I am pleased that you have called me first, Mr. Speaker. I believe that the House should not adjourn for Christmas until it has dealt with the extremely important issue of the imprisonment in Iraq of my constituent Mr. Ian Richter.
This case first came to the notice of the British public when in the Financial Times of 24 July 1986, an article appeared headed
British businessman detained in Iraq.
A British businessman has been arrested in Iraq in connection with alleged corruption. Mr. Ian Richter, local manager of the British water engineers Paterson Candy International was detained as he was leaving Baghdad airport.
No one who knew Ian Richter could believe that he could be the subject of such accusations. He is an honourable and kind man with a loving family. He was serving not only the interests of his company and of his country in Iraq but, over a long period, had tried to improve conditions for the Iraqis. He was involved in trying to create a new water system on the south bank of the River Tigris as it passes through Baghdad.
As soon as Mr. Richter was arrested, on 17 June 1986, the Foreign Office was informed and diplomats in Baghdad speculated that there was a connection with the dismissal from office on 22 June of that year of the mayor of Baghdad, Mr. Al-Mufti, for, in the words of a presidential decree,
unfaithfulness in his responsibility in preserving the Government's money.
After Mr. Richter was arrested, Foreign Office officials were allowed to see him on only one occasion. There was a five-minute meeting on 7 July 1986 and even at that meeting Ian Richter was not allowed to speak to the ambassador.
By 24 September 1986 the issue had become so worrying—because of Ian Richter's almost certain innocence and the paucity of evidence brought against him —that the then Foreign Secretary, my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House, met Mr. Tariq Aziz at the United Nations General Assembly. Happily, that meeting enabled Ian Richter to receive certain consular access. There was no doubt that the access previously granted to him was against the terms of the Vienna convention on consular relations. The Foreign Office consistently tried to improve conditions for Ian Richter and at that stage sought permission on humanitarian grounds for Mrs. Shirley Richter to rejoin her children in the United Kingdom.
I am pleased that throughout that time the Foreign Office had constant contact with both the Baghdad office and certain Iraqi officials. The Minister of State, Home Office, my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), saw members of Ian Richter's family on 14 August 1986. From that time onwards serious accusations were made about the Iraqis' handling of the case.
By November 1986 access to Mr. Richter, which started after Mr. Aziz intervened at one visit per week, was reduced to one visit per fortnight and later to one per month. As Mr. Richter was technically on remand, the conditions in which he was held were disgraceful by any international standard. In November 1986 my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton (Mr. Clark), the former Minister for Trade, met Mrs. Shirley Richter and then went to Iraq. Throughout the following months regular discussions were held on Ian Richter and hardly any evidence was produced against him.
When Mr. Richter was brought to trial in Baghdad on 7 February 1987, the court case lasted less than one hour and what little evidence was presented was in Arabic. During the build-up to the trial, Mr. Richter was asked to sign statements in Arabic which contained no translation. Unfortunately, during his trial he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment under the articles of the Iraqi penal code relating to bribery and the forging of official documents.
As I have stated, many believe that this case had little to do with Ian Richter and more to do with internal politics in Iraq. The mayor of Baghdad was subsequently tried and executed. In the years since Ian was sentenced, the Foreign Office has tried as hard as it could to secure his release. It is difficult for Ian's many friends to believe that the Foreign Office is doing anything at all because Ian is still in prison in Baghdad and there has been little press comment on his case other than the article in the Financial Times at the beginning of this episode and another in the London Daily News—which exists no more—on 25 February 1987.
There was little press comment because it was felt that the Iraqis would not respond to the sort of pressure that the press might bring to bear and that it might be counter-productive. It is clear from the various meetings between British Foreign Office officials and Iraqi officials that trying to do things the decent way has not worked.
Ian has now been in prison for three and a half years on a charge that we do not believe. I cannot pay enough tribute to successive Ministers and officials at the Foreign Office for what they have tried to do. I have spoken to them many times and they have always been extremely helpful in keeping me briefed.
In September 1987 my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House met Mr. Tariq Aziz, the Iraqi Foreign Secretary, yet again. His successor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major), met the Iraqi Foreign Minister in September 1989. The Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), travelled to Iraq on 13 February 1989 and spoke to officials. Whenever the British Government have dealt with Iraqi officials, Ian Richter has been at the top of the agenda.
From time to time I have been in contact with Julian Sheffield, the chairman of Portals Holdings plc, the holding company of Ian's company. Portals Holdings has continued to pay Ian the full overseas rate and it has provided certain assistance to his family. I believe that the company might have exerted more commercial pressure in Iraq, but I thank it for what it has done, as does Ian.
On 23 November 1987 I received a letter from Ian, set out in typically courageous terms. He thanked everyone for their interest, assistance and "refreshing attitude". He said:
It means an awful lot to me living somewhat afar, but close to you all in spirit. My family have been quite magnificent through the ordeal and consequently it is my duty to be equally strong and buoyant here.
Everyone who has met or been in contact with Ian believes him to be a most honourable man and a victim of power politics. Earlier this year my hon. Friends the Members for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) for Pembroke (Mr. Bennett) and for Chichester (Mr. Nelson) visited Iraq and my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield was able to speak to Ian.
I am also extremely pleased that, as a result of a suggestion from the Foreign Office, King Hussein raised the issue with the Iraqis. I feel that he also believes that this is a matter of humanitarian need and that the case is not based on genuine forgery or fraud.
What is extremely disturbing, however, is the fact that Ian is now the only long-term prisoner in Iraq. Increasingly, I believe that this case is simply one where Ian was arrested as an excuse to try to secure the imprisonment of the mayor of Baghdad, who was a political inconvenience to the then leadership. I believe that Ian is a hostage. Perhaps he is a hostage because of our Government's courageous decision not to sell Iraq Hawk aircraft for fear that they might be abused by the Iraqi air force.
It is more likely, however, that he is being held because of the imprisonment of Salim Hassan who was convicted in 1979 in the United Kingdom for murdering a former Iraqi prime minister. He is now serving a life term in prison. As the Iraqis told my hon. Friends in September, they are explicitly making this link with Ian's imprisonment. Although the Foreign Office assumed that that was the real reason behind Ian's continued imprisonment, the Iraqis, until recently, had never said so. Now they openly say that if we release an assassin, they will release an innocent man.
The purpose of calling the attention of the House to this case before we adjourn is that Ian will be spending another Christmas in prison. His courageous wife, Shirley, is in Iraq now. The Iraqis try to pretend that they are a civilised people, that they are turning westwards and that they want to trade with and receive aid from us. It is with unacceptable, however, that they should use such uncivilised and barbaric practices to hold on to Ian Richter.
Another purpose of the debate is to thank the Foreign Office publicly for the work that it has done over many months. I believe that it could not have done more. The overriding reason for this debate, however, is to pay tribute to Shirley Richter, her children and particularly her husband. I believe that he is serving the nation's cause—although not deliberately according to our wishes—as I know that he would not want to be released if the price for his release was the release of a convicted assassin.
On humanitarian grounds and at this time of Christmas I call, once more, on the Iraqi Government to release an innocent man.
Christmas this year may not see any spending records in the shops, but, assuredly, there will be one new record. My activities as a trustee of Crisis at Christmas, an admirable and most deserving charity, tell me that there will be a record number of homeless people in Britain this Christmas. They dwell not only on the streets of London, but on those of Manchester, Glasgow and other cities across this country. That there will be room for many of them indoors at Christmas 1989 owes everything to charitable endeavour, not to the Government's efforts.
The Leader of the House advised his ministerial colleagues to do more listening. I hope that there will soon be more evidence that they have heeded his sound advice. Since 1979, homelessness has doubled and the number still grows apace as more and more psychiatric patients are dumped on the streets in the name of community care. The number of homes repossessed by building societies in the first half of 1989 was two and a half times greater than for the whole of 1979. That is a striking figure.
Some 120,000 households will have presented themselves as homeless to local authorities this year. What is also extremely worrying is the record number of children living in poverty this Christmas. Of all Britain's poor, about one third are children.
Happily, however, another record will be broken this Christmas—a record number of young people will be working to provide food and Christmas shelter for Britain's homeless. Amidst all the inhumanity of official attitudes to homelessness, their example at least is one of man's humanity to man. Should there not be a ministerial statement on the record number of homeless people before the House rises for the Christmas recess?
For about the 40th time since the Government came to power, we are debating the motion for a parliamentary recess while still awaiting the fulfilment of the Government's 1979 election promise to create a coherent system of benefits for people with disabilities. Is there anything that the Leader of the House can tell us today about the Government's intentions? Will there be any announcement before the recess? In November, a small package of reforms was announced at the time of the uprating. Welcome as each individual reform may be, their timing was more an attempt to camouflage the Government's repeated failure to uprate child benefit than a move towards a coherent structure of benefits for the disabled. The Government have consistently refused to involve voluntary organisations and outside experts in the so-called review process. Therefore, the major statement that is rumoured for the new year does not fill them with much hope.
Notwithstanding the minor adjustments since then, there are still too many casualties among chronically sick and disabled people of the April 1988 cuts whom Ministers dismiss with pristine Thatcherite contempt. Last July, I raised repeatedly with social security Ministers the fact that some people with AIDS were entitled to £30 more under the old supplementary benefits scheme to meet the costs of their special diets than many of them now receive under income support. That is a cruel cut in benefits for people, many of whom are terminally ill.
Last week I finally received a reply, which was five months overdue from the Minister with responsibility for the disabled. It included the fine sentiment that nothing could be done because
income support is a non-contributory benefit which is financed by the taxes paid by the working population, many of whom are low paid themselves.
However, the people he conscripts to his aid, without consulting them, do not have a life-threatening disease which is exacerbated by poor diet and poor living conditions. What makes it even more absurd is that the
cost of drugs for someone with AIDS is estimated at more than £100 a week and it is possible that those costs will soon be extended to non-symptomatic people with HIV.
The stubborn refusal of Ministers to undo the damage they wreaked in 1988 is not only heartless, but blatantly poor economics. However, I was encouraged by one reply from the Minister, in which he told me that his officials had been in recent consultation with the Department of Health about the financial needs of people with AIDS. Since the split-up of the Department of Health and Social Security last year, it had seemed doubtful whether there was any liaison in Richmond house at all. Before House rises for the Recess, we need to know the outcome of the consultation between the two Departments.
On 10 July, the Minister with responsibility for the disabled told his hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) that he was still in detailed discussions with the local authority associations about section 7 of the Disabled Persons (Services, Consultation and Representation) Act 1986. That reply is recorded in vol. 156, c. 381 of Hansard. Only two days later, the Secretary of State for Health declared that section 7 had fallen out of favour. On 24 July, the Minister for Health revealed that no meeting had been held since March and no further meeting had yet been arranged. That was reported in vol. 157, c. 541 of Hansard.
The confusion over the fate of the 1986 Act has continued into the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. On 27 November, during the debate on the Loyal Address, I spoke about the muddle that appears to have been created. I received no reply, and neither did my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) when he spoke during the Second Reading debate. Despite the fact that there were four ministerial speeches on the Bill, references to community care were scant and superficial.
As the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) said on 12 December, the community care proposals have simply been tagged on to a National Health Service Bill. This was recorded in vol. 163, c. 846. It did not please the Government but it was undoubtedly true.
After waiting 18 months for a response to the Griffiths report, the White Paper was published only a week before the Bill. It appears that Ministers understand little and care less about the issues involved, which are of the utmost importance to millions of disabled and elderly people, and their carers and families. These issues are also deeply important to the young people who will give so freely of their time this Christmas to help provide food and shelter for many of the worst victims of the crisis in community care whom we now see them sleeping rough, night by night, on the streets of our great cities.
For years I have been extolling the benefits and virtues of Manchester international airport, as has the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). I do so because it happens to be the largest single employer in my constituency and is also an enormous asset for the north-west region of England.
As you, Madam Deputy Speaker, may know, Manchester is making a bid for the Olympic games in 1996. If we were lucky enough to win that, it would be the most enormous boost that the north-west of England has had for a long time. The campaign has been spearheaded by a man called Bob Scott, who has done an enormous amount of work on the project.
