The point of an Adjournment debate is to give right hon. and hon. Members the opportunity to seek redress of grievance before the House adjourns. That is the purpose of my speech. When I made arrangements to speak in the debate I did so on the assumption that the debate would immediately follow business questions. I did not anticipate that there would be two lengthy statements. I have an engagement later this evening so, if the length of the debate is such that I cannot be present for the reply, I apologise to both the Chair and the Leader of the House. As I intend to raise personal cases, it was my wish to hear the response.
The redress of grievance is one of the principal roles of the House. Seeking redress of grievance is one of the principal roles of a Member of Parliament. My great worry is that, because ministerial responsibility is being hived away to agencies not accountable to the House, I am unable to obtain redress on several extremely serious issues that relate to my constituents. Ministers do not reply to my letters. The agencies to which they refer me do not reply to my letters. When Ministers do not reply and I table questions seeking a reply, Ministers do not answer the questions within a reasonable period. When Ministers do not reply to my letters for three months and I then write to the Prime Minister, the Prime Minister does not reply to my letters, other than to acknowledge them and say that he will reply later. All of this I regard as a deliberate destruction of the proper accountability of Ministers to this House of Commons.
I want to describe the kind of issues relating to ordinary people seeking to live decent orderly lives which Ministers in this Government appear simply not to care about, because they will not respond.
For example, there is a Mrs. A—I will in no case give the full name of the person concerned, although I will supply it if necessary to the Leader of the House, together with the address—of Longsight, who made an application for mobility allowance in April 1992. Her papers were lost by the relevant agency. I have written repeatedly to the Secretary of State for Social Security about that case. I wrote to him on 14 December 1992; he did not reply to that letter. I wrote to him on 25 February 1993; he did not reply to that letter, written now more than five weeks ago. Mrs. A's mobility allowance application, which has now been unsolved for a year, remains unsettled.
Let us take the case of Mrs. J of Fallowfield in my constituency. She made a claim for disability living allowance. The Benefits Agency lost her claim. I have been in repeated correspondence with the Secretary of State for Social Security about that claim. I wrote to him on 20 January, 25 February and 26 March. He has replied to none of my letters about the claim, which has been outstanding for many months.
Let me refer to a claim by Mr. W of Levenshulme, which appeared to relate to unemployment benefit. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Employment in November of last year about this case. The Department of Employment passed it to the Department of Social Security. A junior Minister in the Department of Social Security forwarded it to an agency. We now have a situation in which I have written three times to the Secretary of State for Social Security—on 18 January, 19 February and now again. I have received no reply to any of my letters about a case which has been going on since November of last year and which is unsolved.
Then we have the case of Miss H of Levenshulme in my constituency. There again, she applied for disability living allowance last November. When the Benefits Agency received her application they sent her a notification, which they admit was sent to the wrong address. I wrote to the Secretary of State about it on 22 January, again on 25 February and again on 26 March. I have had replies from the Secretary of State to none of my letters.
Let us take the case of Mr. T of Gorton relating to his wife. She made an application for maternity payment in July of last year. A mess has been made of her application and it has still not been sorted out nine months later. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 25 January, 25 February and 26 March. The Secretary of State has replied to none of my letters.
Then there is the case of Mr. G of Gorton. In this case, there were two applications. There was an application for attendance allowance in August 1991. This was converted by the Department into an application for disability living allowance. That claim, 20 months later, is not yet settled. An application for mobility allowance was made in February 1992–14 months ago. There was a delay in passing on the claim. I wrote to the Secretary of State. I wrote to the Prime Minister on 9 March; more than three weeks later, all I have had from the Prime Minister is an acknowledgement.
Appalling mistakes have been acknowledged by the Benefits Agency with regard to this claim. It admitted, with regard to the claim for attendance allowance, that
due to a clerical error
a decision made in May 1992 was not notified to the person concerned until August 1992.
In the case of the second claim, for mobility allowance, the lady concerned was examined by a doctor in March 1992, but the claim was not passed on to the agency until February 1993–11 months between the two processes—and, as a result, my constituent was without remedy for that period.
Is it not true that in some of the tragic cases so familiar to hon. Members—certainly I get told about exactly similar situations—there are occasions when, tragically, the individual concerned dies before the matter is resolved, causing considerable heartache to the family and not helping the person who should have been getting the assistance?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not believe that it enters into the minds of the Ministers responsible—I shall deal in a moment with cases relating to the Secretary of State for Health—that human beings are involved in this. The letter arrives on the Secretary of State's desk, if it gets that far; it is then passed on to an agency and, although I repeatedly write to the Secretary of State and describe some of the physical suffering that is being endured, the Secretary of State does not appear to be able to empathise with a fellow human being less fortunately placed than he or she, who is suffering, often in great pain and in the most humiliating circumstances. I shall describe such a case in a moment.
Let me take the case of Mr. M of Levenshulme. He applied for disability living allowance in November 1992. His application has not yet been decided. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 8 January, 21 January and 21 February. He has replied to none of my letters. I tabled a question asking him to reply to my letters; he has not replied to the question either.
I will cite a human case which I regard as, in its way,the saddest of those that I have described. It concerns a constituent of mine, Mr. B, of Rusholme in my constituency, and I will read to the House part of his letter. He says:
My daughter learned of the highlighted attached vacancies last weekend".
That was an advertisement by the Benefits Agency in the local press, which read:
The Benefits Agency anticipates a number of vacancies for Administrative Assistants in its District Offices at Wythenshawe and Rusholme …
We intend to make sure that there is equality of opportunity and fair treatment for all".
And it said:
Application forms can be' obtained from the local job centre. Completed forms should be received no later than 26.3.93".
My constituent told me that his daughter went to the Rusholme jobcentre on 22 March—that was four days before the expiry of the period for receipt of forms—
to obtain an application form as per the advert. She was told there were no forms left. When she asked where she could obtain one she was told she couldn't (`that's it').
When she told me this I couldn't believe it and went there myself. I was told the same thing. I telephoned the Benefits Agency and they confirmed that only a limited number of forms were printed. I do not know how they were disseminated. It seems grossly unfair for an employer to behave like this to the unemployed.
In my constituency, unemployment is 18 per cent. overall, and very much higher among young people. The letter continues:
For them to purport to intend to make sure that there is equality of opportunity and fair treatment for all' as an Equal Opportunity employer is a joke. The advert is misleading, untruthful and dishonest. It is depressing enough to be unemployed without the added demoralisation of being denied the right to apply for a job in accordance with the terms of its advertisement within its closing date.
That was a letter I received this week about the conduct of a Government Department. I have written to the Secretary of State about it, but I have not yet received a reply. I shall be extremely surprised if I get a reply and utterly astounded if I get a satisfactory one.
Let me draw attention to two outstanding cases relating to health matters. My constituent, Mrs. M of Fallowneld, had a kidney transplant which failed. As a result, she has to wear—and she came to see me with this—a 14 in wide permanent back wrapped around her. That is how she lives her life. She could be helped if she were given a disconnect ambulatory peritoneal dialysis device which should be available under the national health service. However, because of Government restriction of finance, there is a waiting list and she has to wait for it.
I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health saying that I would like her to meet my constituent so that she could see how she had to live. I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Health could begin to place herself in the position of a woman who has to go around like that all her life and will continue having to do so unless the treatment is provided to her by the national health service.
Whenever I have written to the Secretary of State about this matter, she has simply passed my letters on to some agency and when the woman who is suffering in that way wrote to the Secretary of State, she never received a reply. The Secretary of State wrote to me saying that the letter had been lost. That is how the Secretary of State is earning her very large salary.
Let us take the case of Mr. H of Levenshulme who had a prostate operation that was unsuccessful. His consultant told him that it could be of benefit to him if he had a minor operation in which he would be fitted with an artificial urinary sphincter. I wrote to the consultant to find out whether such treatment would be of assistance to my constituent, and the consultant replied in a long letter explaining the situation. He wrote:
There … is no physical contra-indication to such a device being used in Mr. H's case, but yet again I am afraid we find ourselves embroiled in the fiscal issues. With cost improvement programmes and other financial restrictions, together with no prosthetics budget, I simply do not have the money to be able to fund the £3,000 or so that would be necessary for this device … I quite understand that he has no means to be able to purchase this prosthesis and I do not really think that it is reasonable that he should be expected to do so … I would be extremely grateful for any help that you might be able to give me which would be beneficial to your constituent.
The consultant urologist wrote that such a device could help my constituent, that he would like to fit it, but he did not have the money for it and he asked me whether I could help get the money for it.
I have been in constant correspondence with the Secretary of State for Health since then. She simply passes my letters on to the regional health authority. The last time I wrote to her was on 11 March, which is getting on for a month ago. She has not replied to my letters. I wonder whether she can began to imagine the life that my constituent is living, in pain, discomfort and great inconvenience due to the way that she is failing to administer a satisfactory national health service. She is failing even to respond to the letters that I have sent her about my constituent.
I have chosen just a handful of letters from a file of 400 current cases. I could send the Leader of the House many more. They all relate to two aspects: first, human cases are no longer being dealt with by Ministers but are being shuffled off to agencies in buck passing and, secondly, that the agencies themselves do not and need not respond, because they are completely unaccountable to me or to the House. The Leader of the House is shaking his head. If they are accountable, why do they not reply to my letters and get something done, as my constituents have been suffering for many months?
I say again what I have said on several occasions and will continue saying. I will not relent until something is done about it. The way in which the Government are hiving off human concerns to agencies which have no obligation to reply, even to Members of Parliament, is a destruction of democracy through the destruction of accountability of Ministers to the House. That is what Ministers are for. Ministers are there not only to consider high policy such as Bosnia but to examine cases involving individual human beings. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Wirral, South (Mr. Porter) does not believe that, he is not fit to represent his constituents.
Every individual citizen of our democracy has a right to have his or her grievance considered by a Minister. These agencies do not respond satisfactorily; they do not deal with cases sufficiently. As I have said before, in my view, the chief executive of the Benefits Agency should be dismissed. If Ministers do not do their job properly, they should be dismissed, too.
I usually find the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) an agreeable companion when I travel north with him—except when he talks politics, so we do not talk politics very often. He was a Minister during the last Labour Government. That was a long time ago and one has to have a good memory to remember those days. When we wrote then as Members of Parliament to him as a Minister, he could not possibly have seen every letter that was sent to him.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) should know that when I was appointed to the Department, of the Environment in 1974, the first thing I said to my officials was that I wanted to see every letter and that no letter could be sent until a draft had been put before me and I had either approved or changed the letter. I replied to every Member of Parliament of whatever party who wrote to me. The hon. Gentleman, who is an agreeable companion when he is not talking rubbish, is wrong. I had that responsibility, although it was long ago, and during my five years in Government I replied on individual cases to every Member of Parliament who wrote to me.
Of course, the right hon. Gentleman used his usual charm when he said that I was talking rubbish. I maintain that it must be difficult for some Ministers, particularly those who receive an enormous amount of correspondence, to respond to every letter. I am sure that it is impossible for the Secretary of State for Health, which is an emotive issue, to read every letter she receives. The right hon. Gentleman was perhaps unfair to my right hon. Friend on that score.
I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend's flow but I had been about to intervene in the speech of the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman)—not in an attempt to answer him, which would be improper, in the circumstances until I have an opportunity to speak, but because he courteously informed me that he might not be here when I speak—to place on record that I would be grateful if he would make sure that I have the identifying details of all the cases that he mentioned. I cannot comment on the cases off the cuff, but without that information I cannot get anything done about them.
