Order. A great many right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. I am not able to impose any limit on speeches, but if speeches could be limited to not more than 10 minutes, and preferably a little less, then every hon. Member who wishes to be called will be able to speak and, I hope, will go away contented for the recess.
I shall do my best, Mr. Speaker, to respond to your strict injunction, and to be brief. Had you not been so stern, I might have suggested that one reason why the Adjournment should be diminished by one day, with the House rising on Friday rather than Thursday, is that we badly need an opportunity to debate the excellent record of the Government and particularly that of the Prime Minister. I do not expect that the bad losers on the Opposition Benches would agree with that, but then they wouldn't, would they?
As I shall not carry the Opposition with me on that subject, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to turn his attention to a different and rather less important matter, which nevertheless concerns me and I hope him, too. I am sure that my right hon. Friend reads The Times and that he will have had a chance to read the leading letter in it today, which calls attention to a matter that I have raised on previous occasions.
That is the strange reluctance of Departments and Ministers to carry through what many of us understand to be their obligation, under the Salmon Act 1986, to prepare and produce a report on the north-east drift-net fishery. The letter, which is signed by a distinguished collection of heads of angling bodies in England and Scotland, focuses on the continuing absence of statements on that subject. There was recently a brief series of exchanges in the House of Lords on the subject, and I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, at business questions on 11 July, whether he expected to be in a position to clear up some of the obscurity that surrounds the matter.
As the letter in The Times shows, this is an important matter. The letter begins by stressing that there is an obligation, and by regretting the absence of a positive response by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in particular. In the absence of a Government decision on the matter, England and Wales are virtually isolated in continuing to allow drift-net fishing for Atlantic salmon with monofilament nets. Scotland banned their use as early as 1962 and only Greenland and the Republic of Ireland permit this indiscriminate, wasteful and damaging practice, which entraps and kills sea birds and mammals as well as the creatures at which it is presumably aimed, the fish.
The provisional figures show that in 1990, the north-east drift-net fishery was the only salmon fishery in the United Kingdom to increase its catch, taking more than 51,000 fish and accounting for 60 per cent. of the salmon caught in the whole of England and Wales. As the letter says:
It is widely acknowledged that over 80 per cent. of the salmon taken by this fishery would otherwise have returned to their native Scottish rivers. There has been a serious decline in the Scottish catch, which was only 145,000 fish in 1990, compared with 278,000 in 1989, itself not a good year.
I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised this issue. He might like to know that we debated it in some depth on Thursday 11 July in the Scottish Grand Committee. While the decision has to be made by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Scottish rivers are bearing the main brunt of the drift-net fishing. I agree that we should have an early answer from the Government on this point.
I am glad to have my hon. Friend's valuable support. I know what a close interest he takes in this matter in Scotland. I am sure that he will agree that one of the ironies of the situation is that, whereas those who support the north-east drift-net fishery claim that it has a traditional status, as long ago as the 1950s, which is before it began to reach today's serious proportions, it was catching only 2,000 fish a year. The traditional catch from Scottish rivers has been much more than that for many years.
As the letter says:
'There is widespread international concern over the dramatic decline of salmon catches in the North Atlantic, with a drop of over 60 per cent. in the last 20 years. Conservation measures are now urgently required to reduce all forms of indiscriminate interceptory fishing and to restrict the catching salmon to their native rivers, where the level of fishing by traditional net or rod and line can be locally managed.'
Incidentally, the value of the salmon there is many times what it is in the sea.
It is a matter of great regret that at the time when Mr. Orri Vigfusson in Iceland has obtained the agreement of the Faroese fishermen to take a compensation payment in return for not fishing their deep sea salmon quotas, there is an apparent decision vacuum at the ministerial level.
Although the financing of compensation payments might have to come from private sources—principally from owners, tenants and others fishing the rivers most affected by the measures—it will be difficult for anyone to raise money for the purpose as long as there is no serious sign of any attempt by the Government to cut down on interceptory fishing. The immediate danger is that a failure to raise the British share of the finance for the Faroese agreement could cause the whole initiative to collapse. There were signs of that at the recent eighth annual meeting of the North Atlantic salmon conservation organisations in Edinburgh.
The letter continues:
We now publicly urge the government to come to a decision on the north-east drift-net fishery.
I support that plea. If my right hon. Friend cannot give us much more information today than he gave me on 11 July, I hope that he will at least try to explain the cause of the delay, Is it due to a departmental difference that cannot be resolved? If so, that is a pity; if an arbitrator is needed, I am sure that there will be no shortage of volunteers. The reason may be more deep-seated, however.
If the delay continues, the position will grow not better but worse. We shall find ourselves up against deadlines. The net limitation order must be renewed in 1992, unless the whole arrangement is to become a free-for-all again.
Many of us are worried about the absence of the necessary drive to represent British interests at EC level. I I am sure that Mr. Heinrik Schmiegelow, a Danish EC official, does his best to represent our interests, but a greater impetus is needed closer to home. I hope that we shall see some sign of that soon.
Let me echo the plea that others have already made for the announcment of a date by which a decision will be made—and an early date at that—so that we can see some prospect that this important matter, which should not be allowed to drag on, will be dealt with.
I am sorry that I missed the first minute or so of my hon. Friend's speech.
I was a member of the Committee that was promised Government action. All too often, my right hon. Friend—and, subsequently, other Committee members—received no proper explanation in response to their requests for information. One reason for our not delaying the passage of the Bill was an assurance from a Minister that we would be given a report and that it would be published. Astonishingly, there has been no hint of a reply to our questions—and certainly there has been no report.
I am glad that I gave way to my hon. Friend; he has enabled me to shorten my peroration. I well remember what was said in Committee, and I believe that Committee members have been disappointed by the lack of progress. I very much hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to reassure us.
I am pleased to have this opportunity to draw the attention of the House to early-day motion 1035, which deals with disruption of the licensed trade and has the support of no fewer than 121 hon. Members on both sides of the House. I at once declare an interest, as parliamentary adviser to the National Licensed Victuallers Association.
Let me stress immediately that many of the actions being taken by the big brewery companies, which are causing a great deal of distress, were not made necessary by the Beer Orders of December 1989, which followed a report by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission on the supply of beer. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has rightly drawn attention to that more than once. It is true to say, however, that that legislation acted as a catalyst; and, in that sense, those who signed the early-day motion believe that the Government have some responsibility to take remedial measures, although that may mean new legislation.
The fact is that the MMC, in its report, made a fundamental error, which was reflected in the Beer Orders. It did not appreciate a simple point, which I am sure that all hon. Members who are present will find easy to understand: people do not travel 50 or 100 miles to buy a pint of beer, even if it is a little cheaper there. To the customer, it does not really matter how many tied houses throughout the country are owned by a single brewery company. The degree of choice depends on the number of different breweries that supply beer in the area where the customer lives.
The legislation that was addressed to the national position, which required brewery companies to reduce the number of tied houses that they owned nationally, was irrelevant to competition in the retail market. But, because the large companies must now divest themselves of about 11,000 tied houses, they are taking steps to ensure that they make more money out of those that they are allowed to keep. They are doing that at the expense of tenants and customers: that is at the heart of the problem.
The hon. Gentleman has touched on a matter that I may mention later. Not only tenants and customers, but those living in the area surrounding a public house will strongly object to the change of user that will result from the rather shabby way in which the brewers have treated their tenants.
I am sure that that point is valid. There is no doubt that literally thousands of pub tenants are now under notice to quit, and that is causing a good deal of distress. Many are being offered—in place of the traditional tenancy—a long lease at a rent that may be two, three or even four times as much as the present one, with full liability for repairs and renovations, but still tied to the brewery. If a tenant feels unable to accept the terms that are offered, his only option is to get out and to abandon a business which, in many instances, has been built up over many years, leaving his home at the same time. Almost uniquely, in this trade, business premises are virtually always the family home as well.
As one who signed the early-day motion, I have followed the dispute with interest.
I am advised that notices to quit are merely a technicality under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. What advice would the hon. Gentleman give individual tenants who find themselves in difficulties and who are offered long leases that are apparently very uneconomic?
I wish to be fair to the Secretary of State. He wrote to hon. Members very recently, setting out his position. I feel, however, that legislation will ultimately be needed. Until now, only one of the major companies has agreed to independent arbitration to assess a fair rent—Grand Metropolitan, which, perhaps ironically, is no longer a brewer, having transferred its breweries to Elders in return for an interest in the former Courage houses. At least it had agreed to independent arbitration. The problem for the tenant is that if—for reasons of age, for example—he does not feel able to accept a long lease, even at a rent fixed by an arbitrator, he will not be entitled to compensation and will be thrown out on the street without a penny. The other companies, however, have not even agreed to any form of arbitration. If, as they claim, the rents that they are demanding are fair, what have they to fear from independent arbitration?
If a licensee accepts a tied lease, at an enormously increased rent, certain consequences must follow. First, he will have to push up his prices to pay the extra rent. The first to suffer will be the customer. However, the tenant will still be competing with managed houses belonging to the same brewery company and with the working men's clubs. Trade is bound to decrease. The loss of trade that will be suffered by the brewery company will be compensated for by the extra rent that it will get out of the pub, but the tenant will be squeezed between customers complaining about his prices and the brewery company charging an excessive rent. In those circumstances, many tenants will inevitably be squeezed out of business.
In other cases, especially in the case of the Bass empire, hundreds of tenants are being abolished and the houses taken back for management. That does not reduce the number of tied houses. A managed house is even more tied. Everything in a managed house—from the wines and spirits to a box of matches or a packet of crisps—will be supplied by the brewery company. Although the number of tied houses will not be reduced, the most profitable ones can then be run by an employee of the company rather than by a tenant in charge of his own business.
Many a Bass tenant, including many in my constituency, have spent years and a lot of money on building up sound businesses. They now face the choice of applying to buy or lease a pub somewhere else, which Bass will be putting on the market, or going out of the trade completely and losing their homes, with very little compensation, or applying for the job of manager, in which case Bass will graciously send somebody to interview them to see whether they are good enough to be appointed as managers of the pubs that they have been running for 10 or 20 years or more. That is literally adding insult to injury.
Unless the position changes dramatically, many tenants who have given good service to the public for years will be out on the street, either with no compensation at all or with the inadequate compensation provided for in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1954. To his credit, when the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry met, at his own request, representatives of the National Licensed Victuallers Association, he undertook to speak to the heads of the big brewery companies and explain to them his views on what he believes to be the stress and damage that their actions are causing. The Secretary of State has circulated a letter to all hon. Members setting out his position, very reasonably and moderately, and I thank him for it. The only problem is that I doubt whether the brewery companies will take any notice of it. Unless we obtain an undertaking that there will be legislation early in the new Session, I fear that nothing will save the tenants.
The stated intentions of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission and the Government have been completely frustrated by the brewery companies. We were told that one of those intentions was to give customers a better deal, through more competition. Ministers often talk of "sharpening" competition. When the Monopolies and Mergers Commission's report was published the four biggest brewery companies had 58 per cent. of the market, but today they have nearly 70 per cent. of the market. It is difficult to see how competition has been sharpened. Beer and lager prices have rocketed in the meantime, and I am afraid that they will continue to go up for a long time yet.
The second of the stated intentions was to provide better security for tenants. Unfortunately, when the Government were dealing with what is now the Landlord and Tenant (Licensed Premises) Act, they refused to bring forward the implementation date. They left that long gap during which brewers were able to move in and serve their notices to quit. The future of thousands of tenants, I am afraid, is very insecure. With the best will in the world, the Government got it wrong. I do not believe that anybody loses credit by admitting that they made a mistake. The Government should admit that they made a mistake and take swift action to repair the damage.
I should like briefly to raise two issues. The first is that the north of England feels that it is not getting its fair share of the Housing Corporation budget. On 3 July, a group of representatives from north-west housing associations came to visit the north-west group of Conservative Members of Parliament. They put their case very well indeed. We felt a great deal of sympathy for them. As chairman of the group, I promised that I would press their case. I thought that tonight's debate would be an ideal opportunity to do so. Little did I realise at the time that today there would be not just a private notice question but three statements before we reached this debate.
Nobody disputes the value of housing associations. All of us agree that they perform a great service in providing affordable housing. Housing associations are funded by the Housing Corporation. I am told that its budget is due to grow by almost 100 per cent. during the period 1990 to 1994. During the same period, the number of dwellings provided will increase from about 19,000 a year to just under 40,000 a year.
