Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday 23rd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd June; and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 23rd May until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.—[Mr. Donald Thompson.]
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)
I begin this spring Adjournment debate by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House on injecting an extra dimension of excitement, mystery and suspense into what might otherwise be a traditional and somewhat moribund debate. I refer to my right hon. Friend's broadcast on London Weekend Television yesterday, which some have seen as a titillating trailer to our proceedings this evening, of which his reply will be the main feature.
My only comment on my right hon. Friend's broadcast is that it reminded me of the ambiguous pronoucements of the oracle of Delphi. The House will recall that the oracle's most famous piece of advice was "Stick to your wooden walls." Half the citizens of Athens interpreted that as a recommendation to hunker down in their wooden bunkers while the other half went fleeing to their wooden-hulled ships. I suspect that the Tory party, like the ancient Athenians, will be equally divided in its reaction to our newest oracle's pronouncement. However, my right hon. Friend always has the gift of being stimulating.
There was one passage in my right hon. Friend's speech which riveted my attention and which I should like to take as my text, as it is said in ecclesiastical circles, for my remarks this evening. The words of my right hon. Friend which caught my attention were:There is no harm for the Tory party from time to time to remember that the language and the outlook of conservation is as valid in its traditions as reform and radicalism.That is an admirable sentiment and one which is being implemented to some extent by the Government. The outlook of conservation is definitely being applied gradually to modern farming and the efforts of the green tendency are winning the argument against those who want ever-increasing production of higher and higher grain mountains.
I suggest, too, in the light of recent events, that the language of conservation should be applied to our nuclear energy programme. In spite of the excellent safety record of our nuclear industry, it is insensitive to declare that we shall embark on a massive extension of nuclear power in the 1990s. We know that 25 per cent. of our national energy needs will come from nuclear power once the present power stations which are now in use or under construction are on stream. We should be sensitive to the public's understandable horror of the consequences of nuclear accidents. However remote the possibility of nuclear accidents may be, some residue of fear will remain. It is time to pause and let the language and outlook of conservation have its head in nuclear matters.
My right hon. Friend will not be entirely surprised to learn that my principal argument this evening is that the language and outlook of conservation should be applied to the Channel tunnel project. The Channel tunnel is fast becoming an albatross around the Government's neck. It is not necessary to be an Ancient Mariner to know that the Bill is already marooned on procedural difficulties. Many people in Kent are incensed at the injustice that has been 498 done to them by the Government's headlong rush to support the big business consortium's interests at the expense of the wider public interest and the many private interests, businesses and individuals that will be affected. The punters in the City are nervously putting their hands back into their pockets because the hot favourite looks more and more like a financial loser as the true figures come out and the Bill faces death by several hundred amendments and several thousand petitions.
Let me return for a moment to the language and outlook of conservation on the Channel tunnel. After all, that was the language used by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport when he first introduced the project. My right hon. Friend, stressing the Government's neutrality and willingness to see fair play, said:I do not want hon. Member to think that we have pre-judged the issues. When they have had time to study the guidelines, they will recognise my concern to ensure that there is adequate public consultation, that environmental, social and employment impacts are fully appreciated and that the financial conditions are fully met."—[Official Report, 2 April 1985; Vol. 76, c. 1078.]Those words have not been met by the facts that have followed them.
There was an understandable degree of doubt whether we should have a public inquiry on this issue. I would have welcomed a shortened form of public inquiry of the sort envisaged by the late Anthony Crosland when he had the stewardship of an earlier Channel tunnel project. Be that as it may, the Government decided upon the hybrid Bill procedure, and some of the hearings will be held locally as a way of carrying out public consultations. The Government gave an undertaking to follow the precedent of the Channel Tunnel Bill 1974 in the same way.
In the debate on 9 December, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said:If the House gives the Bill a Second Reading, it will be committed to a Select Committee to hear and consider petitions. The Bill will already have been advertised; anyone who has an objection to it will have an opportunity to petition against it and, subject to his petition being accepted by the Committee, he will appear and present his case to the Select Committee. Subject: to the rulings of the Select Committee, I would expect that those eligible would include individuals whose private interests are affected—those representing local trades, businesses and other local interests which may be adversely affected, those representing amenity, ecology, educational and recreational interests who believe that their interests are adversely affected to a material degree, and local authorities in any affected areas.My right hon. Friend added:This is a substantial and thorough procedure which ensures that the public have the widest oportunity to make representations as petitioners to the two Select Committees."—[Official Report, 9 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 645.]My purpose in intervening in this debate is to press my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, with the help of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I hope, to ensure that the Government line up to the words of the Secretary of State. So far public consultation on this issue has been negligible to the point of being almost insulting. We know that 20,000 pages of documents were assessed in fewer than 35 working days by civil servants working in secret. There was excessive secrecy surrounding the entire project. Only the Channel Tunnel Group, or Eurochannel, as we must learn to call it, has had its figures published. The Government's own figures have not been published. As a result, the White Paper is full of statistical garbage. For example, paragraph 42 deals with the effect on employment in Kent. It contains wildly optimistic figures, which are in complete contradiction to all the 499 other figures that are available from other sources. In my constituency, Ramsgate—Britain's second largest Channel port—is completely ignored in the White Paper. The jobs that will be lost there are avoided by selectively picking out the Channel ports of Dover and Folkestone, which are somehow the subject of more optimistic forecasts than the other Channel ports.
The most most worrying feature of all is that the Government, through their parliamentary agent, published a draft timetable of the proceedings on the Bill. It stated that the Select Committee would begin its work on 17 June and finish its hearings on 24 July. That timetable, which was circulated by the Government to interested parties in Kent, was greeted with consternation. At that point, the Standing Orders Committee was asked to grant a dispensation to the Government for violating Standing Orders.
It is no part of my case to argue that the Standing Orders Committee's decision should be pre-judged. That is a matter for the Committee. I am saying that the Government should step in at an early stage to ensure that fair play is seen to take place. It would be a travesty of justice if the Select Committee's proceedings were to be shorter than those which normally take place in considering any other private Bill. It would be a travesty if the proceedings were to be shorter than those envisaged for the previous Channel Tunnel Bill. The idea that the measure can be railroaded through in a short time is inimical to the traditions of fair play in the passage of private Bills, and I see no reason why an exception should be made in this instance.
The time has come for the wiser heads in the Government, among whom I now number my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House who espouses the language and outlook of conservation, to remember the famous dictum of a great Conservative, Viscount Falkland, who said:When it is not necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.I suggest that that rubric should be applied to the Channel tunnel project.
§ 7.9 pm
§ Mr. Roy Hughes (Newport, East)
Before we adjourn for the Whitsun recess, I should like to draw the House's attention to the announcement by British Rail on 22 February, which outlined proposals for a major reorganisation of freight services throughout south Wales.
It would be a misnomer to call the proposals a reorganisation. It is a decimation of the service—Serpel in disguise. Matters are even more disturbing because the Secretary of State for Wales and the Secretary of State for Transport seem to be so little concerned about the drastic proposals. On 26 March, we had a full day's debate on transport infrastructure in Wales in the Welsh Grand Committee, during which the Secretary of State for Wales failed even to mention this important issue until I drew it to his attention. Likewise, during the debate on the Floor of the House on transport on 22 April, the Secretary of State for Transport, despite fulsome praise for Sir Robert Reid, the chairman of BR, did not mention BR's drastic proposals for south Wales, which would have a catastrophic effect on freight services there. I should like to draw attention to the proposed closure of the Severn 500 tunnel junction. More than 400 jobs would be lost there but it has been suggested that more then 200 employees could be found alternative work elsewhere. Well informed reports cast doubt on that assessment. It is the biggest marshalling facility in the western region, which serves south Wales and the west country. Suggesting the closure of such a valuable facility calls into question whether BR wants to remain in the freight business. The proposals are the language of defeatism. If implemented, they would continue the spiral of decline from which our rail network has suffered for so long.
Road transport is now the main means of conveying goods and people. At times, that leads to environmental problems. There is nothing more nauseating to me than seeing large coal lorries trudging up and down our south Wales valleys. Such bulk traffic rightly belongs to rail. Much of the coal from the Gwent pits for the Central Electricity Generating Board's Uskmouth power station is now transported by road. Before the miners' strike, almost all of it went by rail. Many road vehicles transport coal from the Welsh pits to the CEGB's power station in England, mainly Didcot via the M4. That can only harm the image of road haulage. It will certainly increase the power and influence of the environmental lobby.
I should also like to draw attention to an accident that was recently reported in the press. A young woman was killed in north Wales by a 91b piece of metal casing from a cat's eye which smashed through the windscreen of her car. Surveyors in south Wales have recently spotted scores of studs that need replacing, having been dislodged by coal lorries. A full investigation and the utmost vigilance are required.
Those examples show how unwise it is to convey large quantities of coal by road. It has been alleged that this is a means of penalising railmen for supporting the miners in the recent struggle. If so, it is very short-sighted. The sooner coal is put back on rail, the better, but if that were likely, BR would not be speculating about closing such an important facility as the Severn tunnel junction.
Over the years, there have been many twists and turns in BR's policy on siting installations. Current proposals fly in the face of earlier decisions. A few years ago, BR made a song and dance about closing the Ebbw bridge facility at Newport in my constituency. It said that it would concentrate at Severn tunnel junction. Now the movement is in the opposite direction. Serious environmental problems are assocated with the proposal to transfer to the east Usk depot in Newport. BR will have to handle many dangerous goods and the public will be apprehensive about that happening in the heart of a heavily populated area.
There have been doubts about the efficiency of BR's freight service. For months before the announcement of reorganisation, local railmen, through their trade union representatives, drew my attention to the shortage of wagons. I have raised the matter with the Secretary of State for Transport and with the chairman of BR. I am sorry to say that the replies have not allayed the anxieties of BR employees.
As for the effect on the local community of closing the Severn tunnel junction, it should be remembered that villages such as Rogiet, Undy, Magor and the small town of Caldicot have grown up with the railway industry. Mr. W. C. Winter, the clerk to Rogiet community council, wrote to me on 24 March saying that the proposals 501will affect fifty seven homes in our small community either with husbands or sons—and in some families both—having to find work in an area without much prospect of any.Their prospects would not be good, to say the least. The heavily Conservative-controlled Monmouth district council told me on 15 April that it had written in the strongest possible terms to the chairman of BR opposing the proposals. It said that it had drawn attention to the effect on local employment and expressed its anxiety about the detrimental effect of such a closure on rail freight operations in south Wales.
Newport borough council wrote to the chairman of BR on 23 April drawing attention to local efforts to attract new enterprises by emphasising communications and freight movement facilities, of which the Severn tunnel junction is a major part. The council believes that the Severn tunnel junction, with its large acreage in open country, could play a major part in development work on the Channel tunnel.
Gwent county council has taken a similar stand, and has also drawn attention to the nearby century-old Severn tunnel. From a safety standpoint it considers that rail operations at Severn tunnel junction must continue, particularly in order to deal with a major tragedy in the tunnel.
