May I say to hon. Members anxious to take part in the debate that, if they limit their speeches to about 10 minutes or a little less, it will be possible to call all who have so far signified their wish to participate?
As a Member of Parliament, I have always believed that Parliament's main duty—and the main duty of those of us who comprise it—is to safeguard the individual against excessive bureucracy and oppressiveness. That is why I am raising a subject that should, I think, be debated and considered by the House. I believe that an inquiry should be held into the way in which the Official Receiver's office is run, how many mistakes it makes and why, when its clients are in understandable distress, it takes such an icy, offhand attitude.
Recently a constituent of mine was declared bankrupt, which came as a terrible shock to him, for—I am glad to say—he was no more bankrupt than I, or any other hon. Member present. My constituent, Mr. Raymond Francis Wood of Warwick, who had been in poor health, received an official form out of the blue stating that the court had ordered that he be publicly examined for insolvency. It said that he was liable to imprisonment unless he complied. The form came from the office of the Official Receivers at Atlantic house, Holborn Viaduct, London.
My constituent was shocked and lodged a protest. He then received a summons which said that upon the application of the Official Receiver
the above-named bankrupt do attend the Court sitting in Bankruptcy at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand".
Dire warnings were attached about what would happen to him if he did not attend.
Those communications were followed by a letter written by a Mr. E. S. Burns, assistant official receiver. The letter sets out my constituent's name and the High Court number of the hearing. It says:
You may have recently received an Order of the High Court of Justice requiring you to attend at the Court Premises for a Public Examination.
The purpose of this was to enforce the attendance of a bankrupt who bears the same name as you 'Raymond Francis Wood'.
Unfortunately a Land Registry Search for the name quoted was undertaken which appeared to indicate that the bankrupt had the same address as you.
My further investigation has revealed that you are not the same person whom the Official Receiver is seeking to be publicly examined.
In the circumstances I ask you to ignore the Order and return the same to the Official Receiver. The Court would be informed of the mistake made.
I apologise sincerely for any inconveniences caused.
Not unnaturally, my constituent was upset by that letter and was not prepared to accept that kind of apology. He declined to accept it and wrote to Mr. Burns and to me. In his letter to Mr. Burns, he said:
After receiving my first High Court order I rang your Mr. Banwell and was told that your investigators had traced me to this address. I am not at all satisfied with this explanation as I have lived at this address for 22 years, since the house was built, and within 800 yards of it all my life. There is absolutely
nothing to connect me with the person you require. I have never lived in London, never been in business for myself, and in fact I worked for the same Company for over 22 years.
As Mr. Banwell to told me he had issued five other Court Orders in this matter it would seem that you send them at random either from the Electoral Roll or Land Registry to anyone who happens to have the same name. If this is the case I feel very strongly that it is wrong and steps should be taken to stop this practice immediately, particularly as two days after my conversation with Mr. Banwell, in which he promised me an apology, I received yet another identical High Court Order, this time by recorded delivery. If I had been elderly or in ill health the consequences could have been extremely serious.
My constituent, Mr. Wood, suffers from some ill health. I am sure that hon. Members will agree with the tenor of that letter.
I immediately raised the matter with the then Under-Secretary of State for Corporate Affairs and he went into the details, obviously having an official brief on the subject. His letter to me concluded:
Official Receivers have instructions that in circumstances such as existed in this case they should proceed with extreme circumspection and only after due enquiry. Clearly that did not happen here, for which I can only tender my and the Department's profound apologies. You will wish to know that officials have now reminded Official Receivers of those instructions and reinforced the necessity for them to be followed.
I hope that that is true. In my experience many bureaucrats shrug off such admonitions. They are well protected from the sack and carry on in their own bureaucratic, self-satisfied way.
Does my hon. Friend know whether a note has been placed upon their employment files giving a clear warning under the terms of the relevant Acts about the way in which they have behaved?
I do not know, but my hon. Friend raises an important point. When such things happen, people should not be allowed to escape, because they would not escape in private industry or services.
Plainly, the Official Receiver's office has been inefficient and often relies just on names. If a person is unlucky enough to have a reasonably common Christian name that is coupled with a reasonably common surname, he is vulnerable. As I said to my constituent when I went into this matter with him, I found the conduct of the Official Receiver's office quite disgraceful. In its warning notice to my constituent, the office described him as "the above-named bankrupt". I think that the office committed libel by calling my constituent a bankrupt, and it would have been most embarrassing if the document had fallen into other hands, because it would have branded him with other people.
It is Parliament's job to curb the excesses and the inexcusable bureaucratic mistakes that can harm people. I hope that, by raising the matter, I shall perhaps have done something to ensure that in future other people will not go through the trauma that Mr. Wood had to endure.
Before we adjourn for the recess, we should pay attention to one important matter, even if we do so only briefly. It is unfortunate that, coinciding with a significant change at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, commentators are agreed that there is a change of attitude, especially towards the European Community. That has coincided with a series of what are perhaps the most forthright comments made by another Community Head of State about the British situation. I refer to the remarks by President Mitterrand about British policy towards European Community development, and specifically about how this development is seen by our Prime Minister and by the new Ministers who will have responsibility for EC matters.
During Prime Minister's Question Time, my right hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) raised the matter with the Prime Minister, who simply suggested that, because we had liberalised capital movements and the French had not, we should not be criticised. During business questions, the matter was briefly raised with the new Leader of the House, who, in his calm, emollient way, said that we did not necessarily have to respond to comments made by other friendly Heads of State about our conditions and policies.
I am aware that we are under pressure of time and I shall not seek to generate a general debate on the topic. President Mitterrand puts the matter well, with his Gallic succinctness. In talking about Britain, he says:
This important country is caught between two contradictory desires: one to remain in Europe, and the other not to accept the trend set by the majority of the Community countries.
That is very true, and President Mitterrand puts his finger on the exact spot. Then he draws certain conclusions from that.
The President had earlier drawn certain conclusions from that. He talked about another intergovernmental conference having been agreed in Madrid heading towards economic and monetary union and the working out of Delors and said:
what cannot be agreed by 12 may be done among 11, 10 or nine. I do not want this. It would create a new political situation which at the moment I do not welcome. Each of the 12, including the United Kingdom, is attached to the Community.
Hon. Members will note that President Mitterrand puts the whole matter in a fair and balanced way and does not seek to be pejorative about it—a lesson that could perhaps be learned by others. He continued:
Let us play the card of agreement. But let us also accept that if this does not work, we should press on with those who want to.
So you do not rule out a new treaty agreed by all 12 members?
I do not exclude this.
That is a significant statement by a leading Head of State of a friendly European Community country. If such a person is moved to put things in such a blunt, although balanced, fashion, the Government have a responsibility to make some response and to say that the United Kingdom is not interested in a two-stage Europe. We shall fight our corner and argue our case, but we should be committed to the objectives that were set out clearly when we signed the Single European Act. We too want to participate in the influence and the considerable prosperity that will stem from economic and monetary union.
Before the House rises for the summer recess, I shall put again the case for Manchester international airport. This airport is important because it is far and away the largest single employer in my constituency. I am anxious about something that I have raised time and again—the need for more transcontinental flights into and out of Manchester airport. We are continually being told about the congestion in the airports of the south-east, and we can do something about that by giving more flights to the north. For far too long, the north of England has been treated as a poor relation. I cannot understand why it is so necessary for people from the north of England to have to take the shuttle to London, change planes and fly from there when they want to fly to the continent.
I am grateful for all that the Government have clone for Manchester airport in the past 10 years. In that period, it has been the fastest expanding airport in the United Kingdom, if not in the whole of Europe. Recently, we had the approval of the rail link, which will bring about an enormous boost. We know that the Department of Transport regards the terminal 2 project that is under way as of key importance for the achievement of the Government's national airport policy objectives.
However, I am concerned that efforts should be made to ensure additional airport capacity, away from the congested south-east and into the north. That will riot only remove some of the congestion in the south-east but will combat the serious competititive threat posed to United Kingdom aviation interests by air service arid hub developments in northern Europe. That is why it is essential that we have a successful conclusion to the on-going negotiation with the United States Government about allowing additional United States airline services to serve the regional market via Manchester.
Recently, the Civil Aviation Authority published its interim advice to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, in which it stressed that it would wish to consider more fully the contribution that airports outside the south-east could make to resolving capacity problems before recommending solutions involving additional runway capacity within the London area. As Lord King, the chairman of British Airways, recently said, unless the capacity problems in the United Kingdom are solved soon, the impetus may be lost to alternative European gateways such as Frankfurt, Paris, Amsterdam and, dare I say it, Brussels, which we have recently read could be actively promoted by British Airways in conjunction with Sabena.
In the British regions, we believe that there is a strong and attractive alternative—the opportunity to release from the London system the 25 per cent. of air travellers who are unnecessarily forced to use either Heathrow or Gatwick when they would be better served by using local airports. There would be two benefits of such a move: it would allow London to continue to meet the air travel needs of the capital, and it would ensure that the economic benefits from air service growth accrue in the British regions, not the more prosperous parts of northern central Europe. It cannot be sensible, taking only congestion into account, for London to be served by 367 weekly return flights to the United States, whereas Manchester has only 16.
I was pleased and encouraged to learn that the CAA said in its recent report that there may now be a case for linking air service licensing policy to the achievement of airports policy objectives. I think that it will be agreed that these objectives should take full account of regional economic benefits.
The United States airline services are a vital part of any strategy both to relieve congestion at the London area airports and to combat the competitive threat posed by alternative European gateways. For a long time, the United Kingdom has served as the transatlantic gateway to Europe through London. Recognising the congestion there and the evident strong demand levels generated away from the south-east, the United States carriers have, for several years, been expressing increasingly strong interest in servicing northern and central Britain through Manchester.
Applications for five routes are already on the table, from American Airlines, North West Airlines and PanAm with Delta Airlines expressing strong interest as well. In addition, the daily American airlines flight from Manchester to Chicago has operated since 1986, but only on a temporary permit. It should be remembered that United States airlines not only wish to serve the buoyant regional market but are also looking to service gateways into Europe. It follows that, if the United Kingdom is not willing to provide those gateways, the flights will, sadly, go instead to alternative European points. This could mean that the United Kingdom regions will increasingly find themselves served from European gateways such as Frankfurt and Paris, by airlines of other European countries, not directly or from London. If this happens, all the United Kingdom aviation industry will suffer. Surely this cannot be in the national interest.
To emphasise this point, I can tell the House that two American Airlines aircraft earmarked to fly this summer between Manchester and New York and to operate a second daily service to Chicago, are now flying instead to Brussels and Lyons. I understand that the French Government, about whom the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has just been talking, actively encouraged the airline to fly to Lyons as an instrument in regional policy, whereas in the United Kingdom we have allowed procrastinated negotiations to stall access to Manchester since 1986.
It is generally acknowledged that air service development brings strong economic benefits. Recent studies have shown that the American Airlines service to Chicago has already created 1,200 jobs. Moreover, the additional route licences applied for to serve Manchester would generate an estimated income of £45 million a year, and 3,500 jobs. Furthermore, it is essential that Britain's accessibility is maintained if it is to be competitive in the single European market. The United Kingdom should not allow the emphasis to shift away by adopting policies that drive air service development to continental Europe. I know that it is not entirely in the interest of the United Kingdom to give away such rights to the United States; nobody could dispute that. However, there is a clear need for a balanced package that weighs the regional economic benefits and the strategic European dimension against pure airline economics.
I recently received a helpful letter from my right hon. Friend the former Secretary of State for Transport on the subject of route licensing, which explains that the ball is in the hands of the United States Government. However, without wishing to weaken the British negotiating stance, I urge that we seek a reasonable price at the talks due to take place later this year.
It is essential that a speedy conclusion be reached in the negotiations, which have already been going on for four years. Prior to the White Paper on airport policy, the Department of Transport was looking to promote Manchester as an alternative gateway, and hence only moderate reciprocal rights were sought. However, strong airline interest was expressed subsequently in the United States, to which the British negotiators responded by forcing up the price. For example, United Kingdom demands have risen from six behind points in early 1988 to 90, at one stage, in the most recent negotiations earlier this year.