At a recent Question Time, the Prime Minister gave her support to the idea of Manchester hosting the Olympic games in 1996. During the campaign, enormous play has been made of the fact that there are excellent communications in the Manchester area. We have good rail links and an excellent motorway system. We have particularly emphasised how important Manchester international airport would be.
Apart from the possibility of hosting the Olympic games, we are also anxious to have more international flights in and out of Manchester airport. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon) who, until recently, was Secretary of State for Transport, for the enormous support that he gave us during his time as Secretary of State. I also pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the present Secretary of State for Transport, who has also been particularly helpful.
Having been a member of Manchester airport committee, I cannot let a debate on Manchester airport go by without mentioning Liverpool airport, as I now represent a Merseyside seat. That is also an important gateway and should be more effectively linked with Manchester so that they can be used jointly. The future of Liverpool airport should be linked with the successful Manchester airport, with which I was proud to be associated.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's words will be noted. Now I shall return to the speech that I have prepared.
Negotiations have been continuing for some time with American Airlines, which wants new services in and out of Manchester airport. Delta Airlines wants to fly daily flights from Atlanta to Manchester. North West Airlines wants to fly daily flights from Boston to Manchester. American Airlines wants an additional daily service from Chicago to Manchester. I emphasise the word "additional" because it already has a daily flight between Manchester and Chicago and, due to its success, now wants two flights per day. If we could obtain the new flights, it is estimated that this would create 3,500 new jobs in the area.
Talks with the Americans are due to recommence early in the new year. There is a great sense of urgency because it is necessary for the airlines to know as quickly as possible. If they are to obtain these flights they must start arranging them for their summer schedule. I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made a direct personal approach to his American counterpart, Mr. Skinner—not the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), but the Secretary for Transportation in the American Administration. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will stress to his Cabinet colleagues how vital these negotiations are.
I am afraid that there is one cloud on the horizon. There is a strike of baggage handlers at Manchester airport, which is causing a great deal of unhappiness in the area. Last week Manchester airport was closed for five and a half days because firemen refused to cross the picket line, thereby compromising the safety regulations. That cost the airport about £150,000 per day in landing fees. The strike is basically about the creation of 94 new jobs and the consequent reduction in excessive overtime. I suggest that it is sad that a union can bring men out on strike because new jobs are being created. The management at the airport have had volunteers doing the baggage handlers' work and they have been fully supported by the board of directors at the airport, which consists of councillors from the 10 district councils which make up the Greater Manchester area.
The Government have given enormous support to Manchester airport in the past 10 years and we have also enjoyed cross-party support in the House. Now all those efforts are being impeded by an unnecessary strike. If the people concerned care about the future of Manchester airport and its effect on the economy of the north-west, I hope that they will get their men back to work at the earliest possible opportunity.
My second point concerns Barlow Clowes. I felt rather like a jack-in-the-box yesterday while the statement on the affair was being made, because I desperately wanted to ask a question about it. Quite a number of my constituents were caught up in the Barlow Clowes crash, most of them elderly people who had invested their money in the company because they had been advised by people whom they thought were properly qualified advisers that they were investing in Government securities with a company licensed by the Department of Trade and Industry.
I cannot help feeling that Lord Young, when Secretary of State, did not handle the problem quite as sympathetically as he might have done. Incidentally, it was fascinating to see the rift among the Opposition yesterday. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman welcomed the compensation, albeit grudgingly. Then the hon. Member for East Ham—
I knew that the hon. Gentleman was one of the hams. In any case, I noticed how angry he was about the fact that compensation was being paid. He sat in his place fuming and grumbling about the way in which taxpayers' money was being handed out, as he said, to stuff the pockets of the rich.
No doubt that is why.
I also want to point out to my right hon. and learned Friend that the Secretary of State did an extremely good job yesterday and many people are happier as a result of his statement. He made it as quickly as he could because he especially wanted to deliver it before Christmas, but 42 minutes was not enough time to devote to the issue. This also proves that, no matter how hard one tries, one cannot please everyone.
The Government have made a generous and fair decision but in today's Daily Mail a man called Leslie Mullard, whose £64,000 nest egg disappeared, gives the deal only a lukewarm welcome because, he says, investors should have had a total return on their capital and the income that would have accrued on it. Perhaps the hon. member for Newham, North-West and I do not differ in believing that the lesson of this sorry affair is that people must realise that high-return investments often carry high risks.
It was in recognition of that fact that the ombudsman recommended an abatement of 10 per cent. of investments of up to £50,000. It is the old story—nothing in the world can be acquired for nothing. High-risk investments may bring high returns, but they also involve high risks.
Finally, I want briefly to mention the problems of the National Health Service in my constituency. Recently, the two health authorities that cover my area put out consultation documents. Trafford health authority feared an overspend of £1·1 million next year, so it advanced some of the options on which it believes it may have to embark. One option is to close the accident and emergency services at Altrincham general hospital; the second is to close the geriatric unit at St. Anne's hospital; and the third is to cease general family planning services.
All these options have been bitterly opposed by local people. I happen to believe that my constituency has been badly served in the provision of hospitals. We were promised a new district hospital years ago—then, suddenly, the option disappeared, not by decision of the Department of Health but by decision of the North Western regional health authority. No one has ever quite explained to me why the hospital disappeared when it did.
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of his constituents go to the accident and emergency department of Wythenshawe hospital. How concerned is he about the current proposals affecting that department?
If the right hon. Gentleman had only allowed me to continue, I was coming to that. It is of great consequence to my constituency.
Trafford general hospital, the general hospital for Trafford health authority, is difficult to get to from my constituency; Wythenshawe hospital in the South Manchester health authority area is much more convenient. However, the consultation document put out by South Manchester health authority proposes some rationalisation between Wythenshawe hospital and Withington hospital. Option A, the preferred option, would make Wythenshawe no longer a major accident centre, and it would lose many of its services.
Comments on the documents must be in by 6 January. I have had a long talk with the chairman of the South Manchester health authority, who has assured me that no decisions will be made until all comments have been studied. Suffice it to say that these proposals have caused a furore in my constituency. I have been bombarded letters from concerned people who are worried about the future. The problem has also allowed mischief makers to have a field day and to claim that everything has already been decided. Perhaps something could be done to avoid the period of uncertainty that always seems to occur at this time of year.
I realise that we are spending more on the Health Service. I realise that there are more doctors and nurses and that more patients are being treated, but people's expectations have also risen enormously. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) and I went to see the Secretary of State for Health recently, and were told that more money would be forthcoming in the Chancellor's statement.
Then, last week, I received a letter from my hon. Friend the Minister for Health, who said:
The announcement of an extra £77·8 million for North Western RHA includes a cash increase on its general allocation of 6·34 per cent., or a real terms increase of 1·28 per cent. This compares well with the resource assumptions issued to the RHA in August, when we asked the Region to plan for an increase in real terms within the range -0·3 per cent. to +0·2 per cent. In addition, there have been increases to a number of specific allocations for identified programmes, as shown in the table attached to the press statement.
As a result of these increases, there is of course no reason for unplanned service reductions, and we expect NHS services in the North West to continue in the pattern of improvement which has been set in recent years.
That sounds very nice and it gives me a great deal of hope, but there is still a nasty suspicion lurking in the back of my mind that the new money is not quite so adequate as we had at first expected. I believe that the health authorities in the north-west do not know the amount of their allocation, and they will not know it until some time early in the new year, but they believe that they will have to find at least 1·6 per cent. to cover potential pay awards and price increases, over and above the 5 per cent. allocated for inflation by the Secretary of State. Any underfunding of review body pay awards to doctors, dentists and nurses would make the situation considerably worse.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will convey to our right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health my request for reassurances on the three issues that I raised before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
It is appropriate that my speech should deal with the problems of getting patients to hospital. It appears that the Secretary of State for Health is allowing the problems currently confronting Britain's ambulance service to escalate, to the point where he will be able to exercise less control than he traditionally does. It is wrong for the House to adjourn for the Christmas recess without debating the problems besetting the ambulance service. Unless the Secretary of State can offer new advice, the dispute will get worse and worse.
My experience is that, once Christmas is over, people look forward to their holidays. Therefore, there is no reason for the right hon. and learned Gentleman to imagine that he willl be able to starve the ambulance men back to work or use his economic powers to force them back to work on what are clearly unacceptable financial terms.
I appreciate that the Secretary of State does not want the dispute to spread to other sectors of the Health Service. However, that argument does not wash, because problems already exist in those other sections. Right hon. and hon. Members have heard both from the midwifery service and the speech therapy service that they are discontented. Messages and warnings are also being received from the nursing service. That dissatisfaction also should not be allowed to develop to the point where it is even more difficult to overcome.
The Secretary of State for Health has remarked that arbitration is a figment of the 1970s, but that is the wrong way of looking at a service that has served us well in the past. All my working life, I have believed that every trade union/employer agreement should make provision for a dispute procedure. When I worked in the mining industry, I was involved in the concept of its different collieries working together to reach different agreements on working conditions, both by consultation and through conciliation, and coal agreements. That could be achieved only through a binding acceptance by both sides to follow a conciliation procedure and to refer any disputes to an arbitration tribunal.
It is as well to refer some disputes to a third party, who can stand back and view matters in a different light from that of the two combatants. It is wrong of the Secretary of State for Health to suggest that the arbitration service would simply cut the award by half. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is so right in the views that he expresses, and if he is so certain of the fairness of his offer, what does he have to fear from the arbitration service, which would take into account awards that have already been granted?
Many years ago, when I was a member of the Labour Staffs Association, the National Union of Mineworkers and NACODS accepted an offer, whereas our association declined to do so and took the matter to arbitration. The panel openly declared that, because the two other organisations had accepted the employers' offer, and even though our members deserved more, a higher award to them would upset the equilibrium. That is the way in which arbitration works, and there is nothing wrong in using it.
The Secretary of State for Health should not feel that he is backing down by going to arbitration. His refusal to do so has more to do with bolstering his own ego. No doubt he has made promises to the Prime Minister and to others of his right hon. and hon. Friends who are Ministers, that he will not personally intervene in the dispute. That is not the right way for a Secretary of State to conduct himself, and neither is his attitude a responsible one.
Today, we do not have an ambulance service that the public can rely on. The House should have debated the dispute before the Christmas Recess, because the majority of the public are of the opinion that the Secretary of State is wrong. We are here to represent the public and to express their views in this House, and the House itself ought to decide whether or not the dispute should go to arbitration.
Once the ambulance service dispute goes to arbitration, the problem will be over. Right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House appreciate that the need for a reliable ambulance service will increase over Christmas, and it is wrong to put the public at risk. About a week ago, one of my constituents collapsed and died at a local football match. Although it would be wrong to claim that he died only because the ambulance service was unavailable and because it took about half an hour for an Army ambulance to arrive, the individual who tried to revive him is an ambulance service worker. There is an ambulance depot only two minutes away from that football ground, and it is not hard to believe that, had it been operating properly, that constituent would be alive today.
At the ambulance station about half a mile from where I live, workers are turning up for duty, willing to answer all emergency calls. However, when they arrive for work, the station's chief superintendent asks, "Are you willing to work as normal?" When they answer no, the ambulances' ignition keys are removed. The ambulance men and ambulances are available, but because of the way that the dispute has been handled, they cannot respond properly to emergency calls.
If the Secretary of State for Health is so worried about the problems of the ambulance sector spreading to other parts of the National Health Service, why does he not remove it from the control of his Department and place it under that of the Home Office, together with the police and fire services? That would be to return to the former situation, under which it developed from a combined fire and ambulance service.
Before the House rises, there should be an understanding from the Secretary of State for Health that he will refer the ambulance dispute to arbitration, so that our ambulance men can return to work.