I urge the Leader of the House to prevail upon the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss these matters with the chairman of British Rail at the earliest possible opportunity. Likewise, the British Rail management would he wise to get around the table with the trade unions involved to devise a strategy to win back freight traffic for rail. But first British Rail should discard the absurd proposals announced on 22 February.
Mr. Ian Crow (Eastbourne)
Thursday of this week marks the six-month anniversary of the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement, and although the House had a two-day debate on the subject on 26 and 27 November last year, there has been no opportunity for a debate on Northern Ireland since then. I therefore take this opportunity to reflect on the experience of the first six months of the agreement and to put some questions to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House.
It was in no way surprising that this House, with a very large majority in favour of the Anglo-Irish agreement, joined with the Government, as I did, in seeking peace, stability and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The first six months since the signing of the agreement have not been auspicious. In fashioning the agreement the Government's view that was of prime importance was the fact that it should be acceptable to the minority in Northern Ireland, and I have no doubt that it was broadly acceptable to the minority.
However, the Government overlooked the extent to which the Anglo-Irish agreement was massively unacceptable to the majority in Northern Ireland. I remind my right hon. Friend of the provisions of the Scotland Act and Wales Act 1978. He will remember that Parliament then agreed that Scotland and Wales should be governed differently from the way in which they had been governed in the past. But the Government of the day, as well as this House and another place, decided that before Scotland and Wales were to be governed differently, the approval of this House and another place was not all that was necessary. It was also judged that the opinion of those directly 502 affected—those who live in Scotland an Wales—should be sought, and referendums were held in both Scotland and Wales.
A high test of acceptability was set by Parliament. It was whether 40 per cent. of the electorate—not of those voting—gave their assent to being governed in a different way. But the wise precedent set in the Scotland and Wales Acts was not followed in the case of Northern Ireland. I think that even my right hon. Friend will have no doubt that, had that precedent been followed in Northern Ireland, the result among the electrate would have been nowhere near 40 per cent. In fashioning the Anglo-Irish agreement, I believe that the Government made a major error by ignoring the wishes of the majority and concentrating only on the perceived desire of the minority.
It is not possible to govern one part of this kingdom differently from the way in which it has been governed before, and differently from the way in which we govern the rest of the kingdom, save with the consent of the majority in that part of the kingdom that is to be governed differently.
When they presented the Anglo-Irish agreement to the House, the Government claimed that it was a great step forward because for the first time the Government of the Irish Republic had acknowledged that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland, save with the consent of a majority of people in Northern Ireland. But there has been a change in status by the fashioning of this agreement. No one would argue that since 15 November Northern Ireland has been governed in the same way as it had been previously. Therefore, a change in status has taken place—not as part of Her Majesty's dominions but in the sense that Northern Ireland is governed differently.
That is only a minor part of the argument that I am now developing. It is not correct to say, as has been said from the Opposition Front Bench, that it was novel for the Government of the Irish Republic to acknowledge that there could be no change in status, save with the consent of a majority in Northern Ireland. The right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees), a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, is in the Chamber and will disagree with me if I have got it wrong. But it will be remembered that the communiqué issued after the Sunningdale conference stated specifically and in the most solemn terms that the Government of the Irish Republic acknowledged that there could be no change in the status of Northern Ireland, save with the consent of the majority. The communiqué also recorded the fact that the text of that undertaking from the Government of the Irish Republic would be registered at the United Nations, in exactly the same way as it was agreed that the Anglo-Irish agreement should be registered at the United Nations.
These are dangerous times in Northern Ireland. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have wisely said that they will operate the Anglo-Irish agreement sensitively. I wish to make four specific suggestions as to how the agreement can be operated with greater sensitivity.
First, it is quite unnecessary for the secretariat that staffs the intergovernmental conference to be situated in Belfast. The secretariat that is now housed in the Province has to be guarded. In a way, it is a fortress. It would be much more sensible to move it from Belfast to London.
503 Secondly, it is not necessary, and there is no such provision in the Anglo-Irish agreement, for meetings of the intergovernmental conference at ministerial level to be held in Belfast. I welcome the fact that last week's meeting—the fifth—was held in London. That was a step forward. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to say that it is intended that future meetings should be held in London rather than in Belfast.
Thirdly, article 3 of the agreement states that there shall beRegular and frequent Ministerial meetings".Mercifully, there is no definition of either "regular" or "frequent". It could be said that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is a regular and frequent appearer on television, but that might mean once every three months, once every six months, once every nine months or even weekly. I welcome the fact that there is no such definition in the agreement. However, a somewhat extended definition of "regular and frequent" would be to the advantage of the situation in Northern Ireland, particularly at this time.
My fourth suggestion relates to the meetings of the intergovernmental conference. In the past, the chief of police of the Republic and the Chief Constable of the RUC have been present at those meetings. There is every reason to welcome the closest possible co-operation in the struggle against terrorism between both parts of the island of Ireland, and between the chief of police of the Garda and the Chief Constable of the RUC. However, it is unnecessary for those meetings to take place within the framework of the intergovernmental conference. Indeed, it would be much more desirable and it would in no way diminish the efficiency of those meetings if the two chiefs of police met separately and not within the framework of the intergovernmental conference.
As I have said before, I hope that Unionist Members who represent Northern Ireland constituencies will take their place in the House and, in the full sense, in the proceedings of Parliament. In the months ahead, I hope that the Government will understand—they understand this barely—how deep is the resentment at the signing of the Anglo-Irish agreement on the part of the great majority of people of Northern Ireland. The degree of hostility and resentment to the agreement six months after it was signed is no less than it was on 15 November 1985. I hope that the Government will show a deeper understanding of the feelings of the people of Northern Ireland, and I welcome this opportunity of putting those thoughts to my right hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)
I listened to the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) with care, and I can agree enthusiastically with his plea that Unionist Members rejoin us in the House to play their full part in representing that unhappy and difficult Province.
I wish to draw attention to the question of safety in our older Magnox nuclear power stations, on which we must have assurances before the House goes into recess. I do so in the light of the Chernobyl disaster, but not as a result of it. The issue is not new to me, but one which I have been pursuing with the Central Electricity Generating Board, the nuclear installations inspectorate and the Government during the past 10 months—long before the Chernobyl 504 disaster and the string of three accidents at Hinkley Point close to my constituency, one of which resulted in anti-radiation pills being issued in Britain for only the second time.
Nevertheless, it is curious to see the reactions to the Chernobyl disaster. The Government claim that the public is over-reacting, whereas the public largely sees the Government as complacent in the face of a tragedy of which the reality was terrible enough, bin of which the potential was apocalyptic.
I can see the need not to encourage over-reaction, but I have more sympathy with the public on this matter than with the Government. I have come to believe that both the Government and the nuclear industry have shown a degree of complacency over safety in our older Magnox power stations which is extremely worrying.
It is true that British nuclear power stations are much safer than their Soviet equivalents of the same age, but are they safe enough? It is true that our system is much more open, thank goodness, than the Soviet system, but is it sufficiently open in the light of the risks that we face?
We should recognise that there are many similarities between our older Magnox power stations and the Chernobyl reactor. Our seven Magnox stations, which have a total of 18 reactors, are moderated by a graphite core of the same type as that which caught fire with such devastating effects at Chernobyl. A minor leak in a Magnox reactor can generate hydrogen, which is thought to be the cause of the Chernobyl explosion. Many believe that the hydrogen dispersal systems in our older Magnox reactors cannot cope with the large quantities of hydrogen caused by a malfunction, just as appears to have happened at Chernobyl.
It is a chilling thought that in some ways our Magnox reactors may be less safe than the Chernobyl reactor which, being a modern power station, incorporated a number of safety measures not even invented when our Magnox reactors were constructed. Contrary to the misinformation cleverly put about, our Magnox stations have no secondary containment systems, whereas the Chernobyl station had two. Major loops in the radioactive gas coolant systems of our Magnox stations are exposed outside the reactor vessel, whereas all the circuits at Chernobyl were encased inside the containment system. Our Magnox stations have suffered considerably from bellows problems, but no such thing has occurred at Chernobyl. Most important, the design of the circuits which control the Magnox reactor are such that the primary and all emergency shutdown systems can be knocked out at the same time in certain circumstances, for example, if there is a breach in the containment vessel, such as occurred at Chernobyl. In those circumstances, a reactor would be left without instrumentation or a positive means of control in an emergency.
In addition, Magnox stations have suffered from corrosion, sufficiently worrying for the nuclear installations inspectorate to derate the reactors by 17 per cent. some 15 years ago. The corrosion continues. More recently I have been informed that some of the fuel-loading standpipes in our Magnox stations are buckling to such an extent that it is proving difficult to get fuel rods in and out. Apparently, no one yet knows the precise reason for that.
There is a difference of opinion about whether Chernobyl, one of the Soviet Union's most modern power stations, would receive a licence to operate in Britain. 505 Some say that it would, others say that it would not, and I believe that it would not. However, there is no doubt about the fact that our older Magnox stations would not be licensed to operate in Britain, were they to be considered for that today.
Chernobyl should also have shattered another of our comfortable illusions—that the scale of a nuclear accident will be relatively limited. The tragedy in the Ukraine has shown that our previous calculations about disasters are woefully and, probably, dangerously inadequate. The most recent National Radiological Protection Board study, NRPB-R 137 of 1982, predicted that a Chernobyl-type disaster could lead to a gas cloud no more than 75 km in length. The Chernobyl gas cloud was 1,500 km long. The same report made it clear that a radioactive release under circumstances similar to Chernobyl would not last longer than 10 hours and, perhaps, as little as half an hour. The Chernobyl release of radioactivity continued for eight days. Despite those inaccurate predictions, the NRPB has calculated that a 1 per cent. core melt-down—about the same as at Chernobyl—would result in about 10 times as many deaths in Britain as in the USSR because of our much denser population. Given the scale of the tragedy at Chernobyl, that is a chilling thought. However, it should not be surprising, as the Severn valley contains both the highest concentration of nuclear power in the world and the homes of about 8 million people.
Our present emergency planning to cope with nuclear accidents as now revealed would be laughable were it not so potentially tragic. The effects of the Chernobyl disaster were felt more than 1,000 miles away, yet the emergency plan for Hinkley Point stops dead at 2.2 miles from the station perimeter fence. That is extraordinary, but true.
The inadequacies of our older Magnox power stations are not limited to what might happen but also to what is happening. NRPB figures show that, the four oldest stations, Berkeley, Bradwell, Hunterston and Hinkley Point, give the highest dose of radiation every day to their workers and the public. Indeed, Berkeley, the worst of the four, exposes members of the public who live closest to it to double the level of radiation suggested as the maximum by the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
In the light of the facts, one would imagine that the Government would take seriously the 20-year safety reviews being conducted on the older Magnox stations. Unhappily, this does not appear to be the case. Not one of these reviews, which were regarded as essential by the original designers of Magnox, has yet been completed, despite the fact that some of the power stations concerned—for instance, Bradwell and Berkeley—reached the 20-year point four years ago. I am informed that there are simply not sufficient inspectors conducting the reviews to enable them to be done thoroughly and within a reasonably short time. These numbers have been depleted even further by the inquiry team that the Government have put together to look into Sellafield's problems.