I make no apology at all for raising again what I regard as the unsatisfactory hospital provision in my constituency. Those who are regular attenders of this debate will be aware that this sad saga has been going on for years and years.
In June 1980, which was a long time ago, I had an Adjournment debate on the need for a new district hospital. I was told then that a decision would be reached with all possible speed, but I heard nothing for a year. In June 1981, I went to see the then Minister and in October 1981 the scheme was accepted by the Department and the regional health authority. My constituents thought that at long last we were on our way and would have the district hospital that we had been promised for many years.
In April 1983, in a formal review of capital schemes, the regional health authority could not guarantee a place in the programme, and the previous acceptance of a start in 1987–88 was not confirmed. In October 1983 we were told that we were provisionally in the programme for the 1988 financial year and that the Treasury—this is the important thing—had approved the purchase of the site.
In September 1984 our hopes of a district hospital were dashed for ever. There was enormous anger and dismay in my constituency that something which we had been promised for so long had suddenly disappeared. But hope springs eternal, and we had fresh hope that, instead of getting a district hospital, we would at least get a community hospital in our area. This was confirmed by the regional health authority in May 1988 and a suitable site was earmarked. The community hospital was to comprise 24 beds and 24 day places for the elderly mentally infirm, 48 beds and 30 day places for the elderly, two 25 place mental illness day units, four out-patient clinic suites, two radiodiagnostic rooms, 10 investigation beds and one small pathology laboratory. Such a hospital would have filled a desperate need in my constituency because, as I am sure that most hon. Members will agree, the problem of an aging population is a very serious one.
I have no complaint against Trafford health authority because I think that it is as angry as I am. It even offered to fund 39 per cent. of the capital cost by means of disposable proceeds plus a large cash injection. I thought—and I am sure that it thought—that such a commitment would impress the regional health authority. How wrong can one get? As time has gone on, I have wondered more and more what we have to do to impress the regional health authority.
Last year our community hospital was included in a shortlist of six projects for consideration by the regional health authority, but in April 1992 we were told that our community hospital was not in the regional capital programme. What I want to know is why Trafford is given such a low priority by the regional health authority.
My hon. Friend could well be right. However, at the previous election my majority went up, for which I am very grateful.
Since 1980, we have been ranked bottom in the region in terms of capital investment per resident. On capital schemes since 1980, Trafford is the only district which has not had a large capital project. Again I ask why.
The right hon. Gentleman is quite right. Trafford is under Tory control. I note that the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) is to wind up this debate. He is my pair, and I must warn him always to say nice things about me or else I shall pair with someone else. I also warn him that, as Chairman of the Committee of Selection, I will put him on a Committee that will sit for a long time.
I will heed what my pair has said.
When we were unsuccessful last year, we did get a ray of hope: we were told that there was a long-standing practice of the regional health authority that schemes which were shortlisted one year, if unsuccessful, would be shortlisted and approved the year after. So yet another bid was made. No one can claim that Trafford health authority is not persistent. On 9 March of this year, a presentation was made to members of the regional health authority. We were told that we were on a shortlist of four. On 22 March, the regional health authority papers were received, which recommended that all four schemes should proceed. On 23 March, the regional health authority, without a vote, approved the other three schemes and rejected the south Trafford community hospital. That decision has caused great anger in my constituency.
I am told that there is to be a site visit by regional health authority officers later this month. I urge my right hon. Friend to pass on my views to the Secretary of State for Health and to ask her to do some plain talking to the regional health authority. I want the scheme to be given a firm commitment, and I shall raise the issue at every opportunity until I succeed. I am asking not for preferential treatment, but for a fair deal for the people of my constituency.
I wish to deal next with the Criminal Justice Act 1991 and the need to amend it. The legislation was brought in with the best of intentions, but it is seriously flawed. I get depressed when I see magistrates who have served for years and been of great public service resigning because they feel that they cannot cope with the job that they have to do.
I draw my right hon. Friend's attention particularly to juvenile offenders and to the front page of today's edition of the Daily Mail, which makes harrowing reading. It reports the case of a 14-year-old boy, branded an outlaw by a judge, who had his friends laughing and cheering when he was once more placed under the supervision of a council which has admitted that it cannot contain him. Before yesterday's appearance, he had been convicted 42 times in two years. It is worth noting that the magistrate is quoted as saying:
We feel very strongly, as does the public, that these offences warrant a custodial sentence … However, our hands are tied
under the new Act. The Northumbria police federation spokesman said:
Our officers are very, very frustrated and annoyed that the Criminal Justice Act means nothing can be done with persistent offenders of this age.
It is a complete waste of time. We have arrested this boy more times than we care to count. Sometimes he's back on the streets quicker than the officers who arrested him".
Action is desperately needed in cases of that kind.
The seriousness of the situation has been brought home to me recently. In my constituency we have the Beechmount children's home, which is now regarded as unsuitable because it does not comply with the conditions imposed under the Children Act 1989. The council is therefore planning two new eight-bedded children's homes as a replacement. It has been decided that one of the homes will be located in my constituency.
The site was chosen in June 1992, and that is when the council should have consulted local residents to make clear to them what was happening and to listen to their views, but it was only recently, when the planning application came up, that the storm broke in the area. There have been massive protests from residents and a packed public meeting was addressed by the chairman of the social services committee and officers from the social services department. At the end of it all, there was a feeling among local residents that their views had not been listened to and that the council had made up its mind. It is the not-in-my-backyard syndrome, where everyone says, "Yes, we must have such places", but nobody wants them in their district. The residents in that area feel genuine anger at the lack of consultation and believe that their views have been disregarded. There is great anxiety that juvenile delinquents on remand could be placed in that institution. It is imperative that people should know exactly what changes in the Criminal Justice Act are envisaged and what is to be done to ensure that dangerous and persistent young offenders are placed in secure accommodation.
Both the issues that I have raised today are of great importance to my constituents. Before the House rises for the Easter recess, I should like an assurance that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will raise my strong concerns with the Ministers responsible.
I wish to raise an issue of urgent importance. It is the time of year when university students are entering the final part of their degree courses and are thinking of making the transition from obtaining academic qualifications to obtaining professional qualifications. It is crucial for the Government to address the discrimination that occurs when young people try to qualify as practising lawyers, either barristers or solicitors.
If we want a profession and judiciary that reflect the society in which we live and in which the judiciary sits in judgment, we must guarantee that there are no unjust hurdles or obstacles for anyone with ability and determination to qualify for those professions. Sadly, financial pressures on local education authorities—which, for many of them, includes capping—result in discrimination against potential trainee lawyers on the grounds of their social status, which often coincides with discrimination on the grounds of ethnic origin.
That discrimination and the barriers against entry to the profession have increased disturbingly in recent years. For someone from a working-class or poorer family, the chances of entering university are always diminished—any statistics on entry to further education demonstrate that. But the chances of qualifying as a barrister or solicitor are much smaller for those who are not affluent, who have many more hurdles to jump.
One reason for the problem is that in order to become a practising solicitor it is usual—if not absolutely necessary—to obtain a university degree, not exclusively in law. Mandatory grants from the local authority are available for that degree. Having obtained that university degree, a prospective solicitor needs to complete a one-year course to gain a final professional qualification. It is only then that the prospective lawyer can begin the two years of practical training. The grant for the tuition for the professional examination to become a lawyer is discretionary, not mandatory. A trainee lawyer cannot receive a mandatory grant for that professional examination, without which a lawyer's training is incomplete. Without that final qualification, the degree for which students are about to sit their finals is as useless as a car with one wheel missing. The matter is urgent; students need an announcement now as they need to be able to plan their transition and complete their professional qualifications.
The pressure on local education authorities, including the pressure of capping, is enormous. It means that in the poorest parts of Britain discretionary grants have virtually run out. I am making a specific case for the profession as I want to keep my speech relatively narrow, but the case has a wider application. Discretionary grants have run out throughout much of the country. There is a clear financial discrimination against people who want to enter the law. The Government should make mandatory grants—subject to capital and income tests-available for the final part of the professional examinations.
I agree that there is an enormous problem, which the hon. Gentleman is right to highlight. Has he considered whether the Bar Council, the Law Society or the profession generally could make such provision? Ultimately, law chambers, professional firms and the profession generally will benefit from students gaining such qualifications. I am not sure whether it is possible for local education authorities to bear that burden now and perhaps we should look elsewhere.
I shall come to that issue, but I want to be fairly brief.
The matter is urgent as, with the recession, many firms, including big city solicitors and those normally deemed to be affluent, are not investing money in training schemes. In fact, they are often making redundancy payments to lawyers as a consequence of the recession. There is a case for a training board for solicitors. There are training boards in many other professions, trades and skills. However, the Government are winding up training boards, rather than establishing them.
A distinction can be made between the legal profession and some other professions. If someone wants to become an architect, he or she can, I understand, receive a mandatory grant to cover all the necessary academic training needed to qualify as an architect. That is certainly true in the teaching profession, where students receive grants for gaining the degree of Bachelor of Education. They may then begin their vocational training without the interregnum period of one year when they have to manage on their own if they cannot receive a discretionary grant from their local authority.
I am not saying that there is malicious discrimination, but there is discrimination on the grounds of people's social or ethnic status which affects those with working-class backgrounds. I made inquiries of a number of London boroughs, many of which had large black populations and were some of the poorest boroughs, not just in London, but throughout the country.
Ealing, a large and relatively poor borough, receives no discretionary grants. One third of Ealing's population comes from non-white, ethnic groups. Hackney, one of the poorest boroughs in the country, receives no discretionary grants and one third of its population comes from minority ethnic groups. Haringey, which has similar statistics for the composition of its population, receives no discretionary grants. Harrow, admittedly a Conservative borough, but one which has a relatively high ethnic population, receives no discretionary grants. In my borough of Lambeth, which is poor—either the second or the fourth most deprived in the country—three out of 10 people come from non-white ethnic groups, there is a high concentration of working-class and unemployed people and it receives no discretionary grants.
In Newham, four out of every 10 of the population come from ethnic minority groups and the borough is relatively poor. It receives no discretionary grants. The same is true of Tower Hamlets, which is a relatively poor borough. Only one borough among such a group receives any discretionary grants: the London borough of Brent. However, I am told that even in that borough the grants are limited in scope and may be abolished.
Other statistics provided by the College of Law show that in 1989–90, 64 per cent. of students who had received their degrees and were going on to obtain their final professional qualifications received local authority discretionary grants. In the year 1992–93, only 24 per cent. of the students going to the College of Law will do so with a grant from their local authority. Other surveys carried out by the College of Law highlight a serious problem. They show that 58 per cent. of a sample of almost 100 law students who had been offered places at professional training schools—which are like gold dust—had to turn them down. Some 58 per cent. of those who turned down their places had to do so for financial reasons because in most cases they could not get a discretionary grant from their local authority.
An even worse scandal is illustrated by the case of one of my constituents, a working-class woman who was refused a discretionary grant. She used her own money to study for her first degree at university and did not receive a single penny of the mandatory grant. She then funded herself to take and pass the common professional examination—because she did not have a law degree—but on the final lap of the course to qualify as a solicitor, she was refused a discretionary grant because there was no money in the kitty. That is an appalling state of affairs.