In the talks that take place in October, or, I hope, sooner, I trust that the Department of Transport will weigh fully the costs of delay within the wider European context and ensure that a deal is struck at a reasonable price that is acceptable to all. If the talks break down there is a real risk that the emphasis will shift so firmly to the European mainland that the Amricans may withdraw their interest in serving Manchester and concentrate on European gateways, with the attendant benefits being lost to the United Kingdom. That must not be allowed to happen.
Manchester international airport is of enormous importance to the economy of the north of England. At one stage, it was hailed as the jewel in the crown of the north of England. I hope that, to relieve congestion in the south-east and to ensure that the north gets a fair deal, my right hon. Friend will take note of what I have said. We should have a statement on this important issue before the House rises for the summer recess.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter that should be of concern to the entire House. I refer to the dock strike and the activities that have been taking place in dockland over the past few weeks.
The Government constantly claim that they are an Administration of non-intervention in industrial relations. In fact, it was the hand of the Government that removed the national dock labour scheme, which had served the industry well since 1947. It was said on Second Reading of the Dock Work Bill, and in Committee, that one of the reasons why the Government felt that the scheme was no longer relevant was that it was 42 years old. If that is the criterion on which we are to base the usefulness of institutions, this place should close down. The other place should certainly go. There are many other institutions that are 400, 500 or 600 years old, and some are even older than that. Should they all be scrapped? It is a weak argument to say that an institution or a scheme should be abolished merely because of its age. The scheme was introduced because of the consequences of the second world war and to eliminate the foul practices that obtained in the dock industry between the wars.
The Government have shown by their actions that they are not an Administration of non-intervention in industrial relations. They are creating a climate in which it is virtually impossible for a trade union to pursue its proper responsibilities in representing its members without finding itself before the courts. Injunctions will be served upon it, and it will find that its finances are threatened. The Government argue that they have a right to introduce legislation that has that effect, but have they reflected on the long-term effects of such legislation?
We have often heard Conservative Members express sympathy for the Polish workers, for the trade unions in the Soviet Union and for the deprivation of workers' rights in countries, where it could be argued that the unions are part of the state machine. Tears are being shed for the Polish workers and for other workers elsewhere, but it is far easier to have a strike in Turkey or in some Latin American countries—countries which have been referred to as tinpot dictatorships—than it is in Britain.
The Government should be aware that the trade union movement was established to combat the power of capital and to achieve some balance in the industrial world so that hyper-exploitation could be eliminated and men and women could work in decent conditions for decent wages. It is depressing that the balance has swung so heavily in favour of the employer and of capital. When the Dock Work Bill was being considered in Committee, employers were telling Ministers that they had no intention of taking advantage of the abolition of the scheme to introduce practices that had been eliminated as a result of the legislation of 1947. Hands were placed on hearts and employers said that they would be reasonable men. We were told that there was no need to fear the removal of the scheme, because employer's attitudes had changed and they were now men of reason. On the first day of the strike, the men of reason were sacking employees with 25 years' experience in the industry. Some of the men had been working in the industry for as long as 30 years.
I have seen many acts of victimisation in the docks over many years, but probably the most blatant was the sacking of 16 shop stewards at Tilbury while other ex-registered dock workers were allowed to return to work. That demonstrates the almost obsessional hatred that the Government have for the trade union movement. There have been examples of this in many industries. It appears that we, the Opposition, must consider seriously whether the events of the past few weeks constitute a challenge to the right to strike. The events at Tilbury suggest that, if a person or persons go on strike, they can be faced immediately with the choice of returning to work or losing their jobs. In many instances, if not all, men and women will be compelled to return to work. Should we condone the actions of employers that result in the removal of the right to strike?
When the Minister replies, I ask him to tell the House whether the Government, and the Prime Minister especially, still believe that there is a right to belong to a trade union, and, more importantly, a right for the individual to remove his labour if the conditions in which he is working are unacceptable. Those issues relate directly to the foundation on which the trade union movement was built. I am talking of the tradition which has been upheld by the movement, and which has served industry well over the years.
I do not doubt that, during the summer recess, there will be more trouble in the docks. In the past decade, or possibly the past two, there has been a better relationship in the docks between employers and dock workers, and the strike record will prove that that is so. There have been dramatic changes in the industry, which prove that dockers are not adhering to outdated and outmoded practices. How can it be argued that dock workers are following outmoded practices when they are working with machinery which is worth in excess of £500,000? Dock workers are now skilled technicians. All the old practices have long since left the industry.
The Government have acted with pique, spite and hatred towards the trade union movement. However, I believe that, at the end of the day, they will relent, because as long as that attitude prevails, industrial relations will remain in the state that they are today.
Part of me is delighted that I have the opportunity to address my remarks to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, because, as he is a most distinguished and eminent legal figure, he will appreciate my remarks more than most.
The Government are about to commence, or are in the course of drafting, their legislative proposals on the work and organisation of the legal profession. As the House has not debated the Green Paper, still less the proposals in the White Paper announced only last week, I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will not mind if I take a moment or two to set out why I and many other lawyers opposed the Green Papers and are extremely apprehensive and rather unhappy about the White Paper, while conceding that it makes some improvements.
Contrary to popular mythology, the Bar's opposition to the Green Papers had nothing to do with keeping the earnings of the Bar high. The proposals would certainly drive many barristers into becoming solicitors, in which capacity they would earn a considerably higher income. That is made self-evident by two facts. The average income of a solicitor in a City of London firm is approximately double that of a barrister, in London chambers, of similar age and experience, as assessed by independent financial experts. Also, the Crown prosecution service in London pays £250 per day for a solicitor for precisely the same work that it pays a barrister £100 to do.
I had five main concerns about the Green Papers, which have not been dispelled by the White Paper.
First, as there has been no great surge of public criticism of the legal profession, why is it necessary to reject the advice of the Benson royal commission on legal services in 1979 that changes such as those now proposed are unnecessary? What has happened to make the Government eat their own words, given that they confirmed in 1981, 1983 and 1987 that they also did not consider any changes to be necessary?
Secondly, if the profession of solicitor has all the advantages of being a member of the Bar, plus its own very considerable attractions, why should graduates want to go to the Bar? If they do not, the independent Bar will dwindle and die. Nearly everyone concerned with the law agrees that the independent barrister, like the surgeon or specialist in medicine, is worth preserving. The Bar provides a high-quality, professional service of particular expertise which serves the consumer well.
Thirdly, the end of the independent Bar would be bound to mean higher legal costs. They would not be brought down, but driven up—as the figures I gave earlier show—for two reasons. The Bar enjoys lower overheads than many solicitors' practices, and the cab-rank principle provides a faster legal service, which means a cheaper legal service for the community.
Fourthly, the availability of lawyers in small towns and villages will diminish if solicitors, because of losing their conveyancing bread and butter, are forced to move to the bigger towns and cities to stay in practice. People living in small towns and villages would no longer find solicitors easily available locally and would have to pay more to get to and to use the services of those in the bigger towns and cities.
Finally, the introduction of contingency fees, however gentle its proposal in the White Paper may be, would be likely to lead down the slippery slope of a doctrine of "win at all costs", which would considerably lower the integrity of the British legal system. Those who opposed the Green Papers took their stand on grounds of increased cost, the diminished availability of legal services and the lowering of quality.
The judges responded angrily and almost unanimously—though there was never any threat of strikes, as malicious voices in the media pretended. The judges were concerned that, according to the Green Papers, if rights of audience were extended to solicitors, the issuing of permits to practice advocacy in the higher courts would be by a state bureacracy, which would be wholly undesirable in principle, and possibly pernicious in practice.
In response to those strong criticisms, my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor said, "I am listening, and although I did not intend to give you a White Paper, I shall—so that you can consider my further thoughts. I will stick to my original intention to permit the right of audience in the higher courts to solicitors; to open up the restrictive practice of conveyancing by solicitors; and to introduce contingency fees because that change may give some people more access to lawyers and to justice." But my noble and learned Friend has in effect said, "I will leave the circumstances in which the solicitor will actually have a right of audience to the solicitors' professional organisation, to the predominantly lay advisory committee, and finally to the judges. I will also hedge about the conveyancing extension with certain protections for the lay client, who might otherwise receive no independent advice before buying a house."
The Bar's response was dynamic, statesmanlike and very constructive, and moved a long way to meeting the solicitors' profession without going so far as to concede the right of audience. The pace of reform undoubtedly quickened because of the Green Papers, and my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is due considerable credit for that.
The Bar has proposed many reforms, and some of them are already in train. They are, for example, improving the vocational course at the Inns of Court school of law and of continuing legal education; overhauling the pupilage system, its payment, and the availability of tenancies in particular; the introduction of freedom for barristers to advertise; the establishment of an alternative to the chambers system, to provide cheaper, wider and better access by the public; easing the route by which a solicitor who wants to practise in the higher courts can easily become a barrister; and giving direct access to the Bar by professionals, so cutting out unnecessary activity by solicitors.
Apart from being the most far-reaching proposals ever set in motion in the legal profession, they do more to make legal services widely available at cheaper cost and without any reduction in quality than the Government's counter-productive proposals would ever achieve.
Now we have arrived at an impasse. The Government have placed responsibility for working out the rules for extended rights of audience in the hands of the professions, the advisory committee and the judges. In effect, they kicked the ball into touch. The questions are whether judges will want to see rights of audience extended very far, and whether solicitors, or the Crown prosecution service, having won a victory in principle, will want to push the judges into conceding far wider rights of audience.
If little changes in practice and the Bar does not dwindle away, I will not feel that the whole exercise has been too disruptive. But if much changes in practice, either great harm will be done to the system or there will be warfare between the judges and the Government of a kind that cannot possibly be conducive to the proper administration of justice.
What, then, is to be done? As the House rises for the summer recess, I make three suggestions. First, between now and the final drafting of the Bill, I hope that the Lord Chancellor's Department will have further consultations with the Bar Council and the Law Society to see whether blood on the carpet can be avoided and the Bill drafted in a way that will maximise co-operation and minimise confrontation, which is what the Bar and most of us want.
Secondly, the Government should take another look at the extent to which the Bar's response will make for cheaper, more available and higher-quality legal activity.
Finally, the Government should consider just what it is that ordinary people complain about when they complain about lawyers. I suggest that they complain that they are too costly, which the Government's proposals will not remedy. They complain that the lawyers are not available when they want them, which, again, the Government's proposals will not, on balance, remedy. Ordinary people who have no great access to funds want more available legal aid. I agree that limitless legal aid is not desirable, but if, as Professor Cyril Glasser of London university assures us, 10 million people have dropped out of eligibility for legal aid in the past 10 years, a Government bent on wider access of the law to the consumer must at least look at legal aid before they seek refuge in divisive and counter-productive legislation.
As I said at the beginning, I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House to his new position, although I am sad that he left his previous one. I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will bear in mind the points that I have made so that the best advantage can be secured from all the proposals for the future of our legal system.
The hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) in some respects made an interesting speech. He is a Conservative Member who, on every possible occasion, attacks restrictive practices, over-manning, and the rest. He does not have a sympathetic word for the dockers or anyone else. But when it comes to his own profession, the hon. and learned Member is steadfast in his defence of the existing position. No one could be a firmer defender of the status quo in the legal profession than the hon. and learned Gentleman.
The hon. and learned Gentleman may ask, "Why not?" He is a barrister and he considers that certain practices must be defended. I hope that on future occasions, when some of my right hon. and hon. Friends try to describe the situation in industry and the viewpoint of the people who work in it, he will be a little more sympathetic.
I hope that the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me if I do not give way, because of the time limit. I understand the point that the hon. and learned Gentleman wishes to make.