The House should not adjourn for the Recess until it has debated two important matters. The first involves my constituency. On 11 December, 230 of my constituents were informed that their employer—a subsidiary of Norcros named Temperature Ltd.—is to close, with substantial job losses and effects on the island's economy, and that a small number of jobs will be transferred to Portsmouth. The factory concerned is located behind Sandown lake, in an area that suffers the highest seasonal rate of unemployment in the whole of the United Kingdom. Any job loss that erodes our industrial base on the island deals a serious blow to us. I am sure that I have the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that we feel for the 230-plus employees who have been given notice so soon before Christmas.
The Isle of Wight development board has tried very hard to find a way of assisting in the difficulties, and I am pleased to say that a number of large employers on the island—such as Westland Aerospace and Plessey—have already expressed an interest in taking on skilled employees. In an economy such as ours, skilled men are always in demand; it is the unskilled who are difficult to employ.
The problem came about because of a lack of orders from British Rail for rolling stock containing air conditioning. The position is rather complicated; British Rail had originally secured a tranche of units for the 158 express from British Rail Engineering Ltd, and, following the prompt and successful completion of the contract, established a reputation for its reliable, high-specification and thoroughly serviceable air-conditioning unit. BREL, however, is now a privatised organisation.
I went to see the vice-chairman of British Rail to find out what could be done to assist the factory. Temperature was alarmed that it had been taken off—or, rather, had not been able to get on—the tender list of the major rolling-stock suppliers: it had had to join up with a French company manufacturing railway air conditioning to get on to the tender list in this country.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport recently announced record investment in new rolling stock, and for train sets to go via the Channel tunnel. We hear a good deal nowadays about the level playing field of the EEC. British taxpayers' money is being invested—quite rightly—in rolling stock to meet the needs of the Channel tunnel in the 1990s, and the increasing demands for air-conditioned trains to improve the comfort of passengers. Yet, for reasons that I have been unable to ascertain, a British company providing a first-class product has been excluded from the tender list. That raises a serious issue of principle.
I received a letter from Mr. David Kirby, British Rail's vice-chairman, on 1 December, and sent it on to the company. In the letter, Mr. Kirby told me that the opportunity of further orders for the company was likely to arise next year—which, as hon. Members will appreciate, will be far too late.
I have involved myself in the possibility of the privatisation of British Rail's assets on the Isle of Wight. The island's modest railway network does not, in my view, fit into the overall jigsaw of Network SouthEast. Unfortunately, the negotiations were blown somewhat out of proportion during my absence on holiday. I was unable to comment in the local press, and was attacked vehemently by a number of political opponents. I had, however, contacted my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport in June or July, in the hope that he would visit the island to consider the possibility of separating the local service from British Rail. I also hoped that he would pay a non-ministerial visit to the Temperature factory nearby to see the manufacture of air-conditioning units for himself.
Unhappily, because the saga had been blown out of proportion in my absence, the Minister probably—and rightly—took a step backwards from involvement in the political melee that followed: British Rail certainly did. I fear that no good was done to Temperature's employment prospects, and that, had we made more orderly progress, the position might be very different today.
Last week, I wrote to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, informing him that considerable investment in new rolling stock and air conditioning was likely to go overseas—perhaps to EEC countries, but not to parts of the United Kingdom and certainly not to my constituency. I hope that, now that the problem is on the record, I shall obtain a positive response from my right hon. Friend, and that we may yet find out why we have been prevented from participating in that investment and thereby maintaining a significant part of our manufacturing base on the Isle of Wight.
My second reason for suggesting that the House should not be adjourned prematurely relates to the awful happenings in Romania. I find it extraordinary that the Opposition should have chosen to submit a private notice question on Panama, given that the loss of lives there is —fortunately—small in comparison with that in Romania.
I know that the hon. Gentleman came into the House only in the most recent general election, and he may not know that Mr. Speaker has said repeatedly that private notice applications should not be referred to on the Floor of the House. Does he accept, however, that only the procedures of the House prevent me from correcting what he has just said?
I can help the hon. Gentleman. I myself submitted an application for a private notice question about Romania. It is obvious that one application was agreed to, because we discussed it earlier in relation to Panama; it is equally obvious that others were not, as there has been no discussion of them until now.
The position in Romania is extremely serious. I believe that we should consider the plight of the poor people in that wretched country—if not tonight, at least before the House adjourns for Christmas—especially in view of our considerable volume of trade with it. We receive an imbalance of manufactured goods from Romania, which is one of the only COMECON countries with a balance-of-payments surplus—indeed, I think it is the only one. It is obvious that an evil regime is being propped up by the considerable foreign exchange balances that have been built up.
Her Majesty's Government really ought to agree to meet companies that are importing Romanian goods and to discuss an urgent switch of production away from the regime, with the aim of bringing it down—and the sooner the better. In Britain, we are fortunate because we can elect and dismiss Governments without the intervention of a bayonet or a bullet.
I hope that, as right hon. and hon. Members go home to their families, as they put their arms around their children and make their once-yearly visit to church for midnight mass on Christmas Eve, they will remember the awful events that have taken place in Romania in the past few days. Thousands have been injured and maimed in the streets because they wished to enjoy the freedom that we have in the House—freedom of speech.
The events in Romania show that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is right to stand alone on the world stage and, once again, refuse to bow to the Chamberlainesque breeze that is blowing through Europe. We have seen reductions in American forces and President Mitterrand swooning over the reunification of Germany that Chancellor Kohl is in helter-skelter pursuit of. Therefore, I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is standing alone and saying that we must not be dazzled by the events in eastern Europe. The horrible events in Romania in the past few days have driven that lesson home.
We should not adjourn for the Christmas Recess until we have discussed the situation in Panama. I am glad that the Leader of the House, who has a distinguished record as a former Foreign Secretary, is here to reply to the debate. If I am not in the Chamber to hear his reply, it will not be because I am not interested, but because I think I am getting the 'flu that is just about right for Christmas—and I shall read what he says with great interest.
I hope that the Deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary will say what he really believes, rather than the line that the Government are currently pushing. The Government's current line is craven, it is not based on principle, and it is not, I believe, one that he would wish in his heart to defend.
The United States has given three reasons for its invasion of Panama city. The first reason was to restore democracy. There was much talk in the earlier private notice question about the fact that the election was called off, and that the current regime in Panama is therefore not legitimate. I remind the House that the United States Administration did their best to interfere in the outcome of that election by putting in at least $10 million, and by supporting the Christian Democrats party. That degree of interference was bound to destabilise the democratic processes, undeveloped as they undoubtedly are, during the elections in Panama.
The long-running sanctions against Panama have had an impact on public opinion. Not least among the reasons is the revenue from the Panama Canal, which has been held illegally by the United States Government, and none of which has been given to the Panamanian authorities. Frankly. I think that it was despicable and unwise of the Government to come immediately to the aid of the United States. I count myself as a friend of the United States, but one has to say to one's friends in the United States Administration that the interests of democracy cannot be served by acting as an aggressor, and that is precisely how the United States has behaved today. It has been guilty of using double standards.
The second reason that the United States gave was that its troops went in to protect United States lives. I understand that one United States service man who was hanging around the headquarters of the Panamanian defence forces for some reason was killed. Perhaps he was being more provocative than he should have been. Now dozens of United States troops are dead in the streets of Panama City, because of the action that has been taken. I know that that is true, because I have just spoken to the Panamanian ambassador and he has been in touch with events in Panama. He told me that 114 civilians had been killed and 300 wounded.
I have visited Panama on a number of occasions. I know exactly where the headquarters of the Panamanian defence forces is located. It is in a working-class residential area. Anyone who sets out to bombard the headquarters is bound to cause numerous civilian casualties, and that is precisely what has happened.
The ambassador also told me that hospitals in Panama City cannot manage. The United States can take the dead away quickly because it has the facilities. The Panamanians cannot. There is an embargo on medical supplies coming to Panama from the United States. The ambassador told me that pharmaceutical companies which supply hospitals in Panama are refusing to give them plasma, on the instructions of the United States Government, as part of the embargo that they have been imposing for some days. So much for saving lives—it seems strange that the United States wants to save lives by killing people. Many of the civilians killed were entirely innocent. For what purpose? It was supposed to be a bloodless coup. Meanwhile, General Noriega is alive and well and living in Panama—he was not in the headquarters.
I noticed pictures in the newspapers yesterday of fully armed Panamanian defence force soldiers and I wondered why. I could see no reason at all. It is clear that all this has been bubbling away for some time. The Panamanian defence forces, of which General Noriega used to be the head, are all American-trained and probably as good as the United States troops—indeed, judging by today's results, they are considerably better.
Instead of a bloodless coup, the streets of Panama City have blood and dead United States service men on them. What will that do to public opinion in America, when United States soldiers go back in coffins?
The third reason that the United States has given is that it had to move in to stop General Noriega's reign of terror. That is grotesque. I do not stand here and defend Noriega but, as the hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) pointed out, one cannot begin to compare him and what has been going on in Panama with Romania and Ceausescu. What about the events in Tiananmen square? How can one talk about a reign of terror in Panama when one compares events there with those in Romania and Tiananmen square? What about the death squad activities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras? No death squads have been operating on the streets of Panama City. There have been casualties, but they have not begun to compare with what has been going on for years in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, with the knowledge and connivance of United States Governments both past and present.
We do not need any lectures on morality, democracy or terror from the United States, which is scarcely innocent and hardly comes to the discussion with clean hands. What about the support that the United States has given the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua? It is amazing that anyone can accept that the Americans can argue on foreign policy from a position of morality. Let us remember President Roosevelt's dictum in the days of Somosa's dictatorship, which the United States supported up to the hilt. He said:
He might be a son-of-a-bitch but he's our son-of-a-bitch.
That has been the philosophy behind American foreign policy.
The United States' action is blatant aggression, it is wholly wrong, and it is an infringement of Panamanian sovereignty. I must tell the deputy Prime Minister and former Foreign Secretary that the United States Government have been acting no better than a bunch of international terrorists in the way they are conducting themselves on the streets of Panama City. They have infringed the terms of the Panama canal treaty and the United Nations charter, and we all know that that is so.
Another argument that the United States has used is that General Noriega is a drug runner. If that is true, the United States has known about it for a long time, so how come there was a time when General Noriega was flavour of the month? It was, of course, because the United States felt that he was someone whom the United States could manipulate in the interests of American foreign policy in Central America, but that has not worked. He suddenly stopped being flavour of the month and became public enemy number one. One cannot be convinced by United States arguments of that type.
We know exactly what all this is about. It is about the United States trying to maintain its influence in the canal zone. Even I admit that it cannot renege on the Carter-Torrijos treaty of 1977, which Reaganites bitterly opposed. The US wants to install a puppet Government in Panama so that the Americans can stay in the Panama canal zone after 1999, by the end of which, under the 1977 treaty, they are due to quit. The Leader of House knows that the Panama canal zone is not just a depot for the US—it is part of the integrated command structure of US forces and the headquarters of southern command. I am not anti-US—
I am no more anti-US because I bitterly criticise President Bush's aggressive actions than I am anti-British because I bitterly criticise the Government's domestic and foreign policies. I resent any imputation that I am anti-American.
I am most upset and angry at the Government's craven stance. Once again, they are acting as apologists for US agression. We used to have an independent foreign policy, but now we rush to defend US policy for the price of a presidential telephone call. There has been no prior consideration of what is going on in Panama. The Americans are being dragged into a war and we have supported them. There has been no consultation with our European Community partners. Once again, we have acted like a spineless jelly. This is a shameful day for the United States and for the British Government.
Much as I would like to pursue the crucial and urgent subject which the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) introduced, he will realise that the framework of the debate does not allow me to do that and raise another matter which I think should be considered before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
The subject that I wish to mention could scarcely be further away from that raised by the hon. Gentleman. I refer to the special problem of women who have been widowed and who are contemplating remarriage, or women who have remarried and, by remarrying, have sacrificed the pension from their first husband's employer.
When a woman remarries, she is deemed to be the wife of her second husband and the pension from her first husband is effectively forfeited. I submit my case in the context of widows of service men because they have a special case.