The combination of the discretionary grant system for professional examinations for trainee lawyers and the financial pressure on local authorities results in discrimination against working-class students. It is no good mincing words—they are poorer people.
Furthermore, there is discrimination against minorities—as my figures from London boroughs show. There is discrimination against married women who may have degrees, who have started a family and then want to get professional qualifications later in life, but cannot get any kind of grant. The worst kind of discrimination occurs against those who paid for their own degree courses and still cannot get a grant for the last year of their professional qualifications.
The dramatic collapse in public funding for those wanting to go into the legal profession inevitably narrows the base of the profession and guarantees the continued narrow social base of the judiciary and has further effects. I am not criticising individual members of the judiciary because I have a good deal of admiration for people such as the Lord Chief Justice and Lord Justice Woolf. Figures show that the judiciary—especially the senior judiciary—is dominated by people who went either to Oxford or Cambridge, who came from affluent backgrounds, who on the whole are male, white and from upper-class backgrounds. I do not mean all the judiciary and I stress that I am not criticising individuals, but the narrowing of the profession means a narrowing of the base from which the judiciary is drawn.
It may be possible to have sponsorship—the firm of which I am a member provides some sponsorship—but the recession has reduced that possibility. That is why the matter is more urgent than ever before. The recession has reduced the amount of available sponsorship so that those practices dealing with legal aid—the sort of high street practice which a working-class person would be able to get into more often, but not exclusively—are the least equipped to afford to take on trainee solicitors, or articled clerks as they used to be called. That was how I started. It is not malicious but real discrimination against people on the grounds of their social status before they study for articles.
To illustrate how such discrimination can be compounded, the Society of Labour Lawyers conducted a survey recently and found that black law students were rejected five times more often than white students when applying to law practices. That is a considerable hurdle to leap before entering the profession.
I appreciate that the profession is concerned about equal opportunities. The Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 was introduced exactly for that purpose. If we want a classless society and a classless nation, we must have a classless judiciary and a classless legal profession—including stipendiary magistrates, county court judges, recorders and even the highest judges in the land—from which that is drawn. A dramatic collapse in the discretionary grants system and the number of less affluent people able to enter the profession means that in 10 or 15 years' time the judiciary will not reflect the society in which we live.
If the Government were to announce that grants to enter the profession for that single year were not discretionary but mandatory, the problem would be solved. "Mandatory" is the right word because the House has a duty to ensure that we create a classless society in which the professions and the judiciary are not dominated by a single segment of the population.
I hope that the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) will forgive me if I do not follow the road that he has just travelled, which is obviously one of which he has great knowledge and expertise. I also hope that he will realise that I offer him no discourtesy when I say that I am a little disappointed that the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) was not called before him. If that had happened, it would have given me the chance to thank the hon. Member for Tooting for his kind words after my maiden speech some 14 years ago. I am still awaiting an opportunity to do so. If he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and follows me, he may wish to reiterate those remarks of many years ago.
Before we rise for the Easter recess, I wish to draw the attention of the House to two matters that have become topical within the past 24 hours. The first is raves, which was the subject of a statement from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, in answer to a question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Westminister, North (Sir J. Wheeler). The second is illegal camping by gipsies, which was the subject of a statement by my right and learned hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Regrettably, my constituency and others have, over the past few months, suffered from the new rave parties, which have meant many thousands of youngsters gathering together in various locations, frequently illegally and usually on a Saturday evening, to enjoy musical entertainment. That sounds completely innocent, but more often than not they take place in buildings that are unsuitable and unsafe for such gatherings. It is also regrettable that—admittedly allegedly—they are a haven for drug pushers and dealers, to the detriment of the young people involved.
We in the Luton area have had our fair share of problems, although the police, with the co-operation of the local councils in Bedfordshire, have taken out a High Court injunction, obviously at an expense to the local charge payers, to prevent such gatherings. Our police regularly gather together on a Friday or even a Saturday evening to try to prevent such activities, which are so well advertised in various ways to those intending to participate that we have had to ask local forces to be, on standby so that police can stop a rave before it takes place, or go in and break it up.
That is why I particularly welcome the statement from my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary that the Government have recognised that that is a problem and will give the police new powers so that they can stop any vehicle driven by someone intending to go to a rave within five miles of the place where it is to be held. They will also try to discourage the organisers of the events.
Only recently—the case was mentioned in the national news—there was a large gathering outside Luton police station on the Sunday morning. Admittedly it consisted mainly of what I hope were peace-loving people, but attacks were made on the police station because the police had enforced the law and tried to break up those events.
I and my constituents are concerned that hard-earned council tax payers' money is having to be diverted to discourage and prevent such events. Local authorities, faced with the financial burden that they impose, and possibly the moral burden because of parental objections, have tried to offer alternative sites for legal raves, but have been turned down.
Hon. Members know that no entry fee is charged for these events, partly because they take place in other people's property, so there is no hire fee. Buildings are often broken into for the purpose. One wonders where the finances come from to keep such activities going. Their organisation must cost some money.
The biggest concern that has been expressed to me by my constituents relates to drug taking at these events. There are those who support organisers, such as Exodus in my constituency. I received a letter recently from a parent of two teenage children which says:
Whilst I am aware that drugs are a problem associated with the rave scene, I know the Exodus group are doing their best to prevent and educate young people about drug taking.
Any club or gathering of young people will have drugs present and drug-taking going on, it is part of the youth scene and will always be. Is it not better to educate young people about drugs and their dangers than try to ban events where it is suspected drugs will be present?
That may be a minority view among parents, but it is one with which we must contend. That letter would seemingly come from a responsible parent seeking my assistance, and there are others with such an attitude. The House must understand that raves are dangerous, and worrying for parents who have little idea where their children are going when they set off in their various groups, over which they have little control.
Organisers of such events have illegally squatted in various properties in and around the Luton area. Only recently, it was brought to my attention that a property purchased by the Department of Transport as a result of the proposed widening of the M I had been illegally occupied by organisers from the Exodus group. However, they have since taken out a tenancy. A redundant old people's home that is awaiting planning permission is also illegally occupied by rave organisers.
If those organisers are genuine in their intent to offer entertainment to young people and not to allow the passage and sale of drugs, surely they should not resort to such illegal activities. On Saturday morning, at my advice bureau, I shall be discussing the problem with a small delegation accompanied by a local Labour councillor. I am pleased that, as a result of the Government's statement in the past 24 hours, I shall be able to tell them that, if such organisers do act illegally, they will be sat on by Her Majesty's Government.
My only regret is that legislation is to be delayed because, as the Home Secretary said, there is no room in the parliamentary timetable to bring it forward. That will be a great disappointment to my constituents, police forces, local borough councillors and everyone else involved—not least the people of Wales and the south-west who suffered last summer from illegal encampments on their land. That may have been a slightly different type of activity, but it rightly gave rise to similar Government outrage as a result of representations by hon. Members. However, because of the apparent tightness of parliamentary time, we cannot consider the matter, presumably until the new Session.
In this debate, we seek to raise matters that we believe should be dealt with before the House rises for the Easter recess, but despite the extreme powers wielded by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House in this place, he will be unable to promise me that. However, I hope that he will speak to the Home Secretary and emphasise that we could run into further trouble in the summer and that, having proposed legislation, the Government will not be thanked if it cannot be put on to the statute book.
The other half of what I wish to say is an attendant subject that has been aired frequently on the Floor of the House and was mentioned in Prime Minister's Question Time this afternoon. I make no apology for raising again the subject of illegal camping by so-called gipsies. Again, I welcome the statement made only yesterday by the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), that, having received a consultation paper some months ago, along with many responses to it, the Government were seriously considering legislation on the illegal occupation of public and private land by so-called gipsies.
It should be said immediately that there is a difficulty of definition, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Sir C. Onslow) identified when he introduced a Bill on the subject on 5 February—the distinction between the old, rather romantic Romany gipsy who has been with us for many centuries and has a part in Britain's life and culture, about which no one would argue, particularly in East Anglia where I live, and the new age travellers, as they are called—the tinkers or whatever—who are the scourge of so many people's lives and who have probably created an urgent need for the House to consider appropriate legislation to deal with the problem.
The problem has accelerated since the original Caravan Sites Act 1968. Lord Lubbock and Mr. Norman Dodds, then the hon. Member for Dartford, introduced legislation intended to cope with some 3,500 gipsies. We are now faced with some 13,500 people—if one can count them—who purport to be gipsies, but who in no sense are part of the original number.
It is the behaviour of the travellers which has caused so much trouble and distress to our constituents. They illegally occupy land, often breaking through padlocks on farm land, parking on lay-bys or attendant ground near roads, harassing farmers, going close to residential areas and sometimes moving on to building sites which are often owned by distant landlords or public authorities.
Only recently, in the Leagrave area of Luton, we had a problem with travellers squatting on a piece of land owned by British Rail. The Government have given increased powers to the police and the courts to move such people on more quickly than used to be the case, but it still takes time to move illegal occupants.
The second aspect is the the fact that, almost without exception, such people behave badly. Many of my hon. Friends will have had experience of constituents complaining about the bad behaviour of travellers. There is verbal abuse, not just from adults but from the children as well, physical abuse if people try to reason with them or ask them to reduce their activities, and the damage that they inflict on property in the countryside, in towns, on building sites or wherever. Such behaviour is the inevitable consequence of illegal occupation by a group of travellers. In addition, they often perform illegal activities—some admittedly alleged and hearsay—in and around the areas where they choose to squat.
Not long ago, near my own home, a local shopkeeper was harassed by a group of travellers pilfering and stealing certain items, and the poor man and his wife and family were totally unable to stop that intrusion. Most constituents could give witness to the fact that shoplifting occurs, that the menace of burglary is always present and that burglaries occur.
The last act of bad behaviour of travellers is the mess they leave. Apart from the obvious danger to human and animal health, an enormous amount of rubbish is left for someone else to clear up—either the landowner, at his own expense, or the local council. I pay credit to my own local authority of Mid-Bedfordshire for clearing up such sites. That is done at a cost to the council tax payer, with no contribution by those who used the site.
Remedies to remove such people must be found much more quickly, so I welcome the announcement by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment that the police will have powers to move on such travellers, and that caravan sites owned and run by gipsies themselves will be developed.
I had hope that legislation would reach the statute book sooner rather than later, and I am disappointed that it will be later. When it does, I trust that local authorities will talk to responsible gipsy organisations, which one hopes will purchase and run sites, because they are fed up with being tarred with the brush of the travellers—as other are tired of the nuisance caused by travellers who do nothing more than opt out of society and every form of responsibility.
Only recently, a site was proposed in my constituency, near the villages of Westoning and Harlington. For reasons that I have described, the villagers objected to that proposal, rightly, to their Member of Parliament. I received shoals of letters and many personal representations. There were a couple of public meetings, and both local parish councils opposed the site. The most forcible objections came from the local McIntyre home for the handicapped, which was desperately worried that people of the kind likely to occupy such a site would cause difficulties for the home's residents.
I made my objections known to the county council in a fairly forcible manner—so forcible that I was stamped upon by the Commission for Racial Equality for my remark that such persons had no place in my constituency, which the commission deemed to be racist, and which therefore made me liable to prosecution.