I have written to the Secretary of State and to the nuclear installations inspectorate over the past months asking for a sign of when the reviews will be completed, but no answer has been forthcoming. Surely, in the light of the Chernobyl tragedy, the Government must now put some emphasis behind these reviews and at least give a target date by which they should be completed.
506 Worse than that, repeated questions to the Secretary of State asking him to publish the details and results of these reviews when they are known have also been met with refusals. How can we criticise the Soviet Union for secrecy when the result of these essential reviews are also to be kept secret? I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that the Secretary of State for Energy will give an undertaking to the House before the recess that these details will be published as soon as they are known. If he will not do this, will he at least explain why there reeds to be secrecy over such an important matter?
As important as secrecy, however, are the standards by which we shall judge the safety of our older power stations. One would imagine that, in the light of Chernobyl, safety should be judged exclusively on what is necessary. Unhappily, this is far from the case. It appears that only that which is deemed by the CEGB—not the nuclear installations inspectorate—to be credible, practical and not too costly will be done.
In a letter to me of 28 February 1986, the chief inspector of the NII said:It is only in situations where we wish the CEGB to do more than they consider to be reasonably practicable that the detailed costs and the likely benefits become a matter for discussion.This means that the safety standards that we are applying are governed not by what is necessary but by what is not too expensive. Do the Government still find that to be an acceptable standard, after Chernobyl? Later in the same letter in a response to a question from me about why we did not modify our older power stations in the light of recent best practice, the chief inspector said that the extent to which safetyis achieved will be different for old plant and for new, as in other fields where improvements in safety measures, such as the introduction of seat belts in motor cars are phased in over a period.Nuclear safety cannot be treated on the same basis as seat belts in cars.
In normal circumstances, engineering standards progress through design, modified by error. However, as Chernobyl has shown, in nuclear engineering there can be no error, so we must adopt a different practice. In nuclear engineering, safety must be an absolute standard, not a relative one. If we learn that new safety measures are required, they should be applied to existing power stations, not kept in the cupboard only to be incorporated when new power stations are built.
The bargain that nuclear power offers us is the kind of bargain offered to Faust, only we are asked to exchange unlimited power for the integrity not of our souls but of our environment. I have the gravest doubt whether mankind should accept that bargain and I am certain that we in Britain, uniquely, do not have to. Whatever one's views on that, no one doubts that the nuclear power stations that we have should he as safe as possible.
In the light of the terrible tragedy that has taken place in the Ukraine, I ask the Government now to do what I have been pressing them to do for months and recognise that our older Magnox stations, such as Hinkley Point, give us no cause for complacency. They must then put sufficient resources into the current safety reviews to do them quickly, establish a target point by which those reviews should be completed and publish the details when they are. I hope that the Leader of the House will be able to ensure that the Secretary of State will give us those undertakings before the House goes into recess for the spring holiday.
§ Mr. Conal Gregory (York)
Before the House adjourns for the spring recess, it is vital that we consider Government policy towards tourism, Britain's fastest growth sector in the economy. Last year, it attracted record numbers of overseas visitors, spending in excess of £5.4 billion. That has helped to create over 50,000 jobs. Tourism is not to be denigrated. Sad to say, we frequently hear from the Opposition Benches phrases such as "Jobs for ice cream salesmen" and "Mickey Mouse jobs." That is not entirely true of all the Opposition, because some right hon. and hon. Members participate in the all-party parliamentary tourism committee and see the benefits of such work. Service is not to be equated with servility. These are permanent jobs in an exciting sector.
I hold the elected offices of secretary of the all-party parliamentary tourism committee and vice chairman of the Conservative parliamentary tourism committee, and I declare my parliamentary consultancy for Consort hotels.
Naturally, terrorism has been a factor this year. Visitor cancellations from the United States have reached 40 per cent. in some quarters, but that is not surprising. Last summer's hijacking of a TWA flight in Athens, the seizure of the Achille Lauro cruise ship, the December deaths at airports in Rome and Vienna and the Libyan action this year have led to too many North Americans considering Britain in the same context. The media photographs of troops and armed police at Heathrow airport have not dispelled that opinion.
I acknowledge that there have been cancellations, but the United States market here needs to be put into perspective. The boom year for United States visitors was 1985. There were 3.3 million American visitors, exceeding all previous records. The strengthening of sterling against the United States dollar has been a significant factor. Long-term growth will continue despite these temporary setbacks. However, only 25 per cent. of overseas visitors to the United Kingdom originate in the United States of America. Most of the cancellations are from the group travel, youth and incentive markets. As some 80 per cent. of United States visitors travel independently, the scare stories may not materialise.
I praise the action taken by the British Tourist Authority. By participating in more than 100 radio and television interviews throughout the United States through the European Travel Commission, it will have dispelled some of the adverse criticism. Furthermore, the BTA's 18-city roadshow, travelling coast to coast, helps travel agents to appreciate our good security record. In addition, key travel trade leaders have been brought to Britain.
I particularly commend the regional initiatives. The Yorkshire and Humberside tourist board is helping to sell the north of England as a destination, using Manchester as a gateway. For example, there is the British Airways New York to Manchester service. The quality of welcome is assured.
Where is the Government initiative in all this? We need a Minister who will use his full abilities to market Britain. Immediately after the first adverse signs of terrorism, the Minister should have called together his opposite numbers in all the EEC states. Furthermore, we want a Minister who will bring together all parties to create a national tourism week. The goal is to increase awareness among consumers and Government officials at local, regional and national levels, of tourism's importance to the economic, 508 social and cultural welfare of the United Kingdom. This coming Sunday sees the launch of a similar programme in the United States of America. I hope that the Government will follow its activities and create a similar momentum here.
I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Employment has difficulty in devoting adequate time to this key sector of the economy. His other responsibilities include small businesses, which he promotes with skill. However, the time is overdue to give sole responsibility for tourism to one Minister. Does the industry deserve anything less?
There is still a lack of co-ordination between Departments. I have calculated for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that 13 Government Departments—a good baker's dozen—are involved. The two most glaring gaps are the lack of co-operation between the Department of Education and Science and the Department of Employment, the sponsoring Department for tourism, and that between the Home Office and the Department of Employment on the reform of alcoholic drinks legislation.
On the former, there is still too wide a gulf on advising schoolchildren and youngsters who have recently left school on job opportunities in tourism. Last autumn, I visited two sixth forms in York schools. Not one hand went up when I asked what was meant by the service sector of the economy. When it was explained, none had considered tourism as a career. Yet, apart occasionally from the armed forces, what sector can offer such an opportunity in terms of responsibility, travel, prospects and emoluments? It is amazing that hoteliers need to seek personnel from outside the United Kingdom.
There is too little support for undergraduate and postgraduate management studies for tourism and the hotel and catering industry. A few companies have proved willing recently to finance students through their entire courses. I would single out for praise in this connection Trust House Forte, Grand Metropolitan, Crest Hotels and Swallow Hotels.
Moving to the adverse side, let us consider what assistance we give visitors at the Channel ports. We compare badly with the continentals. If my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has recently visited the Channel ports, he will have seen the dangers inherent in sloppy or loose Customs work.
There must be an exercise of discretion in some cases, because many tourists are senior citizens and are often not fit. Visitors must physically pick up their luggage at Dover and Folkestone, because there are few trolleys. I believe that Customs officers should come on board coaches and use some discretion.
Another factor could be the requirement by other EEC states for nonsensicial documents to try to make life as difficult as possible for tour managers. I cite the regulation that the French Government tourist office resuscitated in an endeavour to prohibit progress across France and limited it to persons who had taken the French examination—the national certificate for guide interpretation. That deals with history, but requires no practical experience as a tour manager.
Tour managers in Italy are required to buy an "attestazione" for about 10 from the Italian consulate in Britain before they can take groups to Italy. That is not a large sum of money. People of other nationalities are not hindered in bringing groups into the United Kingdom. It has been known for tour managers to be put in gaol if they 509 they do not have those documents. Only a Spanish national can commence a tour in Spain. There is no such limitation here. There are also difficulties in Greece, where tour managers can he challenged by local guides. I also cite the requirement that United Kingdom nationals visiting the United States must have a visa. There is no reciprocity. I hope that my right hon. Friend will make appropriate representations so that the four or five most secure European states can enjoy a similar move.
A crucial area of tourism, if we are to succeed in the long term, is classification and registration. There is a plethora of guides, from the RAC, AA, Michelin and Gault Millau to Egon Ronay, and now we have yet another scheme that appears to be supported partly by quangos financed by the British taxpayer. We have moved away from stars, which are well understood, to a system of crowns. Not content with sea horses in the Isle of Wight and hearts in the heart of England, we now have crowns. Everyone likes to be upgraded when they provide services above their ability. Now we find the nonsense of three-star hotels getting five-crown status. Therefore, the American traveller or—I hope increasingly—the Japanese traveller visiting his travel agent in Chicago or Tokyo will book accommodation, and the travel agent will equate a five-crown hotel in the north of Scotland or in mid-Wales with a five-crown hotel on Park lane. There will be no form of differentiation using that ill-conceived scheme. We are storing up a major problem for the future.
I hope that my right hon. Friend will take on board my points. The spring Adjournment would be a fitting occasion for him to dwell upon the detailed and specific points that I have tried to bring to his attention.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
It would be useful, before the House goes into recess, to discuss the implications of last Thursday's local election results. No one in the Government could deny that the Tory party received a massive rejection by the electorate. It was certainly not a vote of confidence, and clearly shows a tremendous desire for political change. That is not surprising. Mass unemployment continues and there is no sign that the measures, so modest as hardly to count, contained in the Budget will affect unemployment. More and more people understand that, by the time of the general election, the number of unemployed will be the same as now, and indeed is likely to be more. The continuing cuts in health and education help to explain the rejection of Tory candidates in last Thursday's poll.
Some Tory politicians blame the election results on the failure in presentation of policies. That was not the position. The policies themselves were being rejected. Most people are sick and tired of what is widely seen as Thatcherism, and sometimes that mood is explained in more vivid language on the doorstep. There is a wish—a deep-seated desire—for change, and all the advertising techniques of Saatchi and Saatchi are unlikely to change that mood before the general election.
Yesterday, the Leader of the House took the opportunity of a television programme to make some interesting observations on the state of the Conservative party—;
§ Mr. Winnick
It would be useful if the Leader of the House made some of those observations in the Chamber, not just on television. I do not criticise the right hon. Gentleman; he was right to appear on that programme.
If the Conservative party won the general election—a most unlikely event, I would think—the right hon. Gentleman believes that the Prime Minister would not remain in that position until the end of the next Parliament. Is that the Prime Minister's view? Before he made those observations, did he consult the right hon. Lady? After all, only the other day the Prime Minister told us that she was just halfway through her premiership—hardly a sign that if the Conservative party won the election she would resign after a short time. Obviously, the right hon. Gentleman's comments aroused much political interest.
Was the Leader of the House really saying to the electors that they should not worry, and that if the Tories won the next election the country need not put up with the Prime Minister for too long? Was that a warning sign to Tories and to the electorate? If so, it does not show much confidence in the Prime Minister from one of her most senior Ministers.