Until the second world war, officers in particular were discouraged from marrying until they were 30. No marriage allowance or accommodation was provided for them if they married before that age. That condition prevailed until 1960, when an officer was discouraged from marrying until he was 25, and was penalised if he did so. If the widow—I shall make up a hypothetical example—of a squadron leader decided to remarry, let us say, a retired naval commander, she would have to face the fact that she would forfeit her pension as the widow of a squadron leader. That is not particularly unusual because of the rather unusual pattern of marriage to which I have referred. Moreover, many service men retire rather younger than people in civilian life.
If a woman marries a retired service man, she knows that, on the death of her second husband, which is not too unusual because second husbands are often considerably older than their wives, she can apply for her first pension, which has lapsed, to be reinstated. Until 1988, the rule was that the pension that she was eligible to receive from the first husband
may be restored at the discretion of the Defence Council if there are compassionate grounds for doing so or if the second marriage comes to an end, or she ceases to live with the man as his wife.
Until 1988, women had to undergo a means, or needs, test.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), who was then Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces, for establishing a more helpful form of words. In a letter to me last week, my noble Friend the Earl of Arran set out the current form of words concerning the restoration of the first pension when a woman is widowed for a second time. The words now used are:
There is however discretion to restore the Service widows' pension previously received when a subsequent marriage comes to an end. This discretion is exercised where a widow is financially worse off on second widowhood without the pension of her former Service husband than she was on first widowhood with that pension.
A woman who is contemplating a second marriage still has to step into the dark knowing that, should she be bereaved again, the restoration of her first pension will be subject to a means test. She would of course receive no pension from her second husband's employer if she married a man who was already retired.
Although these arrangements are better than those before 1988, they are still unsatisfactory. If a woman contemplates remarriage, she still does not know what will happen if she is left a widow again. That causes deep anxiety and prevents many women from remarrying. I know for a fact from constituency work that many women are deterred from remarrying because they do not know what will happen if they are widowed a second time.
The Officers Pension Society, which advises many widows in such circumstances, has to tell them, because of the uncertainty, that they can get round the problem by living with the men they would like to marry. I know of one case, which I hasten to add is not a constituency case, of an extremely respectable and elderly couple who went away for a weekend and came back telling their friends that they had remarried. They had done nothing of the sort, but were trying to maintain a veneer of respectability. In fact, they were living together as man and wife but were unmarried.
The arrangements that I have described cause great distress to the people involved. The House should recognise that it is a sensitive issue. I ask that the widow of a service man who marries a second time and is then bereaved again should have the first pension restored automatically as of right. There is no other way in which to eliminate the means test or to avoid the present situation which prevents her from marrying a second time.
Perhaps I may be permitted to speak from personal experience. I believe that such a change is in the public interest and something with which the House should be concerned. Widows should be encouraged to remarry. My mother, having been widowed for many years, remarried at the age of 74, and the last five years of her life were as happy as any. We should shape rules that encourage remarriage.
I ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House to assure me that he will ask the Government to reconsider this matter to see whether the rules can be shaped to encourage remarriage and to eliminate the fears that are experienced under the present arrangements.
I should like to refer to two matters on the international scene which I believe should receive the House's attention before the motion is agreed to.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) has referred to United States' action in Panama. The Leader of the House is a former Foreign Secretary. I do not know whether, like me, he had hoped that we had come to the end of the time when the super-powers intervened in the affairs of other countries using arms.
Only a few weeks ago, the Soviet Union apologised for what it did in Czechoslovakia in August 1968. I welcome that. Indeed, I took part in the debate in the House on that invasion, in late August 1968. The United States' action in Panama takes us back to such action. It believes that it has the right to intervene using armed force. I take the opposite point of view. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West, I do not think that there is any justification in international law for what the United States (lid. I would be the last person to defend or justify the regime in Panama. Of course it was rotten to the core and the dictator was an outright gangster, but the same applies unfortunately in many countries in the world. No one, I imagine, would argue that the Soviet Union should intervene in Romania.
The Unied States could have taken the matter to the United Nations Security Council. If we believe in international law and the principles of the United Nations, that is what the United States should have done. But of course it refused to do so. I find it difficult to believe that the United States Administration cannot live with the idea that there is a dictator in Panama. What about the bloody tyranny which existed in Chile after the 1973 coup? Far from helping the democratic forces, the United States gave Pinochet and his colleagues every encouragement. What about El Salvador, where only a few weeks ago six priests and two others were murdered by death squads that were undoubtedly linked to the pro-United States authorities?
I find it alarming, and I believe that Britain finds it humiliating, that once again the Prime Minister has supported the United States. We are told that President Bush telephoned her after the invasion. No doubt President Bush knew full well that the Prime Minister would give her approval. He expected it and he received it. How much better it would be if the United Kingdom Government could be relied upon to take a different view and condemn international aggression.
The right hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Mr. Amery) in the exchanges this afternoon said that the United States had been wrong about Suez. I believe that the United States was absolutely right then and is very wrong now. I do not know what will happen in Panama. I do not know whether there will be renewed fighting, but one thing is absolutely certain. The Opposition totally condemn what has occurred, just as we condemned and would condemn again military intervention in neighbouring countries by the Soviet Union.
I am also concerned about the present situation in Romania. The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field), who is not in his place, mentioned it, hut I believe that Opposition Members have more right to discuss Romania because we are against the abuse of human rights in all countries. I am not aware that the hon. Member for Isle of Wight made any protest against the murder of the six priests in El Salvador or against abuses of human rights in western countries. I am deeply concerned by what is happening in Rromania. Undoubtedly, the reports of what has occurred are genuine and hundreds of people have been executed as a result of the demonstrations there.
On the motion for the spring Adjournment on 22 May, I referred to the massive demonstrations that were taking place in China. I praised the Chinese students who were demanding more civil liberties in that country. Like everyone else, I deeply regret what tragically happened the following month.
I believe that we should give a warning to those in Romania who are responsible for ordering the bloodshed and carrying out those criminal orders. Shooting down men, women and children is a crime against humanity, and those responsible should be told that they will be held to account by the Romanian people.
People in Romania can probably see on their television screens the welcome changes that are taking place in Hungary, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the German Democratic Republic. Understandably, they ask why they should have to live under an odious tyranny, and why they should not have the same rights as those in other Communist countries. I understand and sympathise with the people of Romania. I am not surprised by the way in which the regime has reacted. Clearly, the dictator of Romania is a psychopath and most of his close family are involved in the regime. Nevertheless, we should make it perfectly clear that those who are carrying out those crimes will be held to account.
However bloodstained the tyranny in Romania, no one has suggested that the Soviet Union—which is rather different from the Soviet Union of 1968—should intervene in Romania. If the Soviet Union rightly does not intervene in Romania because it has no right to do so, why should the United States intervene in Panama?
My final point relates to problems at home. I am sure that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends will agree that it will be a bleak Christmas for millions of our fellow citizens who are on or near the poverty line. It will not be a very pleasant Christmas for those on income support and pensioners in the west midlands and elsewhere who cannot afford to heat their homes because they do not have sufficient cash. I urge the Leader of the House to make inquiries about the cold weather payment—a payment to those on income support only when the temperature falls below freezing point for five successive days. It is quite wrong that it should have to reach that level before the poorest pensioners in our community receive any help. So many people on low wages and benefits will not be looking forward to Christmas. So much of their poverty and hardship arises directly out of Tory Government policy.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) will forgive me if I do not follow his line of reasoning, as I wish to refer to the fishing industry —a subject we discussed earlier today.
The House has heard the statement by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the unrealistic quotas set by the EC for fish catches. I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the increase in quotas for the United Kingdom that he has been able to negotiate in Brussels.
While the EC has decided to use the quota system to protect fish stocks, I still have reservations about it. I doubt whether it is an effective way to protect stocks because, when a fish is netted and landed, it inevitably dies and our fishermen are throwing back the fish that they are trying to preserve for future generations.
My right hon. Friend has done a very good job in Brussels for the United Kingdom fishing industry, but there will be a knock-on effect on inshore fishing. Before we depart for Christmas, the House should consider what can be done to help our coastal fishing industry.
There are three reasons why I believe that the sea fisheries districts' area of control should be extended from the present three miles to six miles for three reasons. First, inshore fishing stocks could be more effectively managed. Secondly, modern inshore fishing vessels are faster and more seaworthy than they were, and the inshore fishery is effectively extended to six miles already. Thirdly, sea fisheries committees could effectively police the area with their present resources, as they already act as MAFF's agents. I consider that to be a sensible move, which should be in place before the common fisheries policy review in 1992, yet the Ministry seems reluctant to tell us why that extension cannot be made.
Another area of great concern to inshore fishermen is the spread of aggregate dredging. That is happening particularly around the Isle of Wight, and it directly affects some of my constituents. With greater resistence to onshore recovery of aggregate for environmental reasons, the pressure for further licences for aggregate dredging is increasing. It has been suggested to me that urgent action is needed on three issues.
First, consultation with the fishing industry should take place at the earliest opportunity and not after the dredging companies have spent large sums of money on surveys and exploration, at which stage they are probably less willing to reach a compromise. Secondly, agreement must be reached in advance between the fishing and aggregate industries on an equitable division of the sea bed. Thirdly, a full survey of fishery resources should automatically be carried out before any extraction licence is granted, to ensure that valuable breeding and spawning grounds are not destroyed or important commercial fisheries disrupted. Such surveys should be paid for by the dredging industry. It may also be necessary to restrict aggregate recovery to certain times of the year, so as to avoid interfering with spawning fish and nursery stocks.
Sewage and pollution are becoming of increasing concern to sea fisheries committees around the coast, particularly with the introduction of the European Community's molluscan and shellfish regulations. I understand that each application to discharge is considered in isolation, and it is doubtful whether any authority has a true picture of the total discharge in a given area. If that is so, I hope that the National Rivers Authority will remedy it with all speed.
Contamination of shellfish by sewage discharge can be caused by bacteria, heavy metals or changes to the water quality and sea bed. Of those, bacterial contamination is the most likely source of infection. It can be dealt with by a variety of means, which all add to the cost of the product. At present, that cost falls directly on the fishing industry and not on those who cause the pollution. The principle of the polluter paying could be applied.
By reducing the discharge of untreated or semi-treated sewage into the sea, we should bring into production other areas where at present contamination is too high to be treated. I have long believed that all discharges of raw or semi-treated sewage around our coasts should be banned, and although much has been said about the use of long outfalls and the improvement to our beaches that they bring, fishermen regard that as simply shifting the problem to another site. We need much care and consultation to ensure that the outfall does not discharge into a valuable fishing area, particularly where shellfish beds are in the vicinity.
In the southern sea fisheries area, which includes my constituency of Poole, some 80 per cent. of shellfish are exported, and with the introduction of the new EC regulations, it is essential that water quality in designated harvest areas is maintained. This requirement should be placed on the new water authorities.
I hope that responsibility for monitoring the molluscan and shellfish regulations will be placed on one Department; shared responsibility is rarely effective, and it should not be assumed that local environmental health officers, who do a very good job, will be able to carry out that new work. They are already asked to do too much with the resources they have, and they have neither the staff nor the equipment to take on that large additional task.
We hear much in the House about the deep-sea fishing industry. It is right that the Government should do all they can to ensure its long-term future, but it is equally important that the inshore fishing industry, which is a vital source of income to many of my constituents, is given the continuing support it needs to maintain its valuable contribution to the economy.
I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will pass on my comments about the inshore fishing industry to our friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, because they are matters that should certainly be considered before the Christmas recess.
I echo what hon Members have said about the international position, particularly in Romania. I am certain that the former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, who will reply to the debate, will be able to tell us about the position of the United Kingdom Government and any joint European Community action that may he contemplated or taken. Clearly, it is a subject on which the common foreign policy approach could be adopted.
I echo what hon. Members have said about the Health Service, and particularly the industrial dispute in the ambulance service. It is a matter of great concern to hon. Members that it is continuing. Although some health authorities have passed resolutions asking for the dispute to be referred to arbitration—I refer especially to Clwyd health authority, which borders and provides a service to my constituency—the Government are still not prepared to allow it to be resolved through the normal channels. As that point has been made by other hon. Members, I hope that the Leader of the House will respond to it when he replies to the debate.