In the debate on 5 February, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Wells) related a similar problem when he objected on behalf of his constituents to the illegal occupation of land. The CRE immediately prosecuted him. In my case, a court order was entered against me. It is disgraceful that Members of Parliament, who express sometimes personal opinions but mainly opinions put by their constituents, should be abused by an organisation such as the Commission for Racial Equality in an attempt to prevent them from voicing objections that are made to them.
Apparently the CRE has the power to attempt to curb views expressed by Members of Parliament. I concur in that regard with my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford. In my own case, when the CRE decided not to prosecute me for the remarks that I had made on behalf of my constituents, the Crown prosecution service, not wanting to miss out on the act, jumped in and stated that it intended to prosecute me. There followed lengthy police interviews with me and various objectors, as well as with witnesses from the local television and radio stations and newspapers, which continued for some 12 months. At the end of the day, the Crown prosecution service decided that I should not be prosecuted.
I strongly object to an attempt, even by that organisation, to curb the remarks of a Member of Parliament made without the privilege attached to comments made on the Floor of the House. That incident personally cost me a considerable amount of money in solicitors' fees. I am not particularly bothered about that—I am more worried about representations. However, it is wrong that Members of Parliament who want to voice objections should be complained against by such organisations.
I am delighted that the Government have introduced two relevant measures, but in the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has with his colleagues in the Home Office and in the Department of the Environment, I hope that he will make it clear that, although both measures are admirable, time must be found to debate them and to put them on the statute book at the earliest opportunity.
The scourge I have described is, regrettably, growing. Some constituents are suffering the consequences daily. If raves continue as they are, young people will be in danger. Residents also are in danger, and their homes and lives are ruined by the presence of such people. I urge the Government, having taken the initiative, to take up the cudgels sooner rather than later.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle). We have both been Members of Parliament for some time and, although we may not have much in common on many political issues, the great strength of the House is that right hon. and hon. Members respect one another and regard each other as not only parliamentary colleagues but friends. I listened with great interest to the hon. Gentleman's views on the two subjects that he raised. Thankfully, my constituents do not suffer from either problem, but I know that many right hon. and hon. Members, irrespective of party, have constituents who do.
Although the kind of parties to which the hon. Gentleman referred are not common in my constituency, my constituents suffer from the continuous playing of loud music, hour after hour. People are driven to total distraction. The police say, "What can we do? We cannot keep going there." I share the hon. Gentleman's welcome for any power that the police or any other authority can be given by the Government to bring some justice to constituents who suffer continuous playing of loud music. As the lighter evenings approach in the spring and summer, by golly, they will suffer yet again. The hon. Member for Luton, North has done the House a service in raising those two issues.
In the Christmas Consolidated Fund debate, I addressed the House on Kashmir, and I return to that subject today. It is an issue which concerns Parliament, because many right hon. and hon. Members, irrespective of party, have constituents with a deep interest in the affairs of Kashmir. The sad and tragic well-documented events of the past are still occurring, despite the worries and protests of individuals and organisations that are deeply concerned about the role and behaviour of the Indian security forces in occupied Kashmir.
Important changes have taken place. For instance, the all-party parliamentary Kashmiri group met the Foreign Secretary in the House on 18 January. The meeting was extremely well attended: it was attended both by Labour and Conservative Members, and by Liberal Democrats. I have already paid a warm tribute personally to the Foreign Secretary, who spent well over an hour at the meeting and listened to the comments of virtually every hon. Member who attended it. Having done so, he said—among many other things—that he was deeply concerned by the lack of action to protect the human rights of people in the occupied area of Kashmir, from the very young to the very elderly. He also agreed with the group that an all-party parliamentary delegation should be allowed to visit the area.
Both the Foreign Secretary and members of the group made many other comments during the meeting. The right hon. Gentleman said that he was there to hear Members' views because he, in turn, would brief the Prime Minister before his official visit to India a few days later: that, indeed, had been the purpose of the meeting itself.
I have tabled a number of questions to the Prime Minister about his visit. I tabled one on 22 January; the Prime Minister replied:
I expect my discussions with the Indian Prime Minister to include the situation in Kashmir and our concerns about human rights."—[Official Report, 22 January 1993; Vol. 217, c. 527.]
We must assume that such discussions took place, but many of us find it regrettable that we have learnt little about them, except from press reports. The Prime Minister has made no statement to the House, and he clearly will not do so now.
On 17 February, I asked the Prime Minister how he intended to monitor the commitment of the Prime Minister of India to respect human rights in Kashmir. He replied that he would reply to me shortly. I am still waiting for that reply; I assume that it will come eventually.
The Prime Minister of Pakistan visited London this week, and met our Prime Minister. We must assume that they discussed the issue of Kashmir, but the House has had no opportunity to ask the Prime Minister about those discussions. Many hon. Members, irrespective of party, are deeply concerned: the Kashmiri issue is fundamentally important to the House. It was a British Parliament which, 40-odd years ago, made a clear commitment to the people of Kashmir that they would be allowed to choose their future. Sadly, they have not had that opportunity.
We know. of the abuses of human rights that have been perpetrated by the Indian occupying forces. Those abuses continue. I have details of a serious incident that took place on 6 January in Sapore, which is part of the occupied area. The reports clearly state that, tragically, people were killed, and that homes, shops and businesses were deliberately burned out by the Indian security forces. Again, the House has had little or no opportunity to ask what representations the British Government are making to the Indian Government. What we do know is that, despite the Foreign Secretary's stated belief that an all-party delegation should go to Kashmir, no progress has been made in that regard.
If the Indian Government have nothing to hide, why do they repeatedly refuse to allow such visits? Many highly respected Members of Parliament from all parties, some of whom have been here for many years, belong to the Kashmiri group. They will continue to press the Indian authorities to allow an all-party delegation to go and see exactly what is happening in the part of Kashmir that is controlled by the Indian Government and their security forces.
The Indian Government are now accusing Pakistan of terrorist offences. I assume that many other hon. Members will have been sent the documents containing those allegations, which have circulated in the House for the past week or so. This week, I took up the allegations with the Pakistani high commission in London. The commission said that the Pakistani Government did not intend to enter into such a dialogue or to attack other countries as they were being attacked. The high commission made it clear that it would welcome the United Nations, parliamentarians and independent groups, and that they could meet whomever they wished to meet to follow up the Indian Government's allegations.
Many hon. Members see that as yet another attempt by the Indian Government to distract attention from what deeply concerns the House, and is often raised here—the fundamental human right of men and women to decide their future, and the on-going abuses whose tragic occurrence was acknowledged by the Foreign Secretary. Until the Indian Government stop those abuses and allow Members of Parliament—or, indeed, other organisations—to see exactly what is happening, hon. Members will continue to put pressure on them. This is not a party issue: many Conservative Members are as committed as I am to the rights of the people of Kashmir, and I pay tribute to them.
I have referred to the events of 40-odd years ago. It is important to read speeches that were made a long time ago—speeches that have been forgotten by many people. It is interesting to read the comments of the last Viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten, and the commitments that he gave to the people of Kashmir over 40 years ago. To those commitments we can add the resolutions on Kashmir that successive British Governments have supported.
On 8 January of this year, I received a letter from the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (Mr. Lennox-Boyd). Before referring to that letter, may I thank the Leader of the House sincerely for having replied to the last debate on the Adjournment motion on this subject? He said then that he was not in a position to answer the points that I had raised, but that he would take them up. To his credit, not only did he take them up but I received a substantial reply from the Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I thanked him for what he said in that letter. I shall refer to a few of his comments, for it is important that they should be on the record.
In his letter the Under-Secretary of State said:
The continuing violence"—
he was referring to the violence in Kashmir—
is a reminder that the position of Kashmir cannot be allowed to fester indefinitely … We have also emphasised to the Indian Government the importance of a genuine political process within Kashmir in which the aspirations of the population can be accommodated.
The Under-Secretary's final point—the previous two are important, but this one is the reason why hon. Members are so concerned about events in Kashmir—was:
We have also impressed on the Indian Government our concerns about human rights abuses by the Indian security forces in Kashmir and the need to improve the situation there. There can be no doubt that serious abuses have taken place".
I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary's openness and
Against those comments and the background of the continuing abuse of Kashmir as a country and, more importantly, the continuing abuse of the human rights of the people of Kashmir, I have to ask when we, as a country, and the Government intend to take much more decisive action on this issue. The three countries that are most directly involved are Pakistan, India and the United Kingdom. All three countries are members of the Commonwealth. It is not as though we are involved with countries with which we have no links, or of which we have no understanding. We have known, and have had associations with, those countries for many years. Therefore, we have a very special relationship with them.
At the meeting on 18 January, the Foreign Secretary said that the Kashmiri issue would not go away and that the status quo was unacceptable. How right he was. Many hon. Members, of all parties, will use the rights that. they have, as Members of Parliament, to safeguard the interests of our constituents who have close links with Kashmir. They will also try to stop the appalling abuses that continue to be inflicted on the people of Kashmir by the Indian security forces that now occupy a country in which they are not wanted, in which they should not be and where they would not be if the people of Kashmir were given the opportunity to decide what their future should be.
It is a pleasure, as always, to follow the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). He does the House a considerable service by raising this issue. These occasions often lead to debates which are more interesting than those that we have on other issues during the rest of the parliamentary year and on which we spend far more time. I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman said.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House also to accept the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and to convey them to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment. I strongly support, too, what was said by the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) about the financing of legal education. Although his speech was delivered in his own distinctive and idiosyncratic style, which does not necessarily command the widest possible support in the House, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) made a valuable point, which. is all too often overlooked by my right hon. Friends—that many of us have experienced considerable difficulty in obtaining satisfactory and quick responses from the agencies to which the right hon. Member for Gorton referred. The style of the right hon. Gentleman's speech will not necessarily command the widest possible support, but its underlying theme is more widely supported by hon. Members in all parties than my right hon. Friends may care to suppose or imagine.
There is one recommendation in the Jopling report which I hope my right hon. Friend will have no difficulty in rejecting. I know that he wishes to make progress, that he must secure wide agreement in order to make progress and that that agreement may not be so easily forthcoming now as it might have been a year ago. I refer to the recommendation that these debates should be abandoned. I hope that my right hon. Friend will reject it. These debates always lead to interesting and wide-ranging discussions. I have participated in them on many occasions, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), who I see is in his usual place. Both he and I feel nostalgic, since we shall not hear our former colleague, Sir John Stokes, speak on this occasion. He used to make distinguished contributions on the state of the nation on all occasions when these debates were held. Their echo is much missed.
I intend to return to the issue that I raised in the Christmas Adjournment motion debate—the situation in Yugoslavia, which dominated our discussions. Today that has not been the case. Nevertheless, I wish to renew the plea that I made then for further progress towards the establishment of international criminal tribunals and an international criminal court so that the criminal justice deficiencies in Yugoslavia and in the world in general can be overcome. The establishment of such bodies would lead to more effective responses and remedies than is currently the case. This matter was raised at Prime Minister's Question Time, and I very much welcome the reply that the Prime Minister was able to give to the question of the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), which I thought missed the point.
In response to the Christmas Adjournment motion debate, my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said that he would draw my remarks to the attention of the Foreign Office, since there was no reasonable basis upon which I could expect him to reply in detail to what I had said. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend fulfilled his undertaking, but since then I have not heard a word from the Foreign Office. All too often, unfortunately, that is par for the course. What is not so often par for the course is that, having written in considerable detail to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on 22 January, I have received no reply from him. That is wholly exceptional, and I hope that it will not become a pathfinder development in terms of the way in which No. 10 operates. Nevertheless, I welcome what our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister had to say about this issue at Question Time.