That is very welcome news for those in housing need. However, the concern of the housing associations is that the three regions in the north of England—the north-east, the north-west and Merseyside—will get only a 7 per cent. share of the increased growth, with the other 93 per cent. going to the rest of the country. That flies in the face of urban policy, whereby resources are targeted on those areas in the greatest need. Whatever statistics one cares to examine—whether they be city challenge, the urban programme, the urban development corporations or estate action—the pattern is the same, with the north being awarded the major share. Therefore, these housing associations were at a loss to understand why their housing allocation over this period is so low.
This Government firmly believe in a policy of value for money, which I completely support. The greater the efficiency and the better the use that is made of resources, the more that can be done for those in need. Waste and inefficiency help no one. On the question of value for money, £1 million would provide 20 homes in the north, compared with 16 in the west and only 13 in London. Therefore, more homes could be provided for the same amount of money in the north. There is a desperate need for new housing in the north, because a larger proportion of pre-1919 housing stock is to be found there. Much of that stock is now in need of clearance or major repair.
In passing, may I point out that in the immediate post-war years we made a great mistake by building more and more council estates on the edges of towns and more and more multi-storey blocks of flats. We could have made much better use of what I, for want of a better word, would call the Coronation street type of terraced houses. If we had spent money on modernising them and putting them into better shape, people would have been much happier. They would have remained close to their place of work and within the tightly knit communities to which they had belonged for so many years.
I agree with what my hon. Friend says about housing policy immediately after the war. Is he aware that in Norwich, particularly under the Labour-controlled city council, over-large council estates were built that have led to very serious problems? Due to lack of imagination, the council is not moving on to new policies involving housing associations. Is my hon. Friend aware of that fact, and does he agree that that is not a good policy?
I agree with my hon. Friend. On every issue, we see eye to eye. In fairness, however, I must point out that what happened in the post-war years is a matter of history. We have to look to the future.
There is doubt in the north as to whether the Government's new policies for housing renewal areas can be delivered. That is because the communities there tend to have low incomes. Their ability to trade up and remain owner-occupiers is limited. Those problems are compounded by minimal levels of capital receipts from asset sales.
Perhaps the greatest remaining challenge in public sector housing is the unused stock of local authority estates, which unfortunately is mainly in northern England. The housing needs index, which decides the flow of housing association resources, does not have an indicator that recognises stock condition problems in the local authority sector.
For many years, housing investment programme allocations enabled authorities to maintain existing stock only, and the amount of finance available has not allowed major repairs to be made. That is why the estate action scheme was created, and housing action trusts were expected to tackle the worst problems. I regret that, for political ends, housing action trusts were not as successful as they should have been.
Housing associations play an important part in the estate action initiative, and adequate resources will be necessary if the problems of local authority estates are to be properly tackled. Hulme in Manchester will have the help of five housing associations in replacing all local authority stock, using the five-year rolling programme of targeted housing association grant. The Government seem to accept that housing associations have an important part to play in regenerating local authority estates in the north, but I wonder how that can be squared with inadequate funding for northern housing associations.
Nobody denies that the major problem is homelessness and that it is most severe in London. After all, it is the capital city and, like all capital cities, it tends to be a magnet. However, should we not be considering the underlying causes and trying to prevent young people from migrating to London from other parts of the country? To achieve that, we need better employment prospects, a better environment and better housing conditions in the north, which surely are the core objectives of urban policy. I am told that 30 per cent. of London's homeless people—the largest single group—come from the north. Therfore, it makes sense to improve prospects in the north, in the hope that it will reduce the number of young people who decide to head for London.
The housing associations that visited our group on 3 July were particularly concerned about the housing needs index. They believe that it distorts the distribution of housing association resources, in contrast with urban policy initiatives by other Departments. They believe that it is a device of officialdom. It is a set of indicators, however inappropriate, that have been arrived at and will be maintained unless they are challenged, which is the reason for my speech.
I do not want to go on about the north-south divide, because I recognise the problems that homelessness poses in the south. I wonder whether the Government have considered releasing a larger percentage of capital receipts in southern-based authorities, which could be channelled into tackling homelessness.
I pay tribute to the work of housing associations, which have achieved much in improving the quality of life and in tackling housing shortages, but I was asked to draw attention to the distribution of housing association resources because it is feared that the north will be seriously under-resourced at a time of growing need.
The second point that I want to raise is the implementation of the Ibbs report. Will my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House say how many jobs will be lost in the House and which departments will be affected? I am told that many of the Badge Messengers are concerned about job losses. I am particularly concerned about consulting those whose jobs are at risk. I have been told of someone who has worked in the House for more than 20 years and has never been carpeted or warned about his work. That person is concerned about rumours that his job will be advertised. Last week, he sought a meeting with one of the Clerks and was told that his post was to be upgraded, that head-hunters had been asked to do a search and that the post would be advertised nationally in September.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman; it is absolutely cruel.
Apparently, the interview board will be chaired by a civil servant and will include Officers of the House. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has got the picture. That amounts to a casual approach to the job of somebody who has loyally served the House for many years. If an employer outside the House behaved in such a way, there would be severe criticism from many hon. Members. We would all be indignant, and I am all the more indignant that we are behaving in this way. It shows a complete failure of human relations, and it is unworthy of the House.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will give me satisfactory answers to the two points that I have made before we rise for the summer.
I wish to raise briefly a matter that we should discuss before we rise. On 22 May, I asked the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, whether the Government would be willing to argue in the European Community in favour of the EC taking on a role of mediation in Yugoslavia and perhaps helping to provide part of a peace-keeping force. He said:
I do not think that the European Community should play such a role."—[Official Report, 22 May 1991; Vol. 191, c. 919]
He further said that the only way of pursuing the matter was through the conference on security and co-operation in Europe.
In that respect, the Foreign Office lacked forethought, because that is not what has happened. I therefore raise the matter because I am afraid that the situation has not significantly improved, and we should discuss it before we adjourn.
I lost two constituents in the Gulf war. When I was Liberal foreign affairs spokesman, I repeatedly said that the Government should be much more stringent and critical in their trading and general relations with Iraq. I do not want to see another crisis, such as a war in the Balkans resulting in yet more unnecessary deaths, which is a possibility that one cannot put aside.
I spoke on the telephone last night to a lady in Zagreb called Lidija Jorkovic, who is a Croatian Liberal Democrat. She attended the annual congress of the European Liberal Democrats in Poitiers in June to draw attention to the gravity of the situation. She told me that there was the most enormous fear and anxiety in Croatia about the intentions of the Army and the Serbian hierarchy. There was much killing going on, some of which was not reported in the press.
It is noticeable that, in term of media coverage, the issue has gone off the boil because it is not exciting enough. We are not getting much coverage, but it is going on. The withdrawal of the Army from Slovenia was welcomed by the Liberals in Croatia and by President Tudjman, hut it is suspected that the reason for that was to give the Army more freedom to act in Croatia.
The European Community, acting in a way that in May the Minister of State told me it had no business to be doing, has so far made a valuable if limited contribution. It has succeeded in negotiating a three-month breathing space, and has sent in observers to try to monitor it. That is good, but we would be foolish to think that it has solved anything. I want to be assured by the Leader of the House that the Government are taking this matter exceedingly seriously and are doing something positive.
One of the outcomes of what took place in Iraq and Kuwait is that the two basic concepts on which our international relations were founded—non-interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and the territorial integrity of all states—are now outdated. We interfered in Iraq because of what was happening to the Kurds. Indeed, we are still interfering and are liable to do so again.
We have reached the stage when all nations can look to the possibility of the United Nations becoming much more involved in breaches of human rights in other countries than it did before. After all, national boundaries throughout the world have been drawn not by consent, but by war and imperial conquest. Yugoslavia is quite a dramatic and tragic example. Many of the lines are in the wrong places, and they will have to be reviewed at some stage.
In the end, it is not a question of just holding things together. The question is what is right, what people want and what is fair. If that question is not put, international justice has no meaning. That is the background against which we are operating.
Immediately now, Britain as part of the European Community must give active consideration to the matter. I do not expect the Minister to declare details, but I want some assurance that the United Kingdom, in co-operation with its Community colleagues, is giving a lot of thought to the matter. We may require to provide a peace-keeping force to keep the two sides apart. People should think seriously, in conjunction with the Yugoslavs, about redrawing boundaries in Yugoslavia. That has all been said to be terribly complicated and awfully difficult, but in many places it is not as difficult as all that. If there is to be peace between Serbia and Croatia, and between Serbia and Albania, that will have to be done.
As we go into recess, I hope that the Government are giving thought and attention to those matters, and to the tragedy that is going on in which we might, as a country, be involved at some stage. I want to prevent that happening and I want a peaceful outcome to be achieved. I am still not satisfied that the Government are giving as much priority to the matter as they should.
I wish to detain the House for a short time to ask that we consider the role of the present regulations if one local authority—in my case, Dorset county council—seeks to dispose of land that it regards as surplus to educational requirements and says that it is required by Government regulation to sell the land for the best possible price. In practice, this means that Poole borough council would be unable to purchase the land for recreational purposes.
I can best illustrate the problem by giving two short examples. In the Canford Heath area of my constituency, there has been much housing development in recent years and recreational facilities are limited. In the Bader road area of Canford Heath, there is a strip of land some 150 m wide, which for many years has provided a buffer between the houses and industrial development, and it is laid out as a sports area. It is an important green lung for the Canford Heath residents. It has wildlife, wild flowers and hedges, and is much valued by local people.
The county council has declared some 3.8 hectares—about two thirds of the total—surplus to educational requirements, and there is concern that the county council will give itself planning permission for industrial development, thus raising the price of the land to a level well beyond what Poole borough council could afford to pay for it.
Apart from the loss of the open space, the residents of Bader road now have the prospect of industrial development right up to the boundary of their property. If that happens, the recreational land will be lost for ever to the people who are supposed, after all, to own it.
We complain frequently when young people roam the streets and get into mischief, yet here is a proposal to deprive hundreds of youngsters of a place in which to play and to develop their interest in sport. Some 136 football matches were played there last year, in addition to the normal training sessions. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Poole borough council—rightly, in my opinion—has shown the area as a public open space on the local structure plan.
I turn now to the second case. Parkstone grammar school—in my constituency—has taken advantage of recent Acts to reverse the previous fall in pupil numbers and considers that it is now short of playing fields, as calculated by the regulations of the Department of Education and Science. The parents of pupils at the school have recently voted by an overwhelming majority to seek grant-maintained status and it is important to them that they start off with the right and adequate facilities.
An area of playing fields previously used by the school has now been designated by the county council as surplus to educational requirements and, by giving itself planning approval for industrial use, the county council has enhanced the value of the land. With increasing numbers at the grammar school, the governors are of the view that the land in question should be returned to them.
The county council's reply to complaints about its actions in both cases has been twofold—first, that the money is needed for capital expenditure and secondly, that it is required by Government regulation to obtain the highest possible price for surplus land.
The first reason—the need for additional capital—can, in my view, be met by other disposals. The county council's 50 per cent. share in Hurn airport is one thing that comes to mind. To sell would make more sense than depriving the people of Poole of one of the last open spaces in the area available for organised games.
The second reason—the matter of Government policy—is more complex. I understand that the Secretary of State for the Environment can give his specific consent to exempt a local authority from the need to maximise the cash received from the sale of assets. I have already written to the Secretary of State about this, and I hope that he will consider that course of action very carefully, as I have clearly shown that the land is needed by local people, who own it anyway.
I know that the Government already advise local authorities to consider community needs before disposing of surplus educational land for development and that they propose to reinforce that advice in a planning policy guidance note on sport and recreation, which they hope to issue shortly. I hope that the county council will reconsider its position in light of the forthcoming guidance note.
There is, I believe, another reason for the Secretary of State to intervene. There is a feeling—I put it no higher than that—that there is not a universal welcome at county hall for local suggestions that some of the district councils in east Dorset—Poole among them—will seek to become unitary authorities under the proposals for the reform of the structure of local government. In the case of the grammar school, there is concern that the grant-maintained status proposal will not make negotiations over land with the county council any easier.
The House heard the Prime Minister describe the citizens charter this afternoon—a welcome proposal that I fully support. I believe that the Secretaries of State for Education and Science and for the Environment must consider carefully their policy on the disposal of local authority land, especially in urban areas. In the cases that I have detailed, I hope that they will come down on the side of the citizens of Poole. That would truly be the citizens charter in action.
I thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me this opportunity to raise a matter of great concern to my constituents. I felt that it was important that the House should have the matter before it before adjourning for the summer.