I look forward to returning to my home areas of Snowdonia national park, and I wish to reflect on the community that I represent, particularly its economic base, and on the crisis facing upland farming.
This year, we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of national parks, and recently the Secretary of State for the Environment addressed a major conference on the topic. The boundaries of Snowdonia national park and my constituency are more or less conterminous. The Leader of the House has visited the area a number of times and we should like to see him again soon. The objective of the national park is the maintenance of the environment of the area and the encouragement of access to it. We welcome many people, including many hon. Members, who enjoy their recreation in the national park.
It is increasingly being emphasised that we must consider the economic well-being of the population of the national park because of their distinctive contribution to the structure of the landscape and the community. The national parks in Wales and England—there are none in Scotland yet—are not wilderness areas or natural parks such as those in the United States and other European countries. They have an indigenous population, not just flora and fauna. A cultural ecology is just as important as an environmental ecology for the future of the parks.
I refer specifically to the income of hill farmers in the national parks, particularly in Snowdonia. Hill livestock compensatory allowances are currently being considered by the Government. As a result of an agreement reached at the Council of Agriculture Ministers on 21 November, a limit has been placed on the European Community's contribution to HLCAs.
Hon. Members familiar with agriculture will know that the European Community pays 25 per cent. of the total cost and the member state Government pays the remainder. From 1991, the full EC contribution will be limited to the first 6,060 ecu, which is about £4,200 per farm. The next tranche will halve the contribution of the EC to HLCAs above the equivalent of £8,500 per farm.
That agreement is better than the original proposals, but it will still have a damaging effect on the income of many hill farmers. A farmer who has 50 suckler cows and 2,000 ewes will lose £2,500. As I shall emphasise, the income of many hill farmers is marginal, to say the least.
Under those proposals, a total of 2,200 farms in Wales will lose, and the rural economy will lose about £2·5 million. We are therefore talking about a loss of income for an industry that maintains the community structure and landscape of our national parks.
The farming unions that are active in Wales—the National Farmers Union and the Farmers Union of Wales —have put strong cases to Ministers with responsibilities for agriculture at the Welsh Office and to those at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I know that my Scottish colleagues in the Scottish National party and in other parties would want me to say that they have made strong representations to Ministers at the Scottish Office.
The hill livestock compensatory allowances rates are being reviewed. It is essential that there is an early announcement on those rates because they have not been changed since 1986 and have consequently fallen badly behind the rate of inflation. Breeding ewe prices in the markets in Wales have recently been an average of 30 per cent. lower than in autumn 1988. For those reasons it is important that the Government look to their economic contribution to the well-being of agriculture.
The Government have been saying—it was mentioned in the Autumn Statement—that they are making substantial savings on the common agricultural policy. Those savings average £155 million a year. Set against that saving, what is the £5 million that we are asking to be injected into hill farming? That figure is for hill farmers throughout the United Kingdom, so I am not being parochial or nationalistic. However, it is particularly important in Wales because 80 per cent. of agricultural land is in less-favoured areas. We are talking about some 14,500 farmers who received hill livestock compensatory allowances last year and who depend on them as part of their income.
Within the present maximum allowable payment per hectare of £71, there is scope to increase HLCA payments, but so far the Government have not seen fit to do so. I hope that the Leader of the House will convey my views to the Secretary of State for Wales—who is familiar with the issues—and to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
We are not talking about rich farmers. The myth that often circulates among the urban yuppie class is that farmers—whether they own their own farms or are tenants—have substantial assets. But their assets are useless to them unless they dispose of them. A recent study of the incomes of hill farmers by the agricultural economics department at University college, Aberystwyth, which I was pleased to visit recently, showed that in Wales 15,000 small family farms under 200 acres were surviving on virtual subsistence returns.
The dairy farmers involved had a net income of £389 a year and hill and upland farmers had an income of £108 a year in each of the two years covered by the survey. Half the farms recorded negative net farm incomes. That is not just clever accountancy by the farmers concerned but a realistic assessment by the agricultural economics department of the state of the industry and the level of incomes.
The farmers' crisis has been made worse by high interest rates, as a result of Government policy, and because of the relative decline in the value of sterling which has meant that the green pound has been significantly overvalued. For sheepmeat, the green pound rate is some 90 per cent. above the market exchange rate. That again undermines farmers.
The importance of agriculture is that it provides a framework for community life in the countryside. I am a tenant—not a tenant farmer—of half a house on an old hill-farming estate that has maintained the pattern of life in the village and countryside. The National Trust is a major landowner in the upland areas of my constituency. It has established conservation and agricultural policies that are designed to maintain the landscape and community life.
For us in the countryside, agriculture is the backbone of the community. In the Welsh language—the language of most of those communities—the description of the countryside is "cefn gwlad", which means the backbone of the country. For those reasons I put the case for hill livestock compensatory allowances to be increased and for the Government to take their responsibility towards hill farming seriously. After all, the farming community is taking its responsibility seriously. On conservation, the farming community is increasingly making its contribution to the distinctive landscape of the park, to reinvesting and maintaining the structure of the farming industry and farm buildings and to maintaining the shape of the landscape.
That can be secured for the future by adequate return of income, whether from the lower output now being demanded or a transfer away from the emphasis on production, maintaining income by conservation grants, by practices benevolent to the countryside or more organic farming. Farmers are adaptable and subtle people and they welcome those changes, but they expect to be assured that they can attain a decent level of income. They look to the Government, the Minister in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and to the Leader of the House to listen to their message.
Several hon. Members on both sides of the House have rightly referred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Because of the speed at which foreign affairs have been moving in the past few months, weeks and days, it is important to ask the Leader of the House to assure us that the continuing movement in foreign affairs is monitored and, where appropriate, action taken. If necessary the House should be recalled if the security of the nation or the European Community appears to be at risk.
Several hon. Members on both sides of the House have referred to Romania. The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) is not in his place, but I should preface my remarks by saying that Conservative Members also raise matters of human rights wherever they may be and in whatever country, whether West, East, Communist or capitalist, and they will continue to do so. It is wrong for the hon. Gentleman to cast aspersions on Conservative Members by saying that they would not do so if it were a capitalist country. I was in Sri Lanka recently and raised matters of human rights with the President and I will continue to do so wherever I go in the world.
Therefore, it is permissible for Conservative Members such as myself to refer to the horrors of recent events in Romania. It is one of the most tragic episodes in post-war European history, certainly in my lifetime, to see a European country engaged in the slaughter of its own people. Not so many years ago, that country was seen as a gateway to the West for Communist eastern and central Europe. Now, under the same leader, it has gone downhill helter-skelter into tyranny. It is sad to see President Ceausescu standing for ever in the patheon of tyrants alongside Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.
It is also ironic that, around the world, mass slaughter and terror are often carried out not by the tsars and shahs of the past, but by those who claim to be the people's representatives and the people's Governments. We see that in Romania, China, and Cambodia. However, even in this their blackest hour there is still hope for the people of Romania. That hope is based on the realities of what we have seen throughout our continent in recent months. However long it takes, ultimately tyranny cannot and will not last.
In my lifetime I have seen tyrannies in eastern and central Europe rise and then begin to crumble and fall. As a schoolboy I remember visiting the Czech-Austrian border and being impressed by the stark watchtowers and barbed wire. I came back and wrote poems about them in my English lessons. I heard on the radio about the Soviet invasion of Hungary and about the tanks rolling into Budapest. I also remember the Prague spring and the hopes that were raised and then dashed in the Dubcek period. However, one now sees, in those same countries, people's rights having their way and people's hopes coming to fruition, perhaps led by what has been achieved in Poland through Solidarity. I declare an interest as I have the headquarters of Solidarity with Solidarity in my constituency. I have seen that brave nation overcoming Communism with the help of its Church. We now see Poland's need for food and know-how. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will also bear in mind the need to help with political organisation. Ultimately, a democracy cannot rest on trade union power alone; it must have many parties, and Poland requires assistance to allow the emerging parties to develop.
East Germany is also moving towards democracy and progress. A year ago I was with some hon. Members in Leipzig and East Berlin. It is incredible to consider how we looked at that psychological and physical wall and wondered how it could ever be destroyed. After only a year, that wall is no more.
A year ago Mr. Honecker, the late not much lamented leader of East Germany, went to Moscow trying to get the line right. Half the leadership of East Germany that he left behind tried to tell us that Moscow was catching up with East Germany and that Honecker had gone to Moscow to tell the Russians how East Germany had done it. The other half of the leadership, much more realistically, said that there had to be changes but that they would take time. They said that the economy needed time to develop. They believed that, if the wall was opened quickly, business men and professionals would leave. They said that we should be patient. But the East Germans found the courage to allow people to leave first through the back door and then through the front door and they have found that walls can be torn down without the country collapsing.
When we consider the events in East Germany, the Soviet Union, Poland and Czechoslovakia, we must be careful. It is all very well for changes to occur within countries and it is fine for regimes to fall and for new democracies to be created. However, if borders are threatened, there may be instability which could lead to danger. I hope very much that the Baltic states will one day be free. As we encourage them towards that freedom, we must play it slow and careful. The same applies when we consider the German borders and those further south. In Romania, Romanians are destroying Romanians, but they are also destroying the Hungarian minority, so there are pressures on Hungary to become involved and border problems may become apparent.
Yugoslavia is user-friendly to people in this country. British people go there on holiday because they feel safe and comfortable. As Communism begins to collapse in Yugoslavia, however, the country is beginning to fragment and there are potential dangers in that. Within Yugoslavia, the Serbs comprise 40 per cent. of the population. The Serbs are a fine people but they must be reminded that they must encourage other minorities in Yugoslavia to their rights and freedom too.
The Slovenes are considering seceding from Yugoslavia. The Croatians are worried about Serbian demonstrations and the Bosnians are worried about the activities of the Serbian secret police. The Macedonians are worried about Serbian settlers. That is all happening against a background of inflation running at between 1,200 per cent. and 1,600 per cent. per year. Indeed, about 5,000 homes in Zagreb do not have electricity, not because of a power strike or because people have been cut off but because they cannot pay their bills. That situation breeds instability.
Alongside this I refer to Kosovo and to the Albanian people within that part of Yugoslavia. I raise this issue particularly on behalf of constituents of Albanian extraction who are concerned about the fate of their fellow Albanians in Yugoslavia and within Kosovo in particular. Incidentally, I am sure that all hon. Members will be aware that Mother Theresa is a famous Yugoslav Albanian. The fate of nearly 1·7 million Albanians in Yugoslavia is uncertain because there are Serbian troops, aircraft and helicopters throughout Kosovo. People are being arrested for minor infringements of the constitution. If someone says that Kosovo should secede, that is considered an anti-revolutionary act and the person could go to prison for 12 years or more. That is an example of tyranny within a user-friendly Communist state and we must be aware of it. We must also beware of the dangers of Yugoslavia breaking up. If it breaks up into small states, there will be instability in that part of Europe. We must persuade the Serbian leaders in Yugoslavia to find peaceful solutions to their problems.
have been describing the decline and collapse of Communism in Europe. That was inevitable and it is right and good. As Will Rogers said:
Communism is like prohibition—it's a good idea, but it won't work.
As we move into a new decade, there is great hope and optimism for the future of Europe as east, west, north, and south are all coming together. At the same time, we must be vigilant. There is hope, but there is also sorrow. The sorrow is evident in Romania. The hope is in Poland, East Germany, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, perhaps most importantly, in the Soviet Union.
During the Christmas recess 1 urge my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House to urge his right hon. and hon. Friends at the Foreign Office who are dealing with our foreign policy, and also our European counterparts, to bring pressure to bear on the developing democracies in east and central Europe to ensure that there is real justice for all the people and that border issues are played carefully and slowly.
I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis) and I wholeheartedly agree with the majority of his comments. It is right that during such a Christmas Adjournment debate we should consider events in other parts of the world. The pace of those events is very pressing. They are important and have a wide-ranging effect on our relationships with the new emerging democracies in Europe and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman's speech was well-argued and wide-ranging.