Great Britain can be very proud of the way it has approached these very distressing matters in recent months. Much of the evidence about the commission of crimes and war crimes in the former Yugoslavia arises from British initiatives undertaken when this country occupied the chair of the Council of Ministers, from our work through the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe and, of course, from the commissioning of the reports of Sir John Thomson and Dame Anne Warburton. Dame Anne, who was just setting off to Yugoslavia when I raised this matter in the Christmas Adjournment motion debate, produced a report suggesting that about 20,000 crimes of rape may have been committed in the former Yugoslavia. Of course, she was accompanied on that occasion by Mrs. Simone Weil, who has just this week rejoined the French Government. A problem arises straight away. Unfortunately, there are not appended to Dame Anne Warburton's report, which consists of five pages, any witness statements or other evidence of the sort that would be admissible in a criminal court.
Fortunately, the United Nations Security Council, in resolution 780 of last autumn, established a commission of experts. Even more fortunately, it appointed as one of those experts the redoubtable and formidable Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni of De Paul university, Chicago, to whose work I have referred in the House on many occasions. Professor Bassiouni is not a man to be trifled with. He was not prepared to entertain assertions of large-scale war crimes without any accompanying evidence of the sort that could be placed before a criminal court. The commission of experts appointed him to be the rapporteur of the gathering and analysis of facts. He has been hard at work and has established a database which includes the names of about 1,000 people against whom, if they are to be placed on trial, it may be possible to secure the necessary evidence of serious criminal offences. Professor Bassiouni is a man not to be underestimated. I shall return to his work shortly.
In resolution 808, the Security Council authorised the United Nations Secretary-General, whom I had the privilege of meeting just a week or two ago, to produce by 22 April a report on how the Council might proceed to deal with the prosecution of persons wanted for war crimes and crimes in Yugoslavia. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to that report this afteroon. My first plea to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and through him to our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is that when the Secretary-General puts his report before the Security Council, the Council is urged to proceed as rapidly as possible to a satisfactory conclusion. From discussions I had recently in New York with the Security Council president for this month—the representative of Pakistan—I know that he wants the Council to move quickly. However, the report is to be produced by 22 April and May will arrive shortly, bringing a new Security Council president. No doubt, these matters will then take a week or two—perhaps more—to be resolved satisfactorily.
The task of prosecuting the 1,000 or so people whose names are on the database that Professor Bassiouni has established is indeed formidable. Some of the problems must be faced head-on by the members of the Security Council and by the international community at large. It will probably take two years to prosecute 1,000 people. Court buildings will be required; a prosecutor will be necessary, and he will need a staff; there will have to be an indictment chamber—hon. Members may call it what they will—for processing the applications of any special prosecutor with a view to bringing persons to trial. There are, of course, issues such as whether people should be tried in their absence. Indeed, there are all sorts of practical problems. However, these are no greater—in my view, they are rather less great—than the practical problems of bringing to trial alleged war criminals resident in this country who may have committed unspeakable offences in Nazi-occupied territory 50 years ago, and we have provided a budget of about £10 million each year for the purpose of bringing those people to trial.
Although in the case of Yugoslavia the problems are great, they are not insuperable. Where there is a will, there is a way. Having talked to more than two thirds of the members of the Security Council in recent weeks, I am certain that there is a will and that the Council can move to a satisfactory conclusion. I suggest that the Council appoint a chief judge at a very early stage. A court centre will be needed. There are only three possible locations—Trieste in Italy, Ljubljana in Slovenia and Pecs in Hungary. Trieste will probably be the choice. I hope that discussions are being held with the Italian Government to establish whether the necessary space can be made available there.
Above all else, a special prosecutor will be needed, and he will need a staff to collate and prepare the evidence and to place before the indicting chamber such information, warrants, and so on, as may be necessary. I see no reason why, if the Security Council moves relatively quickly, it should not be possible to start some criminal trials before the end of this year. There is one very obvious candidate for appointment as special prosecutor—none other than Professor M. Cherif Bassiouni, a man of very great experience who has been consulted on many occasions by Governments across the world in relation to war crimes. The sooner he can be appointed and his office established, the better.
As the Secretary-General has pointed out, all this will cost money. Professor Bassiouni's own estimate is £50 million for a two-year period. I am delighted to say that, as one would expect, the Government of Canada have taken a very responsible and encouraging initiative. They have offered money, to be paid into a trust account for this purpose as soon as such an account can be established, and staff to assist the special prosecutor. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House might suggest to our right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary that Great Britain should follow Canada's admirable lead, which I know that other countries are interested in following. Resources will be required, but this action is necessary. The world is appalled at the things we have seen on our television screens, heard about on our radios, and read about in our newspapers. The world is entitled to say that this is not right. We cannot allow it to happen without doing everything possible to ensure that the criminals are brought to justice. If the United Kingdom and other countries are able to take action in respect of unspeakable crimes in Nazi-occupied Germany, surely we can do similarly in respect of what happened in Yugoslavia not 50 years or even 15 months ago but in the very recent past.
Two deficiencies need to be dealt with. War crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are outlawed by successive Geneva conventions. The world has said on many occasions that such behaviour is outside the realm of what can be accepted by a civilised world community. The trouble about the Geneva conventions is that they do not provide the means by which these activities can be made justiciable. A tribunal would give effect to what is contained in the Geneva conventions, which would provide a means by which the leaders responsible for ordering genocide, mass rape and other crimes could be held to account on this earth instead of only at the eternal gates to the celestial world to which we must all aspire in due course.
Another aspect which needs careful attention is the administration of the ordinary natural criminal law which existed in Yugoslavia and which exists in this or any country which abides by ordinary human standards. Although murder, rape, torture and grievous bodily harm—crimes that we all readily recognize—could be tried by the domestic courts of Yugoslavia or any surviving parts of Yugoslavia, we must confess that people inside and outside Yugoslavia would have rather limited confidence in the quality of justice administered by them.
I pay tribute to the reporting which has appeared day after day in The Independent, which has brought many of these matters to this country's attention. I have no doubt that there have also been such articles in foreign newspapers, but The Independent has a remarkable record of bringing home to us exactly what is happening. An article yesterday referred to the so-called war crimes tribunals in Bosnia, which have been held recently. Its author was the east European editor, Mr. Barber. Anyone reading the article will know that, if what he reported is indeed what is happening, the quality of criminal justice being administered by those courts does not inspire much confidence.
We need an international tribunal instead of lynching courts—as they would be regarded in the constituent parts of Yugoslavia—because such a tribunal would administer a quality of justice which would inspire more widespread support throughout the world than the domestic tribunals as currently constituted. There is no reason why an ad hoc tribunal should not administer the ordinary criminal law of Yugoslavia. In a report to which I referred before Christmas, Ambassador Correll showed that there was nothing deficient about the criminal law in Yugoslavia before that country collapsed, so it would not be a question of introducing new crimes which were unknown when the atrocities were committed. The tribunal would administer the criminal law which was well understood by each and every one of the people who may have been responsible for murder, rape, grievous bodily harm or torture.
The immediate need in Yugoslavia is very clear. The urgency is obvious. The necessary will exists in the Security Council. There is no reason why we should not make progress very quickly this early summer to establish a tribunal capable of doing the job as we would wish. If a chief judge and, above all, a special prosecutor could be appointed quickly, the work could get under way. There is no need for any delay, although there may be practical problems.
The fact that there may be problems highlights one of the deficiencies of the present international legal system—the absence of permanent machinery to deal with breaches of the Geneva conventions on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity and prisoners of war. The conventions have the support of the world community with very few exceptions, but we must have the machinery to make these matters justiciable and enforceable;in an international court under the authority of the Security Council.
As soon as we have established a tribunal for Yugoslavia, I hope that it will be possible for the Security Council to establish a necessary permanent court not only to deal with what I call the Geneva convention heads of international crime—important though that matter is—but to meet some of the deficiencies in the administration of criminal justice in our own regions and between countries in Europe. I am thinking of extradition, the production of witnesses, and so on—transnational matters which lead to difficulties in securing the effective administration of a criminal justice system. As a supplement to, or additional feature of, our range of courts for dealing with these criminal matters, an international court should be established for the world under the Security Council.
I know that the expansion of institutions within the European Community is not a popular cause to espouse, not least in the House, but one of the biggest deficiencies in EC institutions is the absence of any effective supranational criminal court mechanism for dealing with crimes which cross frontiers. I cite the most obvious example.
Although it is hateful to people like me, who have been brought up in the British court system, to admit that the quality of justice administered in our courts is not the highest, the reputation of our criminal courts in dealing with IRA terrorists has taken a tremendous knock. We know how difficult it is now to secure the extradition of persons wanted for serious crimes and who are alleged to be members of the IRA and engaged in IRA activities.
I suspect that it would be easier to secure extradition from the Republic of Ireland to an international court rather than to an exclusively British court. An international court on which an Irish judge was sitting would inspire confidence that it was not just another British court. There would be British prosecutors bringing evidence established by the British police, but people would nevertheless be tried under rules which made it that much easier for those wanted in connection with serious crime to be brought before a criminal court. It would be easier for people to be tried properly, and, if necessary, punished properly.
I welcome the opportunity to raise these important issues again. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows me well enough to understand that he may not have heard from me for the last time on these subjects, but it is time to make progress not only on Yugoslavia but on the wider issue of world jurisdiction.
I shall not respond at length to the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) but I shall make two frivolous remarks and then move on to a third and more serious issue.
The hon. Gentleman said that he had not received replies to two letters, one to the Prime Minister and one to the Foreign Secretary. He will be reassured that, at this very moment, civil servants in Downing street and in the Foreign Office are probably looking through their files to ensure that he gets a reply at least by tomorrow morning if not before.
The hon. Gentleman paid tribute to The Independent, which he claims—I have no reason to disbelieve him—is highlighting the situation in the former Yugoslavia. He will need the Easter recess to write the column that will be offered to him as a result of the praise that he lavished on that newspaper.
I now come to my substantive points. I do not believe that people have expressed sufficient revulsion against the horrors that we see day in and day out in the former Yugoslavia, especially in Bosnia. If only one tenth of the stories that we hear are true, that still represents a crime against humanity. The hon. Member for Corby referred to a thousand cases having been documented. I am not sure what kind of cases they are, but the human indignity and the violence against human beings highlighted in just those few cases show the depths to which humanity has stooped, especially in Bosnia.
I share the hon. Gentleman's desire to do something, and to bring people to justice if that is at all possible, but I believe that, when history comes to be written, western Europe, especially the European Community, will be condemned for what has happened in the former Yugoslavia. There is no doubt in my mind that the dash to recognise the new republics, largely at the behest of Germany, helped to precipitate the horrendous situation that we now witness.
I must voice the fears that some of my Muslim constituents have expressed to me—that the Muslims in Bosnia have been let down by this country and by the European Community as a whole. They often express to me the opinion—I hope that it is not well founded—that, if those people were Christians rather than Muslims, the western world would not have stood by and let the atrocities continue on their present scale. I hope that my constituents are not right about that, but I strongly suspect that, if Christians rather than Muslims were being massacred, the west would not have stood by for so long and let that level of outrage continue.