The Rover works at Cowley started its summer recess, as it were, on Friday of last week. Unlike this House, they will be back in two weeks' time. As is often the case just before the works holiday, there were accouncements that cast a shadow over the autumn ahead, in the form of staff redundancies at Cowley of 180, and the news that production of the Montego and Maestro is to go on a four-day week from 16 September.
The redundancies are part of 1,300 job losses, also affecting workers at Longbridge, Swindon and Gaydon. Those are justified by Rover in terms of the ratio of white-collar to production staff and the need to ensure that the company operates at its most competitive in comparison with Japanese producers.
However, the four-day schedules, which also affect Longbridge production of the rover 200 and 400 from mid-August to October, are a product of the depression of sales right across the industry, itself a direct result of Government policies of high interest rates, the Budget increases in VAT, the other Budget measures that added to the cost of motoring and the special car tax.
It needs to be stressed to the House and to Government just how serious this slump in demand is. In the first six months of this year, new car sales in the United Kingdom were down 24 per cent. on the same period last year, itself a bad year. Sales for the industry as a whole have slumped from 2·3 million in 1989 to an estimated 1·55 million last year. As The Independent on Sunday put it yesterday:
Britain's car industry is in the deepest recession it has ever known.
The particular tragedy for my constituents is that, against that background, Rover has been doing relatively well. In the light of last week's announcements, it is important to put that on the record. The company has some of the best models it has ever produced, and a new model in the top-of-the-range Rover 800 series, produced at Cowley, will be launched this autumn. Industrial relations, quality and the commitment of the work force to efficient production have never been better, despite the painful cuts in the labour force which, in the past 12 years, have seen employment at Cowley fall from more than 20,000 to around 5,000.
As I am sure the House will understand, I am extremely concerned that those remaining workers should have a prosperous and secure future. On the sites that Rover is vacating at Cowley, I am also concerned that there should be the closest co-operation between the company, the local council, the business community and the trade unions to ensure that high value-added jobs, including manufacturing jobs, are provided for those workers who would otherwise have looked to Rover for emploment.
Through the depths of the recession, the company's performance has held out hope for the future. I have already referred to the quality of its cars and their production. Indeed, in the first six months of this year, Rover increased its penetration of the United Kingdom car market from 14·1 per cent. to 15·1 per cent. However, the recession has meant that this is equivalent to a bigger share of a much smaller market, so that Rover's United Kingdom car sales have, in fact, fallen from 150,000 last year to 121,000.
Export sales have been doing well, with particularly impressive performances in Germany where sales were up in the first half of this year by 39 per cent. on the same period last year. Sales were up in Italy by 44 per cent. and by 54 per cent. in Spain. However, as The Times reported last week:
Even buoyant export sales have not been enough to prevent production cuts.
In the same article, Rover was quoted as saying:
The weak home market is having its effect, so that although we are doing well in relation to our competitors, there are simply not enough sales there to prevent these cuts.
All the signs of a very deep recession are present right across the industry. Other producers' sales are sharply down, and Ford at Halewood has been on a three-day week. Price and advertising wars have broken out, fleet orders are down, and many car dealerships are in desperate difficulty following on the heels of the 340 that went bust in the year to March.
In those circumstances, I think that the very least that is required from the Government is an acknowledgement of the grave slump that they have brought about and a commitment to an urgent review of the impact of their policies on the industry.
The Budget added a £1,480 million taxation burden to motoring costs on the current year, and an estimated extra burden of £1,715 million next year. The VAT increase put up the tax take on new cars to 27·5 per cent. That included the incredible double taxation of VAT being levied on the special car tax itself. That 27·5 per cent. burden compares with the effective rate of tax on new cars of 14 per cent. in Germany and 22 per cent. in France.
The Government are always claiming that lower tax rates can increase the total tax take. Why have they so conspicuously failed to apply that logic to car tax? In present circumstances, the special car tax is a nonsense which the Transport and General Workers Union, in its welcome campaign, and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders deserve praise for exposing.
That high rate of taxation compared with major competitors puts Rover at a particular disadvantage, because it depresses car sales in its domestic market, which is invariably a crucial foundation for successful performance. As things stand, the Government's policies of recession and high car tax are desperately damaging the entire British car industry. The Prime Minister should change course before still more damage is inflicted.
As for Cowley, I shall be meeting Sir Graham Day this Friday to put the following points. First, faced with the sales position, which is not of the company's making, I applaud the fact that the four-day production schedule in the autumn is to be used to provide training on the fifth day for workers on the new Rover 800 model. One very important lesson we must learn in Britain is the importance of training during a recession so that we are better placed for the upturn. I greatly hope that that training can be organised on the fifth day at Cowley in such a way that the workers do not lose bonus earnings.
Secondly, there must be close collaboration on planning the development of those sites at Cowley that will be surplus to the company's future requirements. That must be done in such a way that former Rover workers, their families and those who would have looked to Rover for employment get their full and fair share of the opportunities that the development of those sites provide.
Thirdly, I repeat the calls that I have made in the past stressing the importance to Cowley of securing investment in new models in addition to the excellent Rover 800 range. In view of the record on industrial relations, productivity and quality at Cowley, the skills of the work force and the available capacity, there is a strong case for another model to be produced there.
That would be a further vote of confidence in Cowley's future following on the investment in the Rover 800. No one at a car plant is ever happy with dependence on a single model, however successful, for the very good reason that the whole future of that plant is up for grabs every time a decision must be taken on updating or replacing that model. However, that will otherwise be the case at Cowley when Maestro and Montego production eventually end.
I believe that it is beyond doubt that Cowley, which the company has repeatedly said should be its executive production centre, deserves the vote of confidence that a new model represents. The depth of a recession might seem to some a curious time to be advocating new investment. However, I simply say that history shows that it is those who invest wisely in the recession who are ready to meet demand in the upturn.
That investment will be supported by the economic and fiscal policies of the next Labour Government that will remove the ball and chain at present sabotaging my constituents' hard work.
I want to use the opportunity of this debate to protest here on the Floor of the House of Commons against the abysmal failure of the educational authorities in the North Down area, which I represent, to provide proper facilities for primary school pupils.
Time after time, I have complained bitterly about the abnormally large number of primary schools that have to make do with temporary classrooms in huts or in portakabins. This afternoon, the Prime Minister launched the citizens charter with tremendous fervour and publicity. I fully support such a charter, which may help to give some muscle to the citizens in confrontation with the power of colossal commercial organisations or faceless bureaucracy. What about the rights of parents who are shamefully denied proper educational facilities for their boys and girls?
Every primary school in the North Down area that I have visited has one or more temporary classrooms, usually in wooden huts that were meant as a short-term emergency measure. In the name of the parents in my constituency and their children, I demand decent classrooms for those boys and girls.
I want to refer to one such primary school, Kilmaine primary school in Bangor. That school has an excellent reputation because of the dedication and ability of the principal, the staff and the parents who take an active interest in it. Kilmaine primary school has an enormous number of pupils many of whom have to be accommodated for lessons in portakabins. The primary school has a catchment area that includes Ballycrochan, Silverbirch and Ashbury.
Ashbury is an area of vast private housing developments with a high percentage of young married couples. One of the major reasons why those young married couples bought their homes in Ashbury was that they had been promised a new primary school. I have pressed for such a school for some time. I had also urged the provision of a health centre in Ashbury. A large notice was erected some years ago promising a new primary school in 1990. The notice is still there, but the promise has never been fulfilled. I repeat my demand for a clear assurance from the Government that they will redeem that promise. I solemnly urge the replacement of all portakabins and wooden huts with permanent, purpose-built classrooms in North Down. Furthermore, I call for the building of a new primary school for the boys and girls of Ashbury and the surrounding area. New primary schools are also needed in other areas of my constituency.
Finally, may I make a plea on behalf of those boys and girls who are not of primary school age. There is no nursery school provision in, for example, Ashbury and many other parts of my constituency. Despite the fact that many homes in Ashbury are owned by young people with toddlers or a family on the way, there is no nursery provision there. Something should therefore be done to make provision for a nursery school or pre-school playgroups in Ashbury, other parts of Bangor and the entire North Down constituency.
So that there is a linkage in the debate, may I say that I agreed with the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) when he referred to the possibility that some people who have been employed in the House for many years—he quoted an example of someone who had been employed for 20 years—could face redundancy. That is totally unacceptable, and I hope that, when the Leader of the House winds up, he will reassure us on those points.
In some respects it seems a little unreal for this Parliament to be continuing. In 1983 and 1987, the election had come and gone by this time in the lives of those Parliaments. The fact that, this time around, no election has taken place after four years is not surprising. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know why. The explanation could not be clearer. The Government have not had the courage or confidence to go to the country, or there would almost certainly have been an election and the date would probably have been June.
We shall go into the summer recess with the recession deepening and unemployment continuing to grow throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) referred to the redundancies in his constituency. We all share the anxiety about those redundancies, as well as those that are occuring in so many parts of the country.
It certainly gives me no joy to say that, in the west midlands, we are experiencing yet again the large-scale redundancies, closures and dole queues that we saw under this same Government 10 years ago. We were then told that it was a once-for-all operation because we needed leaner industry. Enough people then lost their jobs, and some of the companies that were closed have never been reopened. Unfortunately, the tragedy is happening all over again in the west midlands and causing deep concern to the people there—above all, of course, those directly affected and their families.
Unlike 10 years ago, the present recession is also taking place in the south-east, with more people having to face all the difficulties of redundancies and the tremendous obstacles of trying to find new jobs in the present economic climate. I tried to introduce a Bill, which the Government did not support, which would have made it illegal to discriminate in job advertisements on grounds of age. The present economic difficulties affect not only the young but many people in the age group of many hon. Members now present—
With some exceptions. In some cases, those who have been made redundant will know that they are unlikely ever to work again because they have reached the age of 50 or perhaps just over.
The press tell us that the Prime Minister was in an upbeat mood last Thursday when he addressed the 1922 Committee—I see Conservative Members nodding—with all the praise of the Tory press ringing in his ears. The position is perfectly clear: if the Prime Minister feels so confident and upbeat, why does he not call an election? Let us get it over and done with. The Prime Minister should let the electorate decide. With the citizens charter announced earlier today, we would imagine that the Government had been in office for only a few months. They have been in office for 12 long years, and if they believe that they can hoodwink the electorate with a few gimmicks, they will find the situation very different and difficult. I shall not shed any tears for them.
May I deal now with an issue that is far less controversial, if controversial at all? I refer to the three grenadier guardsmen who lost their legs during a training exercise abroad in July 1989. All those who have heard about the case, which has been publicised particularly in the past few weeks, have come to the same view as hon. Members on both sides of the House—that adequate compensation should be paid. I raised the matter again during business questions last Thursday, and asked for a statement from the Secretary of State for Defence before this Thursday. It is important that there should be a satisfactory conclusion to this matter as quickly as possible.
I welcome the talks that have taken place between the solicitor acting for the three grenadier guardsmen and Ministry of Defence officials. Last Monday, The Times referred to the case, and the leader said that it supported the campaign for adequate compensation. It also contained a story about the three guardsmen, one of whom, Sean Povey, is a constituent of mine. The article quotes another of the guardsmen, Adrian Hicks, who has now left the Army, as saying:
They should see the performance I have to go through when it's trouser changing day … First, take old jeans off artificial legs. Squat on the bed while pulling new jeans onto artificial legs. Insert stumps into artificial legs. Wriggle trousers into position. You're sat up trying to do this and you're top heavy, unstable, because you don't have the weight of your legs while you're pulling and heaving. I really hate doing that job, I hate it!
It can take 25 minutes and I'm always sweating at the end of it. I'll crawl around half the morning, to and from the bathroom, rather than face up to it.
He says that the frustration occasionally becomes too much and he throws the legs across the room. He also says that, since he was discharged from the Army last December, he has twice tried to get a job but has been interviewed for neither application, and he is still trying to find a job.
We all know, and the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has told the House, that a pension is being paid, but the Minister has confirmed that the three soldiers were in no way responsible for what occurred. They were on a training exercise and a shell exploded while they were digging a trench, causing the three soldiers to lose their legs. My constituent, Sean Povey, is still in a military hospital two years after the tragedy occurred. As the Minister said, whoever is responsible, it is certainly not the three soldiers.
The soldiers joined the Army for the very best of reasons. I have already told the House what the teacher said about how proud Sean Povey was to join the Army, and how he came to the school in his uniform. There is no doubt that he, like the other two, would have continued in the Army for many years to come.