I want to bring the House back briefly to a more domestic, but none the less important issue—the changes in the employment benefit rules as they particularly affect part-time workers. I make no apologies for referring to such a technical change in the regulations because, although the change may appear insignificant, it has a dramatic financial effect on a great number of people. The House should not adjourn for Christmas until more consideration has been given to the effect of those changes in the next few weeks.
The changes in the unemployment rules to which I will refer specifically were introduced in the Social Security (Unemployment, Sickness and Invalidity Benefit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 1989. The House may be aware that those regulations were laid before the house on 17 November and took effect on 10 December, under the Social Security Act 1989. They were debated in Standing Committee under the negative procedure on 13 December and were criticised by the Committee at some length.
The regulations introduce several changes. Regulation 2(a) prevents people from receiving unemployment benefit in any week in which they earn more than the lower earnings limit, which is currently £43. Before those changes, as the House will be aware, people could claim unemployment benefit for any day in which their earnings did not exceed £2. That meant that people could earn some money—considerable money in some cases— a few days of the week and then claim benefit for the remaining days in which earnings were less than £2.
Regulation 2(a) is a small bureaucratic change, and it did not sound as though it would make too much of a difference for too many people, but it is a fundamental change in the way in which national insurance contributory benefits, which include unemployment benefit, will operate in the future. The fundamental change really means that, in future, unemployment benefit will be means-tested. We all know that there is a contributions test for eligibility for unemployment benefit and that one must be available for work, but, when the regulations come into effect, there will be a third additional requirement. If a part-time worker now earns more than £43 in any given week, he or she will be denied unemployment benefit. That is a far-reaching change to the principle of unemployment benefit as Beveridge saw it and as it has operated in the past 40 years. It is a serious erosion of people's entitlement to benefit and it has extensive implications.
The Department of Social Security estimates that 30,000 people will be affected by the changes in any given week and that perhaps as many as 500,000 people could lose one or more week's benefit in any given year as a result of the changes.
I want to register the strongest possible complaint about the method by which the changes are made. These far-reaching changes were visited on employers and employees alike, out of the blue and over a short time. I accept that the Government had signalled their intention to make changes in that respect when the Social Security Bill was considered in Committee in February, but there was no indication of exactly how they would be given effect. We were given two or three weeks in which to respond before the regulations were implemented.
It is unreasonable to make such changes in such a short time, without extensive consultation with employers and employees' organisations. The Government's justification is that anyone earning £43 a week pays national insurance. In their bureaucratic, simple-minded way, they argue that it is wrong to treat people earning £43 a week as employed for national insurance contribution purposes and consider them to be unemployed for unemployment benefit eligibility purposes in the same week.
The Social Security Advisory Committee, the Government's own adviser in these matters, was not at all impressed by that argument. It took the view, with which I wholeheartedly agree, that £43 a week is far too low a sum on which to base the threshold for the new eligibility for unemployment benefit. The committee agreed that there was some merit in using the principle. I accept that there is an argument for establishing such a principle, but the level is scandalously low. It is a substantial deterrent to part-time work, and the Confederation of British Industry has made lengthy representations to the Government to that effect. The Government's policy is that they are seeking to encourage people to go back into part-time work, often as a step on the ladder back to full-time employment for those who have been unemployed for many months or years. It is a retrograde step to produce an additional disincentive to part-time work.
The Low Pay Unit said that someone who turns down a part-time job because of the new changes may not only lose one week's benefit in the future but may be judged to be rendering himself voluntarily unemployed. In that case, he would stand to lose up to six months' unemployment benefit. That is a serious new problem to arise out of the changes.
I hope that the Leader of the House will listen carefully to the urgent plea from not only me but other Members, and the SSAC, for a full-scale review of unemployment benefit. The Government, in their note on the SSAC report, said that they were making the changes on a transitional basis. I hope that that transitional process does not last too long after the Christmas recess. The effects are dramatic. Taken together with the other changes being made in the actively seeking work test that is now being applied to unemployment benefit, the measures are being undertaken far too fast with very little thought being given to their long-term effects on people.
Cynics will argue that this is the 30th change to the method of calculating the number of those who are actively seeking work and claiming benefit—the 30th administrative change in the method of counting the unemployed in a way that will substantially reduce the headline monthly totals of jobless people.
I refer to two constituency cases to demonstrate the effects of the changes. The change in the £43 weekly earnings rule will have a serious effect on the textile industry in towns such as Hawick, Jedburgh and Kelso. Knitwear manufacturers have entered into an agreement with trade unions whereby workers work an eight-day fortnight. They do that deliberately so that part-time workers—casual workers who work four days one week and four days the next—can claim benefit totalling about £11·57 a fortnight. Summarily and out of the blue, the regulations will deprive part-time workers who are already suffering financial hardships.
The knitwear industry is going through a difficult period in any case. The combination of fashion changes, increases in the price of raw materials, and fluctuations in interest rates have led to short-time working being the norm in hosiery mills in my constituency. In a town such as Hawick, for example, where there are about 3,000 part-timers, principally women, almost three quarters of workers will be caught.
At a stroke, more than 2,000 part-time workerswomen—in my constituency will lose nearly £12 a week as a result of the change. The employers can do nothing about that.
The effect on inshore fishermen in Scotland and in other parts of the United Kingdom will be dramatic. If a vessel is laid up through bad weather or technical failure for the whole of the benefit week except for one day, and on that day the skipper decides to go out to sea, he risks prejudicing unemployment claims for all the days on which his vessel was laid up. That could amount to about £56·10 a week for a married share fisherman.
All these changes have come out of the blue, and the effect on the fishing industry will be severe. The Leader of the House knows that quotas and total allowable catches are restricting fishing opportunities for the inshore fleet and are causing great problems. Using the two examples of share fishermen in ports such as Eyemouth and textile workers in towns such as Hawick, it can clearly be seen that the regulations should be withdrawn pending a review. They are mean-minded, cruelly timed and wholly unjustified. Many part-time workers already experience hardship.
In the past, unemployment benefits have played an important part in supplementing meagre wages for part-time workers. These changes are a disincentive to work and a further unjustified attack on the living standards of the low-paid. Scrooge is certainly alive and well this Christmas, and living in the Department of Social Security.
I hope that everyone enjoys the Christmas festivities, although this has been a gloomy debate so far, but before the House rises for the Christmas recess I hope that the House will consider the three brief points that I wish to raise.
My first point relates to hospital radio. I have the honour of being the unpaid spokesman for the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations which represents 310 radio stations, serving 700 hospitals throughout the country. We have 11,000 volunteers, making us the largest voluntary organisation in the country without any paid officers. Hospital radio does a magnificent job. Fund raising is always difficult, but, as all hon. Members will agree, the therapeutic benefits of hospital radio are proven.
On Valentine's day, we launched the "I Love Hospital Radio" campaign. We hoped to persuade the Treasury to zero-rate VAT on hospital radio broadcasting equipment. Unfortunately, I am advised by Treasury Ministers that we cannot be treated exactly the same as Talking Books for the Handicapped and that apparently we come under European jurisdiction which makes it difficult to zero-rate the VAT on hospital radio broadcasting equipment. However, many members of NAHBO are concerned that, with the advent of liberalisation, the substantial increase in listener choice will result in patients relying on their own portable radio receivers. Without low-powered radio frequency transmitter facilities, hospital radio will be unable to compete with other services.
I hope that each and every hon. Member will start to become active in lobbying the Home Office to allow hospital radio to have its own frequency. During the summer we had a fruitful meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who is now the Chief Whip but who then had Home Office responsibilities, and went on to meet the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. If we are to achieve our own frequency for hospital radio, it is essential that all hon. Members, who no doubt visit their hospital radio stations from time to time, lobby the Home Office and the IBA so that we are granted our own frequency.
My second point relates to national lotteries. Premium bonds were introduced in November 1956. They are no longer the great attraction that they used to be. Perhaps the change in spending patterns means that the prizes are no longer the great attraction that they used to be. I very much support the idea of a national lottery. I was delighted that this summer the Home Office announced that from 1 September 1989 the limits on maximum prizes would be increased by 100 per cent. However, the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 makes no provision for a national lottery. I do not understand why we seem tardy in legislating for a national lottery because, however the funds were distributed, a national lottery would have great benefits for the arts, for the environment and for sporting facilities throughout the country.
We estimate that a national lottery would give an income of £1·08 billion per year. All our EC partners have national lotteries and total EC sales are now 11·6 billion. I fear that several of the most powerful European lotteries are at this moment gleefully anticipating the opportunity to fill Britain's unique void in the European lottery market. In addition, 116 countries on every continent generate $56·3 billion of revenue, contributing to various good causes for the benefit of their people.
I have no doubt that a national lottery would be a tremendous success in this country. I am sure that it is not beyond the design of the media to hold the draws on television. No doubt we could interrupt "Neighbours" or "Coronation Street" and a celebrity could draw the prize in the national lottery—
My hon. Friend has given us a further suggestion. I have no doubt that a national lottery would be an enormous success.
My final point relates to the televising of our proceedings. I voted against the televising of our proceedings, and everything that has happened since has made me even more adamant in the view that I originally held. First, we were told that the lights in the Chamber would be unobtrusive. I advise those who cannot see the lights in the Chamber that they appear to be covered by a cross between mosquito nets and old-fashioned bloomers. That is the first promise that has not been kept.
Secondly, we were told that the television cameras would not be noticeable. As far as I am concerned, they certainly are noticeable. The third and perhaps the most pathetic promise that was made was that the television cameras would bring hon. Members back into the Chamber. I have not seen any examples of hon. Members rushing back into the Chamber, in spite of the televising of our proceedings—
I repeat that the Chamber is not a television set. Television gives only a certain image of the House. I admit that I noticed about three weeks ago when we were debating a one-and-a-half hour order—a Welsh measure that normally would not have been well attended—there were about 50 Welsh Members on the Opposition Benches, including the Leader of the Opposition. That was certainly geared to whatever was to be shown on Welsh television.
I very much regret the televising of our proceedings and note that the television companies have certainly not stuck to the guidelines on showing only head-and-shoulder shots. I shall continue to use the television cameras for all they are worth in the hope that eventually I will be offered my own chat show programme, but in the interim I hope that when we have the opportunity through the Leader of the House to vote on the experiment the House will reject it and that we shall enter the next decade camera-free.
I shall follow the comments of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) in only one respect. I think that televising Parliament has been a great success. "Neil Kinnock and the Labour party" has come across very well and I am not surprised that Conservative Members are still objecting.
I had been dreaming of a green Christmas. We were going to have a green Bill. The so-called green Bill was published today as the Environmental Protection Bill. This morning the Labour party published its alternative entitled "Blue or Green?" We challenged the Government's Bill with a check list. Having looked through our check list and read most of the Bill, I can confirm that it is a blue Bill, not a green Bill, so I shall not have the green Christmas that I had expected.
The Government's legislation will continue to allow sea dumping. The Government are to privatise waste disposal, including that of toxic and chemical wastes. They are to put concern for that fundamental issue into the market place so that profit—not concern for the environment—will determine who deals with our toxic and chemical waste. The British people will oppose the privatisation and commercialisation of the problems of toxic waste, just as they opposed water privatisation.
The so-called "green Bill" does not mention any scheme to deal with the problems of dogs, although they are a major problem everywhere. Entering some of the estates in my constituency is like entering a safari park. I went into a supermarket the other day and a dog came in and had a wee on the South African oranges. One of my constituents said, "What are you going to do about that, Mr. Roberts?" I said, "Buy Australian." The problem of dogs is serious, yet the Government refuse to act on it. They will not introduce a comprehensive dog registration scheme.
Still included in the Bill is an attack on the Nature Conservancy Council—it will still be decimated. There are additional responsibilities for local authorities, without the additional resources to enable them to do the job. Of course, there is not even a mention of the major environmental issue facing not only this country but the world—the greenhouse gases and global warming effect. There will be a 26 per cent. increase in carbon dioxide emissions in Britain by the year 2005. It is not surprising that the Government refuse to mention carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse gases and global warming; they have refused to set targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because, under their policies for transport and energy, projections are that carbon dioxide emissions will increase, not reduce.
