of the lower-income households. Of course we will continue to give help to the individuals and families who need it.
I have only to reflect on the caseload in my constituency, which I am sure is repeated elsewhere. If that is the case, we are entitled to ask why all our constituency inquiries to DHSS offices receive replies containing the last sentence, "Sorry that we cannot help, even though we would like to in the circumstances".
The Secretary of State continued:
We cannot do this unless we can identify who they really are and identifying them is not helped by arbitrary and exaggerated estimates of the number of people said to be living in poverty.
I agree with that entirely; therefore, I invite the Leader of the House to ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to establish a royal commission to settle that definition and to bottom out public information. In every debate in the House on social security and in the economy there has been a deep and divisive dispute about the figures of who are in wealth and who are in poverty in Britain. We end up with discrepancies in statements to the House and in the facts and figures provided by the statistical services of the Library. Last July the "Households Below Average Income," statistics were challenged as not giving an adequate account of the position.
I refuse to accept that, as one newspaper put it,
some are poor because nature has not given them the gift of earning much. Some are poor by ill luck.
Poverty is not misfortune, bad luck or inevitable, or due to laziness, ignorance or lack of development. It is the direct result of political and economic decisions, not least in this House. It is manufactured by particular policies and systems. It is a political problem that needs a political answer, and one way in which we could tackle it is not by targeting the poorest, in the Government's terms, nor by the trickle-down theory of wealth, which certainly seems to dry up before it reaches those who deserve it most. The Government's policies are not delivering economic justice to all in our society. Instead of eulogies on what the Secretary of State called "western material capitalism", the House should strive to deliver public justice. Establishing the royal commission could be an appropriate way of setting the basis for that action.
My hon. Friends and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) raised some important issues which the House should address before the spring Adjournment. I shall confine my remarks to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle)—the extraordinary speech made by the Secretary of State for Social Security on 11 May. I have been asked by some of my colleagues to press the Leader of the House to say whether the Secretary of State's view that poverty in Britain has reached the end of the line is official Government policy.
In his speech, the Secretary of State said that what he described as the stark Dickensian poverty of 100 years ago was no longer widespread. He said that no one could properly be described as poor and that, compared with the standard of poverty set by Booth and Rowntree at the end of the century, people were now living in affluence beyond their wildest dreams. That tells us more about the poverty of the Secretary of State's imagination than about the condition of many poor people. It also tells us about his poverty of knowledge of the subject.
The modern Tory party claims to be the intellectual offspring of Adam Smith. The trouble is that it either does not know or conveniently forgets a great deal of what its father figure said. The Secretary of State's narrow definition of poverty was explicitly rejected by Adam Smith who, referring to what he called the "necessities of life", included
not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but also whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without.
In those circumstances, it is clear that Adam Smith would have disowned the Secretary of State's ludicrous speech of 11 May. All matters to do with poverty are clearly relative to time and place.
I would go further and say that the Secretary of State was wrong and that there are indeed people living in conditions of abject poverty to which Booth and Rowntree would have objected. In his speech, the Secretary of State quoted from Booth's description of Shelton street, which is on the edge of my constituency in Covent Garden. He accepts as "poverty" Booth's description of the conditions prevailing in Shelton street where, as Booth said, whole families occupied one room and in such rooms life at night was unbearable.
The Secretary of State did not need to go back to the 1890s to find families living in one room or whose lives were unbearable during the night. His Department must have copies of the reports on the housing conditions of homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation within a mile or a mile and a half of this Chamber. I will quote from a report about the circumstances—in 1987, not 1887—in which some of our fellow citizens are required to live. It says:
Even if hotel accommodation is in good order it is rarely appropriate to the needs of young children. It is difficult to maintain hygiene while washing, eating and sleeping in one overcrowded room. High levels of gastro-enteritis, skin disorders and chest infections have been reported. Kitchen facilities are often absent or inadequate, so people are forced to rely on food from cafes and take-aways, which is expensive and may be nutritionally unsatisfactory. The stress of hotel life undermines parents' relationships with each other and their children. Normal child development is impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. High rates of accidents to children have been reported, probably due to a combination of lack of space and hazards such as kettles at floor level. There have been difficulties in providing primary health care services to homeless families, including problems in registering with general practitioners leading to lack of continuity of care.
That is not Shelton street in the 1890s, but my constituency and many other parts of central London in the 1980s. It is not Calcutta, but our own capital city.