I want to speak on a subject which directly concerned the Leader of the House in his previous position of Foreign Secretary. Before I do, I should say that the reshuffle will in no way change the deep-seated hostility that is felt in the country towards the Government's policies. High mortgage interest rates, the decline of the economy, the notorious poll tax—it is a poll tax; even the Government's literature refers to the "so-called" poll tax—water privatisation and the attack on the NHS all explain why there is such a deep-seated hostility to the Government. There is no doubt that, in the recent European elections, the Conservative party suffered badly.
The only other point that I want to make about the reshuffle is one on which many people have reflected and to which I referred during business questions. I am sure that many hon. Members will have heard a group of activists at a Conservative club on the radio this morning who were hostile to the Prime Minister. Some of them described her conduct as being like that of a dictator.
It is not for me, a mere Opposition Back Bencher, to defend the Home Secretary or the Leader of the House. If the Prime Minister wishes to treat her Cabinet colleagues in the way she has done, that is her business. If she has an irresistible desire to humiliate, as she undoubtedly has done, the Leader of the House and the Home Secretary, that is her right.
It is clear that the Home Secretary considered that his position was perfectly safe. We read in the press that he was eating his sandwiches on Monday, when, lo and behold, he heard various rumours that his job had been offered to the then Foreign Secretary despite his having been given all those private assurances by the Prime Minister.
I do not understand why Cabinet members are willing to put up with such conduct. The only possible explanation is that they believe that if they stood up to the Prime Minister they would lose their jobs more quickly than they otherwise would.
The views that I have just expressed are clearly the views of Conservative activists, and I imagine that, in the Corridors of this place, enough Conservative Members have been more or less saying in private what I have just said in public. It would be foolish to deny that.
The matter that I am about to raise is the one that I raised before the previous recess. I do not wish to be misunderstood in any way, and it is no reflection on my hon. Friends that at that time I was the only hon. Member to raise what was happening in China. I congratulated the people associated with the pro-democracy movement in China on their courage.
As I have said before, and I repeat now, it is all very well in a democracy to demonstrate. We know that sometimes the police can be rough, but there is all the difference between demonstrating in a democracy and trying to do so in a dictatorship. I have the greatest respect for those in dictatorship countries, in almost totalitarian conditions, who are willing to do what the students and workers did in China. Those people were not saying that they wanted all the civil rights and liberties that Britain has gained and which exist in most, if not all, of the countries of western Europe. They wanted only some basic rights which were being denied them, so they demonstrated, and what an impressive demonstration it was. For weeks on end, they demonstrated in the way that we all saw on television. I say again that I have the greatest respect for them.
The manner in which that demonstration was crushed, the massacre that took place, aroused a feeling of revulsion not only in Britain but throughout most countries, and certainly throughout all the democracies.
The Chinese authorities peddled the lie—like Dr. Goebbels they no doubt believe that if they repeat the lie often enough people will believe it—that there was no massacre and demonstrators were not shot. We know that to be a lie. We know of the bloodshed and the hundreds of people who were massacred in Tiananmen square, and what happened on that occasion is never likely to be forgotten in China.
The time will come when we see in China what has happened in countries in eastern Europe. In 1956, the Hungarian uprising was crushed and Imre Nagy was hanged. Yet only a few weeks ago, his remains were buried with great honour. What happened in Hungary a few weeks ago is likely to happen at some stage in China.
In view of the experience of the Leader of the House as Foreign Secretary, I want to ask him what will be the attitude of the United Kingdom and the EEC if terror continues in China. There was a report in The Guardian today, and there have been other reports, one issued by Amnesty International, on the subject of the repression and the way in which people considered to be in any way involved with the pro-democracy movement are arrested, tortured, certainly humiliated and often executed.
Like all dictators, the Chinese leaders say that they want business to carry on as usual. They see no reason why western countries should take economic action against them. If the state of terror continues, can Britain and the European Community turn a blind eye and say that it is all very unfortunate, but we should have business as usual? A warning should go out from the Governments of the European Community and other countries—I only wish that the Soviet Union would associate itself with that—that if the Chinese authorities continue their repression of their own people economic action is bound to be taken.
I hope that, in the negotiations that I understand will take place between the new Foreign Secretary and the Chinese leadership, the point will be made clearly that, after 1997, Chinese troops should not be stationed in Hong Kong. One development above all else would give some feeling of security to the people of Hong Kong, leaving aside matters such as the right of abode, and that is the view that the state of terror and repression in China had ended. That would produce in Hong Kong a feeling of more security than exists at present.
There is ambiguity, to say the least, in the agreement signed between Britain and China over the stationing of Chinese troops. I hope that the point will be made clearly in the negotiations with the Chinese leadership that it would be quite inappropriate—all the more so after the terrible events of the past few weeks—for Chinese troops to be stationed in Hong Kong after 1997. If a guarantee could be given by the Chinese that no troops would be stationed there, it would do a great deal of good in trying to reassure the people of Hong Kong that they have a future in that place once the agreement is implemented in 1997.
I can predict, sadly, that before Parliament meets again after the summer recess, many innocent people in Northern Ireland will have been slaughtered in obscene acts of terrorism. I ask hon. Members, therefore, to think about my part of the United Kingdom, which is haunted by the spectre of the terrorist.
Next month is the anniversary of the arrival in Northern Ireland 20 years ago of extra soldiers of the regular Army to be used to act as a barrier between religious groupings in different parts of the Province. It was not long before the soldiers, who were originally greeted as peacekeepers, were spat on, reviled, shot at and killed. Twenty years on, the situation is worse, although to a greater extent the Royal Ulster Constabulary are in the front line in the maintenance of law and order.
I want to pay tribute, as most hon. Members would want to do, to all the police officers and soldiers, both in the Regular Army and the Ulster Defence Regiment, who serve and have served in Northern Ireland where so many of their comrades have gallantly given their lives to save others and to defeat terrorism. Civilians—men, women and children—have also been injured, mutilated or killed, sometimes in the most terrible atrocities, although the Provisional IRA has not hesitated to destroy human life here in mainland Britain and on the continent. Every death is a tragedy. Throughout the Province, mothers, wives, children, husbands and fathers mourn the loss of loved ones who have died in such frightening circumstances; sadly, relatives here in Britain also mourn those who have been murdered by the evil and vicious members of the Provisional IRA.
To the outside world, Northern Ireland appears to be a war zone, where hate triumphs and people are bitterly divided into two warring camps. Those who live in Northern Ireland and those who visit Northern Ireland know differently. Northern Ireland is, despite its media image, a beautiful place, with charming and generous people. The majority of the people of Ulster wish to live normally and harmoniously with their neighbours, regardless of politics or religion. The vast majority reject the gunmen who live like parasites on their communities, whether in Republican or Loyalist areas.
The vast majority of Ulster people yearn for peace and the prosperity that peace will bring to that battered part of the United Kingdom. I think especially of senior citizens in the community who fervently wish to see an end to strife before they die. I think above all about the young generation who are being denied the normal opportunities which peace can provide—many of whom, through frustration, seek employment here in England or elsewhere.
The people and politicians of Northern Ireland cannot defeat the terrorists, but they can make a significant contribution to the elimination of terrorism by giving their full, unqualified and unequivocal support to the forces of law and order. The politicians have a major role to play in the restoration of normality. They should make a contribution, but the people also have a contribution to make and they must endeavour at all times to ensure that, wherever a terrorist roams, the police are notified of his activities.
I call on all constitutional politicians in Northern Ireland to get together to see what political progress can be made in the next six months. I know that the Anglo-Irish Agreement is a symbol of the betrayal of Unionists by a Conservative Government, but politicians cannot for ever remain in their trenches. I appeal, therefore, in this House to politicians, to official Unionists, to Democratic Unionists, to the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Alliance party and all other constitutional politicians, to suspend their antagonism and to begin to talk.
The appointment of a new Secretary of State for Northern Ireland provides an ideal opportunity to end the four years of political stagnation which existed under his predecessor. That change of Ulster Secretary should be the cue for Ulster politicians to come together. I have already offered through the media in Northern Ireland to chair such discussions, as the former Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, and I shall shortly be writing to the leaders of the constitutional parties that were elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Of course it is easier not to talk. It is not difficult to find excuses to justify a refusal to get together. Talking with other constitutional politicians exposes one to criticism and perhaps even to charges of betrayal. However, in my judgment, politicians, in the interests of Ulster people young and old, must get together, must risk attacks, must endure insults and must attempt to devise a solution that would enable political progress to be made in Northern Ireland.
I am sure that there is tremendous good will in the Province. As I said earlier, I know that the people of Northern Ireland are marvellous, generous, charming, humorous and kind-hearted. It is extraordinary that some can hate each other out of their love of God. For the love of God, let us start building bridges, talking together, making peace and providing a future for the young people of Northern Ireland.
I share the sentiments expressed in the last part of the speech made by the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder). The message must go out not only to hon. Members but to politicians elsewhere and people everywhere that it is high time that a solution was found in Ireland.
The motion before us calls upon us to adjourn for the summer recess. I am always concerned that such debates do not allow us a vote. Some Conservative Members ask for time to debate major issues and then, a soon as they have finished their speech, they get through the door, pick up their cases and go to Heathrow for their flights to Bermuda. I am not one who would do that.
I call for special consideration to be given to the question that this House should not adjourn. I do so because I want time to be allowed for a debate that Welsh Members have been demanding for the past five or six weeks—a debate on the National Health Service in Wales. We have asked, we have begged and we have pleaded. I did not say this at business questions, when I asked the Leader of the House a question regarding his new appointment, but I welcome him to his position as Leader of the House because, as a Welshman, he might be more sympathetic to our demands in the future—especially our demands for health debates. The right hon. and learned Gentleman will he dealing with a Secretary of State for Wales who has not been elected to represent a Welsh seat and who is probably more interested in representing his own constituency, which is Worcester.
We have asked for a debate on the National Health Service in Wales not only because of the long waiting lists or the under-funding of hospital services in Wales but because we fear the Government's new proposals and their effect on our constituents. In 1988, when we debated hospital waiting lists in Wales, we were promised that various sums would be invested in new hospitals and in reducing waiting lists. I regret to report that waiting lists in Wales have not been reduced since that promise was made in 1988. As a matter of fact, they have substantially increased. That is one reason why I think that the House should not adjourn.
We should be considering the thousands of people who are waiting for hospital beds, for hospital treatment or for consultants to be available to perform major surgery which may save their lives. Many people who are now waiting for hospital treatment will no longer require it when the time comes, because they will have passed away, as has happened to a number of my constituents who were in that position.
The Welsh group of Labour Members of Parliament tabled an early-day motion, which said:
That this House notes that on March 1st, 1989, the Secretary of State for Wales told the House that he was about to issue papers, similar to those issued for England, setting out his proposals for the implementation of the Health Service White Paper in Wales, that thereafter he would issue papers of specific Welsh proposals, and that there would be plenty of time for discussion during which he would be anxious to hear the views of hon. Members in all parts of the House; further notes that comment from all levels of the health service and from the general public in Wales amounts to outright rejection of the White Paper proposals; and calls on the Secretary of State either to withdraw the White Paper proposals from having any application to Wales or to take immediate steps to honour his three-fold pledge of March 1st and allow full debate on his proposals within Wales.
Since then, we have received documents from the Royal College of Nursing documents about NHS funding and documents about the crisis in the acute hospital sector. We have had comments from a research team dealing with matters affecting elderly people and the review of March 1989.
Will the Leader of the House bring pressure to bear on the Secretary of State for Wales—whom he will be joining as yet another wet in the Cabinet, no doubt—to ensure that in future, when we request debates on major issues such as this, we are afforded the opportunity to have them, bearing in mind that, of 38 Welsh MPs, 25 are Labour Members? Surely that is sufficient to allow us a debate when we request one.
It is no good the Secretary of State for Wales hiding behind all sorts of excuses, as he has been doing for weeks now. I renew my request, which is supported by all my hon. Friends, that the documents should be published—as promised on 1 March—explaining how the Secretary of State for Wales intends to apply the White Paper in Wales and that we may have an early opportunity for a full debate. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) need not get all excited. I have not finished yet. I was told 10 minutes, and I have only taken four so far.