Perhaps tonight the right hon. Gentleman would also enlighten us about what he called the balanced ticket, and whom he considers among those he described as his powerful colleagues will become the next leader. I wonder whether, with all his becoming modesty, he excluded himself. Who did he have in mind? Who among these powerful colleagues will take over from the Prime Minister? It would be interesting if he would use this opportunity to tell us more. My advice to him—I do not know whether he requires advice—is not to be so keen to exclude himself. Perhaps he would be the person most likely to draw the warring factions together.
What did the Leader of the House mean when he said that the fact that the party had a dominant figure did riot mean that it benefited at a general election? Was that remark cleared by No. 10? What about the right hon. Gentleman's repeated criticism of his party chairman? The Leader of the House is quoted as saying that the message has to be conveyed in more measured tones and not in a hysterical manner. I sometimes wonder whether the chairman of the Conservative party is not subjected to more criticism from certain of his Cabinet colleagues, such as the Leader of the House, than from Opposition Members. But it would be interesting to know what was in the mind of the Leader of the House when he said that.
My remarks are not to be taken as any criticism by Ministers of a frank discussion of what happened last Thursday. It is right and proper that the Leader of the House should use the opportunity presented by the media to explain matters. I am not criticising that at all. He was rather frank, but then I am suggesting only that he should be equally frank with the House. Understandably, I am not a fan of the chairman of the Tory party—;
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Ernest Armstrong)
Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will relate his remarks to whether the House should go into recess.
§ Mr. Winnick
I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. My point is that, before the recess, there 511 should be ample opportunity for a debate on the Government's position after the rebuff that they received at the polls last Thursday. It might be unfair, but the image portrayed by the chairman of the Conservative party is very much that portrayed on "Spitting Image"—that of a real toughie in a black leather zipped jacket. But it is not his fault that the Government's policies are being rejected. They are being rejected because they are wrong, and are seen to be wrong.
The Government's policies have caused tremendous devastation throughout the country. If the Leader of the House is trying to persuade his Cabinet colleague to change his style, I should tell him that he is unlikely to succeed. In an interview yesterday, the chairman of the Conservative party made it clear that he was not going to change his style at all, so we shall have to wait and see who wins that battle.
You questioned, Mr. Deputy Speaker, whether my remarks were relevant. But one relevant debate is that taking place in the Cabinet between those who believe that there should be tax cuts and those who believe that it would be wrong to take measures that would further cut essential community services. I understand that the Leader of the House takes the latter standpoint. Our policy is clear. We believe that, first and foremost, services should be protected. I have already mentioned health and education, but hon. Members should not forget that council house building has been severely cut. In many parts of the country, including my borough, no council house building is going on. That partly explains the defeat last Thursday, when the electors had a limited opportunity to pass their verdict on the Government.
The Leader of the House initiated, albeit on television, a very interesting debate. That debate will continue, and there will no doubt be endless opportunities, right up to the election, for us to persuade the country about the rights and wrongs of Government policy. But I believe that the electorate has largely made up its mind. I am not at all complacent. Clearly, my party will have to do yet more persuading in order to ensure that it has a clear majority in the House after that election. The duty of the Leader of the House is first and foremost to the House, and he should tell us now what he has in mind and develop further the interesting and frank remarks that he made in yesterday's interview.
§ 8.4 pm
§ Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)
Perhaps we should reconsider Cyprus before rising for the recess. In, I think, 1984, I raised the question of Cyprus for the first time in a similar debate, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was on the Front Bench then, too. For all its small population and size, that island has had the attention of the United Nations, the Foreign Office, the State Department and various other western and eastern chancelleries for a disproportionate amount of time.
In recent history, there are certain key dates. For example, in 1955 we had the EOKA movement for union with Greece. In 1960, there was the independence of Cyprus. In 1963, there was the rejection of the constitution when Archbishop Makarios was president of the island. From 1963 to 1974 we had the denial of human rights to the Turkish minority, and 1974 saw the coup d'etat 512 organised by the Greek colonels in Athens, which established Mr. Nikos Samson as president of that island, with the ensuing Turkish intervention.
Since 1974, the island has been divided, with the Turkish minority living in the north and the Greeks living in the south. For the past two years the United Nations Secretary-General has used his good offices to attempt to negotiate a solution to the Cyprus problem. During those two years, he has dealt with Mr. Denktash and Mr. Kyprianou, and with Mr. Papandreou and the Turkish Prime Minister, Mr. Ozal. Of course, as a guarantor power of the 1960 constitution, Great Britain has been involved.
But in the recent history of the island's political problems there is another critical date. Despite all the efforts, the United Nations has failed to bring the two sides together. In January last year, it was fervently hoped in New York that the so-called heads of agreement would be accepted by both sides. They were certainly accepted by Mr. Denktash, but when President Kyprianou went to New York he felt unable to accept the proposals put forward by the United Nations Secretary-General. For a further year or 14 months the Secretary-General has endeavoured to bring together the two sides and to establish a framework through which a lasting solution can be evolved.
Although that plan was accepted by Mr. Denktash, it was again rejected, in effect, by Mr. Kyprianou. Indeed, he says that four points must be discussed at an international conference, suggested, incidentally, by the Soviet Union, before there can be any outline agreement. Those four points are: the withdrawal of Turkish troops; international guarantees for the island's independence; the removal of Turkish settlers since 1974; and the three freedoms.
We have got nowhere if the Greeks are maintaining that position after two years of negotiation. The Government, the Foreign Secretary and his Foreign Office Ministers can no longer go on saying that they support the good offices of the United Nations Secretary-General in his attempt to resolve the dispute. There can be no question of withdrawal of Turkish troops. That was accepted by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in the proposals he put forward. The guarantees and rights of the Turkish minority were ignored from 1963 to 1974 when the Turkish intervention took place.
Turkey will never renounce its right to be a guarantor of the rights of the Turkish minority because, were it to do so and a situation arose such as occurred in 1963 or 1974, Turkey would have no rights in international law to protect its minority. The three freedoms—movement, the right of abode and the right of a place to work—cannot be accepted as a precursor. That is something which must evolve. When two communities are separated in terms of economic strength, when one is much stronger and more numerous than the other, there must be some control before those so-called freedoms can be given.
If ever there was a time that the Cyprus issue should be debated, surely it must be before we adjourn. The good offices of the United Nations Secretary-General have been rejected. Where do we go from here? It is not good enough for my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary, when pressed on the issue by the Government and the Opposition, to say, "We continue to support the United Nations Secretary-General and his good offices." That has failed. The international conference suggested by Mr. Papandreou was a Soviet proposal. The Soviets want the removal of British bases from the island.
513 It is important to identify what is in the national interests of the United Kingdom. It must be the preservation of the NATO Alliance and NATO's position on the south-eastern flank. The dispute has continued to weaken and debilitate the south-eastern flank of NATO, with Greece and Turkey rattling the sabre and being at one another's throats. There is a large army maintained by the Greeks in the Aegean islands and an air force, and there are similar large forces opposing them around Izmir. That is a waste of resources. More importantly, that source of international tension and weakness of the NATO Alliance cannot be allowed to continue if NATO is to present a credible defence in this part of the world.
I say in all sincerity that the time has come for the British Government to shift their position. Everyone has tried to achieve a solution which would result in a bi-zonal, bi-communal, federated state in Cyprus. That was rejected by Greek Cypriots and Mr. Papandreou. It was accepted by Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish Government. It was the proposal of the United Nations Secretary-General. It was supported by the State Department and our Prime Minister. If that solution is not accepted, we cannot continue, year after year, with the tension that exists in this part of the eastern Mediterranean, while at the same time denying to the Turkish minority in the north certain basic fundamental human rights. Those people are unable to obtain a passport. They have no developed economy, no international aid and no real trading links. I believe that the time has come for some limited form of recognition, if only to persuade the Greeks that the time has come for them to moderate their view.
§ Mr. Hickmet
My hon. Friend says that it is disgraceful, but I must tell him that I know a great deal about the matter. Many of my friends have died defending the interests of the Turkish minority community. We all hold firm and passionate views, but I am trying to express myself objectively.
I think that the time has come for some limited form of recognition—for example, direct air flights from London to the Turkish part of northern Cyprus—if only to persuade the Greeks that the time has come to shift. We cannot continue saying that the status quo is such as it is and we must support the United Nations Secretary-General's initiative. It is over; it has failed. The time has come for the British Government, who have a historic responsibility as the guarantor of the 1960 constitution, and as a former colonial power, to take some positive action.
§ Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
I rise briefly to press on the Leader of the House the fact that the recess is a little premature. Despite the easing of the Government's timetable, with the defeat of the Shops Bill, the Government have not found time to discuss important matters. I shall not join my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in analysing too deeply a television programme on which the Leader of the House appeared on Sunday. Indeed, I shall pass over that, because I know that the right hon. Gentleman is a good party man. He always plays a sound innings for his side. In fact, I defended him earlier today when one of my colleagues said that he had been on for about 10 minutes 514 before he realised that it was not a soap commercial overruning its time. I took my colleague to task for making such an unkind remark.
Before the House rises, we need to develop two themes. On Second Reading of the Finance Bill I said that the Budget was designed primarily to appeal to the 27 million people in work and that it very much ignored the 4 million people who are out of work. That position is reflected in microcosm in the city of Bristol, which I have the honour to represent. The general unemployment rate of 12.4 per cent. in the south-west is one of the lowest regional statistics. Although the south-west is a pleasant place in which to tour and holiday, it does conceal serious pockets of unemployment to which the House should give attention.
On the northern side of Bristol there are some prosperous areas, such as Stoke Bishop and Westbury on Trym where the unemployment rate is 2 or 3 per cent. In my constituency there are areas, such as Filwood Knowle West and Hartcliffe, where the adult unemployment rate is over 25 per cent. Those are serious and debilitating circumstances for those communities. In an area of high unemployment in my constituency, a further attack has been made on the work force. I refer to the tobacco factory at Hartcliffe and the swingeing increase in cigarette tax in the last Budget. I shall not dwell on that, because the Committee which is considering the Finance Bill will deal with clause 1 tomorrow. As clause 1 encompasses that area, I shall speak at greater length then. The matter is extremely worrying. While it may satisfy a number of people that they are doing good at second hand, I repeat the warning I gave on Second Reading of the Finance Bill: after the attack on the tobacco industry there will come a concerted assault from the same quarter on the drinks industry.
During the recent local elections, when Labour regained control of Bristol, in each contested seat there was a candidate from the newly titled Green party. It was interesting to note from the results a clear relationship between the size of the Green party candidate's vote and the prosperity of the area in which the candidate stood. In the more comfortably off, middle-class areas, there was a much larger Green party vote, because people were doing reasonably well and could exercise their conscience. They could feel that they were doing their whack for the environment before they carried on as before. In areas such as my own, there was a more realistic attitude and people predominantly voted Labour.
Before the House rises we should discuss not only work opportunities but the provision of facilities. My predecessor, Will Wilkins, who represented my seat from 1945 to 1970 and who is, I am happy to say, alive and well, fought throughout his time as a Member of Parliament for a hospital, the establishment of which was first recommended in 1935. Since 1970, I have continued that fight. Although at long last there are hopeful signs, I shall really think that we have arrived only when I see the foundations dug and the concrete poured.