The three soldiers were not victims of a terrorist attack or anything similar, but were involved in a training exercise that went horribly wrong. I believe and, in the light of a number of signatures on various motions, it is clear that the majority of hon. Members believe, that compensation should be paid and justice done. I am reasonably hopeful that justice will be done, but do not let us delay or let the weeks and months drag on, adding to the mental anxiety of the three soldiers who have already suffered so much and are crippled for life. Let us achieve an honourable and satisfactory settlement as quickly as possible—I hope that it can be concluded before the House rises for the summer recess.
As an old Dragoon guardsman, I hope that the Government will heed carefully what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said. I think that the whole House hopes that something can be done for those unfortunate soldiers. At the same time, I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will totally disregard the first part of the hon. Gentleman's speech, which we could well have done without.
I am grateful for this opportunity to raise a matter that started in my constituency and has wider ramifications. In 1987, the Department of the Environment effected a change in the planning law that had considerable adverse effects. I refer to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987 and the Town and Country Planning General Development Order 1988—in particular, the new class A3 on food and drinks. The effect of the orders was to put what were previously different activities into the same class. They placed restaurants, public houses and takeaways in the same class, which meant that planning permission was not required when the use of a building changed from one purpose to another within that class.
The reasons for the orders are obscure, but may have something to do with speeding up development. When someone tells me that the reason for a change is to speed things up, I am profoundly suspicious and certain that something unpleasant will follow, and so it has. It is interesting that the change has never been debated in the House. It was ordered under delegated legislation and we never had a chance to consider it. The results have been all too apparent, as I can illustrate by explaining a case in my constituency.
My constituency contains the lovely village of Shelford, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) is familiar, and with which you, Madam Deputy Speaker, are not wholly unfamiliar. The case was brought to me by Councillor Mrs. Brenda Bishop and a large number of other constituents. There is a pleasant rural pub called The Chequers, which the brewers sold. The purchaser proposed to change it into a Chinese fish and chip takeaway, which caused an outcry among all those in Shelford who had fears about smells, litter and parking problems. They made representations to the local authority, but, as a result of the change in the law, it was absolutely powerless even to consider the representations and anxieties of the citizens that it represented.
The residents would much prefer to have the public house. Not all public houses are wonderful; where I live in Cambridge there is one pub that I would willingly exchange for a Chinese takeaway. However, pubs generally, certainly in my constituency and I expect in many others, are part of the village scene and contribute to the character of a rural community. I have 57 villages in my constituency.
There was a Monopolies and Mergers Commission report into the shabby treatment by brewers of licensees—a case powerfully made by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther), with whom I wholeheartedly agree, and whose early-day motion I signed. As a result of that shabby treatment, I believe that there may be many more pubs in the same position and many more villages, not only in my constituency but in many rural constituencies throughout the country, which will be adversely affected as a result of the change in the planning laws, which have wide repercussions. I support my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who has—as the hon. Member for Rotherham said—written to all hon. Members to urge brewers to have more consideration for their licensees. I hope that that pressure will continue.
There has been concern about the issue. The Department of the Environment ordered art inquiry into the effect of the changes in the Use Classes Order. A firm called Wootton Jeffreys, Consultants, investigated the problem. I do not know how or what that firm did, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning answered a written question by saying:
Although the researchers found some evidence of increased traffic generated by more intensive use of former industrial land, no other adverse effects on amenity or the environment were associated with the business use class. I am therefore satisfied that there is no case on environmental grounds for amending the business use class.
I am not satisfied. My hon. Friend continued:
I have concluded that to amend legislation which applies uniformly throughout England and Wales in response to these concerns would not be justified.
My hon. Friend continued:
The research revealed evidence of some local controversy resulting from changes of use involving fast-food and take-away outlets within the food and drink use class. I am also aware of some misgivings over changes of use to and from public houses within that use class. I am not persuaded that a case has been made for adjusting the present scope for changes of use in the high street sector, where the researchers found that market activity has been generally subdued"—
whatever that means—
since 1987 … There is some very localised evidence of harm to amenity, through increased traffic and general activity, associated with the conversion of hostels into hotels, but this is insufficient to merit amending the Order … However, the Government propose to continue to monitor closely the effects of the Use Classes Order and General Development Order and we are minded to commission further research in another three to five years."—[Official Report, 13 June 1991; Vol. 192, c. 619–20.]
I am fond of my hon. Friend the Minister for Housing and Planning, who is an excellent fellow and does a marvellous job, but that was a remarkably complacent
reply, and I am not satisfied for one moment. I do not think that the response is good enough, particularly as that case occurred in a conservation area. I do not believe that the consultants' inquiry considered the effect of the change in the law in conservation areas, for which special consideration should be given.
There has never been an opportunity to raise the problems on the Floor of the House, as the legislation was done through ministerial order and written answer. I have no objection to written answers, but this was too important a matter to be swept away. My hon. Friend should look at the matter again, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey my strong views to my hon. Friend the excellent Minister for Housing and Planning.
I wish to speak on the effect of the Government's so-called education reforms. I took the trouble to contact local primary school heads in my constituency for an end-of-term report on the effect of implementing the Government's education changes, especially those in relation to local management of schools and the standard assessment tests. As a consequence of the many replies that I have received, I have written to the Secretary of State for Education and Science asking for a number of changes to be made.
There is an urgent need for the Government to reinstate the salaries of staff to be paid from the central funds rather than schools having a devolved budget, which contains only average salaries. Although schools with fewer than 200 pupils are protected from the damaging and unpopular salary rule, the comments that I received from many head teachers make it clear that protection should be extended to all schools. Far too many of those letters read as follows:
Because of pupil-driven funding, we are having to lose two full-time members of our teaching staff",
The final situation regarding this school means that it has to reduce its staffing level by 1·5 teachers by redeployment.
I wholeheartedly agree with the head teacher who wrote:
Pupil-led funding will inevitably lead to the employment of younger, less experienced staff because of the need to cut costs. A single small school unit is too small to create a proper staff-cost distribution.
Another head wrote:
You will appreciate that all heads have a high regard for those experienced and dedicated teachers who have given loyal service and still have a great deal to offer, and it is their contribution that is being denigrated in that their actual salaries are not a composite part of the formula. We feel that we are being penalised for the quality and experience of our staff.
Yet another head teacher wrote:
We did, however, take finances into consideration when making recent appointments"—
although he quickly qualified that by adding:
but I can assure you all other aspects were equal"—
ending ominously with the rider,
on this occasion.
The same head teacher added:
I agree that to have to consider finance first would be a very sad day for this profession. We have a very generous special needs budget at this school, which we had to deploy, in part, to support this year's staffing. It is very wrong not to have actual salaries allocated to schools.
I agree. Those statements are moving and desperate. The effect on special needs budgets especially gives food for thought, and that head teacher's comment was not unique.
Another head teacher laid bare the real impact of local management of schools so eloquently that it is worth quoting him at length:
This school is in an area of social disadvantage and deprivation and high unemployment, and the majority of our children could be said to have special needs: emotional, behavioural learning difficulties. To meet those needs, we need to be able to employ experienced and therefore expensive teachers. We had more than £20,000 put into our budget for special needs, although that has been subsumed in staff costs, and as far as practical usage is concerned, it does not exist. Our main concern is that although we have successfully integrated children with special needs, and statemented children in the past, we shall be unable to continue to do so. Staff are now having to cope with large classes in a deteriorating environment and with constant external vandalism. We feel as though we are in a downward spiral, which can only result in the limiting of educational opportunities for our disadvantaged children and greater stress for our staff.
That reveals a sad state of affairs, and one that the Government should seriously consider. It is a damning indictment of their reforms.
What is the justification for devolved budgets with only average salaries? Recently, the Department of Education and Science stated:
Pupil-led funding is one of the key principals of LMS because it ensures that schools have a clear incentive to attract pupils by offering the best possible education.
In the light of the letters that I received from head teachers, that sounds like meaningless rhetoric, and it bears no relation to the facts. The Department's letter added:
It is misleading, to say the least, to say that schools are funded on the basis of average teaching salaries; the LMS formula does not fund the teachers, it funds the pupils.
That is such a weasel-worded argument that it adds insult to injury for those head teachers who took the trouble to write to me. It appears that indifference and ideology have taken over from common sense and compassion.
I question whether a systematic attempt is being made to create a two-tier education system in which schools are tempted to opt out by the lure of a better system of resourcing. Is the aim to have good and bad schools, not just for those aged from 11 to 18, as was the case under the old grammar school system, but for children from the age of five? That is a chilling and unhappy prospect. The question of actual salaries centrally funded, as opposed to average costs within a devolved budget, requires urgent review. If it is thought necessary and right to protect schools having fewer than 200 pupils, why is it not thought necessary and right to protect all schools?
The standard assessment test seems to be constantly under review—if not by the Department of Education and Science, then at the personal instructions of the Prime Minister. This comment was made by almost every head teacher who wrote to me:
They were completely successful but involved a great deal of disruption for the children, who have as a result not been educated for a full school year due to the inordinate time spent on testing. They also caused unnecessary worry for the teachers. When the aggregations were finally resolved and the results obtained, it was evident that they provided no more information about the children's progress and development than teachers already knew from their own assessment and recording practices.
Another point mentioned was the availability of national curriculum books in local bookshops at a cost of around
£200 for the full set. Clearly, the children of parents who can afford to buy their own enjoy an advantage. That is something that the Department should also consider.
The Government's so-called reforms are a sham and they are damaging the education of many children. It would be a good idea if the Prime Minister turned his attention to the serious problems that I described, instead of messing about with his so-called citizens charter. If the right hon. Gentleman really wants to be the pooper scooper of the Thatcher years, I suggest that he takes a good look at what has been done to our schools.
I am grateful for the opportunity to raise a matter that has been perplexing me for some time. Over the past few months, and virtually unreported by the world press and therefore unnoticed by the public, President Gorbachev has quietly been signing a series of defence treaties with the Heads of Government of the leading nations of Europe—in particular, Germany, France, Italy and, two weeks ago, Spain.
Article 3 of the Soviet-German treaty signed on 9 November 1990 between Chancellor Kohl and President Gorbachev reads:
Should either side become the object of an attack, the other side will not afford any military support or other assistance to the aggressor.
That wording is almost identical to that included in the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 23–24 August 1939:
Should one of the contracting parties become the object of belligerant action by a third power, the other contracting party shall in no manner lend its support to this third power.
Article 2 of the 1990 Soviet-German pact reads:
that is, the Germans and Soviets—
regard and will continue to regard as inviolable the frontiers of all states in Europe as they exist on the day of signature of the present treaty.
One must assume from that Germany's agreement to the present status of the Baltic states. It, too, has echoes of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact—specifically, the first of their secret protocols.
Article 8 of the Soviet-French treaty signed on 29 October 1990 reads:
In the event that one of the sides wishes to establish relations of co-operation with an international organisation of which it is not a member, the other side shall lend it its assistance.
Does that mean that France was bound by treaty to act on President Gorbachev's behalf for a seat at the G7 summit? That might be one reason why France and Italy do not want their treaties with the Soviet Union to be in the public domain.
Many issues are raised by the treaties, which have been signed bilaterally by some of the most ardent proponent nations of a federalist Europe. Time permits me to focus on only one of the issues, and that is the extent to which the Soviet-German and Soviet-Italian treaties undermine the NATO charter. My view is that they undermine it seriously. If, for instance, the Soviet Union were to attack Norway, Britain would be bound under its NATO obligations to go to the assistance of the Norwegians. In that event, and under the terms of the Soviet-German treaty, might not the Germans be inhibited from assisting us? [Interruption.]
One view is that under the terms of article 5 of the NATO charter an attack on one NATO state is deemed to be an attack on all the allies, and that it would therefore be possible to argue that, in the example that I have just put before the House, Britain would be engaged in a defensive action and that the terms of the Soviet-German agreement would not then be activated. [Interruption.]
There are now two treaties that govern Germany's response to military tension, and that must weaken the deterrent value of NATO. Given the enormous—this is an answer to the sedentary interjections of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks)—qualitative and quantitative improvements in the Soviet armed forces in recent months and the generally unstable nature of that country, surely these matters cannot be taken lightly.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House whether he will arrange, before the House adjourns later this week, for a full analysis of the Soviet treaties to be placed before the House so that we can judge whether they affect any vital British interests. It is important that their full implications can be assessed in the context of the intergovernmental conference discussions leading up to the Maastricht meeting in the autumn. I shall be grateful to know what treaty overtures have been made to the British Government by the Government of the Soviet Union and the response of our Government if, as I have cause to believe, such overtures have been made.