I will quote from a further report on the conditions in which some people are asked to live. If this is not poverty, I do not know what is. Bloomsbury district health authority's report states:
In October 1988 in just the Camden part of Bloomsbury there were over 500 families in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Health Visiting Service knew of approximately 200 … Risk to health in bed and breakfast … is well above that of the domiciled population. These risks stem from shared, or lack of amenities, overcrowding and unsafe properties. Infection, accidents, malnutrition, sleep disturbances, low birth weight babies, eating problems, behavioural problems and depression and even death can result.
Those are just some examples of the circumstances in which our fellow citizens are expected to live.
The report goes on to say:
A woman was found seven days after a caesarian section with no follow-up care, no cot in the room, a seven inch scar, no pain relief. The toilet was two floors down that there was a shared bathroom. The woman's breasts were blistered and she had no idea how to make up bottle feeds or sterilise equipment. This woman was found whilst the Health Visitor was looking for another baby.
In another case the report says:
Two year old twins were found by chance in a hotel room. They had recently been diagnosed as diabetic.
There were three children in one room with the mother. There was nowhere to store insulin, which needs a refrigerator, and there was nowhere safe to keep syringes or needles because there were drug abusers in the hotel. Cooking facilities were limited, although a controlled diet is essential for diabetics. There was a
High risk of accident and infection, all of which are particularly hard to resolve in diabetics".
There was also stress. All those things make diabetes harder to control.
There were other cases that health visitors had "stumbled across" while visiting bed-and-breakfast families. One included
a baby three weeks old, who was failing to thrive, and needed three weeks in hospital. Soon after discharge the family moved on and could not be followed up.
Another case involved the mother of a 15-month-old baby. She was illiterate and educationally subnormal but cared for her child very well. Because she had come from another borough, the back-up services had not been able to follow her.
I do not want to get into a dispute about relativities of poverty. The people whom I have just described live in circumstances which Charles Booth, on visiting Shelton street in 1891, would have recognised and described as "poverty stricken". By his Victorian values, thousands of families are living in abject poverty in bed and breakfast accommodation. However, there is a difference between Charles Booth and the Secretary of State; Charles Booth did not travel from a house with a swimming pool in a chauffeur-driven car to a luxury office in Whitehall. He went out and looked at where the poor lived. He checked and logged their circumstances and began to do something about them. He thought that it was wrong for a family to live in one room, and by God he was right.
In contrast, the Secretary of State pretends that such conditions do not exist. He says that poverty is at an end, but it is not. As an elected Member of Parliament, representing hundreds of such families, I find it humiliating that they have to live in such circumstances and that I can do nothing about it. It should also be humiliating for Ministers. The Secretary of State for Health would spend his time better looking after such people than in harassing doctors. It would be better if the Secretary of State for Social Security helped such people. It would be better if the Secretary of State for the Environment built them some houses. It would cost only half as much for them to have a decent house as it costs to keep them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.
Those are the circumstances that prevail at the end of the Thatcher economic miracle. They are a disgrace, and we shall debate them tomorrow in the debate on inner cities. Conservative Members who spend their time opting out and enjoying themselves in South Africa should not laugh at the circumstances in which some people live. We need a Government who are concerned and committed to doing something. We do not have one, but we shall continue to press until we have.
Although right hon. and hon. Members have raised many matters that concern them, to which I shall reply in a moment, it appears that the general wish of the House is to adjourn for the proposed dates of the spring recess. In the seven weeks since the House returned from the Easter recess, eight Bills have been given a Second Reading and further progress has been made on a wide range of others. We can safely adjourn for about 10 days before returning with renewed vigour to tackle more of the Government's far-reaching legislative programme.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) spoke of his concern, and that of his constituents, about the closure of two cottage hospitals in Oswestry and Newport. I listened to a radio programme the other day when the BBC was on strike—some of the programmes are much better when it is on strike—about cottage hospitals in Shropshire. Anyone who listened to that programme would have been impressed by the voluntary effort that is made in those hospitals, which I hope will be channelled into new sectors. My right hon. Friend is aware of the proposals to rationalise the hospitals as a consequence of the new district hospital at Telford.