All right; it is eight.
Another major issue that the House should debate before we go into recess is the enforcement of the Shops Act 1950. The House had an opportunity for a full debate, action was taken and a proposal presented by the Government. We won that debate, although I am sorry to say that that is the only time in 10 years when the majority of Members have rejected major legislation that the Prime Minister and the Government wanted to introduce. Although we rejected any amendment to the 1950 Act, we constantly see traders, large and small, trading on Sundays and thus deliberately flouting the law. When I asked the Prime Minister a question some years ago, she replied that she would ensure that all the laws of the country were upheld. Why is not the law on Sunday trading given the same consideration by magistrates, courts, judges and chairmen of magistrates courts, to ensure that it is enforced?
Let me ask the Leader of the House three specific questions. First, what action does he think the Attorney-General is taking to ensure compliance with the law, concerning the admitted illegal Sunday opening by Heal's and Habitat, both shops in the Storehouse group? Secondly, will he ask the Attorney-General whether he will now consider prosecuting the chairman, chief executive and other members of the Storehouse group under the aiding and abetting provision of section 44 of the Magistrates Courts Act 1980, concerning the admitted flagrant breaches of the Shops Act 1950 by Heal's and Habitat shops? Thirdly, in the light of the ruling on 27 June 1989 by the Advocate General of the European Court of Justice, what guidance will the Attorney-General now consider giving to local authorities about their statutory duty to enforce the law on Sunday trading? I would like answers to those questions when the Leader of the House replies.
The House should not adjourn because we have not yet debated the major reform in legislation protecting children—the people in this country who have no rights or proper opportunities to advance their own cases. When can we have an early debate on the Children Bill? What will happen to the family courts which have been requested? I know that 10,000 grandparents have been pleading for their rights as grandparents to be legally represented at court to allow them to plead for their grandchildren. We should debate those matters; we should not adjourn until October while all those grandparents and children are not protected by the laws of this country. It is high time that action was taken to remedy that failure.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House is very welcome in his new position on the Government Front Bench because we know of his considerable sympathies for the individual. Like the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), I want to propose that the House should not adjourn for the summer recess. However, if we get our way, I am sure that we would be the most unpopular Members of Parliament ever and would probably act as leads for the return of capital punishment.
The House should not adjourn until there has been an environmental audit in my constituency. Although I have every confidence in the new Secretary of State for the Environment and his team, what is happening in my constituency is an extreme example of what might be happening elsewhere in the country. The events in my constituency will affect my constituents profoundly over the weeks, months and years ahead.
Many of my constituents who have made plans for the future, and other long-established communities, feel trapped by a steamroller of inevitability which crushes their views and faith in democracy and their ability to influence their own destinies. In these green days, people talk about the rape of the countryside. I want to draw the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House to the fact that there is a multiple rape in my constituency. Four environmental hazards in one constituency are excessive by any standards.
Unknown until the beginning of this month, a proposal has come to light to add a further option to the A453 access route to Nottingham. That new option is known as the green route. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health wrote to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley) in his former capacity as the Minister for Roads and Traffic, and said:
I am now horrified to discover that a quite unacceptable new proposal described as the Green Route running from Barton past Clifton Wood and over a new bridge to Beeston has been added to the alternative proposals. Everyone familiar with the debate over the years has always expected that the choice would lie between what is now called the Red Route through Clifton and the Yellow Route which would be a Clifton Bypass between Clifton and Ruddington. I did not know that your engineers were working up another proposition as an alternative to those two. I hope that the Green Route will not complicate the arguments for very long, because as shown on your plans, it would be an environmental disaster.
I can only agree with that completely. People in Beeston Rylands purchased their houses beside the river and the canal. Those are modest, not grand, houses and their owners value their valley and their environment enormously, as do all the other people who use the Trent valley as a recreational area.
There are three proposals to opencast the spine of the Erewash valley. If the proposals go forward, my constituents in relatively close communities can look forward to 20 years of development involving dust, dirt and the total destruction of their landscape in a completely unnecessary way. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) shares my views on that.
At a recent exhibition, the Coal Board called the first proposed site for opencasting the "Engine lane" site, which will involve the dereliction of the Moorgreen colliery which is famous in D. H. Lawrence's work because he based many of his stories there. British Coal does not reveal that the other four fifths of the area is known as Beauvale—obviously it has that name because it is very beautiful. Those who are familiar with Lawrence's work will be aware of his contrast between the industrialised east side of the area with its pit, and Hagg's farm and going to Miriam to escape the awful pressures of the industrial revolution. British Coal now wants to introduce a modern industrial revolution into an area which, even in Lawrence's day, was not touched. British Coal is talking about a five-year development in a tiny community. The development would involve 52 lorry movements a day on a B road, causing dust, dirt and the total destruction of the environment.
The next site for opencast development is called the Shilo north site, which affects the villages and small towns of Kimberley, Eastwood and Awsworth. The site is at the bottom of the valley. I agree with the comments in the Nottingham Evening Post which stated:
I applaud the campaign by the Shilo North Action Group to preserve their locality. A vast gaping hole torn in the earth, destroying the essence of the countryside, is too great a price to pay for coal we don't urgently need. I can imagine the outcry should Stratford or Constable country be threatened in this way.
The third site due for development is known as Robinettes. It will affect the villages of Cossoll and Awsworth. That area is close to Nottingham, but is green land offering great recreational opportunities. There are many farms in the area, and it has not been touched by the industrial revolution, but it is now being sized and drilled in another proposal to rip up the land and terrify the local community through a long process of destruction and potential dereliction.
All the local communities are firmly opposed to those environmental hazards. Broxtowe district council, Nottingham county council, the protest groups and I have joined together as we grind our way through the due processes of planning and public inquiries.
I want to give my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House a flavour of what this means to so many people who cannot sell their houses. I am not talking about the great and the good; I am talking about people in normal small terraced houses who face the long prospect of the real difficulties in their personal lives.
We all accept that, in a developing society, we cannot stand still. However, before we can accept the degree of environmental dereliction that I have described, we must be sure that the need for it is critical. No one is sure that the need for opencast coal is that critical. A balance is essential. There is a price which we must be very careful not to pay in terms of people's environmental privilege, for which no compensation can be paid.
I will end with a quotation from the Nottingham Evening Post "Comment" written by Suzanne Kirk:
We are rapidly approaching a crisis point. It seems more change has taken place over the last 20 to 30 years than during the rest of history.
The undistinguished Erewash Valley, although not mentioned in any tourist guides, is very special to the people of West Nottinghamshire.
The abundant wildlife, tranquil foot paths and panoramic views make it a place to escape to—but not one for much longer if British Coal's plans to outcrop the valley succeed.
During business questions last week I referred to a Chinese dissident, Xu Hai Ning, who returned to China about 10 days ago. I received a brief answer from the Home Office, but I have had no opportunity further to pursue the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) has also referred to this issue. This subject is apposite, as the former Foreign Secretary will reply to the debate.
I am a frequent and, on occasions, vehement critic of the way in which the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office deal with numerous immigration cases in my constituency, but I have nothing but praise for the Home Office staff who have dealt with this case. I make no criticism about that person's return to China. When we phoned the Home Office we got very good support from the staff. Mr. Xu was interviewed at the airport on his way back to China. He was seen on his own, and attempts were made to allow him to ask for protection if he had any objection to going back. I mention this case because it raises one or two matters in which the Home Office and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office can be of assistance.
When I interviewed him in the House of Commons a fortnight ago, Mr. Xu was distraught and unsure of his status here. He had been granted leave to stay in Britain for 12 months. In the circumstances, that decision was reasonable. He was concerned about having no travel documents, about what would happen at the end of the 12 months, and about his ability to take up employment, become a student, and so on during his stay. Dissidents who come to this country are often highly emotional and could he helped by proper counselling.
I am somewhat disturbed about advertisements that were placed in a Chinese business newspaper published in Soho and about accusations that Chinese diplomatic staff in this country have been phoning people to find the addresses of safe houses, saying that they have messages from their family—in other words, putting pressure on them. I realise that it is difficult to deal with advertisements, phone calls and, possibly following people and searching out safe houses, but people need the maximum possible protection.
It is 148 years since Britain obtained part of the colony of Hong Kong through two treaties and a leasing deal that was made in 1886. Those treaties were unfairly imposed on China because China was dominated by Britain and other imperial powers at the time. Since then, the vast majority of Chinese people in Hong Kong have had no say in the running of the country, the distribution of its wealth or their own future. Much has been made of the so-called Hong Kong economic miracle. It is no miracle. Hong Kong is one of a small number of countries—for example, Singapore, Taiwan and, formerly, South Korea—that enjoy a privileged position in free trade. It has had a compliant, cheap labour force and the advantage of massive international capital investment, in particular in Hong Kong by America, Japan and Britain. Investors have had a free hand to exploit a tremendously hard-working and compliant population who, in turn, have been denied any real democratic or trade union rights.
It is true that the majority of people in Hong Kong enjoy a far higher standard of living than those in the rest of China. That is hardly surprising considering their trade advantages, the fact that China was ruled for centuries by emperors and warlords, was pillaged by a variety of imperialist powers, was devastated during the Japanese invasion and the civil war of 1945–49, and that the majority of the population were uneducated, extremely poor peasants. Hong Kong falls far short of being a so-called capitalist paradise.
Several hon. Members have lived in Hong Kong. Many others have visited it with parliamentary delegations. Others like myself have visited the colony during their previous employment. However, few hon. Members have had an opportunity to see the sweated labour conditions that exist in many factories and workplaces in Hong Kong. They see an entirely different side of Hong Kong—the good houses in Repulse bay and the better areas of Hong Kong. They see the private clubs that are enjoyed by British and European people and by some of the richer Chinese. They see the fabulous hotels, nightclubs and bars. Very few have spent a weekend with an ordinary Chinese family and travelled in a plywood-sided lift to the 15th floor of a 20-floor block, which is one of 20 or 30 similar skyscrapers in one housing development.
Few people have taken any interest in seeing the thousands of people who pour from the workplaces at lunchtime to eat their lunches in the shanty canteens that line the roads. Few appreciate the pollution and overcrowding in the streets or see the conditions of the boat people—not just Vietnamese boat people, but Chinese boat people—who eke out their lives in the typhoon basins of Hong Kong. That is the reality of life for most Chinese people in Hong Kong.
I accompanied an injured colleague to hospital at 3 o'clock one morning in Hong Kong. I will not describe what it was like going into the hospital and the interviews that one had to have with the police. However, we ended up in the ward. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was a typical rectangular hospital ward. The four sides of the ward were lined with beds touching each other, and, in front of the beds, were camp beds, also touching each other. Seated in hospital chairs were people with drips in their arms and noses. All the lights were on at 5 o'clock in the morning. Two arguments were taking place. There may be private hospitals for the rich in Hong Kong, but that is the standard of treatment for many ordinary people.
The debate on the return of Hong Kong to China was a golden opportunity for the majority of Chinese people to have the right to a say for the first time in how the colony is run, how its wealth is distributed, and what its future should be. If universal sufferage had been granted to everybody over the age of 18, Chinese people could really say what their wishes are. Hon. Members have debated Chinese people's right of abode, but, to a large extent, it is a side issue. An old friend of mine who has carried on business in Hong Kong for 15 years has recently returned. He wrote:
Numerous people I have spoken to over the last few days, from taxi drivers to industrialists, have used almost the same words to me: 'They are shooting my people! Why did they have to do such a terrible thing?' I must say that I think there is now a considerable risk of civil unrest in Hong Kong, depending on events in China, British reaction to those events, and the short-term political evolution of the very broadly-based movement within Hong Kong.