I should now like to make four or five quick points, if I may, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It was mentioned at Prime Minister's question time today that we have nearly reached the anniversary of the general election—I can see a smile on the face of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). Most of us will recall that, this time last year, we were girding our loins for the last week of the general election campaign. I was out on the streets and then waiting to settle down to watch the "Nine O'Clock News", with the Prime Minister on his soap box. Twelve months later, I feel, as do an increasing number of my constituents, that the Tory party election campaign has been shown to be a complete sham and a bundle of lies. My constituents certainly feel that they have been cynically betrayed by the promises that the Government made in April last year and the way in which those promises have been thrown away.
I have a great deal of respect for the Leader of the House, but he was one of the Cabinet Ministers who went round during the campaign condemning the Labour party for its policy on national insurance contributions; yet a few weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman, still a member of a Conservative Cabinet, happily trooped through the Lobby to support the Chancellor of the Exchequer's increase in national insurance contributions.
Twelve months ago, Ministers were saying that the green shoots of economic growth and increasing activity were well rooted and would bear fruit over the following year. But I must tell the Leader of the House that the past 12 months have been relatively fallow in terms of seeing the shoots of economic growth take off.
Among my constituents, there is a feeling that the Government won the election last year on the basis of a lie. During that campaign, and in the 12 months since, the Government have done a great deal to increase ordinary people's cynicism about politicians in general and Tory politicians in particular. It is a great misfortune that we cannot turn the clock back, because if we could confront the British people with the promises that the Government made last year compared with the outcome of events over the past 12 months, that would show that the Tory party, especially the present-day Tory party, is prepared to stoop to any level, tell any lie and repeat any calumny in order to keep its grasping fists on the levers of power in this country.
I should like to give three or four specific examples of Government decisions over the past 12 months that have had a serious adverse effect on my constituents. It goes without saying that the Budget decision to levy VAT on domestic heating will have a dramatic penal effect on many low-paid families in my constituency. It makes no difference how social security benefits may be uprated; many low-paid families will still have to pay the full increase arising from VAT.
I should like the Leader of the House to tell me and my constituents whether, if in the winter of 1994–95 they have to choose between leaving the domestic heating on or switching it off because they cannot afford the increased prices, they should switch it off and be cold. I should like at least one Cabinet Minister to tell me the answer so that I can pass it on to my constituents. I know that the Leader of the House is a man of integrity, so I should like him to tell me, and my constituents who will be in that position next year or the year after, what decision they should take.
My second specific constituency point concerns the Sikh community, and I have raised it with the Leader of the House before. The right hon. Gentleman will know that a European directive will compel everyone, including Sikhs, to wear protective helmets in all industrial situations. He will also know that Sikhs are now exempted from the requirement to wear crash helmets on motor bikes and hard-top safety helmets on construction sites, because successive Governments, Labour as well as Conservative, have agreed that they should be exempted for religious reasons. The European directive, although it will not reverse those two exemptions, will compel Sikhs to wear protective helmets on all industrial premises.
The Secretary of State for Employment has refused to take the matter seriously or to go back to Brussels and seek to renegotiate the directive. She fails to understand the anger and outrage in the Sikh community caused by the new directive. Sikhs are firmly convinced that, once the directive is fully implemented, either they will have to disregard their religion and wear the safety helmets, or, if they refuse to wear them, they will lose their jobs.
Increasingly, the Sikh community feels that one consequence of the European directive will be increased unemployment among male Sikhs. I ask the Leader of the House again, even at this late stage, to seek to convince his fellow Cabinet Minister of the urgency of the matter, of the outrage among the Sikh community, and of the need, if it is not too late, to renegotiate with our Community colleagues to try to widen the exemptions for the Sikh community.
My final point concerns section 11 expenditure; I have raised it before with the Leader of the House. Hon. Members will be aware that that expenditure, which has existed for many years, is directed towards local authorities which have responsibility for substantial numbers of children from ethnic minorities, specifically from Commonwealth countries. It has assisted in ensuring that children who are taught English as a second language can compete on a more even footing with other children.
There is a widespread fear that the reduction in section 11 expenditure next year will mean that many teachers will lose their jobs, but, more importantly, that many children will suffer adversely because they will no longer receive the extra teaching they need to be able to compete on an equal footing with other children. I plead with the Leader of the House to talk to his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary and emphasise to him the need to get the Home Office to see sense and reverse the decision.
In the debate on the summer Adjournment last year, I was fortunate enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to raise some issues about the quality of life in rural areas. I did so bearing in mind the approaching tourist season, the ageing profile and shortage of youngsters, the changing agricultural base, the fact that one in five people in England lives in a rural area, and the background of a real urban/rural divide.
I said that any aspect of life today has a rural angle and that if we accept cost-benefit audits, citizens' audits, environmental audits, family audits and audits of audits, we should consider the idea of rural audits for all departments of government, local and national. Unfortunately, my time ran out in that debate and I was unable to raise various issues which I hope to deal with now because a focus on rural England is urgent at this point in the economic cycle.
Small village schools have often been called the cement of society. Few who have seen what can be achieved in village schools would disagree. Obviously, a school for every village is not on, and village schools do not have to be small, but where bussing has to take place, it would sometimes make as much sense to bus town children into the country as the reverse. It must be recognised that it costs a local authority more to deliver the same standard of service to a rural area than to a built-up area. That is nobody's fault but a basic fact of life.
Equally with social services, emergency services, community care, health care, or indeed any service, the distances involved add on costs that towns do not have. No doubt we have all mouthed the well-worn mantra that rural shops, post offices, garages, pubs and even the telephone kiosks are the cornerstones of rural life and must be safeguarded. We often say that as yet another closes. Of course, it is true, but if the Department of Social Security experiment to encourage pensioners to accept automatic credit transfer of their pensions is made permanent, it will hit all small post office businesses hard, particularly in rural areas.
The uniform business rate has not been a full-blown salvation for some rural businesses, and often rural sub-post offices are in shared premises with general stores and other private retail businesses. More local authorities have hardship relief schemes, which I welcome, because they allow local authorities to decide their own priorities. The Post Office is asking the Department of the Environment to consider exempting from the uniform business rate the mixed business rural shops which are in post office use. That is a simple device which could be effective in money value terms.
SAVES, the Shopkeepers Association for Villages in East Suffolk, is keen to point out, rightly, that uniform business rate valuations on village shops are too high and that the criteria should perhaps be reconsidered. The Church of England's Commission on Rural Areas has recommended that help be given to village shops and post offices which are clearly community facilities. By the way, my attention has been drawn to an exercise in which £10 worth of groceries priced at an urban Sainsbury's were priced at £9·40 in a village Mace shop. On that basis, adding travel costs, it may be more expensive to shop in an urban supermarket, though choice may be greater there. It is all about affordable shopping.
"Affordable" is a word which is often applied to housing. We can all argue the need for socially affordable housing in rural areas. We can back schemes to bring it about and understand that it is part and parcel of planning. The Housing Corporation recognises a specific need for rural development schemes to provide affordable social housing in rural areas. It dispels the myth that countryside life is always idyllic because successive surveys show that the condition of housing stock is often worse in rural areas. The DOE should be congratulated on a notable shift in policy in that regard. Until recently, local authority attitudes varied. Now no local authority can duck out of its responsibility and we have the basis for a uniform national policy, subject to local conditions.
A good deal of public money has been invested in recent years, for example, in the Rural Development Commission with its rural development areas, into one of which a large part of my constituency falls. It has worked hard at encouraging community projects to diversify the rural economy, stimulating job growth. The RDC has argued for a completely new rural development initiative, forecasting that in 10 years there will be 100,000 fewer full-time employees on the land and 50,000 fewer related jobs. Even if the reduction is not as severe, the structure and operation of agriculture will change in a way without parallel in two centuries. There will be fewer land workers, but more people living in the countryside and more visiting it for leisure. Traditional agriculture will increasingly see itself as a countryside resource manager.
A recognition from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the DOE that land owners and land cultivators are countryside guardians and that their work is the best hope for our natural environment is a beginning. That phrase will be more acceptable to the tax-paying public than the misleading phrase, "paying farmers to do nothing".
One fresh idea is helping to regenerate rural enterprise. In my area, the Norfolk and Waveney training and enterprise council has a mobile tele-cottage, a bus which gathers people into one well-equipped place for work and training. Soon the idea will be expanded into redundant buildings. There is no reason why the rural village should be excluded from the global village.
National initiatives developed locally are successful too and should be recognised. A range of schemes, such as areas of outstanding natural beauty, the heritage coast, environmentally sensitive areas, and the work in my area of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust, all contribute much to saving, restoring and developing natural habitats and the rest of the landscape which is our countryside heritage. All those things bring tourists into the area. Many like what they see, usage increases and many people retire to the area. That adds to the pressure on social services, the health service and all the other services, and in some cases local people cannot acquire houses locally.
Bus deregulation, like lager, has reached many previously unreached parts and there are more bus miles, but isolation still exists in many areas. The people become the victims of a vicious circle. Isolation leads to a reduction in services and to a holiday home disease, with services for locals being further cut, leading to yet more isolation. So it goes on.
As seasons roll one into the next, there is realistic optimism. Falling interest rates help rural businesses, home buyers and builders. It must not get out of balance again. The balance of rural tourism, as the English tourist board has stressed, must be on a scale compatible with rural locations. In the future, we may not be growing too much food—we may be nearer that than we think—so not all our farmland should become adventure and theme parks. We need a balance in farmland capacity.
Equally, in the local government review, we are promised an enhanced role for parish and town councils. Let us get the balance right and give local services for local people, provided by local people, real weight in the English countryside.
In conclusion, my three arguments are, first, we need a rural audit of Government policy; secondly, we must recognise that farmers are, essentially, countryside guardians; and, thirdly, a balance must be achieved and a balance against rurality must be redressed and then maintained properly. Being aware of the urban-rural divide means that half the battle against rural Britain becoming another country is won. The hard part is winning the other half, but we must try, because not only the quality of life for those one in five citizens who live in the rural areas but the health and well-being of our whole nation are at stake.
Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, I should like to draw attention to matters involving Hoover, Raoul Wallenberg, national hospital radio broadcasting and employment in my constituency. The British like a bargain. We all know that that is why they tend to vote Conservative rather than socialist. On Monday this week, I had the privilege of being the first British politician on French soil to welcome the new Conservative Government in France. O that I had the same privilege of welcoming a similar Government in Australia, but it was not to be.
As far as Hoover is concerned, I thought that it was a startling marketing exercise to offer free flights when people spent more than £100 on one of their products. Accordingly, I, my wife and my wife's parents bought Hoover products. We filled in our forms and waited for the letter to be returned when we had made the choice about the specific resort to which we wished to go.
We were absolutely astonished when the fiasco developed. I can describe it only as a fiasco. It is a fiasco, and it has been a grave deception of the British public. The free flights. to the United States campaign has boomeranged with ferocity against what I had always thought was a highly reputable organisation. It has debased the good marketing techniques which have been practised with success by other large companies. This appalling episode has brought disgrace to a truly respected household name with excellent products; it has been sabotaged by sub-standard executives, who have rightly been dismissed.