The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who told me that, unfortunately, he would have to leave the Chamber, raised the case of nuclear test veterans. The Government's policy is based on the report published in January 1988 by the independent expert advisers on radiological matters of the National Radiological Protection Board. The board's report did not establish any causal relation between increased incidence of any cancer and participation in the United Kingdom's nuclear test programmes of the 1950s and 1960s. The policy of the Ministry of Defence is to pay appropriate compensation wherever Crown liability is established. As there is no firm evidence to show that the health of British test veterans was affected by exposure to radiation during the United Kingdom's test programmes—a view supported by the board's findings—the Government have taken the view, following legal advice, that the Crown cannot be held liable for any ill health suffered by those who participated and that it would not, therefore, be appropriate to pay compensation. I know that that will disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, who campaigns hard for the causes about which he is concerned.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir. F. Montgomery) made, as he sometimes does on these occasions, a number of interesting points. He mentioned confiscated drug money being used to fight drugs. The Government are well aware that the vital work of combating all types of serious crime makes heavy demands on the police. However, difficulties of principle and practice weigh against passing confiscated funds directly to law enforcement work. Resources must be allocated according to an assessment of overall priorities and needs, to which all public services must be subject. Such income would vary and would be unreliable, and no well-planned initiative could afford to depend on it. Nevertheless, we are discussing the matter with the Association of Chief Police Officers to see whether there are practical options which may help to resolve funding difficulties.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale and the hon. Member for Newham, NorthWest (Mr. Banks) mentioned the plight of the African elephant. I recognise how concerned people are, but I cannot give the hon. Member for Newham, North-West the answers that he wants. I shall, however, refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and if there is more information I will certainly give it to the hon. Gentleman. The Government understand and share the concern about the plight of the African elephant and we shall consider carefully any proposal to ban trade in African ivory in the light of available scientific evidence and in consultation with our European partners. Hong Kong is a party to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora and prohibits the import of ivory in all its forms, except from an approved source and subject to the issue of a licence by the Hong Kong Government.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West based much of his argument on an article that appeared in The Observer—or at least, he and The Observer obtained their information from the same source. I do not want to go into much detail because I do not want to say anything that might prejudice any inquiries that are taking place. The Government believe that the Observer article is inaccurate and misleading in several respects. Details of the case cannot be released and must be kept in confidence at present. However, the Government comply fully with the requirements of the ivory trade control procedures when considering all ivory import and export applications. The article criticises the Department of the Environment for issuing ivory permits, claiming that there are strong signs that ivory had been poached. The position is considerably more complicated than that, but I should prefer not to be drawn further on it at this stage. I hope that I can obtain the agreement of my colleagues to send my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West further information.
I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale about dogs and the dog registration scheme. As I think he knows—I regret having to say it to him—the Government do not intend to introduce a registration scheme for dogs. It would entail expensive bureaucracy and there is no evidence that it would be more successful than the old licensing system in dealing with the problem of stray dogs. The problem is caused by irresponsible owners, who would be least likely to comply with a registration scheme.
The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) raised the subject of ticket touts. I do not have much more to say than was said to him by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office—the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). I find the business pretty disagreeable, as does the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister. The activities of ticket touts are undoubtedly unpopular, but to abolish them would reduce or end the ability and readiness of reputable ticket agencies to buy unwanted tickets and make them available to those who would rather pay a premium price than miss an event. It would also restrict the freedom of individuals to sell unwanted tickets. A ban could lead to the development of an underground market selling tickets at even more highly inflated prices. The hon. and learned Gentleman made an important point about safety aspects, with particular reference to the recent tragedy. I shall see that his remarks are drawn to the attention of Lord Justice Taylor, who is considering these matters. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) talked about South Africa. I had a feeling that I had been there before, with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) bouncing up and down like a jack-in-the-box while my hon. Friend was trying to make his interesting speech. My hon. Friend knows more or less the answer that I shall give. As the hon. Member for Walsall, North says, it is in some ways more supportive of the hon. Gentleman's view than of my hon. Friend's view.
The Government are fully committed to the Gleneagles agreement, which requires Commonwealth Governments to withhold support and discourage sporting contacts by their nationals with sporting organisations, teams or sportsmen from South Africa. Ministers were acting within the spirit of that policy. The agreement recognises that it is for individual Commonwealth Governments to determine in accordance with their laws how best to discharge those commitments. In the United Kingdom's perception of a free society, the Government's role is limited to giving advice and seeking to persuade—the Government have no powers to prevent individuals from visiting South Africa if they so choose.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) raised the constituency case of Mr. Winstanley. The Government are fully committed to providing the most effective remedies possible for those parents who suffer the agony of child abduction. The Hague convention provides a sufficient remedy for abduction to those countries that have signed and ratified it. The Government hope that many more countries will ratify the convention. In other countries, what can be done is limited, apart from taking action in their courts. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will provide what consular support it can.