My friend went on to talk about the right to abode. The right to abode has been wrongly tackled in the House. The 3·5 million people in the Irish Republic and 1·5 million people in Northern Ireland have the right of abode, given the possibility of an Armageddon or a Beirut-type situation developing in Northern Ireland. Also, 270 million people in the Common Market have the right, of abode in this country. People in Hong Kong had that right of abode up to 1962. My view is that the granting of the right of abode to Hong Kong citizens would diffuse the situation and would concentrate the mind not on that issue, but on the much more important issues which concern relationships with China and the democratic rights in Hong Kong.
The Chinese claim that theirs is a Socialist Government, a Socialist society and that they are Communists. However, as a lifelong Socialist and an unashamed Marxist, I believe that a river of blood separates Stalinism from real Socialism. The events in China, the appalling events in Soviet labour camps, the massacre during the Hungarian revolution and the events in Czechoslovakia have nothing to do with my ideas of Socialism.
I can recall walking off a mountainside in Hong Kong with a Chinese friend, past a filthy, horrible, degrading and disgusting squatter camp, and seeing coming out of that camp two small children, aged about five years and two years. They were dressed in immaculate pyjamas. They were doing their ablutions brushing their teeth and washing themselves at a standpipe that the local authority had erected at the side of that squatters camp. That was a touching scene. However, what it brought home to me was not how nice and beautiful those little children were, but the resolve of their parents, living under that filth and horror, to keep those children decent and to strive to find a better way of life. That is the real side of humanity, which the Chinese rulers will realise when the Chinese people rise again, as they will, and end for ever the totalitarian system there, as I hope one day we will end the inequalities that exist in capitalist society throughout the world.
I begin by referring to the speech of the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell). I know that my right hon. and learned Friend will not be seduced by the legendary charm and the equally legendary scant respect for the facts of that hon. Gentleman. The hon. Member for Ogmore knows as well as I do that it was open to the Labour party to choose to debate earlier this year the subject of the National Health Service in Wales in the Welsh Grand Committee, but it did not choose to do so. It was equally open to the Labour party to debate that matter on one or part of one of its many Opposition supply days in the House, but it did not do so. It had those opportunities, but it did not take them. The hon. Gentleman, therefore, cannot complain about the lack of opportunity for a debate on the National Health Service in Wales during this current session. Indeed, so enthusiastic was the Welsh Labour party for the proceedings of the Welsh Grand Committee that at this stage of the Session we have had one fewer debate than usual.
I assure the hon. Member for Ogmore that, far from being reluctant to debate the subject of the National Health Service in Wales, Conservative Members are exceedingly keen to do so. How can we be otherwise, when there has been in real terms a 40 per cent. increase in expenditure on the National Health Service in Wales in the past 10 years? If the record of the Government on spending on the National Health Service in England and Wales has been good, in the Principality it has been remarkable.
I wish to raise an issue that I have already raised twice today in questions both to my right hon. and learned Friend during business questions and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, during his statement on food safety—the serious salmonella poisoning outbreak in my constituency in north Wales and in other parts of the north-west. The severity of the situation can be measured by the fact that there are 53 suspected cases of salmonella poisoning in Clwyd; 29 of those have been confirmed bacteriologically, 13 people have been admitted to hospital and, tragically, one person has died.
I pay fulsome tribute to Delyn borough council and Clwyd health authority for the thorough way in which they have investigated the outbreak so that within a short period they were able to track down the source. The suspected food was withdrawn from sale, the production of cooked meat by the company implicated in the outbreak was halted, and distribution of the food was suspended. A list of outlets has also been supplied to all environmental health departments and visits are being undertaken as quickly as possible to those outlets. The health authority has also, of course, given advice to the public about ready-cooked and prepared meats.
I have no doubt that Delyn borough council, as the public health authority, has taken all the appropriate steps, on the basis of the circumstantial evidence available, to contain the outbreak. However, I want to draw to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend, which I know he will in turn bring to the attention of his colleagues, the problem the council faces. I raised this problem this afternoon with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The council, as public health authority, finds itself in a dilemma in deciding whether to name the company suspected of being implicated in the outbreak, because it has at present only circumstantial evidence and must wait several days for that evidence to be backed up and confirmed by medical and scientific analyses. As soon as the investigation was initiated into the outbreak, faecal and food samples and swabs were taken from potential suspects and sent to the public health laboratory for analysis.
I welcomed the Welsh Office's decision today to issue a food hazard notice naming the company which is believed to be involved, in the interests of consumer safety, and also to list the various outlets for prepared and cooked meat originating from that company. In the event of an outbreak of this kind, it is important that we not only have full and effective co-operation between the relevant health and local authorities, but that there is also a clear chain of responsibility. I believe that ultimately the onus must be on the health authority to decide whether or not to name a company which it has good reason to believe is implicated—perhaps 60 or 75 per cent. certain—even though it has not received medical and scientific back-up. When there is such an outbreak, time is of the essence. It is very important that the name of the company is disclosed to the public so that those shops which sell food originating from the company can withdraw that food from sale and those who have bought suspected food can see their doctors as soon as possible.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will bring that matter to the attention of the Cabinet sub-committee on food safety which, because of its importance, is chaired by our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. When we come to legislate on these matters in the autumn, it is important that we cover the "chain of command" in such an outbreak, the relationship between the Government, the health authorities and the local councils as public health authorities.
I understand from those whom I have spoken to in the past few days that the first suspected case was notified to Delyn borough council's environmental health department on Tuesday 20 July. Clwyd health authority informed me that the first it knew of the outbreak was when the first patient was hospitalised on Saturday 22 July. I do not criticise anyone at this juncture. The important thing is to help all those who are dealing with this difficult and serious situation and who are doing their utmost to contain it and get it under control. But it is important for the Welsh Office to ensure that all available information is provided to the Clwyd health authority and to the neighbouring health authorities as soon as possible. That is a must if the community physicians are to be able to do their job, to contact potential suspects and take samples from them.
Earlier, I asked my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to consider issuing guidelines to butchers and delicatessens on cooked and raw meat. As the Institution of Environmental Health Officers said in the press today, it is important that raw and cooked meats are not allowed to stand near each other and that the same machinery is not used to slice them.
When we had the serious salmonella outbreak connected with eggs at the end of last year, the Ministry was not slow to issue the necessary guidelines. The chief medical officer of health issued advice to consumers on salmonella in eggs and poultry. Codes of practice were issued to producers and National Health Service hospitals were rightly briefed on the cooking of foods involving eggs. The Ministry must now seriously consider issuing guidance to butchers, delicatessens and consumers.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food undertook quite a devastating survey of domestic kitchen hygiene. It showed that consumers have an important part to play in reducing the risk of food poisoning. It revealed that consumers do not normally read the storage instructions on chilled or frozen pre-packed foods; that 94 per cent. of respondents never checked the temperature of their refrigerator; that 66 per cent. never adjusted its temperature control; and that only 18 per cent. appreciated the hazard of keeping food at room temperature for prolonged periods.
It is equally important to embark on a renewed campaign of public awareness—following the one earlier this year. This is especially important given the extraordinary hot weather that we are currently experiencing—so that people are made aware of the importance of separating cooked and raw meats in their fridges and of ensuring that their refrigerators are at the necessary low temperature.
The Government have acted promptly, swiftly and efficiently on food safety, but it must worry all hon. Members that the number of cases of salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 increased from seven to 109 between 1964 and 1974 and increased sharply from 1,362 in 1984 to 12,522 in 1988. Those figures originate from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
I warmly welcome the White Paper and look forward to an early debate and early legislation on these matters in the new Session. I hope, in the meantime, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will bring the points that I have made to the attention of not only the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food but the Secretary of State for Wales, who is responsible for agriculture and food in the Principality. I would also ask that the guidance to butchers and delicatessens I mentioned is issue as soon as possible.
I hope that the Cabinet sub-committee on food safety will give urgent attention to ensuring that in the event of an outbreak there is in future a clear chain of responsibility and command; that all the authorities involved co-operate fully and effectively; and that there is no delay in naming a company that is clearly implicated, on sufficient circumstantial evidence, in a serious outbreak.
I should like to raise a couple of issues before the House adjourns. The Government have not taken adequate steps to deal with environmental issues in the environmental Bill proposed for the autumn, or to deal with water quality control and the proposals for the Nature Conservancy Council.
Will the Leader of the House assure me that the Secretary of State for the Environment will respond to the challenge of my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) to publish the proposals that will be included in the environmental Bill before the autumn so that hon. Members can try to achieve consensus on them? Hon. Members who are genuinely concerned about improving the environment want to achieve consensus. My hon. Friend the Member for Copeland has made a generous offer, but consensus will not be achieved unless hon. Members are aware of the Bill's provisions and what is the Government's line of thinking.
I am concerned about how the Nature Conservancy Council is being run. The proposals for its restructuring have not been thought out, and the NCC was not consulted on them. The first that it heard about them was when it was announced in the press that the previous Secretary of State for the Environment intended to merge it with the Countryside Commission and break up its functions.
I must express my concern at how the NCC was directed by the previous Secretary of State, who appeared to be directly involved in altering its role and direction, especially on field and blood sports. He appointed a number of new members to the NCC in March, among whom were two landowning earls—one maintained a large grouse moor and the other was a master of foxhounds. Although I am sure that they are worthy individuals, they do not seem compatible with our premier organisation for nature conservation. One of the NCC's staff said:
I cannot imagine what some of these people, however worthy they arc, are going to do for nature conservation, as opposed to the interests of landowners and grouse shooters.
Many people are concerned about the NCC being manipulated by people who are not sympathetic to the environment or to the nature conservation ideals that many share. An example was when the previous Secretary of State said that the NCC should take into account what he termed "traditional country sports" before it gave grants for the purchase of land.
The NCC signed an agreement with various shooting organisations on what it termed "areas of common interest", under which a grant was given to Kent wildfowlers to purchase an area to shoot wildfowl. I accept that wildfowling is a legitimate interest and pastime, but I am not sure that it is the role of the NCC to give public funds to wildfowling organisations for them to pursue their interests.
That should be contrasted with the way in which other organisations have been treated when applying for grants. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds applied for a 50 per cent. grant to extend its nature reserve in Nene washes, Cambridgeshire. The NCC told the RSPB that it would not be given a grant unless it allowed shooting on its nature reserve. Shooting and a nature reserve are incompatible, so the society proceeded without a grant.
The NCC negotiated with landowners on the Solway firth to buy their shooting rights for £750,000. The EEC, because of the international importance of the Solway firth for wintering wildfowl, was prepared to pay 50 per cent. of that sum. I understand that the previous Secretary of State spent some time shooting in that area and that when he heard about this deal he intervened and instructed the NCC to scrap it. The 50 per cent. grant, which was not an inconsiderable amount, was lost to that major conservation area.
People who get their pleasure from chasing innocent animals to death or torturing them have no place in such organisations. They would be better off seeking psychiatric or medical help than being involved in conservation bodies as a way of pursuing their pastimes. The NCC should not be involved in that role.
I do not object, and most reasonable people would not object, to the NCC being broken up on a regional basis, with one council for Scotland and one for Wales. There is nothing wrong with that, but its national structure must be safeguarded. The NCC has funded long-term research projects, such as the common bird census, constant effort sites and the national ringing programme. The main agency is the British Trust for Ornithology which is negotiating a new five-year contract with the NCC. The work must be funded, controlled and monitored nationally.
Furthermore, the NCC must have real influence and control over its work. I am worried that attempts are being made to dilute it. I have already explained the effect of the previous Secretary of State's appointments. In Scotland, the NCC has come into conflict with local landowners and regional councils on several issues. In the flow country, the NCC has rightly held out against extensive planting of trees in an area of international importance which has never in its history been planted with conifers. The planting of conifers is alien to the habitat and landscape.
There is conflict about the development of the Cairngorms and the extension of the ski lift and skiing facilities into Lurchers gully. The regional council has tried to change its structure plan to allow that to happen even though that proposal was defeated in a public inquiry a few years ago. There is much conflict about grants for planting trees in Scotland where 90 per cent. of new planting is conifers.