I should like to raise another point which, although comparatively minor, shows the scale of the problems that we should consider. At one time, one presses for a hospital and at another for a pedestrian crossing. For two years—this may sound incredible—I have been trying to get a pedestrian crossing on Leinster avenue, Knowle West. People are very anxious about the traffic, and I hope that 515 something will be done. The general feeling is that the area should have a fair crack of the whip. That is the type of matter we should discuss before the House rises.
I shall not say that my area has never been offered anything. A few years ago, I and a number of residents and local bodies had to attend a public inquiry because the county council had offered us a gipsy site on Airport road. Although I understand the need to provide gipsy sites, I believe that, when one is constantly pressing for a hospital, a pedestrian crossing or better school, it is not appropriate for the authorities to say, "The people can have something—here it is."
I ask the Leader of the House to reconsider his batting order before the House rises and to give us an opportunity to debate such issues. Unless we as a country seriously consider these inequalities, there will be an imbalance in society which will be disruptive, divisive and, in the end, destructive.
§ Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)
I should like to take my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House back to the events of 25 March this year when my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry came to the House to give the final judgment on the intended merger of British Leyland and General Motors in the truck and freight divisions. I should like to plead with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for hon. Members to be given more information before the House rises on events since that date, on whether there have been meetings in the United Kingdom or in the United States, and. if so, on whether those meetings have borne fruit.
At that time, several statements were made and we had one major debate and other minor debates on the subject. The matter was surrounded by a great deal of emotion and the debate degenerated into an emotional argument rather than focusing on reality. That is why I welcome this brief opportunity in the relative calm and peace of the Chamber, when we are considering the chance to go away for a few days, not necessarily to go over some of the old agruments but to reflect on what happened, on what went wrong and on the future of General Motors and of Bedford Trucks, especially in and around my constituency.
The debate was marked by the extraordinary performance of the Opposition, especially by the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith), who performed the most extraordinary gymnastics not only in the House but outside it in the constituencies of my right hon. and hon. Friends. The right hon. and learned Gentleman as much as anyone made the Government change their mind. He must take the blame if jobs in those areas are lost. Although one could understand the anxieties of midlands Members about the future of their constituents and firms in their constituencies, one could never forgive the aspersions that the Opposition cast on General Motors. Those comments went home deeply.
The debate and the future of the truck industry must be seen in the light of our over-capacity. Everything that has been said in this place in the past few weeks and months has not changed that fact. We are over-producing trucks by 40 per cent. The future of the truck industry in the United Kingdom is at risk. The decision to let GM look elsewhere means that the prospect is that, within the next 516 few years, truck manufacturing in this country will end. The House, especially the Government, should take note of that warning which was given today to me by a senior GM executive. As was announced during our discussions, Ford was going to Iveco. We know full well that BL will ask for further public investment to keep the truck industry going. GM's future must be uncertain because it has not been able to rationalise and go ahead with the merger with BL.
Political mistakes were made, but what went wrong after my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry welcomed GM's initiative? In earlier statements, he encouraged hon. Members who were involved in the matter to think that the merger would receive Government approval. On 5 February, my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry, stated:If we miss our chance, we could be throwing away a golden opportunity to build on the foundations that have been laid. If we do not build on those foundations, we may never build."—[Official Report, 5 February 1986; Vol. 91, c. 346.]I hope that my hon. Friend's words were not too ominous, but I fear that they might have been.
The initial moves by my right hon. Friend the chairman of the Conservative party—the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit)—when he was Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in an over-capacity market, might well go against BL which accepted vast sums of public money and produced a worthwhile product but had little future because of the state of the market. I say with regret that perhaps my right hon. Friends in Cabinet showed a certain amount of political cowardice, but I believe that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House must understand the deep feelings in Luton, Dunstable and surrounding areas about the events. We were given certain assurances, but they were cast to the wind.
Some notable right hon. Friends, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), made some disturbing comments. My right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup made a forceful speech in which he referred to a European option, as though it might be better to go to bed with the Italians, the Spaniards or the Germans than with the Americans. It is ironic that many of the complaints to the House—many of them justified—about foreign imports have concerned cheap cars from Spain, Germany and Italy. My right hon. Friend the Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) implied in his own way that we could not fully trust General Motors' word. Those of us who have known GM well—Vauxhall Motors has been in Luton for 83 years and Bedford Trucks for 55 years—thought that those remarks were somewhat unfortunate.
Why, therefore, did the Government change their mind when they heard the siren voices from both sides of the House, in particular the siren voices of their own supporters? I remind my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House of the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who said:Is my right hon. Friend"—that was the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry—aware that a majority of Conservative Members regret the collapse of the General Motors talks, as a great opportunity lost?I hear my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Mr. Page) agreeing with that sentiment. He intervened earlier on a similar theme. My hon. Friend the Member for Stirling continued: 517Would it not have been better for the Government to concentrate on securing a successful motor industry in Britain rather than to respond to the misguided and jingoistic calls from those who will leave a price to be paid in lost jobs and higher taxes?"—[official Report, 25 March 1986; Vol. 94, c. 798.]The Government's decision will undoubtedly mean a loss of jobs and higher taxes as money is poured into keeping British Leyland afloat.
The Opposition's behaviour at that time was remarkable. It began with the scaremongering tactics of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley). He thought that he had found a scoop and that it provided a chance to get on to the front page of the newspapers. However, that fact had been known in the Luton and Dunstable area for several months before his intervention. The right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East, throughout the statements and debates, persisted in denigrating General Motors and all that it had done for employment and investment in this country.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman called General Motors a predator. He accused it of putting company interests above the national interest. He visited various public meetings, including one in an adjoining constituency, where he stirred up the fears of many trade union members about what would happen if General Motors went ahead with its merger with British Leyland. I say to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if one job is lost, as I am afraid it will be, in the Luton and Dunstable area, the loss of that first job and of succeeding jobs will be laid right at his feet because of the policy that he pursued at that time. When it happens, I hope that he will be able to sleep quietly in his bed. I shall be unable to do so because it will mean that my constituents will have lost their jobs.
The House will recall the enormous amount of anti-American feeling that was generated on the Opposition Benches. I remember that one Opposition Member called the Americans "a foreign body." Many aspersions were cast upon the integrity of General Motors.
I have represented that area for seven years and have lived in it all my life. Therefore, I cannot underestimate the value of Vauxhall Motors and Bedford Trucks to that part of the country. They have been excellent employers. They have had their problems, which means that they have had to make fairly large numbers of people redundant. However, in virtually every case they were voluntary redundancies. The companies looked after those who lost their jobs in a way that provides an example to employers elsewhere in the country.
They have not asked for public money. In recent times Luton received £5 million of public money, while Ellesmere Port received £150 million. That is peanuts compared with the vast sums of money that have been poured into British Leyland. They have made a contribution to the community in the surrounding areas that is second to none. Only today I was privileged to attend a showing to the public of its new synthetic pitch by Luton Town football club. The pitch was donated to the club by Bedford Trucks. It is being used by the local community to such an extent that it is fully booked until the autumn. It has brought the local football club, which suffered tremendously after the unfortunate incidents at the Luton-Millwall game, at which I was present, back into the community.
Let nobody say that Vauxhall Motors and Bedford Trucks have not done a tremendous amount for the people 518 of Luton and Dunstable. They have sponsored numerous events which have provided encouragement to the youth of the area. The have put money into Lilleshall and encouraged the Football Association's school of football there. The number of local charitable projects that they have supported is far too long for me to list. Their record is excellent. Those hon. Members with constituencies in that area were very sad to hear of the various aspersions that were cast upon them during those debates and statements.
I remind the House that it was Bedford Trucks which donated 50 trucks to the relief organisation during the recent famine relief exercise in Ethiopia and the Sudan. They were offered in the same spirit as was shown during the war.
The tragedy of the General Motors debate is that the undertakings that were given by the company were never fully understood by the House. It is possible that they were never fully understood by the Government. Certainly those undertakings were conveniently ignored by the Opposition. General Motors gave an absolute undertaking that if a merger took place between British Leyland's truck division and General Motors the majority of the products sold to businesses in the United Kingdom would be manufactured in the United Kingdom. Let the House never forget that the British content of Bedford Trucks is far higher than that in the case of Vauxhall.
A second undertaking was given that General Motors would make a substantial additional investment in that industry. That would have safeguarded jobs, even if it did not create jobs. The House should never forget, furthermore, that this country invests £38 billion in the United States, whereas the United States invests £33 billion in this country. We know which gets the better return on its money—this country. The amount of cross-investment between the two countries is enormous.
The third and probably the most important undertaking that General Motors gave, which would have had a most dramatic impact in the area that I represent, was that it would set up its European headquarters in the Luton and Dunstable area. That would have meant an increase in research and development, which at the moment creates work for about 1,000 employees.
Despite the questions, statements and supportive noises made by my right hon. and hon. Friends with constituencies in the area, in particular by my hon. Friends the Members for Bedfordshire, South-West (Mr. Madel) and for Luton, South (Mr. Bright), we lost the argument. Therefore, I must ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House what is to happen now. What is to be the established plan for trucks? I should like my right hon. Friend to tell my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that there is still a chance that General Motors will come back to the negotiating table. Immense damage was created by the attitude that was adopted towards the company. The fact that the talks ended so abruptly was very hurtful. It was similar to the hurt felt by a bride who is led to the altar and then suddenly turned away.
May we have a statement from my hon. Friend the Minister of State about his talks in New York on 4 May with Mr. Robert Stemper, the head of General Motors? My hon. Friend should come to the House and report on exactly what was said at that meeting. It is not too late for this particular suitor to return. If the truck industry in this country is to survive and thrive, General Motors must be 519 part of the future programme. To those who have studied these matters and been closely involved in them during the past few months, it seems that the only hope for the trucks division of British Leyland is a merger with General Motors, unless the taxpayer is to continue to pick up the tab—a tab that will grow in size.
Therefore, I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to make time before the recess for this very important matter to be aired once again and for the House to be told at what point the negotiations stand. I hope that he will say to General Motors that, although the deal was called off on 25 March, we are still interested in the future of the industry and that the Government want General Motors to come back again and talk to us.
§ Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)
I can understand the anxieties of the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) about the condition of the motor industry in his part of the world. I can also understand the acute embarrassment that he and his hon. Friends must feel at the fact that their constituencies may now face the sort of deprivation and suffering that have been felt in other parts of the country, not least in Scotland in recent years with the closure of factories such as Linwood. I hope that that kind of disaster does not befall the people of Luton, but the hon. Gentleman cannot avoid his share of the responsibility for the economic policies that the Government whom he supports have been pursuing over the years and that have led to that kind of disaster.
The hon. Gentleman is entitled to pursue his constituency point and I hope that the House will bear with me and understand why I am anxious to raise another national, but at the same time constituency, point which should be debated before the House considers rising for the recess.