Anyone who is worried about the possible unlawful removal of a minor from the jurisdiction of the courts should contact the police, who will alert the immigration service at the ports and passport issuing offices. The more precise the information about a possible unlawful removal, the better the chances of it being prevented. There are also powers under the Family Law Act 1986 for the courts when making a custody order, to order the confiscation of a passport. That may not be of much comfort to the hon. Member for Makerfield, but it is important that those people who are worried about this problem should know what can be done to prevent abduction.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) raised two matters. He told the horrifying story of Friday night at Heathrow airport before the flight to Belfast, and the effects of the sunshine which others had been enjoying. His vivid description sounded awful. My only comfort is that there is no Government responsibility for the weather or British Airways in that sense, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of those with responsibility in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down referred also to pensioners in his constituency. The Government have kept pensioners' interests high on our list of priorities while maintaining the real value of the state retirement pension. We have pursued policies aimed at creating a stable economic environment so that pensioners' income from other sources increases and keeps its value longer. As a result, pensioners' average total net income increased by 23 per cent. in real terms during our first seven years in office. In addition, pensioners with no other source of income than state benefits saw their gross income increase from 33 per cent. of the average male manual worker's earnings in 1979 to 37 per cent. in 1986.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North raised an interesting subject, the issues arising from China. I do not think that he would expect me to make any detailed comment. Obviously, we are continuing to follow events closely. Martial law was declared in parts of Peking on 20 May. Army units have moved into Peking but are blocked by groups of demonstrators from reaching the centre. The situation is tense but calm. We are concerned that the Chinese authorities have found it necessary to impose martial law. We have urged all those involved to exercise moderation and restraint and we hope very much that the situation can be resolved peacefully. I very much agree with the comments on Hong Kong by the hon. Member for Walsall, North. It is natural that the people of Hong Kong are worried about developments in China and that they should wish to express their opinions, but there is no reason to think that recent events in China will effect Hong Kong's future.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to self-governing hospitals. They will remain firmly part of the National Health Service but will be well placed to give patients more choice and provide a better quality of service. Regional health authorities are still considering the many expressions of interest, but they will forward them to the Department of Health by the end of the month.
Further arrangements will be announced in due course. It is not for me to make them now. I am sorry, but I must keep going because I have to answer the points made by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who is looking at me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) said that he had to leave the Chamber, so I will deal with him later. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) raised the issue of gipsies and travelling people. She knows that I have similar problems in my constituency. It is a difficult problem and it is clear that more sites are urgently needed if we are to resolve the problems of unauthorised camping.
My hon. Friends the Members for Basildon and for Maidstone also referred to abortion. I cannot add to what I said during business questions on Thursday, and I have my words in front of me. Two issues come within my responsibility. I hope that there will be an opportunity before the next session for the House to reach a decision on the report of the Procedure Committee on private Members' time. There is also the wider question, which the Government are considering without any commitment, of whether the private Members' procedure is the right way to deal with the matter, or whether there is another way. I certainly have not made any commitment, but we are looking at that point.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned the Soviet expulsions. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to add anything to the full answer that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave earlier. All the proper steps were taken. However, I can say something about the Security Commission. It is not a standing body, but is normally appointed by the Prime Minister only to investigate any lapse in British security. It would not normally be consulted on issues such as the expulsion of diplomats and it would not normally be expected to investigate such matters.
There has been a full inquiry about the events in Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman raised some points on which I have not had the opportunity of finding detailed information. I will refer those points to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. If he considers that there is anything to add, he will write to the hon. Gentleman. If he does not, I will. The hon. Gentleman's remarks on Sir Leon Brittan seem to be a further example of his fertile and fervent imagination, and I have no comment to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone raised the subject of the safety of parachutists. Military pilots have parachute jumping areas marked on their charts for low flying and details are provided in the United Kingdom military handbook. The regulations for civil leisure flying, like parachuting, are a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority and I will pass on my hon. Friend's concerns to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) raised the question of the care service in his constituency. I know of his interest in that. He suggests that we should look wider than the local authority for leadership in those matters. I will refer that to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
The hon. Members for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) raised the subject of poverty. Considerations of definitions of poverty are a proper subject for debate, as is the question of whether the definition should be changed with changing circumstances in our society. No one denies that there are those who do not receive a reasonable share of material resouces for one reason or another. Our proper task is to ensure that our definition is appropriate and that the massive increase in resources is directed in the right direction. The total resources are now about £50 billion per year—