If the NCC is broken up, will the Scottish NCC be dominated by Scottish landowners who are involved in tree-planting, grouse moors and shooting? What confidence can we have that the NCC in the hands of such people will fulfil its role? The position is serious when one considers that some parts of Scotland should have a certain breed of bird of prey—the hen harrier—but do not. Where they have tried to nest and establish themselves, local gamekeepers have illegally put down poisoned baits, or, in a recent case, shot the sitting bird on the nest and stabbed the young into the ground. Will such people be appointed to the NCC? Can we have confidence in them to protect our wildlife?
Wildlife is not just there for aesthetic purposes. It is a biological indicator. What happens to wildlife is a sign of what is happening to the health of our environment, as we saw in the 1960s with the effect of DDT on animal species in the food chain.
In my area there is great anxiety about the levels of pollution in the River Humber. The flora and fauna are particularly impoverished in the upper reaches. That is because of excessive pollution which the Government have made little attempt to control The position will be made worse by the proposals in the Water Bill, as sewerage works are given permission to carry on polluting the river at levels far higher than the EEC agreed maximums. Other industrial outflows will also exceed the maximums, yet sufficient action is not being taken to tackle the problem.
A document has been leaked to me. Unfortunately the identification marks have all been removed, so that I cannot tell where it came from. It is a scientific survey of the Humber. It draws attention to some of the main problems, which must be tackled as a matter of priority. It identifies that at certain times of river flow and high temperatures there is a complete lack of oxygen in the vicinity of the Trent falls. The document states that oxygen levels in the mid and lower Humber are of concern in summer resulting from a significant input of organic matter, sewage. That means that at certain periods of the year or indeed of the month, some stretches of the Humber are biologically dead. Life cannot exist there. It is a barrier to the migration of fish upriver. Pollution has reached such levels that there is no oxygen.
The document continues:
Compared with other estuaries the fauna … is extremely limited in terms of the number of species found.
The Ouse system was originally a prolific salmon fishery, fish being taken regularly … along a considerable length of the system. Whilst very occasionally fish get through the estuary, commercial fishing is non-existent. The decline is attributable in the main to lack of oxygen.
There is very little information of a reliable nature on the concentrations of heavy metals in the estuary. There is no systematically collected data available as to the concentrations of alien, man-made organic contaminants in the estuary. No baseline data on which to base predictions of true nature and impact of man's activities on the estuary.
Recently Greenpeace took samples in the Humber which showed alarmingly high levels of heavy metal contaminants from various sources. The document states:
Measurements of Arsenic have shown that the concentration of this element is significantly increased in the neighbourhood of Read's island emanating from Cappa Pass on the North Bank of the Humber.
There are 216 potentially polluting discharges to the tidal waters of the Humber, 67 to the Ouse system, 70 to the Trent and 79 to Hull and Humber.
Acid iron waste discharged from two titanium dioxide plants (Tioxide UK Ltd. and the SCM Corporation) affects an area of the Humber in excess of 17 km. Every other nation in Europe has taken steps to reduce emissions from this internationally recognised polluting industry.
It is true that we have recently debated EEC directives about controlling emissions from titanium dioxide, but little progress appears to have been made and the steps that have been taken have been far too late.
The document mentions that a disease called epidermal papilloma in dab is as high in the Dogger bank area just off Humberside as it is in the German bight. The document suggests that in November 1984, upon completion of a report on this matter, the Government were so alarmed that they immediately drew up plans to terminate the dumping of sewage and industrial waste. As far as I know, that has never been carried out. Industrial waste and sewage sludge are still being dumped in the North sea off the Humber, with the results that we have seen.
The Government have not tackled the problem of the environment or the issue of the NCC. To break it up would be a retrograde step. It needs the reassurance that I have outlined. Many organisations are watching the Government carefully on these issues and they want some action.
I am not sure what a Leader of the House does during the summer recess. I suspect that he puts his feet up. I am sure that a deputy Prime Minister does no such thing, but races round keeping his colleagues in order. That is what I should like my right hon. and learned Friend to do with two sets of his colleagues.
The first are his colleagues in the arts, the Department of the Environment and the Treasury on the matter dealt with by early-day motion 1179 on the English National Opera and the English National Ballet, formerly the London Festival Ballet. If we do not find a solution to their funding problem within the next month we shall have serious trouble keeping those two excellent national institutions in being. I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend will take that on board and ensure that we find a solution during the recess.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will also pursue his colleagues in the Department of Transport. An advantage of the type of life and hours that we in the House have is that we usually go home long after the traffic jams have ended. Last night, however, even after 11 o'clock, the traffic jams were by no means at an end in London, and the A3 was blocked solid.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend, perhaps no longer being burdened with international travel, will experience some of the domestic forms of travel—or perhaps I should say, the inability to travel—that Londoners have faced for many years. If he would care to visit south London, I will take him on a slow guided tour round the traffic jams and blocked bus lanes and then, if he has an hour or two to spare, I will accompany him down to a couple of stations on the Northern line, and then to an area where neither the Northern line nor the District line or any other Underground line runs. That might lead us to try some of the railway stations in my part of the world. Although trains run there, they do so with inadequate numbers of coaches, so that when they pull in at stations the passengers fall out rather than try to get in.
Having experienced some of the delights of travelling around south London and having sat in traffic jams, my right hon. and learned Friend will doubtless return to his colleagues at the Department of Transport and ask, "What are we to do about this problem?" The officials in that Department will tell him, "We are thinking of putting some more traffic into the area." That represents the real problem at which I hope my right hon. and learned Friend will look. The Government, having rightly listened to people such as I who call attention to transport problems in London, invited consultants to come up with some analyses of the problems and then to put forward some solutions.
The solutions that are being suggested would drive not coaches and horses through London—if only that were the case—but major roads through London, knocking clown houses on the way, carving through common land and introducing yet more traffic into London. As those of us who understand a little of traffic engineering and mathematics and a lot about the burdens and desires of our constituents know, more roads result in more traffic. Even worse, bigger roads result in bigger volumes of traffic. Faster roads do not produce faster traffic but result in moving traffic faster into traffic jams. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will encourage his colleagues in the Department of Transport to drop those schemes.
The first scheme that might be dropped is a project known as weir, which should have a "d" at the end. The words which form the acronym weir include the word "improvement." It is known as the western environmental improvement route. It is difficult to appreciate what the project would achieve, for the road would be a great hazard to the people of Hammersmith, depositing traffic at a great rate of knots—about 11,000 additional vehicles a day—on to the river embankment, where it would have nowhere to go except on to the overcrowded roads of Wandsworth. We are told that it would produce an increase of 27 per cent. in traffic volume and that it would not be a motorway but only a small road that would use a railway line that is no longer needed.
We are told not to worry about what is proposed. We are bound to worry because it is destined to bring 85,000 vehicles a day along that stretch of road to the river. That number of vehicles is as much as the elevated section of the M4 can carry, and it is probably the heaviest used two-lane motorway in Britain. If it is not a motorway, I am not sure what it is. It has all the appearance of a motorway. There are no cyclists or pedestrians allowed on it and there are no junctions of the non-motorway type. It brings all the traffic to my part of the world. I hope that that road scheme will be the first to be thrown out, and thereafter the other schemes and option that have been put to the Department of Transport should also be thrown out.
Our road problems are due to the history of London, which was designed largely for the narrow gauge cart and its horse. The problems are increasing because of London's increased prosperity. There are other ways of achieving the solutions we need, and I hope that careful consideration will be given to the four-borough alternative that has been put forward by the boroughs of Richmond, Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Lambeth. That four-borough, three-party scheme looks to public transport as a solution to London's traffic problems.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) along with myself and others have brought forward the scheme of red routing, a plan that would enormously help the flow of traffic in London and would stop thoughtless and selfish parking or waiting on roads. My right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point, (Sir B. Braine), the Father of the House, referred earlier to the Serjeant at Arms and to this place having wig, pen and sword. I would use all three of those on motorists who park thoughtlessly on some through routes into London.
Aside from that and some minor improvements. such as widening or straightening roads, it is clear that providing more and bigger roads is not the answer. We must deter people from using roads to come into London, including stopping firms providing car parking spaces. The City of London follows that course to a certain extent and I should like to see the rest of London doing the same. Much would be achieved quickly by improving public transport. If we had better rail and Underground services, looked carefully at the central London rail study and threw out the road options, we would achieve a great deal.
If we did that, my right hon. and learned Friend would have earned his rest in the second half of the summer recess and many Londoners would have rest granted to them as a result of the quick and merciful killing off of the road options that are being put to the Department of Transport.
I, too, am concerned with the environmental conditions in which the people of London live. I agree with the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) that the assessment studies now under consideration are far from what Londoners want or need. They require a rapid, considerable improvement in public transport and a reduction in the number of cars coming into central London.
We live in a dirty, polluted and dangerous city and I get more and more angry as I cycle round London having my lungs blasted full of exhaust from cars. My constituents suffer because of the vast number of commuter cars that come through my area. They are only too well aware of the major road building proposals, and earlier this week I presented 24 petitions signed by 3,000 people who live in various parts of my constituency and who oppose the road assessment studies, and there will be plenty more from where those petitions came.
My constituents are not prepared to have their homes and communities torn apart to make way for motorways which will bring even more traffic through the inner London constituencies to clog up the rest of London, as has happened this week. We must have a different approach to transport in London from the schemes that are on offer.
The other main issue that I wish to raise is poverty in London. A sense of horrible complacency descends over the House at this time of year as hon. Members seem to have a mad desire to get away to Bermuda or the Caribbean or wherever else people spend their summer holidays, leaving behind all the problems.
Despite all the press publicity that has been given this week to the reshuffling in the Government, nothing has changed for many people in London. When, later tonight, hon. Members who stayed for the Consolidated Fund debates leave to go home, the same people will be sleeping in cardboard boxes outside the law courts and on the pavements outside Charing Cross and Waterloo stations as were sleeping in those places last night. If one went out now to the theatreland area of London, one would find the same people begging around the theatre queues. People are walking round London begging for food and sustenance. The fact that that is happening in one of the world's major capital cities, in one of the richest countries and in what we are told is one of the most successful economies in western Europe is not just a standing disgrace: it is a shame on everyone. People should not be reduced to sleeping on pavements and to begging, as is happening in this capital city.
When people come to my advice surgery, as they no doubt will tomorrow evening, and to the surgeries of my hon. Friends who represent inner-London constituencies, we will hear about the horror facing people who live in grossly overcrowded flats and the horror of young people who know that they have no chance of getting their own place in which to live. They must stay in the already overcrowded flats of their parents simply because local authorities have lost a net figure of 31,000 council properties in the past 10 years. Very few council properties are being built and many more are being sold off. There is no way in which those young people can get a place of their own because if one wants to buy anywhere in central London on a mortgage one needs an income of about £20,000 a year—unless one has considerable savings.
We are dealing with a crisis of immeasurable proportions that affects the lives not just of people already on the housing lists but of their children who suffer in school because they live in overcrowded accommodation. Earlier this week I spent several hours talking to primary school teachers in my constituency. Not only are schools increasingly short of teachers; they are increasingly becoming centres for the social problems caused by a combination of poverty and bad housing. Children are continually ill, and whenever one child gets an illness, it is immediately passed on to the rest of the family because of the overcrowded living conditions. Increasingly, children are under-achieving at school because they are unable to do any kind of homework at home. Often they cannot get enough sleep because they all sleep in the same room and somebody may want to have the radio or television on, or simply because of the comings or goings of the people in the room. It is an absolute disgrace that that is happening in the richest part of a rich country.
As my hon. Friends and I are well aware, those problems are compounded by the social security legislation that has been enacted in the past few years. I served on the previous three Standing Committees considering social security legislation. None of those pieces of legislation has achieved any improvement in people's living standards. The legislation has simply increased arbitrary control by officials of the Department of Social Security, who often do not want that control, over poor people who are suffering increased poverty, increased homelessness and increased misery in our inner-urban areas.