Other hon. Members have already referred to the concern that is felt in many parts of the United Kingdom about nuclear power stations following the disaster at Chernobyl in the Soviet Union. People are understandably concerned about the condition of our ageing Magnox power stations. People are acutely concerned about the Government's proposals to go ahead with the construction of pressurised water reactors at Sizewell and elsewhere, depending on the outcome of the public inquiry. People are becoming increasingly worried about the disposal of waste. The secrecy surrounding the industry is contributing more than anything else to that concern.
My constituents in East Lothian are especially anxious, because the incident at Chernobyl has coincided with the arrival of the first consignment of nuclear fuel at the new advanced gas-cooled reactor station at Torness in my constituency. Over the years we have had many assurances from many worthy people, Ministers and scientists about the safety of nuclear installations. How often have they told us that that kind of incident could not happen; that it is inconceivable; that it is impossible? Well, it does happen.
We have seen what almost turned into a disaster at Three Mile Island in the United States. We have now seen a serious accident in the Soviet Union, which seems likely to have far-reaching effects in the immediate vicinity of the nuclear reactor. When I talk about the immediate vicinity I am talking about a radius of hundreds of miles 520 rather than tens of miles. We are even being told here, more than 1,000 miles away, that we should be careful before drinking rainwater and we have seen people testing samples of milk. That shows the concern that exists, despite all the assurances.
Not only do accidents seem to have occurred after those assurances have been given over and over again by the nuclear lobby, but it keeps emerging that accidents happened before those assurances were given by the nuclear lobby. For instance, news of the accident at Windscale in 1957 emerged many years afterwards.
People seem to be either strongly in favour of nuclear power or strongly against ft. I make no apology for the fact that I have tended to be an agnostic on this subject. I am in no way qualified to pontificate on whether it is right or wrong, safe or unsafe. That is a matter for scientists and for those who are supposed to be able to lead and advise us as decision-makers on these matters.
Therefore, seven or eight years ago, when we were advised that there was a need for a new power station in Scotland and that is was advisable for that to be an AGR, I was prepared to accept that advice. Indeed, I was prepared to say that if a new power station was to be constructed in Scotland I was delighted that it would be in my constituency because we needed the employment.
That building is now going ahead apace. Indeed, it is nearly complete. I have tended—I stress that I use the past tense—to want to believe that the people who advise us on this subject are not malicious and that they are not deliberately trying to mislead us about safety and the need to construct more and more power stations. But, there we are. The power station at Torness is virtually complete. Many billions of pounds have been spent and many of us feel that we have been let down and misled by the authorities and the South of Scotland Electricity Board on a whole range of aspects of that power station.
Employment has been of interest in my constituency. We were told that the construction of that power station would create a vast number of local jobs. Yet, throughout its construction, many local people, whose last jobs had been in the construction industry, could not find employment on that construction site while people were coming in from all parts of Britain and beyond to work there. That was an assurance which did not seem to be fulfilled in the way that many of us had hoped.
Now we still have all the general assurances about safety and about the fact that the waste material from the power station can be safely handled and disposed of. In the context of let-downs in the past and of what happened at Chernobyl two or three weeks ago there is growing concern in my constituency and that is being expressed to me in letters from my constituents, supporters of all parties. That point was expressed to me by a number of people during the course of the local election campaigns last week. People are deeply worried about the possible implications of living next door to such a plant.
Another aspect to the argument is whether there is an urgent need to commission a new power station of any description in Scotland at present. If Torness were to be commissioned next year, we would have more than 100 per cent. more generating capacity in Scotland than we are likely to need at the maximum possible peak load in the coldest imaginable winter. Why on earth is there a mad rush to go ahead with commissioning that power station now? That is, at best, insensitive and, at worst, something far worse than that. We have massive overcapacity. The 521 commissioning of a new power station could only put existing perhaps conventional coal-burning power stations elsewhere in Scotland at risk. What is the sense of doing that?
I have already mentioned that the first nuclear fuel was delivered to Torness well ahead of schedule two weeks ago. What on earth is the hurry in commissioning that power station? We do not need it immediately. We may need it in due course. It may be possible to satisfy everybody that it is safe, but is it prudent or defensible to go ahead with loading a power station of that nature at a time like this?
I am not just raising this point now because of the pressure that has blown up over the past couple of weeks. I made an identical point when I gave evidence to the public inquiry on the handling of waste from Torness over a year ago when I suggested that questions about safety still had to be answered and that, as there was no urgent need to commission the power station, it would be sensible and prudent to postpone activity on that site until proper answers could be given to such questions.
I hope that the Leader of the House understands the point that I am making. I hope that the Government are aware of the serious concern in my constituency and, indeed, in neighbouring constituencies on this point. I should be grateful for any information that can be given, if not by the Leader of the House this evening, perhaps by the Secretary of State for Scotland as soon as possible. What is the timetable now for loading Torness power station? It appears to be going ahead of schedule. No official press release was given by the South of Scotland Electricity Board to the effect that nuclear fuel had been brought on to the site. It seemed to be brought in rather surreptitiously, well ahead of schedule.
My constituents, I, and indeed the House are entitled to know a little more about the Government's proposals to deal with our electricity needs in the coming years. Are coal-burning power stations secure and shall we have a properly independent and properly funded inspectorate looking after the safety of nuclear power stations in Britain? Is it not now time to think again about expanding Britain's nuclear generating capacity?
§ Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)
I did not come here to discuss the future of Cyprus. My many Greek Cypriot constituents who lost relatives, friends and homes in the armed struggle to regain their homeland have another, more serious problem facing them—posed, this time, by the British Government.
However, I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) would be disappointed if I did not pick up the gauntlet that he threw down. He asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to refer to the problem of Cyprus before we adjourned, and he mentioned the Turkish intervention in the island in 1974. The House knows full well that that was an invasion, not an intervention.
My hon. Friend referred to the legitimate demands of the Greek Cypriot people as some sort of Soviet plot. I remind the House that the Greek Cypriots want three freedoms—freedom of movement, freedom of abode and freedom of the right to work. My political dictionary has never included those three freedoms as civil rights that are ardently fought for in the Soviet Union.
522 The Greek Cypriots have rightly made one other demand. They demand the withdrawal of the thousands-strong garrison of Turkish troops in northern Cyprus who are illegally occupying that island and, in many cases, the homes of some of my constituents.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe was right to ask for movement by the British Government. Our Government should encourage a move towards federation and the three freedoms for Greek and Turkish Cypriots so that they, the natural inhabitants of the island, may enjoy the freedom of their home.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will remember that I suggested to him during business questions last week that the House should debate tourism, an industry on which, as my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) said, many jobs depend and which is under siege. My right hon. Friend suggested that tonight would be the appropriate time for that debate. I welcome the excellent contribution of my hon. Friend the Member for York, but I still believe that the subject should be debated in a full House and in Government time.
My hon. Friend the Member for York criticised some of the facilities that this country provides for tourists, and he mentioned specifically the Customs facilities of the Channel ports. Unless the House takes rigorous action in the near future, those facilities are likely to become academic.
The matter that I wish to discuss particularly is the future of the Channel fixed link. The fixed link depends for its economic success on the elimination and theft of business in the Channel ports. Without that business, the fixed link will not be economically viable. If the fixed link survives, the Channel ports will go under, and if they go under the question of Customs facilities at those ports will become academic.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) mentioned the effects of a fixed link on the developing port of Ramsgate. I endorse his comments. I should like the House to consider the effects of a fixed link on my constituency where we see some possible short-term gains through the provision of bed-night accommodation for construction workers, but beyond that we see a long-term loss.
We fear that we shall suffer that long-term loss unless the road infrastructure in north-east Kent—particularly the Thanet Way and the Ramsgate harbour approach road—is modernised. Unless the Department of Transport and the Kent county council address themselves to that need not as an afterthought but as a priority, the tunnel route will become the north-east Kent bypass and the fragile recovery of the area will fail.
We heard in the previous debate about the difficulties of the north-west of England. I did not intervene In that debate, but I understand those difficulties particularly well, as does my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, because we face not the unemployment of the north-west, but male unemployment of 27 per cent. From the Kentish coast we see French money being poured into the Nord Pas de Calais region. I suggest that the choice is not between jobs for the north or south of England, but between jobs for Kent or for France. It is up to our Government to give us the opportunity that the French Government are giving to Nord Pas de Calais.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South referred to the growing secrecy surrounding the Channel tunnel project. The Department of Transport's Channel tunnel 523 consultative committee hearings are beginning to take on a bunker quality. As my hon. Friend said, the Channel Tunnel Group's figures are public knowledge. So where are the Government's figures? It is not surprising that Lord Pennock seeks to blame this House for his company's financial frustrations. The City is, indeed, running scared. The golden goose is not laying golden eggs; it is dropping bricks.
I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for the protection normally afforded to Back Benchers. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport said that the hybrid Bill procedurecontains every opportunity for those affected to be heard".He said that the procedureis a substantial and thorough procedure which ensures that the public have the widest opportunity to make representations as petitioners to the two Select Committees".—[Official Report, 9 December 1985; Vol. 88, c. 645.]My right hon. Friend's "Invitation to Promoters", published later in December, said:It is an important part of the process for such a Bill that those whose interests or rights are injuriously affected be given the chance to voice their objections to a Parliamentary Select Committee by petitioning against the Bill; and it is not part of the Government's intention to constrain that right.It appears that that right is about to be constrained. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South, I do not wish to prejudge the decision of the House's Standing Orders Committee. I am sure that hon. Members who serve on that Committee will do their utmost to protect the interests not only of Back Benchers, but of the petitioners who have a right to be heard. I should like to place on record my request that, at the very least, those petitioners be given the standard recognised minimum eight weeks from Second Reading to petition before the Select Committee.
The White Paper said thatthe Government…will not seek to oppose the right of anyone to appear before the Committees…further steps, for example to ensure that potential petitioners receive timely information both on the procedures themselves and on the substance of the legislation, are also being considered.That is a far cry from the advertisement that the Department of Transport placed in the national press. That advertisement said:Before the Channel Tunnel Bill becomes law there will be opportunities for those directly affected locally to have their voices heard.The House has seen the efforts of the Department of Transport to constrain the process by which the House should normally consider the hybrid Bill procedure. For that reason, I am gravely concerned that the words "directly affected locally" may be construed to mean only those along a very narrow route indeed. Before the House rises for the spring recess, I would like my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to guarantee that all people of north-east Kent who will be directly affected and whose livelihoods are at stake will have an opportunity to have their voices heard.
§ 9 pm
§ Mr. David Amess (Basildon)
After that helpful contribution by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale), there are three brief matters that we should consider before the House adjourns for the spring recess. The first two are specifically constituency matters and the third relates to a wider area.
524 The first matter affects more than 1,000 properties in the Band ward in Basildon. Half of them are owner-occupied and the rest are rented from the local authority and the Commission for the New Towns. They were built by Sir Lindsey Parkinson after 1960. Unfortunately, the builders have gone into liquidation and my constituents find that many of the properties have been blighted by what is described as concrete cancer.