The Bill does say that we will help the Third world to deal with the problem of deforestation, which would contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect. However, that is not where the major problem lies. Only 8 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions come from the developing world; 90-plus per cent. comes from the developed world. Some 50 per cent. of all carbon dioxide comes from Russia, the United States of America, Japan and Britain —the four major polluters. Britain refuses to do anything about that.
Only yesterday, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the Government were to cut subsidis to British Rail and therefore to the public transport system. People will not be encouraged to leave their cars at home. About 6,000 new cars a day come on to our roads, half being company cars that receive Government subsidies. How hypocritical of the Government to claim that they are concerned about global warming and carbon dioxide emissions when they are pursuing such transport policies. They should set targets, start reductions, alter their transport and energy policies and spend money on alternative, benign energy research and development.
I had hoped for a green Christmas on Merseyside. I had hoped that the Bill would relieve some of the environmental problems in my constituency, which is fast becoming an environmental disaster area. The port of Liverpool, which I represent, has shifted from traditional cargos to bulk cargoes and it is now importing coal and coal dust. It is like living in a coal mining area. The coal dust comes in; there are mountains of it—a new skyline for Merseyside. It gets in the cornflakes and in the sugar; it is everywhere. Because the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has special development order status, it can do all that without permission. The legislation prevents effective action from being taken because it is not sufficiently strong on the issue of nuisance. We can only take the board and the stevedore companies to the magistrates court, where they receive paltry fines for the pollution that they cause.
Another major problem in my constituency is scrap metal. There are mountains of it in the port. I have a nice house overlooking the marina in Crosby. It overlooks the beach, which would be lovely were it not for the sewage on it. I can see across the Irish bay and, on a nice day, I can see the Welsh mountains. However, if I look to the left I can see the scrap shredder, which is built next to a nature reserve. Planning permission was not required, so it is there and it causes terrific problems.
The so-called green Bill makes no mention of smells. The Control of Pollution Act does not cover smells. The seed crusher and oil processor in docklands stinks out the whole constituency. There is nothing that anyone can do about it. I admit that the companies are beginning research and hope to take some action, but there is no way that the local authority can take action because there is no legislation to cover that.
The River Mersey is a major problem. The Government claim that they are cleaning it. In fact, they are taking the raw sewage out of the Mersey—they are spending £3·5 billion on this—and bringing it to a dock in my constituency, where they turn it into sewage sludge, full of heavy metal, put it on boats that take it back into the river estuary ready to dump it in the sea, where it would have been in the first place if they had left it to float down the River Mersey. The only difference is that it has been turned into sludge—but it is only primary treatment.
The Government are not dealing with any of the other pollution problems in the River Mersey, such as heavy metals, PCBs, mercury, cadmium and lead. There are 27 deemed consents for discharges into the River Mersey by factories and chemical factories. They are polluting the river. There were 23 prosecutions in 1987. The average fine for companies such as Shell and ICI was £680. It is not surprising that the PCBs are still there, as are the heavy metals and the chemicals. The Government are simply taking out the raw sewage and then dumping it back as sewage sludge. It is an absolute sham. The Government have no plans to stop the dumping of poisonous sewage sludge into the sea.
Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Basildon, I want to end on a Christmas note and mention a vegetarian pantomime. There is currently an environmental pantomime in London at the Etcetera theatre, above the Oxford Arms in Camden. The baddies are Lord Hailam and Flora Cardham. The Ugly Sisters are Sox and Knox. It is called "Dick Withington and His Amazing Catalytic Converter". Anyone going to see the pantomime would get the message that the Government should be getting. Indeed, if Ministers had been to see the pantomime before they produced the so-called green Bill it might have been a green Bill rather than a blue one.
Time is short and I am conscious that there is another Opposition Member hoping to speak. I shall confine my remarks to three related subjects which I believe should be discussed before the House adjourns. They are conductive education, the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary—which is the home of conductive education—and my constituent Dawn Rogers, who has been at the Peto Institute for 27 months and is having great difficulty obtaining public funding.
Conductive education—it is not yet sufficiently well known in this country—is a method of educating children, and also some adults, with motor disorders, which are disorders of the central nervous system. That educational system is based on what I believe is known as a "whole person approach". Its aim is to enable children with a motor disability to participate fully in mainstream education. The professional input comes from one person, the conductor, who incorporates the skills of many different groups including those of physiotherapist, occupational therapist, teacher and nurse.
The treatment is intensive and relies upon considerable parental involvement. The children are taught more or less from the time they wake up until they go to bed. The aims are to provide education in a structured and rigorous way so that children can have greater control over their bodies and join in everyday life without artificial aids and appliances.
In a moving article in The Sunday Times written almost two years ago, Rose Shepherd described her visit to the Peto clinic and how the British contingent used to arrive there with what she called all the paraphernalia of handicap. It is a great contrast with the Hungarian approach, which is to get the children on to their own feet and up and about as soon as possible.
Conductive education was developed and devised by Dr. Andreas Peto. His philosophy was very simple—that a motor disorder need not be a sentence of immobility for life, but a learning difficulty that can be overcome by skilled teaching. In other words, skills that are automatic to a normal little child can be taught and acquired. There are no miracle cures, but the Peto Institute can claim a 70 per cent. success rate—defined as "autofunction", or the capability to attend school and eventually live an independent life without the need for special help and equipment.
Such treatment is not generally available in Britain. Anxieties among educationists perhaps prevented an advance until relatively recently, when those anxieties were in part laid to rest. The Government have provided Birmingham university with £326,000 to carry out research into conductive education, and the Departments of Education and Science and of Social Security are jointly funding a survey by the Spastics Society.
The Government's announcement last week of a £5 million grant to the Peto Institute over the next four years is extremely welcome. The grant will go towards the capital costs of the new international Peto Institute in Budapest, a commitment that will make available spaces at the institute commensurate with the number of British children able to go there. At present, 11 British people are being trained on a four-year course to be conductors. About 600 children have attended the institute and the United Kingdom makes more use of it than any other country. I welcome the Government's announcement of that additional funding during the Hungarian Prime Minister's visit here this week.
In addition, as part of a programme of exchanges between the Peto Institute and the Birmingham foundation, a small number of British children receive training in Birmingham from Hungarian conductors and United Kingdom trainees.
Such exchanges beg the question why we cannot move a little faster towards securing the availability of conductive education in Britain. I accept that conductive education already influences professionals involved in educating handicapped children. I also accept that the introduction into the United Kingdom of the Hungarian model of conductive education on any significant scale will have to await the availability of a group of British conductors trained and taught at the Peto Institute. I applaud the Government's support for the Peto Institute and for conductive education. I urge Ministers to speed up as much as possible the provision of such education in the United Kingdom.
Children who attend the Peto Institute receive funding from several sources. There are no central figures, but I am informed that there are approximately eight long-term students at the Peto Institute, of whom six or seven receive support from their local education authorities. There are no more long-term places available. In the past there has been some uncertainty about whether local education authorities could fund students attending the Peto Institute. That has been cleared up by an amendment to the Children Act 1989. I understand that several education authorities, including Coventry, Devon, Birmingham and Fife have helped such students and there may be others who have done so. Alas, my constituent is one of perhaps only two who are as yet unfunded.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, and his officials, whom I met earlier this year to discuss whether any additional means of support could be made available to my constituent. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who has taken a considerable interest in the subject as a whole and in my constituent. My right hon. Friend made clear to me in a recent letter that the Government believe that it is right for parents who consider that the Peto Institute offers services to their disabled children which are not available in Britain to seek support from public funds.
The structure of education in Britain inevitably means that parents must appeal to local education authorities for funding. The remaining budget of the Department of Education and Science is tiny, as funds are funnelled through LEAs. Therefore, my constituents must seek support from Nottinghamshire education authority. So far, we have been unable to persuade the authority to assist. I appreciate how difficult it is for the authority to consider such cases and to grant funds, and I understand that such decisions are not easy. Nevertheless, I appeal to it to reconsider, because this is a one-off case.
My constituent's family have remortgaged their home, sold their business, their caravan and many personal assets and taken out bank loans to be in Budapest with my young constituent. Their reward has been to witness the outstanding progress of their nine-year-old daughter. The local community, too, has been extremely generous. I pay tribute to several organisations in my constituency which have sought to help.
I hope that, in reconsidering, Nottinghamshire education authority will bear in mind the following points. I make them in the spirit of this time of year in the hope that it will seriously consider helping. My constituent has already been at the Peto Institute for two years and three months, so no new decision need be made about where she should be educated. At most, she has an estimated 18 months to go at the institute. If the local education authority were to assist, it would not open the floodgates. Alas, no new long-term places are available at the Peto Institute. Miss Rogers is one of the lucky ones who has made it there in time.
Since the local authority first considered the case, the Government have changed the law in the way that I outlined earlier. Much else has changed, too, including a greater acceptance of the methods of conductive education. The Government have given their explicit approval, as evidenced by their support for the Peto Institute announced in the past week.
I intend no reflection on the quality of Aspley Wood and Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire and the professionalism of the teachers and staff there. My constituent has attended the Peto Institute for the past two and a quarter years and the length of her stay there is finite. Her family have demonstrated their absolute determination to help their daughter. I believe that the authority should assist. Its education committee must be moved by the examples of dedication and self-help which her family display.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will remember the case of Sebastion Clarke in Birmingham, his fight for funding and his eventual success. My constituents can look to that example with hope. I hope that the LEA will consider what it can do to assist my constituent during her last 18 months at the Peto Institute.
Inevitably, we have had a wide-ranging debate. I am only sorry that the patience of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has not been rewarded and that he has not been able to make his speech.
The debate ranged from events in Panama to Romania and general events in eastern Europe. It touched not only on political changes but on educational programmes in eastern Europe—the Peto Institute has just been mentioned. We heard about the problems of service widows, the poor and the homeless. We have heard, rightly, from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that the House will begin the Christmas recess without any resolution in sight of the long-running ambulance workers' dispute. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) made a speech which was perhaps as close to my constituency interests as any other made today. He spoke of the problems in national parks and those faced by hill farmers. A large part of my constituency is in the Lake District national park, and I agree with the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed.
Above all, we have heard about the problems of people on low incomes, young people and unemployed people, particularly from the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). Several hon. Members who have spoken believe, as I do, that at the end of this decade we face problems in social policy, industrial and economic policy which are a scandal in a country such as Britain. At a time when Europe is undergoing momentous changes, Britain should look forward to playing an influential and dynamic role in those changes. We are poised on the brink of a challenging new decade. After 10 years of a Conservative Government we have not solved the problems of the 1980s.
We participate in this adjournment debate facing many problems for the second or, in some cases, the third time under this Government. They include the problems of economic recession, critically high interest rates, high and rising inflation, homelessness and unemployment. The Conservative Governments of the 1980s will be remembered for their narrow view of individuals' interests, the dogmatic attitude to the market system, their authoritarianism and centralism, the favouritism that they have shown to the well-off and their neglect of the majority of people. We are witnessing the prodigious waste of British people, particularly the unemployed, and of the nation's resources.
We have no choice about whether or not we respond to the changes which will take place in the 1990s. Those changes will happen, and they are happening all around us. However, we have a choice about the manner in which we respond and how we deal with those changes. The question is whether we allow, as we have done in the 1980s, too many of our fellow citizens to be victims of change—poor people, people on low incomes, those who lose their jobs or their homes, people who are left behind—or whether we manage the coming changes in such a way as to involve all our people, with the costs and the benefits being shared evenly, fairly and realistically throughout the community.
The most moving speech today was that which commenced the debate, in which the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) described the plight of his constituent, Ian Richter. The circumstances in which Mr. Richter and his family find themselves can only be described as appalling. I am sure that everyone present will share the thoughts expressed by the hon. Gentleman towards the family of his constituent. We also share the hope that, somehow, Mr. Richter can be released so that he can regain his freedom and return to the safety and care of his family.