We have just heard a blast from the past. The hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Mr. Spicer) must be one of the few who is determined to try to keep the cold war alive. His questions—I agree that they are pertinent—could have been directed to Mr. Gorbachev last week. After all, the Prime Minister was walking up and down the Terrace introducing Mr. Gorbachev to hon. Members. The hon. Gentleman could have obtained some pretty direct information from Mr. Gorbachev. He has raised matters that no Opposition Member is especially worried about at this stage, and I suspect that that goes for many Members on the Government Benches. We must all be grateful for that. We must be particularly grateful to Mr. Gorbachev and for the monumental changes that are taking place in eastern Europe.
I wish to register my protest that we are having such a long summer recess. It is well understood by hon. Members that the recess is not a holiday, but that is not understood by some outside this place. It is certainly not understood by those malevolent, brain-dead journalists who insist that the summer recess is a long holiday and that as soon as we finish on Thursday we shall all decamp to Caribbean islands where we will stay until we are summoned back to this place on 25 October. It is—[HON. MEMBERS: "14 October."] I shall probably miss the first week back as I shall be continuing to sip my ping colada on a Caribbean beach.
For regular attenders of the sittings of the House, such as myself, the summer recess provides an opportunity for hon. Members to catch up with all the work that perhaps we wanted to do that does not relate directly to our constituencies. The theory goes, however, that our job is to hold the Executive to account. I know, of course, that that is only a constitutional theory. In practice, things do not work out quite like that. We can, however, make life difficult for the Government.
That can be done as well by some of the more stroppy Conservative Back-Bench Members. For example, the Government were forced to announce that there would be an inquiry into BCCI. Another example was the private notice question tabled by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition. These examples show that it is possible for hon. Members on both sides of the House to put pressure on the Executive.
It is absurd for the House to shut down for about 12 weeks, especially when we know that the Government will not be shutting down for that period. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends and I wish that they would shut down permanently. We know that the announcement has gone out from Conservative central office and No. 10 Downing street that there will a summer of great political activity for Ministers. That will undoubtedly ruin any holidays that they might have arranged.
The political programme started today with the citizens charter. It is described as a White Paper, but in reality it is a plum paper. The Prime Minister put in his thumb, pulled out a plum and said, "What a good boy am I." Certainly that was how the right hon. Gentleman behaved this afternoon.
I look on the document as a long confessional note, not as a White Paper. We have had about 12 years of Conservative Government and it is a bit rich for the Prime Minister to tell us that a host of things will be done because of the rundown in the public services, when Conservative Governments, of whom he has been a prominent member for some time, have been active in running down those services. We are getting the flavour, however, from the Prime Minister's statement this afternoon and from all the other things that are going on. It is clear that the Government will be extremely active during the summer recess.
The House exercises no real check on the Government's actions. Surely it is important that we should exercise some control through questions and speeches and by securing statements from Ministers. When the Leader of the House replies to the debate, I hope that he will say whether he is personally in favour of a more evenly spaced legislative year, which would be appreciated by many Members on both sides of the House. When the Select Committee considers sitting hours, I hope that it will look into Sessions as well.
During the summer recess, and perhaps beyond that, there will be endless speculation about the date of the general election. We are coming towards the end of the 1987 Parliament and people are becoming restless and, at times irritated. We are at the fag end of the Parliament. There are many who are experiencing difficulty when planning. It is a debilitating process, and not only for hon. Members. In this context, I am not bothered about the convenience of hon. Members. I am more concerned about the climate of uncertainty throughout the country, which is experienced by members of the business community, those who are involved in commerce and by the public generally when it comes to taking decisions. Often their decisions will be based on which party will be in power and on the date of the general election. A climate of uncertainty is created at home and abroad, and it is about time that the practice was brought to an end.
It would be naive in the extreme for me to expect the Prime Minister to announce the date of the general election. I suspect that it will take place after Christmas. No doubt the Prime Minister does not want to run any risk of not being at the intergovernmental conference in December, and that is a legitimate position for him to take. I have made my estimate of when the general election will take place, but who knows? Only one person knows, and that is the Prime Minister. It is unsatisfactory.
We need fixed election dates. Other countries have managed their affairs effectively with fixed-date elections, and we have fixed dates for local elections and EEC elections. The principle should be extended to general elections. It would ensure that Governments of whatever colour do not create windows of opportunity by manoeuvring mini-booms in the knowledge that difficulties will arise in the following two months. If a Government know that conditions are due to worsen, there is every likelihood that they will make a rush for the polls in the hope that they will gain an electoral advantage.
The ability of a Prime Minister to decide almost alone when there will be a general election gives him or her enormous power. It is far too much power. The House should always be jealous of giving too much power to any Prime Minister, whoever he or she happens to be. Such power keeps the Opposition on the run and guessing, and perhaps that is fair enough, but it keeps members of the governing party guessing as well. Great pressure can be put on recalcitrant Government Back-Bench Members if there seems to be the threat of a rebellion and an election is hanging over them. Nothing concentrates the minds of Members of this place more wonderfully than the idea that they and their party might lose a general election. That demonstrates the enormous power of a Prime Minister, who can call an election when he decides that it is right to do so.
It is time that we moved towards fixed election dates so that we can ensure that party-political advantage is not put before the interests of the country as a whole. If my arguments curry any favour, I hope that hon. Members will support me when I introduce a ten-minute Bill in October, subject to there not being a general election in the meantime.
I agree with the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) that there should be fixed election dates. However, I am not sure that the choice of an election date gives tremendous power to a Prime Minister. It is often a great burden because they invariably get it wrong. Lord Wilson of Rievaulx in 1970, my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) in February 1974, and Lord Callaghan of Cardiff in 1979 are three recent examples. Prime Ministers might actually be glad to be relieved of a choice which so often turns out to be a burden. It certainly does not give them immense power because they so frequently get it wrong.
I wish to make the speech that I had hoped to make during our Army debate three weeks ago today. This will be my last opportunity to do so before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence makes his statement on Army restructuring, which is expected tomorrow afternoon. I support the Government's planned reductions in the armed forces in response to the tremendous changes in eastern Europe and the fast-declining threat from the Soviet Union. The plans to reduce the strength of the Army from 156,000 to 116,000 by 19 battalions are both desirable and necessary. However those reductions must be carried out sensibly and fairly. That is my concern, and that is the basis of my speech.
The task of selecting regiments for amalgamation or disbandment was passed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to the Army Board, which in effect delegated the decisions to the councils of colonels of regiments at infantry division level. It would appear that, within the Prince of Wales division, the seven English regiments outvoted the two Welsh regiments, and it is believed that the colonels decided to recommend the amalgamation of the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment. That recommendation was encouraged by the chief of the general staff, General Sir John Chapple, who by saying that regiments should not be called upon to undergo a second amalgamation in the same military generation, immediately targeted those 12 regiments that had survived earlier reductions.
I want to argue against the recommendation for the amalgamation of the Royal Welch Fusiliers with the Cheshire Regiment—or, indeed, with the Royal Regiment of Wales—on four grounds. The first ground is recruitment. The Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment are the most strongly recruited regiments in the Prince of Wales division. It is those regiments that find it hardest to recruit that should be amalgamated. That is the logical action that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State should take.
Wales provides 8 per cent. of the Army's infantry recruits, although it comprises only 5 per cent. of the United Kingdom's population. In fact, it provides almost 50 per cent. more recruits than its percentage of the population warrants. I understand that the Principality produces more recruits proportionately than any other part of the United Kingdom. Wales has no difficulty in providing manpower for its three regiments. In fact, it subsidises other regiments in the Prince of Wales division that do not attract sufficient recruits on their own merits.
Cross-border amalgamation with an English regiment could have a serious impact on recruitment from Wales. The traditional territorial recruiting link would be broken. That point was made effectively by my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger) during the Army debate three weeks ago, when he referred to the last major Army restructuring, in relation to the Cameronians, and the subsequent detrimental effect on recruitment from Lanarkshire. Currently, of the 150 new recruits a year to the Royal Welch, 100 come from north and mid-Wales. There is an especially strong bond between the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the county of Clwyd, where my constituency is, and the county of Gwynedd. Young men could be put off embarking on an Army career if they have to join an English regiment.
A further argument for retaining the Royal Welch as an independent regiment is its professionalism and morale, which is extremely high. Some 67 per cent. of the soldiers are serving on engagements of nine years or longer, with a further 19 per cent. committed to serve for six years. Even with the reduction from 55 to 36 battalions, the contribution of Wales to recruitment justifies the retention of all three Welsh regiments. In recruitment terms, it would not be fair to amalgamate the Royal Welch Fusiliers, and it could seriously damage future recruitment from the Principality, especially from north and mid-Wales.
The second ground on which the Royal Welch Fusiliers should not be amalgamated is territorial fairness. I am looking quickly around the Chamber to make sure that no Scots are present—[Interruption.] I am referring to Members of Parliament representing Scottish constituencies. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will remember my last speech in an Adjournment debate, when he made clear his dismay that I had forgotten his nationality.
There is a feeling that Scotland is likely to be treated more favourably than Wales, although we will not know that until tomorrow. Scotland provides 11·6 per cent. of infantry recruits, compared with Wales's 8 per cent., although Scotland's population is twice that of Wales. Scotland has nine battalions, including two battalions of the Scots Guards. I understand that the plan is to reduce the Scots Guards to one battalion and to reduce the remaining battalions by two. That would leave Scotland with six battalions, but on its recruitment record and potential, it should have only four.
I am not asking for more Scottish battalions to be disbanded or amalgamated—that would be a brave thing for me to do. However, there is a feeling that Scotland may be treated more favourably than the Principality. Under the plans envisaged, Scotland will be left with 50 per cent. more than its fair share, whereas Wales, if it loses one regiment, will be left with 26 per cent. less than its fair share.
The third ground is the economic and employment impact of the amalgamation of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Obviously, the amalgamation or disbandment of any regiment has a potentially serious impact on the local economy wherever the regiment is based. Up to 1,000 people, including civilian personnel, could lose their jobs in this case. The Royal Welch Fusiliers has its headquarters at Hightown barracks in Wrexham, so amalgamation or disbandment would hit an area where unemployment has increased by 35·7 per cent. in the last year. That area—like my constituency, which is adjacent to it—has suffered tremendous structural unemployment during the past few years.
I want to say how glad I am to support the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) on this issue. Sometimes to our mutual embarrassment, we have seen eye to eye and campaigned together on several local issues. Whatever our political differences, I have the highest respect for the hon. Gentleman as a constituency Member. I have been glad to work with him and, indeed, with members of other political parties in Wales to try to preserve the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an independent regiment.
The fourth ground is historical and cultural. The Royal Welch Fusiliers is the senior regiment of Wales, with the longest and, arguably, the strongest connection with the Principality. I shall not relate its history to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, as that would take rather a long time. It was raised in 1689, and in the 300 years since it has been involved in almost every British military campaign. As I said, in recruitment it has a strong connection with north and mid-Wales, and with Clwyd and Gwynedd in particular. The Royal Welch Fusiliers Comrades Association is the strongest regimental association of its kind in the United Kingdom, with more than 2,500 active members.
My constituency is a case in point, demonstrating the strong connection between the regiment and different parts of the Principality. It was granted the freedom of the borough of Delyn in April 1976. I was present twice in the towns of Flint and Mold in my constituency when the regiment exercised its right to march through the borough with bayonets fixed.
It is also important to remember that almost 40 per cent. of the regiment is Welsh-speaking. That proved useful when trying to outwit the Japanese in Burma and, more recently, when the regiment was stationed in Northern Ireland.
There is a strong historical, cultural and linguistic bond with Wales that should be preserved, not just for sentimental reasons but on the practical ground of recruitment.
Cross-border amalgamation with the Cheshire Regiment is viewed by many people in Wales as an insult to the Welsh people. Even my right hon and noble Friend Lord Crickhowell, a former Secretary of State for Wales, has described the potential amalgamation in those terms. I have said in the House several times that the Conservative party in Wales appears too often no more than a branch of the Conservative party in England, with no distinctive identity of its own. If the Royal Welch Fusiliers are amalgamated, that unfortunate impression will be underlined and perpetuated. Like all Welsh Members, I am prepared to let the case rest on recruitment and retention in particular, because if they are the paramount criteria, the Royal Welch Fusiliers will have nothing to fear.
The campaign in and outside the House to preserve the Royal Welch Fusiliers has been an all-party one. The Welsh Conservative parliamentary group, like groups in other political parties, has worked hard to preserve the regiment. It has met my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister for the Armed Forces. We have done all that we can through correspondence and meetings with Ministers to put the regiment's case.