The outcome is that many of my constituents who have been trying to sell their properties have encountered a number of difficulties. They have found building societies and surveyors most reluctant to expedite matters so that the properties can be resold. I am anxious that my constituents should be able to seek some comfort from what the House might be able to do for them. My constituents are looking to the Commission for the New Towns and the local authority to purchase back those properties or for the House to amend the legislation so that full compensation can be given to the owners of properties which cannot be resold.
The next matter concerns more than 1,000 of my constituents in the Fellmores and Langdon Hills areas of Basildon. Those people have formed an action group to deal with heating matters. They are serviced by a coal-fired district heating system. Many of those people have difficult social problems. Many are without jobs, although they wish to work, and there are quite a number of single parent families. Therefore, the social difficulties are obvious. Two of those estates are in my constituency. I have seen many heating bills which, to put it mildly, are astronomical. A number of repossession orders have been served on properties there, too.
I have been grappling with this matter since I became the Member of Parliament for Basildon, and I have not had any success so far. The running cost for those properties should be £250. However, the average charge levied is 56 per cent. higher than individual gas-fired central heating would be. My constituents want the inquiry, which is currently being held about the properties, to be concluded and for individual gas-fired central heating to be installed.
The third matter that I wish to raise concerns protection for the unborn child. A year ago the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell) introduced the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill. The Bill was given national publicity and coverage. The right hon. Gentleman brought the matter here, and Second Reading was given overwhelming support. Indeed, many hon. Members would have judged, by the volume of their constituency postbag, that there was widespread support for the protection of the unborn child. However, because of the way in which matters are conducted in the House, the Bill was talked out and it fell.
This year my hon. Friend the Member for Hyndburn (Mr. Hargreaves), after a serious illness, bravely decided to reintroduce an amended version of the Bill. Rather unfavourably, he was drawn ninth in the ballot. Again, unfortunately, because of our procedures in this place, it now appears that that will not be debated this year.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
In the light of the history of the matter, does my hon. Friend agree that the time has come to press for a Select Committee to look into it in the depth that is required? That should be done particularly because of the claims in the press in the past few days that it will soon be possible, through the techniques of human embryo research, to enable men to have children. Against 525 that serious background and in view of the grave problems that we face, is it not incumbent on the House to take the serious and responsible view that a Select Committee is desirable to inform not only the public but Parliament, so that those matters can be brought out into the open once and for all?
§ Mr. Amess
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I know how strongly he feels about that matter. However, as he will see presently, I have come to the conclusion that there has been enough talk on the subject, and I want some action now. I respect my hon. Friend's view.
My views are similar to those echoed by Cardinal Basil Hume, who says:No matter what claims on our sympathy and understanding are made on behalf of particular research into the causes of infertility and genetic defect, and into embryology, the needs of some cannot be allowed to eclipse the rights of others.Cardinal Hume supported the Bill.
Research on human embryos cannot supply us with the answers that scientists are rightly seeking for the tragedies of infertility and other inherited disorders. The motives of scientists wishing to pursue embryo research may be entirely good. They may, in all good faith, believe that by examining live human embryos they will find the cures to the cruel diseases that afflict so may people. Professor Jerome Lejeune, who is expected to find a cure for Down's syndrome within the decade, asked himself whether he could advance his research work by using human embryos as guinea pigs, but concluded that such work could tell him absolutely nothing.
Embryo research is deemed necessary to improve the technique of in vitro fertilisation. However, I am filled with horror at the sort of experimentation canvassed by Dr. Edwards of Bourne hall. He stated that it might be necessary to put an embryo in the oviduct of a pig or rabbit for six to 12 weeks and then take it out again. Is a pig or a rabbit the right place for a human child to begin his or her life? I think not.
There is no doubt that the opponents of the Bill have sought, for better or worse, to distort what the Bill seeks to achieve. It has nothing to do with contraception. With regard to infertility, it would not affect adversely in any respect what is being done at the moment. Some opponents of the Bill should be honest and admit that several people who are engaged in helping childless couples are seeking to make and are achieving a substantial livelihood out of their work. I have been staggered by the size of the fees that are being charged to advise childless couples. The House should do something about this matter. I am anxious to learn from my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House when we can expect legislation on the Warnock report. I do not understand why such matters should be left to private Members' Bills. We dealt with surrogacy quite adequately last year. I cannot understand why we cannot do the same with these matters this year.
As I look round the Chamber, I can see that all hon. Members are alive and, I trust, awake. They are pleased to be here. When we were conceived there were no ifs or buts: it happened. There were no discussions about experimentation on us. Why should that happen now? Before the end of the Session I very much hope that we will fulfil the trust that the British people have in us and that we will give protection to the unborn child.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
I should like to raise the matter of a report which was published today by the science working party on alternative therapy by the British Medical Association. It has given rise to a significant amount of press comment and other comments on television and in the media generally, and I expect that comment will continue for some time.
Today's London Standard carries a headlineIt is not what the doctor ordered, BMA tells Charles fringe medicine 'does not work'.The report continues:An exhaustive survey of alternative medicine suggested by Prince Charles while he was president of the BMA three years ago has failed to find any proof of the effectiveness of most treatments and warns that some can even be harmful.It goes on:The conclusion of a team of leading doctors published today amounts to a scathing dismissal of remedies like acupuncture, osteopathy, homoeopathy and herbalism".The report has been produced by the British Medical Association working party.
It is right that the House and the public should be aware that the BMA is a trade union. Moreover, it is a trade union which has a vested interest in ensuring the position of its members, including their remuneration. There should he an independent inquiry into this matter and into the important matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon, (Mr Amess) so that Parliament, legislators and the public can be properly informed about what is happening in this important area of public health.
I must stress that a Royal Commission was held in 1979 in New Zealand with regard to at least one of the disciplines mentioned in the report—chiropractic. I believe that there should be fair and independent inquiries into such matters. Many hon. Members or their friends and relations have received treatment from alternative or complementary practitioners. It is clear that the Royal Commission report to which I have referred was used by the medical establishment at the time, through visits to this country, to Canada and other parts of the world, to discredit chiropractic.
The Royal Commission did the opposite to what the medical establishment hoped and believed it would. It rapped the medical establishment firmly over the knuckles and said that there was considerable efficacy in chiropractic and that it should stand in its own right.
The BMA has published its report and has, until this speech, at any rate, caught the headlines on the subject. I do not wish to take a headline view. My concern is to draw attention to an important matter and to the fact that the report has to be viewed against the background of it being anything but independent. The report is negative and lacks the impartiality which one would expect of an organisation such as the BMA. The New Zealand chiropractic report, for example, is a substantial volume of careful and well organised evidence. The BMA report virtually dismisses chiropractic treatment in a few paragraphs, and the same goes for all the other alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, osteopathy and herbal remedies.
If we were to look back 150 years to the development and evolution of medicine in this country, we would recognise that doctors, distinguished as they are now, had themselves developed their training and practice in a evolving manner from the days when in 1803, for example, or therabouts, King George III was treated as a 527 lunatic when he was suffering from porphyria. In that period people were treated by leeching and by bloodletting. That is not all that long ago, and accordingly we must take a more serious view of therapists such as those practising acupuncture, chiropractic treatment and osteopathy.
This year I was asked to open, and was honoured to do so, the British Holistic Medical Association's conference. It is an organisation which has been set up to develop bridges and constructive dialogue between practitioners in orthodox medicine and practitioners in complementary and alternative medicine. This should be developed and encouraged, unlike the report which has been produced by the BMA.
There is another organisation in which I played some part, together with Lord Home of the Hirsel, in introducing it to the public at a meeting which was held in Parliament last year. I refer to the Council for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It is a responsible body that has been set up with a view to ensuring that there are higher standards and better qualifications for those who practise alternative medicine and proper standards of discipline. It has had extensive consultations with Dr. Noah of the communicable disease surveillance department and has come up with a code of ethics which has the seal of approval of the appropriate authorities.
The BMA has produced its report and it should now help those who have found that they are the butt end of a prejudicial report so that they may have a reasonable opportunity of securing an independent inquiry following a biased and rather short report.
It is interesting that 208 Members signed an early-day motion requesting thatthose who practise in the alternative field should have proper representation on an official medical committee which has been set up under statutory authority.The 208 Members have shown their inclinations and their sympathy towards alternative medicine.
I found the BMA's report extremely negative, extremely destructive and very ill timed. I sincerely hope that there will be an opportunity for a countervailing balance so that the patients, who are the most important people, know that when they go to see an alternative practitioner they will not be dismissed as they have been hitherto by the BMA.
§ Mr. Peter Shore (Bethnal Green and Stepney)
Although limited in time and tucked away from the glare of publicity, these are important and valuable debates. Except for the rare occasions when a national event has not been resolved or properly debated and the Opposition are obliged to amend the Adjournment Motion, our two or three-hour debates are focused not on any one subject, but are given up to a wide range of matters of concern to Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House. It is an opportunity for us to raise matters of importance to our constituents, our areas and ourselves.
It is interesting how often these unco-ordinated speeches raise constituency and broad national anxieties. The hon. Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), who made the first of the 13 speeches that we have heard, spoke not just for the people of Kent and his constituency—he was later joined by the hon. Member for Thanet, North 528 (Mr. Gale)—when he expressed his views about the need for the most thorough and rigorous inquiry into the Channel tunnel or fixed-link project, but for a great part of the nation.
I have never taken the view that the hybrid Bill procedure is satisfactory—indeed, it is old-fashioned and archaic—to decide important issues of public planning policy. It is impossible to imagine an issue of greater national importance and more worthy of serious study on grounds of the environment, economics, regional policy, the future of the Merchant Navy and broad national interests. No project rivals in importance the proposal to build a fixed link between Britain and France. I therefore remain strongly of the view that it would have been far better for the House and for the project if we had proceeded with a most rigorous and searching public inquiry. Failing that, it is imperative that no obstacle which would in any way limit the rights of petitioners should be raised. I refer not merely to those whose economic interests would be affected by land purchase and the rest, but to the large interests which should be able to present their petitions, argue their case and have the matter as thoroughly investigated as this admittedly inadequate procedure will allow.
When my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) mentioned the prospective closure of the Severn tunnel junction, he was talking not simply about a facility in his area but about a marshalling yard facility which affects a large part of south Wales and the southwest of England. In the context of a particular closure proposal, he raised the prospects of British Rail's freight service.
We have inevitably heard speeches about the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) drew attention to the older Magnox stations and asked some important questions about them. My hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) rightly reflected his constituents' anxieties at the timetabling of the proposal for commissioning the Torness AGR in his constituency. Tomorrow we shall have a major debate on nuclear policy, and that will be an occasion on which these and similar anxieties can be fully aired. I have no doubt whatever that, if we are to proceed with nuclear energy in this country, there will have be a continued policy of maximum openness so that people do not feel that important information is being withheld from them. Secondly, there must be objective, scrupulous and factual presentation of all the relevant factors so that people can have a rational basis on which to assess the risks and a framework in which to set their anxieties.
The hon. Members for York (Mr. Gregory) and for Thanet, North mentioned tourism—an important industry that affects us all. The Labour party does not take a casual view of tourism. Our concern is that we should never forget that tourism, like many other service industries, can make an important contribution to our economic prosperity and welfare, but it is no substitute for manufacturing industry, because that industry is important and essential to our national prosperity.