Since the state opening, we have heard much from Ministers about how well the Government have done and how well the economy has been managed. From time to time we have also heard about the so-called economic miracle, but less so since the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) resigned so dramatically. We leave this decade, however, with inflation, interest rates and unemployment levels higher than those of our competitors and European neighbours, and with the largest trade deficit in our history—the highest of the industrial world in relative terms.
We do not leave the 1980s in good shape to face the 1990s. Despite the claims about good management and good economic policies, too many of our people have been treated unfairly in the 1980s. That is true of national insurance pensioners and of those families who rely on benefits such as child benefit. That benefit is another casualty of the decade; it has been kept down by successive Chancellors and for the past three years it has been frozen. It is time for a change of policy and we believe that it is time for a new Government. It is certainly time for our country and our people to be given the hope and encouragement to believe that we shall see polices in the 1990s which will fit them to face the changes and challenges ahead. Nowhere are those changes so essential and so important as in education and training.
It is true that welcome political attention has been paid to education and training in recent years. I also welcome the growth of business interest in such training. We are still shockingly and disgracefully far behind other countries in this respect. That those in business are taking a greater interest in education and training is welcome, if somewhat overdue, but in too many cases it remains a rather narrow self-interest.
Reduced secondary school rolls have become reduced numbers of young workers, and employers are experiencing recruitment difficulties. In effect, training is being privatised: the current development of training and enterprise councils gives private sector employers major responsibility for managing Government funds for young people and adult trainees. It is no wonder that such employers are showing keen concern at recent proposals from the Confederation of British Industry for a skills revolution. It is interesting to reflect that the claim for a need for revolution seems to have crossed the political divide. Revolution used to be construed a threatening word. Now, however, it is more widely recognised than ever before that, if our country is to be fit to compete and to win in the 1990s, a revolution is exactly what we need. Private sector spending on training is low, however, and with certain notable exceptions, the track record is generally poor.
Clearly the pressure must be kept up on the private sector not only to contribute time and expertise to education and training, but to expand in-service education and training opportunities for employees. All that said, however, there can be no escape for Government in the 1990s from undertaking their proper functions. If education and training are the bedrock of the human resources on which a sound and growing economy depends, the Government must ultimately be responsible and take on board, ungrudgingly and unhesitatingly, the expensive business of investing in the people.
At present, a miserable 15 per cent. of our 18-year-olds go on to higher education—the proportion sinks to as low as 4 per cent. in some inner-London areas—compared with 35 per cent. in France and 30 per cent. in Germany. Only about half our 16-year-old school leavers go on to further education, compared with more than 90 per cent. in the United States and more than 70 per cent. in France. According to a recent survey, just over half our work force received no formal in-work training in 1987, rising to two thirds of the work force in manufacturing.
In the early 1980s, we frequently heard from Conservative Members that problems could not be solved by throwing money at them. I am pleased to say that we have not heard that argument even once today. Time and again this decade, a great deal of money has been thrown at a large number of high-income earners. In the coming decade, we want to see more fairness. The people want to see a new social as well as a new economic agenda for Britain. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), have rightly said that our people want to see a new international agenda in the 1990s. Above all, they want to see more fairness in our society.
I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon—he has suffered enough already. I wonder whether he has received his Christmas card from the Prime Minister yet, if she caught up with his change of address.
On behalf of my hon. Friends, and on behalf of the House, I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman a merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year. It will not be very peaceful for people on low incomes facing the poll tax in 1990 and it will not be peaceful or prosperous for too many of our fellow citizens who are still looking for an opportunity to get their first job. Above all, the new year will not be peaceful for the ambulance workers of Britain who are entering the Christmas period in a long-running and unnecessary dispute. The Government should seek to solve that dispute before the House rises for the Christmas recess.
I reciprocate the Christmas good wishes of the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), coupled with my confident expectation that he will long remain a shadow. We would like to keep him like that.
I should like to raise the slightly dismal tone that the hon. Gentleman managed to convey in his speech by reminding the House that, compared with the situation that we faced 10 years ago when our economic performance was lamentable and almost everything was to be deplored in comparison with our international competitors, our gross domestic product is at its highest ever level, having risen by more than 4 per cent. in the past two years. We have had eight years of successive growth averaging more than 3 per cent.—a strong economic performance not matched since the war. It is that which enables us to address a number of social issues with confidence, and I shall try to do that when I take up a number of points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.
I join the hon. Member for Copeland in expressing deep concern at the plight of Ian Richter, so eloquently brought to our attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). We admire the courage of Ian Richter and his family. We shall continue to press at every opportunity for his release on the strongest possible humanitarian grounds. We accept no linkage between Ian Richter's case and that of Salim Hassan, the murderer to whom my hon. Friend referred. I have frequently raised the matter with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, and I take this opportunity to renew that candid and useful dialogue and urge him to secure the release of Ian Richter as soon as possible.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) rightly drew attention to some of the social problems to which we should pay attention at this and every other time. The Government share his concern for the homeless, but the thrust of our housing policies is aimed at helping those in greatest need by extending the role of housing associations, by expanding the private rented sector and, most recently, by targeting resources —£250 million in London and the south-east—to that issue during the next two years. I share his admiration for the role of voluntary organisations in preventing and relieving homelessness. That is why funding is to be increased in 1990–91 from £680,000 to £2 million.
The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe asked about the likely outcome of our disability review. We intend soon to announce our proposals on the reconsideration of the balance and structure of benefits for the disabled. During the 10 years that this Government have been in office, the total of resources for the benefit of disabled people has increased in real terms by 90 per cent. Even in the difficult days of my early Budgets, the improvement of prospects for the disabled was a subject to which we never failed to pay attention.
A number of detailed points were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall not try to deal with them in detail now. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the problem of women who had been widowed, remarried and risked sacrificing the pension they received from their first husband. I shall ensure that he receives a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security about that.
In a characteristically wide-ranging contribution, even in this short debate, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to the problem of the trigger for cold weather benefit payments. We must have a trigger of some kind for those benefits. If necessary, the Department of Social Security will do all it can to ensure that those entitled to payment know when they have to make their claims.
The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who has the honour of representing my Scottish grandfather's birthplace at Newcastleton, drew attention, in technical detail, to the impact of changes in unemployment benefit. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It has never been our intention that unemployment benefit should provide support for those in part-time work. I appreciate the role of part-time workers in the two industries of which he spoke, but the rules have always provided that only small amounts may be earned while unemployment benefit is being received. The idea is to introduce a more objective test to reinforce that principle.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised three different topics. The first was the state of the Health Service in his part of the country and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Secondly, he commented on the difficult balance arrived at in the Government's judgment on the Barlow Clowes case and evoked some sympathy from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He reminded me of a quotation from, I think, Spenser that I often drew on when I was the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. This makes the point that, if we set out to protect everyone from the consequences of his or her own folly, we shall end up with a world peopled entirely by fools. It is difficult to make the right judgment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale also referred to the long-running baggage handlers' strike at Manchester airport. I join him in his admiration of the importance of Manchester airport. I was also struck by the contribution of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). Speaking from my recollection of my representation of a Merseyside constituency, I wonder why we often have two regional airports in different places when one in the middle would have been much better. I think of Tyneside and Teesside, and even Glasgow and Edinburgh. The airports at Liverpool and Manchester provide another example. The continuation of the strike at Manchester is regrettable, particularly as it arises from the reasons given by my hon. Friend. We hope that negotiations will lead to a return to work as soon as possible.
The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) was one of a number of hon. Members who spoke about the ambulance dispute. There will be a chance to discuss that in the Adjournment debate some time after midnight tonight, at the suit of the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist).
My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) raised more than one topic. The one to which he quite rightly attached most importance was an eloquent plea for those constituents who suffered job losses as a result of the closure to which he referred. I should remind the House that overall unemployment has fallen for 40 consecutive months and is at its lowest level for nine years. My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that some of his constituents have already found work in other enterprises on the Isle of Wight. I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the exclusion of the company to which my hon. Friend referred from the tender list for British Rail orders.
A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Newham, North-West, in conjunction with his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, were critical about what has happened in Panama. I find profoundly disagreeable the contemptuous relish with which both those hon. Members spoke of the actions of a country which they claim to regard as a friend. We welcome, without qualification, the establishment of democratic government in Panama. Action to remove General Noriega has been undertaken with the agreement of those who won the elections held last May. General Noriega has been adjudged by the world to have stolen an election from the people of his country. That is the right basis on which to approach the matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) drew our attention to an aspect of the fishing industry which has received less attention than others during the past week or so. We had a debate on it last week and a statement on it this afternoon, and will have another debate during the night. My hon. Friend drew attention to the case for the extension of the limit from two to six miles, the spread of aggregate dredging, and the impact of sewage pollution. There will be a debate on that tonight, led by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The debate may not cover as much as my hon. Friend would like the problems of the inshore fishing industry, so he was right to draw them to our attention.
The hon. Member for Meironnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) reminded me of my youthful, and sometimes not so youthful, associations with Snowdonia national park. I am always glad to be reminded of that admirable park in the Principality. He drew attention to the need to retain the balance between the amenities of the national park and the livelihood of those who live there. I remember a conversation that I had not long ago with the French Prime Minister, Mr. Rocard, in which I tested even his fluent knowledge of the English language by referring to the role of sheep in upland, touristic areas as four-legged lawn mowers. That concept did not easily translate into the French language. That illustrates the role of agricultural activity as part of the means of preserving the rural amenity.
The changes in the hill livestock compensation scheme agreed at the Agriculture Council will not take effect until 1991, so decisions on the consequential effects on national arrangements have yet to be taken. I hope that there will be an announcement early next year on that scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) raised three topics, including hospital radio. On that I hope that he will be content with a benediction from the Government and me. We hope that the negotiations will bring a satisfactory outcome. His plea for a change in the law to allow major lotteries, while being kept under review, has not yet led to plans for legislation. My hon. Friend was advocating two progressive ideas, and I suppose that it was only appropriate that, to maintain the balance of his personality, he closed on a profoundly reactionary note about the impact of television on the House. It is an experiment; I take a less jaundiced view than he does.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), in an eloquent plea, described the importance and impact of the Peto Institute and the work that has been done by it in Hungary. My wife and I, since our visits, have taken a close interest in the institute, and, by good fortune, one of my former private secretaries recently came back from a stint as ambassador there. The institute is not often absent from our minds. I had the opportunity to talk to the Hungarian Prime Minister about it last week and to give him an advance intimation of the substantial amount of money that has been made available and to which my hon. Friend referred. We regard it as an important institute, and we regard its impact in this country as of great value.
I noticed my hon. Friend's particularly eloquent plea for his constituent Miss Rogers. We certainly admire the way in which her family have done what they have to keep her at the institute. I shall certainly do what I can to draw my hon. Friend's plea to the attention of the Nottinghamshire education authority, but I cannot give an undertaking beyond that.
It was encouraging that my hon. Friend's speech should have been the last that we heard on the events in eastern Europe, because it was made on a hopeful note. It was striking that many hon. Members spoke about the entire sequence of events taking place in eastern Europe, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for the tribute he paid to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who, in a speech of the utmost bevity, dealt with all the key points about eastern Europe. We share his delight at the historic developments taking place there. We want to see the countries of eastern Europe joining the democratic mainstream. We applaud the courage of the new Polish Government in tackling radical economic reform. We are delighted that the longer process of reform in Hungary has culminated in the first free election in eastern Europe for more than 40 years.
We agree with my hon. Friend that progress in the future needs to be gradual and step by step. We welcome the first signs of liberalisation in Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria, and we are keen to help in whatever ways we can to build up democratic societies and market place economies in those countries.
This is what makes so much the more tragic what has been happening in Romania. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, the hon. Members for Walsall, North and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea all expressed their views about that. We condemn in the strongest terms the attitude of a regime which, turning its back on all the commitments concerning human rights to which it subscribed under the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe framework, is apparently capable of repressing only by force the legitimate aspirations to freedom of the Romanian people. That view was also expressed on Monday in the European Community in Brussels, and we shall hear it echoed in the debate later tonight in which I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Minister of State, will have a chance to take part.