Every such campaign has its hitches, especially when it must be organised—as this one was—at extremely short notice. I regret that we as a group were not informed some weeks ago of the lobby of the House by the Royal Welch Fusiliers Comrades Association because, had we been, we would have attended to give our strong support to the regiment.
Last Wednesday, I was glad to receive from the mayor of the borough of Delyn a petition with no fewer than 11,500 signatures—by far the largest petition I have received in my eight years as a Member. I was glad also that I was able to arrange to receive that petition with colleagues from the three other political parties in the Principality. It emphasised, if that were necessary, that the Royal Welch Fusiliers are seen by all of us as part of the Welsh family—one symbol, among many, of the distinctive identity of the Welsh people. If Ministers ignore the logic and common sense of retaining the Royal Welch Fusiliers as an independent regiment—let alone the emotional attachment of the Welsh people to the regiment—they will o so at their peril.
The hon. Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) put the most novel argument I have ever heard for bilingualism. He adverted to the great advantages that the ability to speak Welsh apparently gave Welsh prisoners in the last war. That was a short-lived advantage. The Japanese have caught on to it, and the welcome Japanese residents of the Principality are learning the language. I understand, however, that they have set themselves a target of achieving full articulation with 10 per cent. less vocabulary.
Like Welsh Members from all parties, I agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Delyn about the Welsh regiments. As he will confirm, it is an unusual course that can attract 100 per cent. support among the parties involved in Welsh politics. Self-preservation leads me to dissociate myself from the hon. Gentleman's comments about the Scots.
I wish to pursue the argument put by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) about the problems created in the brewing industry by the brewers' attitude to their tenants. Again, in this matter, hon. Members on both sides of the House supported the arguments against the brewers' actions.
To put this matter in a slightly wider context, one should understand that the brewers are responding to the fact that they have been rumbled on what was once a tax concession and is now a great tax fiddle. Duty on beer is applied early in the production process. That feature was introduced in 1880 by Gladstone. It was recognised that 6 per cent. of the beer was wasted during refinement. Throughout the intervening years, brewers enjoyed a marvellous tax gift of 6 per cent. of the amount of tax that they should have paid. This year, it amounted to about £125 million.
The National Audit Office, which conducted an investigation and reported to the Public Accounts Committee, discovered that the biggest brewers, using expensive new equipment, could reduce that 6 per cent. wastage to 3 per cent. That may not sound a lot, but we are talking about £125 million of tax concessions—the big brewers account for £100 million of that tax benefit. According to the Brewers Society, all the top brewers use the same technology. For much of this decade, the brewers have been ripping off the tax man and the British public to the tune of up to £15 million a year, because technology has overtaken the concept of the relief on the old duty given for wastage.
I come to the main subject of my speech. Although this is a constituency issue, I wish to ask colleagues to consider the way in which they would react if there were identical circumstances in their constituencies. A quango in my constituency decided to close the night casualty unit at my hospital. Despite enormous opposition from the city council, the county council, local Members, 82 per cent. of local voters—as revealed by a survey in the South Wales Evening Post—and the 30,000 people who signed a petition which I organised and presented to the Secretary of State, that quango said, "We will close the casualty unit." There is enormous anger in my constituency and neighbouring constituencies, yet it is ineffective, because the quango is virtually doing what it likes.
That same detested quango, West Glamorgan health authority, closed the casualty unit in the early 1980s. For a couple of years, it consulted about changing casualty from a major to a minor unit. Overnight, it closed the unit, without any consultation on that option. Even the Welsh Office was horrified. With the support of Ministers, we worked to thwart the authority's proposals and the unit was reopened—although only on the basis of having a minor casualty unit, operating during the day.
The health authority is now at it again. It is in the middle of a fraudulent exercise of so-called consultation before it goes ahead with a decision that it has already made. I describe that exercise as "fraudulent" because the health authority is deceiving the public and is withholding or wrongly presenting information.
The health authority said to the people of West Glamorgan, "If you let us close the night casualty unit, we will be able to carry out 400 more cataract operations a year." To pensioners and the elderly, that is clearly an important consideration, but the health authority has not explained that it will cost £333,000 to introduce the extra ophthalmic capability. The authority will save only £74,000 from closing the unit.
The health authority is telling the people of West Glamorgan, "Save £70,000 in the casualty unit and we will give you £333,000-worth of cataract operations." Everyone can see that that is nonsense. The saving about which the authority talks would provide about 80 extra operations a year.
During the past week, the health authority ran a full-page advertisement in a newspaper promoting its measure as a health gain for the community. It said that cataract operations represented a health gain compared with the casualty service. Although 1,460 people used the casualty unit last year, it will disappear shortly if the health authority has its way. The trade-off—if this is to be seen as a trade-off—is that a mere 80 cataract operations will be funded by the closure of the unit.
Of course, the health authority does not explain that the Welsh Office is establishing a cataract unit 20 miles away, at Bridgend, to deal with the backlog of cataract patients on waiting lists in south Wales.
Something else has come to my aid today; I noticed that in his statement on the citizens charter the Prime Minister said that dealing with the backlog of cataract operations was to be one of the elements in the White Paper. Naturally, we assume that the right hon. Gentleman realises that that can be done only if the resources are there, so we assume that the Government will provide resources. That is another reason why there is no need to close the casualty unit.
Furthermore, the health authority does not point out that, since it counted the number of people using the casualty unit overnight, two major departments—paediatrics and gynaecology—have been transferred from another hospital. It is absurd that, under the proposed new system, if a 999 call were made, for a spontaneous abortion, for example, the patient would have to be taken to another hospital in Morriston where there will be a casualty unit, and then brought back to Singleton, where the gynaecology department now is, and where there is now a casualty unit—but that unit is about to disappear.
The same consideration applies to children's illnesses, too. Children with major complaints will have to be taken out of Swansea and then brought back again.
It is especially galling to us in West Glamorgan that the Welsh Office recently produced a formula under which each health authority is given a percentage of the total budget available for Wales determined by the size of the population and by need. On the Welsh Office's own admission, West Glamorgan already receives £2·2 million less than it is entitled to in the current year. We are to lose a night casualty service for the sake of saving £74,000, yet the Minister admits that the Government owe us £2·2 million for this year and will owe us the same amount next year, because that deficit will not be put right in the short term.
I said that the so-called consultation was fraudulent because the health authority had already made up its mind. That much is clear from the fact that the authority has already advertised in the British Medical Journal for a consultant to fill the ophthalmic post whose existence is supposed to be contingent on the decison to close the casualty unit.
There can be no doubt in anyone's mind that West Glamorgan health authority has already made up its mind. In the meantime it is sending officials to other parts of the county—to Neath, for example, where there is a casualty unit, and to Aberavon, which uses the Neath unit. The officials say to pensioners' groups that if they support the closure of Swansea casualty unit—the unit that those people do not use—the health authority will be able to give people the eye operations that they need. That is cynical and contemptible, and it is happening in the name of a quango that ignores local public opinion.
We believe that that distortion of a consultation process should be exposed for what it is. Ministers should tell West Glamorgan health authority that it is clear from all the evidence that the consultation is a sham, and that when the decision goes on appeal to the Welsh Office, as it most certainly will, Ministers will throw out the health authority's case.
As a native of Cheshire, but with English parents who reside in north Wales—I shall visit them next week—I believe that I have sufficient historical knowledge of the rivalries between those two tribes to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr. Raffan) said about the Royal Welch Fusiliers and the Cheshire Regiment.
One general reason why the House should not adjourn is that both sides of the House, expecially Conservative Members, would welcome a debate on my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's citizens charter, produced today. Conservative Members would especially like to explore the motives underlying the churlish and sterile response of the Labour party to my right hon. Friend's statement. I welcome my right hon. Friend's personal commitment to providing decent standards in public education, public health and public transport—that commitment is an essential part of his political philosophy.
I shall discuss two aspects of that commitment—first, standards in the teaching of English. I am conscious that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden) eloquently pursued the same subject in Friday's debate, but I hope that neither my hon. Friend nor the House will mind if I now support his case. It is a sufficiently important subject to be worthy of support by more than one hon. Member.
My attention was drawn to concern over the teaching of English a few weeks ago, on 30 June, by an article in TheSunday Telegraph, which quoted from the vexed £20 million document produced under the auspices of the Department of Education and Science on the teaching of English language and literature. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham effectively took the document to pieces on Friday, but he did not refer to the following quotation from it:
grammar should be seen as 'a series of options from which the speaker or writer should make choices dependent on context and intention."'
It is worrying that
this study is already being used to train English teachers in state schools how to implement the national curriculum. That does not mean, of course, that all English teachers
support the "progressive" intentions of the document, but
merely that all are got at by the thought police",
as described by Nicholas Farrell, in The Sunday Telegraph. Chief among the "thought police" is
Terry Eagleton, the Marxist recently appointed Professor of English at Oxford University. He describes himself as the 'barbarian in the citadel' … At a conference two weeks ago at Ruskin College, Oxford, attended by 400 like-minded progressives and called to discuss the struggle for English"—as they call it—
He said: 'There's an enormous amount to play for and we're the only people in the arena."'
We understand that
21 of the 25 regional co-ordinators of the suppressed English teaching study are members of the … left-wing pressure group
supporting this approach.
In connection with the implementation of the citizens charter, there is considerable concern about standards in state schools. Conservative Members are committed to maintaining standards—my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House had his own spell seeking to raise standards and thus to fulfil our commitment.
I must commend a study known as "English, our English" published by the Centre for Policy Studies a few weeks ago. It states in its introduction:
When children leave English schools today, few are able to speak or write English correctly. Even fewer have a familiarity with the literary heritage of England and it is not hard to see why, because among those who theorise about English teaching there has developed a new orthodoxy which regards it as a conceptual error to speak of correct English and which rejects the idea of a literary heritage. And this new orthodoxy has now come to influence every aspect of English in schools.
I welcome the Prime Minister's announcement today about the introduction of outsiders to the inspection of schools. They will replace the insider HMI system because Her Majesty's inspectors have made reports that endorse and carry forward these somewhat subversive thoughts about English. Hitherto, they have said how it should be taught and what the aims of teaching should be, and the recommendations of Her Majesty's inspectors have largely reflected the tenets of the new orthodoxy.
Equality of opportunity, to which Conservative Members are committed, is facing one or two difficulties and distortions in Taunton. Because of the way in which the town and the school structures have grown, 62 per cent. of pupils in Taunton live south of the railway but only 28 per cent. of secondary school places—at Castle school—are to be found in the south. As I have learnt from recent constituency cases, that has left many families unable to have the first choice of school and it has generated dissatisfaction with the service and created difficulties for the schools in the north which have to receive pupils from disaffected families. Inevitably there are many cross-town journeys and more children have to be transported by car who would walk or cycle if their schools were close enough to home.
For some time the education authority, the county council, has been pursuing a scheme to build a new school in the south of the town and it was envisaged that the scheme would obtain substantial support from the DES—as well as from the Church, because it involved a Church school. The announcement in April that the DES would not support the scheme caused dismay among members of the county council. The chief reason given by the DES was the size of the sum required, but that would have been apparent to the DES from the start of the project, yet it was not mentioned until late in the day. So my constituents and those in the education system in Taunton and in the county have some reason to feel aggrieved about the lateness of the DES's decision.
I have made Ministers aware of this problem and I have raised it in the House. I hope that the DES will be as supportive as possible of the efforts being made to rectify the imbalance in school provision in Taunton—for educational, social and environmental reasons.
The second matter that I want to raise has consequences for the environment. I welcome the new approach of the Secretary of State for Transport to transport of freight, and his new emphasis on the role of the railways. I welcome his recent announcement on section 8 environmental grants for environmentally sensitive roads. My right hon and learned Friend and I had an exchange on the matter on 11 July at column 1103. I commend to him and to the House a study produced some time ago by Somerset county council on the consequences of moving, within the EEC, to a 40-tonne upper limit for heavy lorries. That will have consequences for many counties. In Somerset, almost all bridges on minor roads would have to be strengthened to take the extra loads—one reason why the 40-tonne limit is not to be introduced until January 1999.
I understand that the Department of Transport is carrying out a bridge survey which it expects to take another two years to complete. The Department estimates that 10,000 bridges need to be strengthened, but we understand that it is not prepared to estimate the cost of the operation. It is estimated that in Somerset alone 400 bridges will have to be strengthened at an approximate cost of £8 million, at 1990 prices.
In my constituency the small towns of Wellington and Milverton are both outstanding heritage settlements. Five hundred HGVs will pass through Wellington every day, and 70 through Milverton.
I know that other Members want to speak—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, Hear."] I am glad that Somerset county council has produced proposals to resolve this problem—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it."] The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) spoke for well over 10 minutes.