Why were the many conditions all in small print? Why did the Hoover marketing company rely on the fact that it thought that most purchasers would not understand the small print or would be satisfied to be fobbed off by excuses? Many of my constituents have written to me about the offer. As far as they are concerned, the Office of Fair Trading did not react quickly or, indeed, the matter seems to have been—dare I say it—hoovered under the carpet, hoping that it would eventually go away. I hope that this most unfortunate marketing exercise will be put right quickly so that I, my wife, my wife's parents and all the other people who purchased tickets will get that to which they believe they are entitled—their free flights.
My second subject is Raoul Wallenberg. About five years ago, I introduced a 10-minute Bill which was supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. We obtained an unopposed Committee on the Bill, which sought to get honorary British citizenship for Raoul Wallenberg—so many other countries have given their citizenship to this Swedish diplomat who saved the lives of more than 100,000 children, women and men in the second world war, and who suddenly disappeared in 1945.
I was unsuccessful in that aim, so I decided that the next best thing would be to obtain a memorial in the centre of London so that we could all remember the achievements of Raoul Wallenberg. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked me what progress I have made. For about four years, we have been continually frustrated. Only recently, discussions took place with the local authority, because we wanted a statue to be located somewhere near the Swedish embassy. Rather than the local authority approving a statue, the discussions have resulted in the offer of a park bench. That is a disgrace and an insult.
The first site to be considered was in Bryanston square, which was owned by Bryanston square trustees. The chairman approved the idea and was only too happy to put it to the rest of the trustees. The Rev. David Evans, who is in charge of St. Mary's parish church in Bryanston square—the pedestrian walkway would be affected—welcomed the idea.
A park bench is simply not good enough a memorial to such a magnificent person. Frankly, if it is a park bench or nothing at all, we will give the money to dedicating a wing in a hospital in the centre of London. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will pass on my concerns to the affected parties.
My third subject is national hospital broadcasting.
No, I must press on. The hon. Gentleman has just walked into the Chamber, and it would not be fair to others.
I am the unpaid parliamentary spokesman for national hospital radio broadcasting. Most hon. Members have hospitals in their constituencies with radio broadcasting organisations. We have been trying to get a frequency for hospital radio.
I am delighted to tell the House that, through the good efforts of Councillor Alf Partridge, we secured meetings with my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary of State for National Heritage and the Under-Secretary of State for Technology at the Department of Trade and Industry. As a result of those meetings and a subsequent meeting with Mr. Peter Baldwin, who is the chairman of the Broadcasting Authority, we have made considerable progress. It appears that, at long last, there are to be pilot schemes. I hope that hon. Members who have been involved in the campaign will judge that it has been a success.
My final matter relates to employment. In the past year, my constituency of Basildon has attracted some attention, none of which has been of my making. Basildon has attracted attention for all sort of reasons. I have noticed that Labour Members seem continually to visit my constituency. I find it somewhat extraordinary that they come to the constituency which re-elected a Conservative Member of Parliament and which was responsible for having the socialist council thrown out of office last year. Labour Members seem to be making jobs an issue in my constituency.
The level of unemployment in my constituency is the same as it was when I became a Member of Parliament 10 years ago. I regret that, and I intend to continue to work towards changing it. It is extraordinary that Labour Members come to Basildon, especially when one considers that the socialist council was thrown out of office because of all it did to destroy jobs in my constituency. Such were the disgraceful antics of the socialists in Basildon that they have left my excellent Conservative council with enormous debt. It has been left with debt on the Towngate theatre and other capital projects. The interest charges on the debt for the theatre alone are £1·5 million a year. The council has debts of £126 million, which have destroyed jobs in my constituency.
The week before the Budget, the hon. Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown), for Peckham (Ms Harman), for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) came to Basildon town hall to launch an alternative Budget for jobs. So successful was that visit that I am delighted to tell the House that, in the unemployment figures which were announced two weeks ago, Basildon showed the largest fall in unemployment in the south-east. I hope that my hon. Friends will send out similar invitations to those four hon. Members in the light of their considerable achievements in reducing unernployment in my constituency.
No, I will not.
I hope that those same Opposition Members will support my plea to locate the headquarters of National Lotteries in Basildon. We heard a great deal about is being located in Liverpool and other parts of the country, but we in the south-east have lost many jobs in the construction industry and the service industry. I should have thought that Basildon was the ideal site for the headquarters of National Lotteries. I look forward to receiving the support of Opposition Members.
Socialists talk about unemployment. They put up boards when unemployment is rising. They keep going on about it, because the message is, "If you don't have a job, vote Labour." As soon as unemployment goes down, as happened two weeks ago, socialists on the Opposition Benches say nothing. I am delighted to tell the House that, on 14 April in the House of Commons, my hon. Friend the Minister for Trade will launch the "Buy British Goods from Basildon" campaign. We shall hold a half-day seminar, in which experts will meet all my local businesses to assist them in exploring the opportunities to sell, not only in Europe but throughout the world, the excellent goods and services we produce in Basildon. I hope that the scheme, which will undoubtedly be a success, will be copied throughout the rest of Britain.
I am grateful to have five or six minutes to speak in the debate. The House should not adjourn until we have discussed family planning services, which is what I wish to do in the time available to me.
Ironically, I wish to express support for a Minister. That may be strange for an Opposition Member, but the Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Bolton, West (Mr. Sackville), recently stated that contraceptives should be supplied to teenagers in our schools. I support that statement, although it came in for a great deal of criticism from several of his Back Benchers. It is important that we get to grips with the serious crisis of teenage pregnancies, which has come about because sex education and family planning services are simply not good enough. They are nowhere near as good as those provided by our neighbours. The result is severe problems for the teenagers affected.
I remember raising family planning services when I was first elected as a councillor many years ago in the London borough of Waltham Forest. For doing that, I was accused of being a foolish virgin—I sent in a disclaimer especially on the foolish part. I remember the debate well. One councillor gave a long list of the different types of contraceptives, in which one wit interjected, "Withdraw!"
My resolution was that contraceptives should be supplied free. I was told that, if my resolution was passed, condoms would litter the streets. Of course, shortly afterwards, contraceptive services were taken over by the health authority, and family planning clinics started to supply contraceptives free. Condoms did not litter the streets.
We need to return to a proper family planning service. It has been seriously eroded and whittled away. It has been an expendable service for health authorities, as they have faced cash crises within the NHS. I refer the House to an excellent article by Nicki Pope in the Today newspaper of 26 March 1993. She gave some of the statistics.
Some 8,000 under-16s become pregnant every year in Britain. That is two for every secondary school. The rate is 69 in every 1,000. That is double the rate for France and six times higher than the rate for the Netherlands. In Germany only 14, and in Spain only 15, in every 1,000 under-16s become pregnant, as compared to 69 per thousand in Britain. That is the extent of the crisis. The problem is serious. Various surveys have shown that there is considerable ignorance among teenagers. Only 30 per cent. of teenage boys and 40 per cent. of teenage girls use contraception.
The article also quotes Ms Grigg of the Family Planning Association as saying:
We are doing our teenagers a grave disservice. We teach children to cross the road and stay safe, but we actively deny them access to safe sexuality.
We have the worst teenage pregnancy record in Europe. The Government must do something about it and take steps to reduce it. A much easier and cheaper supply of contraceptives needs to be available. The Government have moved in the wrong direction by putting some contraceptives on the limited list and making it harder for people to get them.
General practitioners and family planning clinics have a vital role to play in providing a cheap and easy supply of contraceptives. The service should be guaranteed confidential. I do not see why teenagers have to see their GP. They should be given contraception if they ask for it. It should be free to all teenagers, but certainly to school pupils under the age of 16.
Sex education needs to be dramatically improved. We need to get away from the priggishness with which the matter has been treated. Of course it is necessary to teach restraint and responsibility, but young people must be given knowledge. As Nicki Pope said in the article in Today, we need a comprehensive family planning service open in out-of-school hours. That should be in addition to improved GP and family planning services.
I am grateful to the House for the opportunity to say those few words.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) on managing to get in towards the end of the debate to make his excellent speech.
When the hon.Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) rose to make his contribution to what has been a wide-ranging debate, I slightly misheard him. When he referred to his right hon. Friend the Member for Westminster, North (Sir J. Wheeler), I thought that he was talking about graves. I thought that he was about to make a speech about the three 15p cemeteries. That would have been an unusual topic for the hon. Gentleman, but he went on to talk about not graves but raves. He has picked the right debate and the right member of the Government to address his remarks to, because if anyone can organise all-night raves, it is the Leader of the House. Since Christmas we have been treated to all-night raves on Maastricht and when we return after Easter we shall be able to have all-night raves on the Finance Bill as well. That is something that we are all looking forward to after the short break that Easter affords us.
One of the common themes in the debate has been a matter raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). Indeed, the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) also referred to it. It is the difficulty of getting replies to correspondence from the Prime Minister.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall), who followed the hon. Member for Corby, said that now that the matter has been raised in the debate the hon. Member can be sure of getting a reply from the Prime Minister. I am not certain that that is so. My own experience has been as disappointing as that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton and my hon. Friend the Member for Tooting.
I remember writing on two occasions to the previous leader of the Conservative party, the last Prime Minister, about shipbuilding issues in east Newcastle and procurement issues on Tyneside. I received a very full reply from her on both occasions. Indeed, she did me and my then hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend, Mr. Ted Garrett, the courtesy of seeing us at one of the crucial moments in a procurement campaign after Prime Minister's questions. I appreciated that very much, particularly in view of the enormous calls on the Prime Minister's time.
However, since the change in the leadership of the Conservative party, my right hon. and hon. Friends—and I suspect that the experience of Conservative Members is the same—have been getting a letter from the Prime Minister's office thanking us for our letters and promising to reply shortly. But we never get the reply.
I have written to the Prime Minister on two occasions, again about industrial matters in the constituency, and I have had the acknowledgement but not the follow up. I am saddened to hear that my experience has been echoed by a substantial number of hon. Members who have taken part in this debate. I hope that by mentioning it from the Opposition Dispatch Box I contribute to the hon. Member for Corby's getting a reply to his letter.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Gorton raised a specific list of constituency cases and correspondence to which he was not getting replies from agencies that come under the general tutelage, or are the responsibility of, the Department of Social Security and the Department of Health. What has been said about the difficulty of getting replies from some of the agencies under the Department of Social Security has been echoed throughout the House. It is now a common complaint that we cannot get our constituency cases dealt with. I hope that the Leader of the House will take note of what has been said and will encourage his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whether in France or in this country, to address the matters that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) referred to the way that Trafford is being poorly treated under the health authority's capital programme. I certainly hope that his remarks are listened to with sympathy by those on his own Front Bench, not least because, as he candidly pointed out to the House, he is my pair and obviously I wish his representations well.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to persistent juvenile offenders and cited a case from Tyneside. The issue is now probably the largest single cause of surgery work for me on Tyneside, and I suspect that that is true for other hon. Members with Tyneside constituencies. When I was elected to this place in 1983, it was very unusual for a constituent to come to the surgery and raise a question relating to crime or the justice system. Now things are quite different. It is either the largest or, given social security issues, the second largest cause of concern.