The people who have come to London and who have been reduced to begging on our streets should be able to look to a social security system that will not force them into that position. Nobody enjoys lowering himself to the level of begging on our streets and sleeping in cardboard boxes. It might be a bit of a laugh to sleep out for a couple of nights in the summer, but in six months' time, on cold winter evenings, sleeping in a cardboard box outside the law courts or within sight of the Savoy hotel is no joke. It shames us all.
In relation to a social security problem in my community, I quote from a copy of a letter sent to the chair of the social security advisory committee by the leader of Islington council, Margaret Hodge, because it emphasises my point:
Dear Peter Barclay,
I enclose a report produced by this Council's welfare rights team which describes the inadequate, demeaning and counter-productive nature of the Social Fund as experienced by claimants and advice staff in this borough. The Council agreed to give local DSS offices the opportunity to comment on the report and to carry out any improvements that might be feasible. However, in the three months since the report was produced, there has been a substantial deterioration in the scheme. I take no comfort from the fact that this was forecast in the body of the report.
What has happened is that expenditure on community care grants has hit 100 per cent. of the very limited local budget. In Islington, this budget was set at only one-fifth of single payments expenditure in the year prior to April 1988. In the case of Finsbury Park DSS, their expenditure hit 131 per cent. of the monthly budget target in May, supposedly a 'light' month, with the result that they will have to make up this overspend by cutting back on their expenditure this year. They, and other Islington offices, have developed more `stringent' local guidelines to achieve this. Obviously, these `stringent' guidelines will be even more Draconian than the Secretary of State's Directions which still provide the legal framework for the scheme.
Reports are coming in from all over the borough that people who qualify under the Directions for a Community Care Grant are being offered loans. This is totally unacceptable.
I heartily agree with and endorse the contents of that letter. I have placed a copy of the Islington report on the operation of the social fund in the Library and have sent another copy to the Department of Social Security. We warned the Department about what was happening and said that cash-limiting the social fund locally was not only disastrous, but meant that a proportion of what was available to poor people two or three years ago was already overspent. Local DSS staff have been placed in the appalling position of having to say to deserving people, "You cannot have the grants that you could have had a year ago and which we believe you should have under the guidelines because the money is simply not there."
A letter from the manager of the Finsbury Park DSS office to his staff about social fund priorities and community care grants states:
I have detailed below the Community Care Grant expenditure for the period 1 April 1989 to 30 June 1989 which shows that, despite arrangements to restrict awards to essential items of furniture and household equipment and thereby remain on profile, expenditure has still exceeded the budget profile.
The manager then gives the figures, and says:
As you can see, payments for furniture and household equipment on their own, have exceeded the budget for the period in question. In order to ensure that future expenditure can be contained within profile, I have had to introduce the following measures from 3rd July 1989:—
So far as budgetary loans are concerned, expenditure remains within profile".
Loans in certain categories are available, but they are loans to people who are already poor. For those who are eligible and deserving of a community care grant, the money will simply not be available.
I hope that the Leader of the House will undertake to refer the serious and legitimate concerns that I have voiced to the Department of Social Security. I am horrified that throughout August, September and for most of October, there will be no opportunity for me to raise these matters in the House and that the people in my area will have to go without what should be theirs by right. The House must resolve the problem of the serious urban poverty in our capital city.
Before I follow the hon. Members for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick I and for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) on a brief trip to the far east, I remind the House that exactly one week ago the water to a substantial part of my constituency was cut off. That caused distress and discomfort to many of my constituents and put several at real risk.
Yesterday I received a letter from one constituent which read:
I am writing to you on my mother's behalf. She is 95 years old, blind and housebound. Her supply of water was turned off on Friday without any warning or without any provision being made for her to obtain water. The Thames Water Authority over their `answerphone' could only say there was a tap somewhere locally—no address given.
Although Thames Water had known for 48 hours before the taps had to be switched off that a crisis was imminent, during that time no warning was given to the people of south London and no appeals to save water were made to offset the drastic step that was taken. I believe that there should be an inquiry into why the water was cut off without warning, in view of the public health risk involved. In the weeks ahead, a firm statement should be made about the amount of compensation that will be paid to those people who were put at risk.
My primary concern this evening is the plight of the Vietnamese boat people. I often corresponded with my right hon. and learned Friend on this subject when he was at the Foreign Office. All hon. Members know that tens of thousands of boat people from Vietnam have crowded into Hong Kong in recent weeks. They live in dreadful conditions and, if authoritative newspaper reports are to be believed, men, women and children will be forcibly shipped back to Vietnam before the House reassembles in the autumn.
The argument used by the Hong Kong authorities, the Foreign Office and the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in favour of such a scheme is that these people are not proper refugees, but economic migrants. It is rarely easy to draw a sensible line between economic oppression and political oppression. In Poland, the founders of Solidarity began by striking against dreadful economic conditions, but the economic strike soon became a political protest. In the Soviet Union in recent weeks, coal miners have been striking against economic failure, but the strikes also seem to have political overtones.
If a family risk their lives by fleeing from Vietnam in a leaking, overcrowded boat—scores of boat people have been drowned when trying to escape this year—will the authorities in Vietnam consider that an economic and not a political gesture if the family is forced to return? We cannot be sure.
We know that some of the officials of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Hong Kong are unhappy about the screening procedures for new arrivals from Vietnam. There is also the argument that it is all right to send them back because Vietnam has changed. Thanks to the Foreign Office, I had an opportunity recently to meet the Foreign Minister of Vietnam—a hardened Communist with some 15 years' experience in the upper echelons of one of the most rigidly orthodox Communist countries in the world—who has been converted to free enterprise. When I talked to him, he sounded as though he was standing for chairmanship of the Back-Bench Conservative finance committee. He was sure that political freedom would follow economic freedom. He certainly sounded more pro-capitalist than many of the South Vietnamese Ministers to whom I talked in Saigon in 1965 and in 1973.
Vietnam is still a closed society, and I do not believe that it is safe to send families back until Vietnam as a whole is open to diplomats, journalists, relief workers and tourists.
Conditions in the boat people's camps in Hong Kong are exceptionally bad. About eight weeks ago I visited the Shamshuipo camp in Hong Kong, where about 4,500 people live in conditions so bad that if we kept dogs in similar conditions in this country, the RSPCA would lead an outcry. Since then, conditions in many camps have deteriorated quite sharply. We know that the Hong Kong Government are unwilling to make any more money available.
Ultimately, we have responsibility for the conditions in those camps. I know that, in the first six months of this year, the British taxpayer provided £12 million to help with the problems caused by the influx of another 35,000 boat people, but it will take at least another £20 million before the end of this year to maintain standards that were barely tolerable before the new flood of boat people arrived.
I hope that the new Minister for Overseas Development will make it plain that the money will be available. If we pay the piper, we should also call the tune. In this country, we have many people who are expert in dealing with displaced persons and refugees. We should immediately send a high-level delegation of experts to Hong Kong to inspect the camps and if they recommend it, the British Government should take over direct responsibility for running some or all of the camps for new arrivals.
Urgent action is needed. I hope that the new Foreign Secretary will treat this as a matter of urgency.
There have been many interesting speeches in this Adjournment debate. I do not think that any hon. Member has advocated that we do not break for the summer recess, and that is advantageous, as it steers us clear of hypocrisy. This debate gives us an opportunity to raise issues which are of concern to individual hon. Members.
The most common theme tonight has been the environment. I shall leave it to the Leader of the House to respond to each individual speech, and I am sure that he will deploy the considerable skills that he acquired over many years in the courts to summarise the cases that have been made.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) mentioned the environment, particularly the North sea. During this Session of Parliament, there has been a considerable increase in public concern about the environment. I think that that concern is likely to grow during the recess, as there seems to be evidence that people's concern for the environment grows when they are on holiday, and they go to places that they are not familiar with.
Many people visit the seaside on their holidays or cross the sea in boats or aircraft. Most people who fly across the North sea, or the Irish sea, cannot fail to be impressed by how small they are. Their small size makes them vulnerable. The problems of the North sea and the Irish sea are legion, and they are not being dealt with as well or as quickly as they should be.
One sad example is the death of the majority of the seal population around the United Kingdom. That shows how little we know about the ecology of our seas. Although scientists warned that there was some danger to the seal population, none predicted such a disaster. We must be increasingly cautious when we make assumptions about the environment. Perhaps "precautious" would be a better word to describe what our attitude to the sea should be.
Owing to the current fears of holiday disruption abroad, the United Kingdom's seaside resorts are experiencing something of a revival, and it would be preferable if people were to encounter rather less sewage on the beaches. The response of the previous Secretary of State for the Environment—the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—to sewage dispersal into the sea was, I, understand, to favour longer discharge pipes; those, however, provide no solution in our small and landlocked seas. They are really horizontal marine equivalents of the tall chimneys that have been exporting acid rain for some years. It appears that the Government never learn.
A development which, over the past few years, has revealed the Government's attitude to the marine environment is the massive and continuing failure of sea-bird breeding in the Shetlands, caused by the overfishing of sand eels, which, in theory, is regulated by the Government. The massive sea-bird colonies of Northern Britain are a unique biological feature of major international significance. In that area—I take just one example—Arctic terns have failed to breed because the chicks starved to death in 1984, 1985, and 1986. On some major sites, no chicks at all were reared in 1987 and 1988, and this year's breeding has also failed. Other species, such as the puffin, have also suffered massive breeding failure.
The Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland—DAFS for the sake of brevity—has repeatedly told my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) the Royal Society for Birds and other such bodies that that failure has nothing to do with the adjacent industrial sand eel fisheries. It now turns out that the Department's own experts had been warning it of the consequences of overfishing the sand eels since as long ago as 1983. The disastrous belated decision of DAFS to license the Shetland sand eel fishery is a typical example of its dilatoriness. We now need a similar ban on the sand eel fishery in the Minch, unless more birds are to die and to cease to breed.
The problem is that the fate of the sea-bird colonies seems to be irrelevant to DAFS, which sees its responsibility as regulating the fishery rather than upholding the Government's obligation to protect the birds. That is symptomatic of the Tory approach, which is to maximise economic exploitation of the environment, not to protect it.
The newly appointed Environment Secretary, the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) comes to the job with a reputation of being more sensitive, but I think that this is a bit of a rerun. The hon. Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave)—now Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office—when in a more junior Environment post, also had the reputation of being "green", saying the right words and even appearing at ease for his numerous photo opportunities. When it comes to matters of substance, however, he did very little, and his presence in that Department has already been forgotten.
Next March, there will be a third ministerial conference on the protection of the North sea. It will be a crucial test for the Government, because so many of the pollution problems that we create have their ultimate impact on the narrow seas that surround us. The last conference, held in 1987, agreed some measures. It agreed to give the environment the benefit of the doubt when faced with uncertainty—what is described as the precautionary principle—and assented to 50 per cent. reductions in some of the most obviously risky substances being discharged into the North sea.
Pollutants continue to accumulate, however, especially in the vulnerable coastal areas and in the narrowest part, the southern North sea. To halve the rate of discharge is no solution; it only buys time for a more fundamental shift of policy. That must be a shift from a society that is dependent on creating waste and then disposing of it to one that gives proper attention to not creating the waste in the first place. There is an opportunity here and now to do something. Public support for cleaning up the environment has never been so strong, but what is new, and what offers to make hopes of improvement a reality, is the significant thinking that is going on—even in the industries that, up to now, have been creating the waste.
The spring 1989 issue of the magazine Process Engineering was devoted entirely to the environment. It produced some interesting conclusions: that engineers are worried about the state of the environment, that there is vast potential for clean, no-waste and low-waste technology and that that could be economically viable, often with a rapid payback on the investment. However, the framework within which such companies must work is not conducive to the development of clean technologies, because there is no incentive for them to take action while waste-dumping costs are so low and regulations so lax.
Governments must act to achieve prompt and effective change. They can provide the long-term framework and objectives, and make it absolutely clear that the only way forward is a fundamental switch from our present culture of waste creation and disposal to one geared to placing a primary emphasis on clean technology and avoiding the creation of waste. That means thinking about what is being produced, as well as about the waste created during its manufacture.