Somerset county council recommends that all lorries over an agreed weight and length should be restricted to motorways and A roads, and it proposes the development of lorry parks, warehouses and trans-shipment parks at motorway exits—that will assist the trans-shipment of freight to smaller vehicles. I hope to return to this matter in the autumn on an Adjournment motion, but it merits the attention of the House today.
We have heard many good reasons why the House should not adjourn, not least those, including the subject of education, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson). I too want to discuss education this evening.
This afternoon, when the Prime Minister introduced the citizens charter, an excellent document which I trust has the full support of the whole House, he raised the question of educational standards. Earlier, the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) referred to brain-dead journalists. I shall not take up his subject or pursue his line about how journalists nearly always get matters wrong, except to say that Members and journalists also get it wrong far too often by emphasising the negative. Just for once, and in the space of three or four minutes, I want to discuss something that has gone well—
Two or three minutes will be quite enough.
Between 1 and 9 July this year, the international physics olympiad was held in Cuba. It took place in Britain back in 1986 and it began in the eastern bloc in 1967. It is an opportunity for young people from this country to achieve in science, especially in physics. In The Times Educational Supplement of 28 June, Dr. Cyril Isenberg, secretary of the British physics olympiad, was quoted as saying:
The competitive spirit in education, despite what we hear, is not dead.
The physics olympiad is a way of ensuring that our young people can compete and achieve excellence in education.
Earlier in this debate, we heard about the importance of ensuring that education is good for all children, an idea that I support. What I want to say in no way contradicts the principle of a good state education service for all. Last year, Alexander Barnett, who attended Manchester grammar school, at which I was privileged to teach for five years, was awarded the gold medal in the international physics olympiad. Thirty-two countries took part. We did not do quite as well this year in Cuba, but K. Reavell of Bedford school won the silver medal, and we obtained four other awards. This year, a Russian student gained the top placing. I am sure that that pleased President Gorbachev, and I would have spoken to him about it if I had had the chance last week to meet him on the Terrace.
The achievements of these young people are marvellous. In this country, about 500 students from some 200 schools compete to become members of the five-strong team which will take part in the international physics olympiad. This year's British winners who will go forward to the olympiad took part in a presentation ceremony at the Royal Institution, at which the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth) was present.
The competition generates enthusiasm for physics and science generally, and the number of A-level standard entrants to the competition increases by 30 per cent. a year. In this country, there are six times as many state schools as independent schools, but the number of entrants to the competition from independent schools is equal to the number from state schools. That supports the point made by some hon. Members, that we must encourage excellence in our state schools more than we do, so that the number entering the competition from state schools is six times as great as the number entering from independent schools. When that happens, we shall be able to say that we have achieved what we set out to achieve.
I have raised this subject to give publicity and encourage support for real scientific and educational achievement. In the press, and perhaps even in the House, too much attention is paid to the trivial and the way-out, astrology rather than astronomy, and it is important to put good scientific achievement on the record. Parliament should hear about such achievements as well as about achievements in other spheres.
While improving overall standards, we need to encourage competition and excellence in education. I know that the Leader of the House, who is in his place, agrees. I was grateful for his support when he was Secretary of State for Education and Science and we were trying to make sure that single sciences were still taught in our schools. Therefore, I do not need to take any more time trying to persuade him of my argument. I urge the Government to support the principles of the British physics olympiad and the House to take every opportunity to support such activity and our young people who do so well.
The Government Whip should not sound surprised. I am entitled to contribute to the debate.
I feel as though I have not been to bed because, not many hours ago, I was speaking to the Leader of the House. He has been a fair Leader of the House, and I hope that he will be fair on many of the questions put to him in the debate.
A few weeks ago, I put a question about Cyprus to a Minister in the Department of Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and asked him to get stuck into the job. He is new to the post; he was appointed by the right hon. Lady who used to occupy No. 10, who hoped that he would do a good job, especially on the quesiton of Cyprus. Last week, we had a first-class meeting in Room 14, which was packed solid with Greek Cypriots. Many others could not get in. Turkish troops from the mainland invaded northern Cyprus in 1974, and the only attempt to sort out the problem has been gas-bagging. There has been no action whatever.
I was a little disappointed to hear the President of the United States say that Turkey was a good boy for the way that it helped to overcome the problems in the Gulf. That lot invaded northern Cyprus and created a big problem. Many people are missing and many of us want to know where they are. The Government are one of the guarantors of Cyprus, and they should take some action instead of sitting round a table and gas-bagging, as they do in the Chamber. We want the Government to make some concrete decisions about how to solve this problem, but they have not done very well up to now.
The 1974 invasion was allowed to happen. I accept that, at that time, Labour were in power, but this problem has gone on for 13 years, and talking for that length of time is not good enough. We need some action to remove the Turks from the island, because the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots want to live together in peace.
The population of northern Cyprus is growing by the day. People have been flittered there from the mainland to take over the place. We have a base in southern Cyprus in the Greek Cypriot area, and if matters are left for too long, the Turks will cross the green line and decide that they want the whole island. I hope that the Leader of the House will have something to say to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and especially to the Minister of State who is responsible for that area. I hope that he will also let the Foreign Secretary know.
Perez de Cuellar, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, has been doing a lot of talking. He has been trying to help, but he cannot make the decisions. Other people have to make them and he has to carry them out. The Leader of the House should take some action and the Government should sort out the Cyprus problem, because it has been going on for far too long.
As always, this debate has so far raised a fascinating range of topics, to which I have listened with considerable interest. The hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) thought that our break to 14 October was far too long. I disagree. I think that it is far too short, and would prefer to have more time with my constituents than will be possible because of the fact that we shall return here immediately after the party conference season.
If I had longer, I should like to have developed four points, but I shall merely articulate them and allow time for other hon. Members to speak. On 22 October last year, at about 8.20 in the evening, a young constituent of mine, Miss Susan James, was travelling with a friend in a taxi in Corby. The taxi was involved in an accident, and Miss James and the driver of the taxi were killed and the passenger was very seriously injured. The driver of the taxi, who quite coincidentally was well known to me, had been driving continuously for some 16 hours. That cannot possibly be right.
In all circumstances, drivers who are conveying the public in coaches or lorries—but apparently, not in taxis—are governed by regulations setting out how long the driver is allowed to drive. This accident gave rise to issues apart from the length of time for which that driver was driving. My hon. Friend and neighbour the Minister for Public Transport is conducting an inquiry into the various regulations, but it is important for members of the public to be assured about all aspects of safety when they travel in taxis. That must include the hours that taxi drivers work.
I do not think that taxi drivers are, in general, working for anything like that period of time, but it cannot be right that, after this case, this lack of restriction should be allowed to continue. I hope that my hon. Friend will reach a conclusion urgently. He is perfectly aware of my feelings on this matter. It is so clear that it cannot be right for taxi drivers to work continuously for 16 hours, and that it is a danger both to their passengers and other members of the public if they do, that this anomaly must be corrected as soon as possible.
The House is aware of the scandal of timeshares and the way they are sold. If I had had longer, I should have set out the evidence that comes to light almost every day. The House will agree that, in all categories of junk mail that our constituents receive, the most junk-like is that for timeshares. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will be able to come to the House as soon as possible after we have returned with proposals to put an end to this scandal.
I have two other short points to make, both of which are rarely raised in the House. In recent years, there has been controversy over the quality of our judges. One aspect of this controversy is the retirement age. Under the Judicial Pensions Act 1959, High Court judges are allowed to retire at 75. Under Courts Acts, Crown court judges are allowed to retire at 72 and magistrates at 70. The burden that our judges, particularly our High Court judges in the Court of Appeal, carry, with the huge weight of appeals going through, is immense. I cannot help feeling that there should be serious discussions to review whether that retirement age is any longer appropriate, given the conditions in which judges have to do their work. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends, and my right hon. and noble Friends, will give urgent consideration to this matter.
My final point is about the payment of parish clergy of the Church of England, which is a matter of concern to the House. There have been reports that clerical stipends will be reduced in the coming year because of the financial difficulties that the Church of England is having in meeting its stretched budget. However, we should pay some attention to the costs of bishops and suffragan bishops. It is estimated that the cost of a diocesan bishop is £100,000 a year. That includes salary, staff, a home, a car and so on. For a suffragan bishop, the cost is nearly £100,000 a year.
The Crown has the task of nominating bishops to the dioceses of Wakefield, Bradford and Gloucester. I hope that nominations will be postponed for as long as is possible, perhaps even a year or two. Furthermore, there is no need for suffragan bishops in this day and age. They exist to confirm people, but confirmations are down to only half a dozen candidates—a world away from the days when Archbishop Wakefield confirmed 4,000 people at a time. The cost of sustaining suffragan bishops is immense.If some savings could be made by the Crown delaying appointments to sees and to suffragans, it is possible that money will be made available for the parish clergy, who are the people who really matter in staffing the parishes of the Church of England.
I hope that before the House adjourns for the summer recess, we shall consider the case for hospital radio to have its own broadcasting frequency. Each year I suggest that hospital broadcasting equipment should be zero-rated for VAT. I have been disappointed on that, but I was led to believe that hospital radio would be granted its own frequency. There has been a delay of six months in setting up the pilot scheme with 10 hospitals. I hope that, through the good offices of the Leader of the House, we can chase up the Radio Authority to make sure that this experiment goes ahead and that, when we have the annual meeting of the hospital radios in my constituency later this autumn, we can celebrate being given our own frequency.
Secondly, my constituents are hard pressed with the Fenchurch Street line, as are other Essex Members of Parliament, so much so that, tomorrow evening in the House, we shall be forming the Basildon commuter group. There are continual complaints about delays, lack of communication and a tardy service. I hope that we can do something about that.
I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) said about timeshares. About seven weeks ago, I initiated a debate on this matter to which one of the Ministers in the Department of Trade and Industry responded. It would appear from the literature that I continue to receive that I and my wife will be spending the whole of the summer picking up our cars, televisions and cheques for £2,000. There will be a short delay while she has a baby, but I promise the House that I shall come back with all these goodies, and perhaps we can share them out and have them as prizes at fetes.
Finally, I hope that before we adjourn for the summer, a cure can be found for hay fever, because I should like to hear about it.
As usual, the debate has covered a breathtakingly wide range of subjects. I can encapsulate what hon. Members have been asking for by saying that it all adds up to a demand for a citizens charter, but one that I fear bears no relationship to the document that was presented earlier today.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) was concerned about conditions in the licensed trade and the way in which the brewers operate. He made a powerful argument for a citizens charter for tenants.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) has a great deal of specialist knowledge of the motor industry, about which he spoke. If there was a citizens charter message in his comments, it concerned the need for some respect for the desire of people to have security in the industry in which they work. There is not much of that in the Government's citizens charter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) touched on a number of subjects but specifically raised the question of the three guardsmen who were crippled in Canada. Mercifully, he was not wearing a top hat when he spoke, and his points were all the more effective for that. He also raised the most important need of a citizen—his right to vote rapidly in a general election.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) touched in particular on the requirements of children with special educational needs—another subject not mentioned in the citizens charter, as far as I could discover from a brief reading of it.
I am not sure that there was anything in the citizens charter that related to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). For once, I disagreed with him. I must admit that I find the prospect of American-style four-year-cycle fixed Parliaments, when two of those years are spent conducting an election campaign, pretty horrendous. However, there are "swings and roundabouts" arguments on all those matters.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) spoke powerfully about the absence of a citizens charter for the rights of NHS patients—something which the Government have long neglected.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes)—the only Labour Member to speak about foreign affairs, although the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) spoke about them—raised the continuing problems facing Cyprus.
One would expect many requests for citizens charter-type benefits from Labour Members. I found it intriguing that Conservative Members made continuing demands for Government regulations and controls, and rights to benefits, after 12 years of Conservative government. I will not go into them all in detail, but the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) spoke about the need for stricter regulations on the sale of educational land. The hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) was concerned about education, particularly nursery school provision. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) spoke about changes in planning laws and the need for greater protection there. Many of these subjects related to new rights for citizens, new Government intervention and additional Government resources.
I make no apology for concentrating on the citizens charter, which I looked at when not listening to this evening's speeches—although, like most hon. Members, I have not had much time to read it. I find it deeply ironic that the Government should introduce such a charter just when an inquiry into the BCCI scandal is taking place. One of the central issues is, of course, the failure of Government Departments even to respond to citizens' letters.