The issue is always the same: it is repeat offending by juveniles that cannot be contained by the system. It is dispiriting for the judiciary, especially magistrates, but also for the police officers, who are arresting and rearresting the same people and then seeing them go back into the community and reoffend. The position clearly requires review and I cannot stress too strongly the strength of feeling on Tyneside—I have no doubt in other inner-city areas as well—about this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser) raised the question of access to the legal profession, meaning entry into the profession, and made the case for mandatory grants for the final part of the professional exams. It is demonstrably the case that ethnic minorities, people from working-class backgrounds and, indeed, women are under-represented in the profession, and that the mandatory awarding of grants, particularly if they could be awarded in such a way as to redress that balance, would go some way towards solving the problem. My hon. Friend spoke knowledgeably about the subject, and I think that his remarks found an echo on both sides of the House.
The hon. Member for Corby returned to a theme that I remember him raising before Christmas—atrocities in Yugoslavia. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting spoke again, as he did before the Christmas recess, about the situation in Kashmir. I thought that his contribution to that debate was most moving, and he is doing the whole House a service by returning to the topic now, in particular in referring to the human rights violations in Kashmir. Perhaps that issue is not raised as often as it should be in the House, and my hon. Friend is right to remind us again just how serious the situation is and how many people are affected by it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South followed the hon. Member for Corby in talking about the situation in Yugoslavia, and then went on to say how deeply offended his constituents were by the pretty wide-ranging breach of election promises by the Conservative party. He listed a large number of them, but it was not a comprehensive list by any means. The party which was committed to membership of the exchange rate mechanism, which gave a clear pledge that value added tax would not be increased and that the base would not be extended and which said it was committed to reducing direct taxation has now managed to put an extra penny on national insurance. The penny on national insurance is more regressive in its effects than a penny on income tax. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Luton, North is heckling me to say 1 per cent., which is a penny in the pound.
The 1 per cent. on national insurance is more of an advantage to the 20 per cent. of top earners than a similar increase in income tax would have been, whereas for the next 50 per cent. the position is relatively worse. And, of course, the eventual imposition of value added tax on fuel is undoubtedly the most regressive route that the Government could have taken to deal with the problem that they themselves created of the budget deficit.
I remember that before the general election—as my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South remembers—the Conservative party leaders, those running their election campaign, added all our election pledges together, put them all into the first year, rounded up the potential cost, and told the electorate that Labour would cost them £20 per week. It was not true then, and they knew that it was not true, but they alleged it. They never said anything about their costing the average family £8·50 per week.
What is perhaps most galling is that, although it was said before the election that the Labour party was the party of increased taxation, after the election the Financial Secretary, who seems to be showing increasing signs of strain, says that the Labour party has no policies for dealing with the budget deficit. It is not possible for the Conservative party to have it both ways. It is possible to allege either that we would cost everybody £20 a week, or that we would have no way of raising money to reduce the deficit, but it does not seem fair to make both points.
The hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) spoke about the red terror that had pertained there and the debt that the local authority had inherited from what he described as an eastern bloc type regime. He made it absolutely clear that massive debt was a bad thing. Of course, his remarks were addressed to the Opposition, but they should have been addressed to the Conservative party, and particularly to the Government.
The position in Basildon was obviously so bad that the hon. Gentleman decided to purchase a Hoover in the hope of getting airline tickets to flee to the United States of America, and no doubt freedom in the west. To make certain of getting his tickets, he appears to have encouraged all his relatives to purchase Hoovers so that he could be absolutely sure of being able to flee the country. I can understand his disappointment at having a collection of instruments for cleaning carpets, but no airline tickets.
However, it is a serious point and there has been widespread outrage at the way in which the offer has gone sour. It is the duty of the company that made the original promotion, although I always thought it implausible, to provide the airline tickets it had promised. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on that narrow point, though he is about to be the beneficiary of a permanent criss-crossing of the Atlantic. I suppose that that is better than his coming here and telling us about Basildon, but that depends on one's point of view.
It has been a wide-ranging debate; serious and lighter matters have been raised and there is much for the Leader of the House to respond to. When he responded to the debate before Christmas, the Leader of the House, who needs no lessons in guile, concentrated on one or two key points at considerable length and then ran out of time. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give us a more wide-ranging and positive response to the points that my hon. Friends have raised. If he can do nothing else, perhaps I can ask him on behalf of all hon. Members to find some way of persuading the Prime Minister to answer his correspondence.
Perhaps resent is rather a strong word for the relatively relaxed occasion such as this evening's debate when we discuss at some length whether we should have a holiday, with large numbers of hon. Members declaring their undying devotion to not having holidays and praying that the Leader of the House will not accept their representations and will withdraw the motion.
Do you want a holiday, Mr. Deputy Speaker? If I may say so, you probably deserve one more than the rest of us and certainly more than some hon. Members here today, not all of whom were here all night on the various occasions recently. May I ask whether the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) was here all night?
He is one Essex man who went back to Essex. I am not sure whether to say we are pleased to see him here, but at one stage I feared that there was about to be a House of Commons punch-up between Thurrock and Basildon. Perhaps the greatest compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) was that as soon as he got to his feet, his neighbour, the hon. Member for Thurrock, came scurrying into the Chamber—no doubt to find out what stir he had been creating.
What I resented slightly was being accused of filibuster or guile to avoid answering questions. I can see what is coming down the path now, but if there is any sense of that, one of the reasons for it—I am sure that it is subconscious—is that there is no debate more calculated to produce in the person who is supposed to be answering it some sense of his own inadequacy in that he is expected to be an expert in the course of a few minutes on legal education, contraception for the young, Kashmir, raves, gipsies, international criminal courts, rural affairs, the hospitals at Altrincham and Sale, not to mention the affairs of Basildon in their various guises.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell), I would miss these debates. That is not to be taken as an instant reaction to his suggestions about a particular recommendation of the Jopling report, but undoubtedly they provide an opportunity for a wide range of subjects to be raised and it is a matter of interest both to the Leader of the House and to those who have the good fortune to attend the debates.
I shall say a word about the speeches in the order in which they were made. First, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman), who courteously told the House that he would not be able to be here at the end of the debate, made a fairly general attack on the way in which agencies and Ministers had been dealing with some of the constituency cases that he had put to them.
As I said to him then and repeat now, given that he did not identify the particular cases that he raised, the only sensible course is for me to undertake to look into them or to ask my right hon. Friends to look into them and I shall do that.
I resist the right hon. Gentleman's general proposition that there is any suggestion of the introduction of agencies or that people should deal with the chief executives of agencies on matters on which they have day-to-day responsibility. There is no question of altering the fact that Ministers remain accountable to the House to deliver the services under the aegis of their Departments. Those chief executives are accountable to the Secretary of State and the Secretary of State is accountable to the House and that should be absolutely clear.
We all accept that there have been particular difficulties arising from the disability living allowance, which was the focus of many of the right hon. Gentleman's cases. That was because it was a new benefit giving hundreds of millions of pounds of additional help to hundreds of thousands of people and it proved to be a very large task to get the new system into operation in the way that people would like. Against that background, my own experience in dealing with local benefit agency people is that they give very prompt, courteous and helpful replies and that should be firmly placed on record.
I was the Secretary of State when the Benefits Agency was created, as I recall. Nevertheless, I am recording my experience in recent times as a Member of Parliament dealing with the benefits agencies on my own constituency cases. I gather from the reaction of my hon. Friends that they share my experience.
We heard a substantial speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) about the saga of his hopes, first, for a district hospital and then for a community hospital in his constituency, during which I had an uneasy feeling that, quite apart from my incarnation in the Department of Social Security, I must have been Minister for Health during part of the time over which his story extended.
I do not remember specific issues coming to me at that time, but I well understand the anxieties that my hon. Friend expressed and I was glad to be told in the excellent briefing that I received during the debate that my hon. Friend is due to have a meeting with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health towards the end of April. Meanwhile, I will draw the points that he raised tonight to her attention so that she will have a good idea of the agenda for the meeting when it takes place.
My hon. Friend also made a number of points about juvenile offenders, which were echoed by a number of hon. Members. I read the story in the Daily Mail about the 14-year-old boy and I accept that considerable public concern has been expressed about some recent cases. I am sure that my hon. Friend would readily accept, however, that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has already acknowledged and sought to respond to that concern with the proposals that he announced in the House recently.
My hon. Friend, in common with my hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), also adverted to more recent proposals from the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for the Environment about illegal raves and illegal camping. I appreciate the concern that those activities cause and the understandable pressure for us to proceed as fast as possible to translate those proposals into legislation. I know that a number of hon. Members who are not present share that concern. I thank my hon. Friends for recognising what has been done to bring forward the proposals. In common with many others, I have had the constituency experience of illegal encampments and the upset that they can cause. I, too, am concerned that we should legislate as quickly as we reasonably can.
The hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) referred again, as he did in our debate at Christmas, to Kashmir. In a debate in which there has been endless reference to undelivered or unsent letters, the hon. Gentleman was kind enough to say that, in the wake of his speech at Christmas, he had received an extensive letter from one of the Ministers at the Foreign and Comonwealth Office. I shall do my best to ensure that his references today to Kashmir are similarly followed by some missive.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby also made an extremely impressive speech during that Christmas debate when he expressed his concern about international war crimes. Unfortunately, he did not hear anything following that debate. I shall ensure that my hon. Friends and I do rather better for him this time and that he receives some comments on his significant request for acknowledging the importance of making progress in this respect. I noted his commendation of the Canadian Administration, who have made resources available to pave the way for the action that my hon. Friend desires.
I have passed by the remarks of the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser)—by accident, I assure him—about legal education and discretionary and mandatory grants. I should declare an interest because I have a daughter who recently graduated who is currently undertaking a course of precisely, I suspect, the kind that the hon. Gentleman described. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that Law Society finals courses are postgraduate and, as the law stands, they cannot attract a mandatory award. Although the trend of local authority expenditure on discretionary awards rose up to 1991—the latest year for which returns are available—there have been suggestions, including those contained in a survey by the College of Law to which the hon. Gentleman referred, that the number of such awards has declined. That survey, however, also revealed that almost half the students who applied for an LEA discretionary award have received some assistance. We would be wrong to exaggerate the problem and the difficulties to which the hon. Gentleman referred. Variation in provision between LEAs is bound to arise in a discretionary system that was designed to provide a degree of flexibility. I assure the hon. Gentleman that the Department for Education is monitoring the situation carefully. I shall ensure, however, that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has his attention drawn to the hon. Gentleman's remarks.
The hon. Member for Leicester, South (Mr. Marshall) set out to raise the political temperature, as did his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown), rather higher than I think is appropriate in a debate of this kind. The hon. Member for Leicester, South tempted me—the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East even more so—to provide a full list of all the excellent things that have happened on this very day, 1 April 1993. Today is the day on which our community care reforms come into effect, aided by £565 million of ring-fenced money; 139 new NHS trusts become operational; the number of doctors in fund-holding practices has doubled to 6,000; the council tax has come into effect to provide a much fairer basis either than the rates or the community charge for raising local revenue; 155 more schools have become grant maintained; and all 480 further education and sixth-form colleges, including some very good institutions in my constituency, have become independent of local authority control.
Without attempting to mix it with those hon. Gentlemen, I am not prepared to listen to their suggestions that this has been other than a period in which much fruitful activity has been undertaken which will benefit people.
The hon. Gentleman can do what he likes, but I can tell him that there is widespread support throughout the country for each and every one of the developments to which I have referred. The very fact that he felt it right to intervene with such a comment shows how out of touch the Opposition are with what people want. Even after nearly 14 years in office, it is the Conservative party that is setting the real agenda for political debate.