Because the North sea is the sink for so much of our waste, and because the North sea conference has the scale and political clout to mean something, the forthcoming third conference must do much more. It must shift from ad hoc pollution control measures to working out a long-term planned strategy to achieve the necessary shift to clean technologies. That will give industries the guidance, structure and time with which to achieve the changes that are now possible. If that is to happen, however, countries such as Britain must realise how urgent it is for the third North sea conference to shift what has in the past been an emphasis on short-term "fix-it" measures. If we do not move on, there will be nothing left to fix.
Apart from the environmental benefits, it will be to our economic advantage if we are a prime mover. If the problem is to be resolved by united action at an international level, the growing United Kingdom pollution control industry will be presented with a wider market. If we are in the vanguard of the change, we can profit from it, but if we tag along in the rear, whingeing and moaning, we shall end up having to import products and skills when the international community finally forces us to catch up with others.
Unfortunately, there is little sign of that happening. The new Environment Secretary is supposed to have been appointed to improve the presentation of Government policy, but he will have to do more. We cannot rely on improved presentation; we shall need policy changes. I can say now that one test that will distinguish presentation from substance will be whether the right hon. Gentleman—during the current preparations for the third North sea conference, and at the conference—calls for those structural changes necessary for a clean environment. If he does not, he will have failed, and no amount of presentation will cover up his failure.
The new Secretary of State is renowned as a communicator, the implication being that his predecessor was not one. I consider that unfair: the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury was a very good communicator. He made it blindingly obvious that protecting the environment could not be reconciled with the Thatcherite policies of deregulation. No amount of presentation can change that. I hope that the new Secretary of State will be able to bring some pressure and influence to bear on his colleagues to try to ensure that, when the future of everyone in this country and indeed in northern Europe is affected, we make the necessary effort and the necessary change both here and abroad. At home, and in partnership with our neighbours in northern Europe, we must work to clean up the North sea and the Irish sea. If we do not, succeeding generations will never forgive us.
I do not intend to try to follow the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) who gave us a somewhat discursive presentation of an important case involving environmental matters. I welcome his perceptive observation that there was not much of a sustained chorus of opposition to the motion for the summer adjournment. One or two hardy souls said that they would be glad to stay, as long as nobody made them do so. That is understandable.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras spoke about a wide range of environmental matters. The new Secretary of State for the Environment recently left my former Department to join my former parliamentary private secretary in the Department of the Environment. I assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will study the hon. Gentleman's remarks with care and enthusiasm.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Sir D. Smith) made what seemed to be a serious set of allegations about what he described as inexcusable, bureaucratic mistakes in the operation of the insolvency service. That service deals with about 12,000 personal bankruptcies and company liquidations each year. That is a large number to deal with effectively. The service sets a high standard, but clearly the case that my hon. Friend cited did not measure up to that standard. I shall invite the authorities to investigate it if my hon. Friend will be kind enough to let me have the details of the case.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) has been reading, as I have been, the interview with President Mitterrand and speculating about the long-term implications of the President's observations about the Government's attitude towards economic and monetary union. The hon. Gentleman cited with approval President Mitterrand's proposition that we should play the card of agreement. That is important, because President Mitterrand mentioned the desirability of proceeding with major decisions about the future of the Community in unanimous agreement. The Government share that view.
At the conclusion of the Madrid conference we made it quite clear that we would take part in any intergovernmental conference about economic and monetary union, although we emphasised that a great deal of preparatory work is necessary first. It should not take place along the exclusive lines traced out in the Delors report. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take some encouragement from the fact that by tenacious negotiation we were able to reach agreement on the important stages of development whether at Fontainebleau, at Luxembourg in the Single European Act, at Frankfurt or, indeed, at Madrid. The hon. Gentleman should not be too despondent about the possibility of agreement not being achievable.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) spoke comprehensively and effectively about his concern for the future of Manchester airport and the case for increasing the use of such regional airports. My hon. Friend gave a variety of reasons. One was because our other airports in the south-east are already overcrowded and the second was because we need to attract transatlantic traffic to this country rather than allowing it to go to continental airports. The third reason was for the sake of increasing prosperity in the northern airports.
I respond to my hon. Friend's case with some sympathy because my constituency is immediately adjacent to Gatwick and my constituents take great comfort from the fact that there is a prohibition on the construction of a second runway at that airport. I hope that that will enable my hon. Friend to develop his case with which the Government have always had great sympathy. At the same time we have to try to safeguard the interests of the country as a whole by ensuring that increased access for foreign airlines is traded for benefits for United Kingdom airlines. My hon. Friend said that we should use international air traffic agreements effectively to promote the right kind of airport policy. I am sure that that will continue to be the case.
The hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Loyden) made a rather robust attack on the policy of the Government in relation to the national dock labour scheme. When I reflect on the condition of the docks in Merseyside today compared with the condition of those docks when I was first elected there in 1954, I share his sense of sadness. One of the books that I had an opportunity to study in the last year or two was a magnificent specially printed book called "A Cruise in Scots Waters" which was printed in 1847. It described a cruise in which the navigators set out from the port of Liverpool in 1847.
The description of the teeming prosperity and the Venetian imperial dynamism of Liverpool in those days was a fantastic reminder of what has been lost. Sadly, a great deal of that has been lost in recent years because of the immobility of those leaders of the dock workers who have hung on to the dock work labour scheme long past its useful life. Today it is up to the employers and the employees to establish new employment arrangements that will enable the new opportunities to be seized. The hon. Member for Garston presented a rather curious case, arguing that the Government were undermining the rights of trade union members at a time when commuters and others in this city are oppressed by a proliferation of strikes rather than the reverse.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), who is lurking in an unfamiliar place in the Chamber, was kind enough to acknowledge that my right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor had made significant improvements—from his point of view—to the Government's proposals on the legal profession between the Green Paper and the White Paper. He also said that the proposals adopted by our profession at the Bar in consequence of the Green Paper were the most far reaching ever set in hand. If I may say so, it was high time for such things. I have long studied the 1846 Special Select Committee report which contained a number of reforms that have long since been neglected. My hon. and learned Friend was right to say that a great deal has been achieved, and it is right for us to approach the debates in the next session on that basis.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), who has told me that he cannot be here for the conclusion of the debate, was one of two hon. Members who spoke about events in China. The hon. Member for Bradford, North (Mr. Wall) spoke about his impression of events in China and compared them in a rather curious fashion with his impression of the development of Hong Kong. I had some sympathy with the hon. Member for Bradford, North, who can describe himself as a faithful Socialist if any Opposition Member can use such a term, when he went on to describe what he called his idea of Socialism. He was obliged to disclaim as an example virtually every case of Socialism that has ever been put in place. He described with the utmost enthusiasm everything that he sees taking place in China. I wonder how Socialists view the world when they cannot find any working examples that they are not about to disclaim.
The hon. Member for Bradford, North went on to bemoan and criticise conditions in Hong Kong. Hong Kong's problems consist of trying to cope with an uncheckable torrent of refugees from Vietnam and daily and overwhelming applications from potential refugees from mainland China. The people of Hong Kong are proclaiming the freedom that they have enjoyed under British rule and seeking to be protected from the contrasts that exist in the Socialist state on the other side of the border.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North was certainly right to draw attention to the great importance as perceived by the people of Hong Kong of plans for the future location of the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs will have that in mind as an important point to canvass in future discussions with the Government of China.
The hon. Member for Bradford, North referred to the case of Xu Hai Ning and paid tribute, which I welcome, to the way in which Home Office officials and others have responded to his complaint. I identified some of the other activities which gave him anxiety, which I shall draw to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) made a moving, important and characteristic contribution to our debate. I speak of him as my hon. Friend wih a particular recollection of the time when we walked down Fleet street and up Ludgate hill together to sit alongside each other for the memorial service for the death of Sir Winston Churchill. We have been Members of Parliament together. He has served with distinction in many capacities in Northern Ireland. His plea for the political leaders of Ulster to get together, to risk insults to achieve political progress for the people of Northern Ireland was, he will have noticed, heard by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
My hon. Friend may not know that we are publishing tomorrow a booklet in recognition of the 20 years presence of our forces in Northern Ireland, to whom he rightly paid tribute. The booklet is entitled, "The Day of the Men and Women of Peace Must Surely Come". As my right hon. Friend the previous Secretary of State for Northern Ireland said, the booklet tries to
demonstrate the positive and creative work of the real people of Northern Ireland and the achievements over the past 20 years.
My hon. Friend and I have not taken the same view of the Anglo-Irish Agreement, but I hope that he joins me in regarding the setting in which we now find ourselves as one in which people should respond to the moving plea that he made.
I listened to the several points made by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) with interest, partly because he welcomed me as a fellow Welshman to these debates. I was mindful of the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) not to be carried away by that emotional coincidence. I am not so carried away as to subscribe to the critical view of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales that was taken by the hon. Member for Ogmore. Conservative Members share the view that the people of Wales have an outstanding Secretary of State who has achieved a great deal. A momentary Welsh debate took place between the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn about the prospects for a debate on the Health Service in Wales. My hon. Friend is right to say that there is a prospect of that coming about in the Welsh Grand Committee before too long.
On Sunday trading, the position of the European Court has not yet been finalised, and in those circumstances, many local authorities are not taking action until the position is clearer. As to the Children Bill, that will be the subject of debate when the House comes back after the recess.
My hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester) spoke of another part of the country where mining is an important activity, as it is in the Ogmore valley, but he was speaking, understandably, of his constituency and the environmental impact of opencast mining in the Erewash valley. Even so, the Government believe that opencast mining is a valuable source of economic coal and wish to develop that source, but only if that can be done in an environmentally acceptable way. That is why we issued the new mineral planning guidelines in May of last year, and those are intended to give full weight to environmental issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for Delyn devoted the substance of his speech to the recent serious examples of salmonella food poisoning in his constituency and he made important points. First, he paid a tribute to the health authorities that have responded so effectively to this emergency. He stressed the need for notices to be issued naming the source of such problems, giving fair warning across borders between different authorities to consumers of the hazards arising in such ways. He may like to know that the chief medical officer of the Welsh Office, having issued details of the retail outlets that have been supplied with the offending cooked cold meats, has gone on to issue today a further notice with further information on some vacuum-packed cold cooked meats from the same source that may be hazardous. I shall draw his detailed points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) gave us a long and by no means insignificant insight into some serious environmental problems with which he is rightly concerned. He spoke specifically about the Nature Conservancy Council. There is a case for conservation policy to be formulated on a Great Britain basis. We are fully aware of that, if only to enable us to comply with international obligations. However that should not be allowed to overshadow the real benefits for nature conservation that will flow from regional organisations as well. The balance is intended to be right, but I shall draw his points to the attention of my right hon. Friend the newly appointed Secretary of State for the Environment. He will have noticed yesterday during Question Time that my right hon. Friend responded to the approach made by the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) by saying that he would try to establish a common approach to environmental policy.
My hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) urged me to draw the attention of my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Treasury and the Office of Arts and Libraries to the needs of the English National Opera and the English National Ballet. I assure him that my right hon. Friend the Minister for the Arts is aware of the situation and is confident that a means will be found to allow both organisations to continue their excellent work.
My hon. Friend joined the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn) in drawing attention to the concerns arising from the impact of possible changes in the inner London highway system. Rather ambitiously, he said that he would tackle this problem with wig, pen and sword. With the greatest respect to the learned Clerks, I cannot see what value a wig would have. He should take note of the fact that the studies in which he is concerned are about improving conditions for residents, cyclists, pedestrians, business and those travelling in these areas. They are looking at combinations of public transport, parking control and enforcement, and not simply the construction of new highways.
Finally, I acknowledge the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Gooclhart). I hope that he will forgive me if I do not reply in detail. I have done so before, and I should not like to trespass at this stage on the reply that he is likely to get in due course from my successor in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I commend the motion to the House and wish hon. Members on both sides of the House a happy summer holiday.