When the Government start lambasting local authorities, publicly owned bodies and privatised monopolies about the services that they provide, I think, "Physician, heal thyself." The Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of Transport and the Treasury—in the days when the present Prime Minister was there—failed to deal with serious queries about the way in which a bank was operating. Let us have a better response from Government Departments and a bit of ministerial accountability. Let us end this business of blaming a secretary who did not deal with a request from the public. Let us see Ministers take some responsibility for a change: that would be a welcome innovation. Although the citizens charter suggests that junior officials should name themselves, it does not mention ministerial accountability.
I think that the Leader of the House fancies himself as a bit of a number cruncher. We should be very interested to know how much the proposals in the charter will cost to implement. So far, the Government seem very vague about that. We know that they have the resources to give precise costings very rapidly; every time we issue a policy proposal, they put their civil servants to work spelling out the cost. Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman some specific questions: no doubt he will get out his calculator and give me some answers. Page 10 of the citizens charter refers to "a charter for patients". One of the crucial aims is the provision of a maximum waiting time for operations. We would all say amen to that, but how much money is being committed to it?
Page 13 refers to "a charter for parents". One of the key promises is
to raise standards in education for all pupils".
That is an excellent objective, but how much will it cost? I am sure that the Leader of the House will tell us.
Page 15 talks about "a charter for tenants". We would all subscribe to the charter's desirable objectives, such as speedy repairs, but what additional resources do the Government plan to make available to local authories so that they can implement those promises?
Page 17 deals with transport, and mentions, for example, rebates for season ticket holders who do not receive a proper standard of service. It is a bit difficult for British Rail to provide such a service when it has not the money to refurbish trains and coaches. How much additional money will it be given?
Page 19 lists some laudable objectives in connection with driving tests. These are good, common sense proposals: the Government suggest driving tests in the evenings and on Saturday afternoons, for example. But what will be the cost, and who will pay?
Page 20 contains one of the richer parts of this thin document, "a charter for jobseekers". The only sort of charter that job seekers need is a charter that would provide jobs. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know all about the scourge of joblessness: at any rate, Conservative Members are slowly beginning to learn about it. If last week's unemployment figures provided one grim consolation—and, my word, there were very few; I take no pleasure in saying that, because I do not wish unemployment on anyone—it was the news that the biggest rise in unemployment had taken place in the south-east. As those of us in the midlands, the north, Wales and Scotland are well aware, the region has often been cushioned in the past. I hope that that brings home the true meaning of unemployment to Conservative Members.
Of course we all want people to look for jobs in
pleasant, well-designed office interiors",
but those people want jobs. There is no point in being interviewed in a pleasant, well-designed office interior if there will be no job at the end of it. What a ludicrous citizens charter this is.
Even more absurd is the section on social services, on page 21. It speaks of the need for "nationally promulgated quality standards". No one would disagree with that, but I do not know how the Government can deliver social services other than by providing local authorities with the necessary resources. We are all in favour of benchmarks and we all wish to improve standards, but the question remains the same: how much additional money will be made available?
The charter mentions the Benefits Agency, and the need for better social security provision. There is more silliness here. The charter refers to the need for "a clean office environment". No one is arguing with that, but what really counts is the level and availability of benefits.
I have heard Prime Ministers give a few pathetic answers, but I was struck by the answer that the Prime Minister gave my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. O'Hara) today. I shall repeat the question in case the Leader of the House can do any better than his boss did. My hon. Friend asked what redress would be available under the charter to someone who, towards the end of the financial year, asked his local DSS office for a benefit payment under the social fund and was told that the social fund had run out, but that he undoubtedly deserved the benefit and qualified for it under any reasonable criterion. The Prime Minister replied that the claimant should go and see his local Member of Parliament. What a fatuous answer! I hope that the Leader of the House can do a little better.
Page 24 of the charter deals with a subject beloved of Ministers, the police. We all know that crime has soared under the present Government, but everyone in my constituency—and, I suspect, everyone in other constituencies—would support the following laudable objective:
We will expect all police forces to set and publish target times for answering telephone calls, and arriving at the scene of incidents which require rapid reaction".
How much will police authorities be given so that they can accomplish that?
I am not surprised that the document is a peculiar plum colour. At least the Government had the sense not to make it blue; they knew that, if they did, the citizens would rip it up. Perhaps they hoped that they could usher in a Tory manifesto in the hope that some people might mistake it for a Labour manifesto. They may have thought that a few more people would read a document of this colour, because they would have more faith in a citizens charter delivered by the Labour party. The Opposition feel deeply grateful to the Prime Minister—as, I suspect, do the citizens of this country—for spelling out so eloquently the result of 12 years of Tory failure to deliver citizens' basic requirements.
We are at the end of a Session. This fag-end Government are well past their sell-by date. The only charter that the citizens of this country want is a general election.
One difficulty of this debate is that, in order to enable as many hon. Members as possible to speak, those who sum up give themselves a very short period in which to do so. I cannot, therefore, cover all the points, but those that I fail to cover will be passed to the appropriate Minister.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Onslow), and my hon. Friends the Members for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) and for Wealden (Sir G. Johnson Smith) asked about salmon fishing. They know that I have more than a passing interest in the subject. May I point out to my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking that I have been in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food following our previous exchange on 11 July. The Minister told me that he will be in a position to make a statement during the overspill period. One problem is that the latest figures are not available now. If, therefore, a statement were made this week, it would not include the latest figures. I hope that my right hon. Friend will feel that the fact that a statement will be made when the House returns after the summer recess is an advance.
The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Crowther) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) referred to publicans. The hon. Gentleman fairly said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had set out his position in a recent letter, so I shall not waste valuable time by quoting it again. He will know, however, that my right hon. Friend said that he has already urged the brewers to keep to a minimum the number of notices to quit and to explain that the notice to quit is simply a technical step which is designed to open up negotiations on new leases, which I understand is one of the problems. The hon. Gentleman also made it clear that he is to have a meeting with the brewers, in the light of the representations made to him.
The hon. Gentleman asked for an undertaking that legislation would be introduced early in the next Session. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has made the position clear: legislation on the subject was enacted only recently. The Beer Orders have not yet been laid before Parliament. Therefore, it would be premature to expect new legislation in what I can assure hon. Members will be a busy and crowded fifth Session of Parliament.
My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) referred to housing associations in the north-west and the Housing Corporation's programme. That is set to rise significantly, from about £1·1 billion in 1990–91 to over £2 billion in 1993–94. My hon. Friend referred to the north-west's share. He will know that resources are now being distributed between regions on the basis of need, as measured by the housing needs indicator, not on the basis of past expenditure. That is a fairer way to distribute the increased resources.
Although the northern regions stand to gain from the Housing Corporation's expanding programme, their share of it may fall. However, the gain is the important point. This year, the north-east, north-west and Merseyside regions received allocations that enabled them to approve new schemes for rent and for sale worth £346 million. The Housing Corporation's projections show that next year that figure will rise to £502 million, and in the following year to £564 million.
My hon. Friend also asked about one part of the follow-up to the Ibbs report. There will be consultations with representatives of the staff who work here about any implications of the Ibbs reforms for staffing in general, which the House has welcomed. I do not want to refer to the specific case that my hon. Friend raised, but I shall write to him about it.
The hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn and Lochaber (Sir R. Johnston) asked about Yugoslavia. He knows that last week the economic summit participants supported the Community's involvement in the Yugoslav crisis. We must hope that all the parties can use the breathing space provided by the ceasefire agreement on 8 July to reduce the tension and begin talks on Yugoslavia's future. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that British representatives are included in the European Community monitoring that is taking place. I can assure him that the United Kingdom will play its full part. I am also sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that in the longer term it is for Yugoslavia to decide its own future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) asked about a number of local cases. I appreciate the issues involved in the sale of land. My hon. Friend showed that he is well informed. I noted that he has written to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. Local authorities have powers to dispose of land in whatever manner they wish, but where they are selling for less than the best price reasonably obtainable they will need the Secretary of State's consent under the Local Government Act 1972. That is reasonable. It is important that the best prices are obtained for land which has been acquired with public funds. Planning status is a different question, but I am sure that my hon. Friend is well equipped to follow up that point.
The hon. Member for Oxford, East (Mr. Smith) asked about Rover and its decision to lay off staff and go to a four-day week, which reflects its desire to reach productivity levels similar to those of the Japanese and also the great pressures in the car market worldwide. I fully share his disappointment about that, but I hope that he recognises the improvements that are taking place in the car industry. It is to the credit of our car industry that the volume of car exports is 45 per cent. up to the previous year. In particular, the hon. Gentleman will have noticed in the latest trade figures, out today, that, compared with May, car exports are up by some 22 per cent. Therefore, the car industry is doing extremely well by improving its exports.
That enables me to refer to a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson). He referred to the fact that we do not concentrate enough on the good news. No Opposition Member drew attention today to the fact that the June 1991 figures show a small current account surplus and a surplus in manufactured goods. The export performance of the car industry is particularly impressive. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out today, there is every prospect, given present trends, that we shall be running a surplus in car exports by the mid-1990s, compared with a deficit of about £6 billion in 1989. Therefore, I join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the performance of the car industry. Had I the time, I should have liked to say much more about it.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) again referred to the three Grenadier guardsmen. He knows that I have frequently expressed great sympathy for the three guardsmen concerned. He knows that there was a full and useful discussion of the merits of the case at the meeting on 9 July to which he referred and to which I have referred before. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Ministers are continuing to give this matter their urgent attention. A further meeting with the solicitor took place last Friday. The discussions are continuing and we must hope for a successful outcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West referred to use class orders, with which I recall having something to do myself. I understand that the purpose of the change is to enable businesses to respond to the changing patterns of consumer demand. As my hon. Friend requested, I shall draw the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister of State to his particular lack of satisfaction in this case, but I shall also draw his attention to my hon. Friend's considerable tribute to him in every other respect.
The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) raised two points about the education reforms. I totally disagree with her views about them. I believe that the education reforms are excellent and that they will contribute greatly to the improvement of standards. They are much welcomed in many respects by the schools.
The hon. Member for Halifax mentioned local management of schools and actual salaries versus average salaries. There is no doubt that the greater freedom and responsibility that LMS gives schools is broadly welcomed. It leads to better funding decisions and to a considerable improvement in morale. Pupil-led funding is an important part of the citizens charter, because it enables parents to express their views, and schools can respond to them. Listening to the hon. Lady, one would not think that resources for education had been increased. What is important is how they are deployed by schools.
Testing and the standard assessment tasks at the age of seven are important for schools, pupils and their parents. This has been the first year of national testing. I knew when we were conducting the pilot survey of 2 per cent. of schools that we could not expect to get everything right from the outset. I share the view of many schools—I still visit many schools—that there have been some problems in managing tests in the classroom and that the work load was too heavy. This summer's tests are being evaluated extensively. We acknowledge that next year the tests must be more straightforward for teachers to administer and mark. I am sure that the principle is right.
I detected a note of desperation in the voice of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) at the thought that we might be rising very shortly and that that would enable Ministers to make much play over the summer. We shall not be on holiday for the whole period. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman does not wish to take a holiday, but quite a lot of hon. Members wish to go on holiday with their families. The party conferences take up much of September and October, and that must be taken into account.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West asked whether the timetable for the parliamentary year could be considered by the Procedure Select Committee. The answer is yes, the Committee can consider that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) commented on hay fever. I read in one of the Sunday newspapers that research suggests that hay fever is something to do with sexual excitement. I do not know whether that links with his earlier comments or whether there is any validity in the argument, but I could not resist saying it.
The hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) made much of the citizens charter. He ignored the tremendous strides that have been made in the past 12 years by contracting out and privatisation in increasing choice and in lowering costs and prices to consumers. Many other initiatives have been taken in the past 12 years. The 70 measures in the citizens charter, which the hon. Gentleman ignored, are building on that record. We shall develop that firmly over the summer.
In this Parliament, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has firmly established himself on the national and international stage. His leadership during the Gulf war—
The hon. Gentleman has not been here; he can sit down.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister led this country to a successful conclusion of the Gulf war and dealt with so many other issues, including the leadership of last week's successful summit. He has developed our approach to the two important European negotiations. Inflation is coming down and he is presiding over so many other successes on the economic front.
We believe that this has been a successful Parliament. The morale of Conservative Members is high. In the coming months, we shall be drawing attention to the enormous defects that have emerged in Labour's policies in the past few months.
It is rich of the hon. Gentleman to talk about costings when he does not cost his programmes. That is why we heard a commitment worth another £35 billion from him.
We shall be pushing all those points as well as the merits of the citizens charter and our other policies. On that basis, we are happy 10 have this adjournment, but look forward to coming back shortly.