§ Mr. Shore
I would rather not. Mine is the first of the concluding speeches, and I should like to mention other points before I finish.
529 I do not want to get engaged in the dialogue on the future of Cyprus. My own view about that troubled island is that there must be a time when, under suitable international auspices, the representatives of the two communities can agree about their future. It is not unusual in human affairs to be told that no such agreement is at present in sight, but to assume from that that one should give up trying and begin making important decisions on the basis that no progress is now possible is a defeatist course of action that I do not recommend.
There were two fascinating contributions by the hon. Members for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Stafford (Mr. Cash), who, in different ways, dealt with important aspects of medicine. I strongly recommend to the hon. Member for Basildon that the House should wait for Government legislation based on the Warnock report. I hope that we shall not have to wait too long.
The hon. Member for Stafford commented on the recently published report on fringe medicine. He should not be too concerned, because such a report undertaken by the BMA suffers from precisely the drawbacks and defects that a study under such auspices inevitably experiences.
Timing has given this debate a special importance, because this is the first opportunity that hon. Members have had to express their concern since 20 million of our fellow citizens had the opportunity to vote last Thursday. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall. North (Mr. Winnick) precisely addressed this matter. All hon. Members will agree that public opinion expressed in the polling booths is of paramount importance to us all. There can be no doubt that the combination of two by-elections, elections for every council seat in the 32 London boroughs, the first election ever for ILEA, and elections for one third of district and metropolitan councils throughout the land has been the most important expression of British public sentiment since the general election.
The net result of polling on 8 May has been a disaster for the Government, with the loss of nearly 700 seats on councils throughout the land, the loss of the rock-ribbed Conservative stronghold in Ryedale and the retention by a whisker—100 votes—of another stronghold in West Derbyshire. There have been some gains for the Liberal party, but the clear victor of the nationwide contest has been the Labour party. Psephologists are now arguing only whether, if last Thursday had been a general election, the Labour party would have had an overall majority or would be the strongest single party just short of the magic 326 seats. This is a sea-change in electoral support and in the life and fortunes of the Government.
In those circumstances I am a little torn on the question whether the House should adjourn for its Whitsun recess. The more the Government are exposed to the critical examination of the House, the more ragged, inept and confused their policies are seen to be. In the short period between Easter and Whitsun, we have seen the forced reversal of Government policy on British Leyland—the subject of the speech by the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle)—with the hapless Secretary of State for Trade and Industry obliged to make a total volte face and to retain in British public ownership both the Austin Rover car division and the truck and Land-Rover divisions of British Leyland. The clear intention had been to sell them to the Ford Motor Company and General Motors.
We have also seen the Shops Bill—a major item in the Government's legislative programme—killed stone 530 dead on the Floor of the House when the Labour Opposition were joined by a small army of Tories in revolt. The Government have received a terrible rebuff in public opinion, both in their handling of the United States' strike against Libya from British airfields and in their dilatory and unco-ordinated response to the Chernobyl disaster.
As this Session of Parliament has unfolded, the country has rightly sensed a process of disintegration in the Government, an uncertainty of response to major external events, divisions on major policy questions, and a barely concealed revolt among ministerial colleagues against arbitrary decision-making by the Prime Minister. Massively damaged by the resignations of the former Secretaries of State for Defence and for Trade and Industry, and, above all., by the Prime Minister's involvement in the events that led to their departure, the Prime Minister's standing and credibility have now reached an all-time low.
Because I wish to see the rapid demise of the Government, I can see the case for giving them no respite and no Adjournment. However, against that, I must set other considerations, of which the House will be glad to know. Individual and collective ministerial mistakes affect the whole country, not just Ministers. Critical issues are arising and they need more time for serious reflection than they have so far been given if Ministers are not to make even more grievous errors in the immediate future.
With the Budget and Finance Bill largely out of the way, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government must reconsider their economic policy. The figure of 3.5 million unemployed shows no sign of decreasing. Since oil prices have collapsed, the balance of payments has predictably moved into major deficit. The capacity of manufacturing industry to close the gap has been squandered and lost. The Chancellor's stated first priority of further income tax cuts must be changed now that the nation has so clearly and rightly voted for an increase in public expenditure on health, education, transport and social services, as I am sure the Lord Privy Seal will agree.
There are major problems in energy policy, including the decision on the pressurised water reactor nuclear power station which now needs the most urgent consideration. There is the question of the Top Salaries Review Body's report which exploded in the Government's face a year ago and which is likely to be more explosive this time.
We all know that the Lord Privy Seal has been stretching his mind on these and similar problems over the weekend. As those who heard him on "Weekend World" on Sunday and later on "The World at One'' w ill acknowledge, he is disturbed by the raucous style and lurid language of the Government, in particular by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and chairman of the Conservative party. We know that while in place of the Government's arrogant style he is in favour of calculated humility, his real concern is not the presentation but the content of policy. In the great battle between the advocates of private affluence and public squalor, those who believe in minimum collective provision and those who believe in an expanding and just economy, the Lord Privy Seal realises that his Government have gone much too far in the wrong direction.
I hope that in replying to this brief debate the Lord Privy Seal will not only comment on the particular points put to him by hon. Members on both sides of the House, but will 531 ease and interest our forthcoming Adjournment by developing further his reflections on the need for change to establish good government in Britain.
§ The Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Biffen)
I rather enjoyed the speech of the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore). One normally has well-regulated debates on the recess motion that deal with the whole range of domestic and constituency problems. The right hon. Gentleman sought to elevate it all, possibly because we may run out of speakers ahead of the allotted three hours, into a tour d'horizon of a most powerful and partisan political complexion, with a flattering amount of reference to myself. Having thoroughly enjoyed his speech, I must point out, as he will understand, that Ministers are chained to the Dispatch Box and conventions, and are required and expected to answer the debate, so I shall proceed to that rather more pedestrian task. However, I thank him for his kind references to me in the conclusion of his speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made an extremely effective marshalling of the case that he has deployed in the House on a number of times on what I am so glad that he still calls the Channel tunnel. I was brought up on this controversy, thinking of it as a tunnel rather than a link. I realise that, as in so many aspects of my life, I am still attached to the past and am not as contemporary as I should be, but I still find that a happier explanation of this substantial project, which will undoubtedly exercise the House in the months ahead. My hon. Friend was joined in the task of outlining his anxieties by my hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, North (Mr. Gale). I shall report to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the points that have been made about public consultation and the need to have as much openness as is feasible in this matter.
The hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) made a characteristically eloquent appeal on behalf of the freight services that operate in south Wales and expressed his concern that any reorganisation should not savage the standard of services which that part of the Principality has come to expect. I shall report his views.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow) returned to the subject for which he has made great and honourable sacrifice, the Anglo-Irish agreement. He elaborated on four sectors in which he thought that progress could be made which, while acknowledging the continuance of the agreement, would mitigate it and make it more acceptable to the majority community in the Province. It would be wholly inappropriate that I should comment on the thought that that proposition is valid, but it deserves the fullest consideration in the House and the Northern Ireland Office. I shall be as competent a postboy as I can be in these matters.
The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) was joined by the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) in raising the subject of British nuclear policy. Specific aspects of it were mentioned such as the safety of the Magnox reactors and Torness, which is in the process of being commissioned in East Lothian. Both hon. Members deserve to be warmly congratulated on their ingenuity in using this evening to make speeches that will look just as good in the Haddington Courier whether they 532 are made today or tomorrow. The hon. Member for East Lothian was listened to in attentive silence. If he had spoken tomorrow he would have had to wrestle with the massed ranks—[AN HON. MEMBER: "Of Privy Councillors".] I have not spent all my life trying to become a Privy Councillor without having some residual affection for the role that they perform, but I understand only too well the frustrations felt by the hon. Gentleman.
However, whether those speeches are made today or tomorrow, they have the same validity and are made with the same integrity. I shall make it my responsibility to ensure that their contents are made known to the Ministers taking part in tomorrow's debate. I thank the hon. Members for Yeovil and for East Lothian for relieving the pressure just a little on those wishing to speak tomorrow.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) spoke about tourism. It was claimed that there should be some structural reorganisation in the way that the public sector addresses that industry. I understand the arguments, but I am sure that my hon. Friend will concede that the issue is made more difficult by virtue of the many Departments and public bodies involved. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend's contribution to the debate is particularly valid, and will be noted. I believe that he speaks with wide parliamentary support when he talks about the frustration in learning that there will be a great fall in the amount of potential American tourist traffic because of events in the middle east and Libya. I shall make it my personal responsibility to write to the American ambassador pointing out my hon. Friend's comments. He will not need any reminding, but it might be helpful to reinforce that point.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) allowed politics to intrude in our proceedings. Not for him the paving stones, drains and other things with which we have a cheerful familiarity. His view was that recent local election results might have some longer-term political consequences. I agree that for the Government they represent a defeat, but with every defeat goes a challenge. The nature and the measure of the challenge will draw a response from the Tory party so that I can look forward to the next election with, I suspect, much more inner confidence than the hon. Gentleman can.
The right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney cheerfully talked about the substantial and compelling gains made by the Labour party, which, indeed, they were, but he did not reveal that in his neck of the London woods the Labour party did not exactly ride high everywhere. There is a volatility about the situation which should encourage some, dare I say, humility among those of us who make forecasts. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not think that I am trying to answer a point made from behind him that I was unwilling to answer when it came from him, but this subject arose because of the television programme "Weekend World". For years now I have looked across at the right hon. Gentleman with growing affection and increasing incomprehension, in a sense, that anyone could hold such heresies. There must be a better life for him on a Sunday morning than communing with politics. Has he not got a dog to exercise or a church congregation to swell? Apparently not. He was glued to "Weekend World" to see what cheerful and reflective observations I would make.
My remarks are on the record. I should not have thought we should postpone the recess on account of my contribution to that television programme. I should like to 533 think that it would feature in the parliamentary debate before the recess, after the recess, up to the long recess, through the new Session of Parliament, and after the striking Tory victory. People will trace all that as part of the great unfolding of events. I have no shyness about that. It is a better use of our time to have the recess as planned rather than to defer it.
I turn to a lesser local difficulty—the Cyprus dispute. I am always encouraged by the fact that if, in some extraordinary way, we can take from our proceedings all the agonies of the Province, Cyprus will emerge to take its place. If ever the House wanted to see sharply contrasting, firm and genuine committed views, it has done so this evening.
I can offer no thing better to my hon. Friends the Members for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Hickmet) and Thanet, North (Mr. Gale) and the House than to say that, of course, I shall refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. We all agree that the issue will tax all the ingenuities of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It is of great importance not only to the communities who live on that unhappy island but to the West generally, because of the strategic position that Cyprus occupies.
The right hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Cocks) talked about the great deal of time that has been made available by the defeat of the Shops Bill. As that comment came from such an authority, I felt that I must respond. A former and distinguished Chief Whip might be presumed to know exactly what sort of Niagara of time had been released by the mishap over the Second Reading of the Bill. Whatever time was available for the Shops Bill has been used up already. Those hon. Members who think that they can beat me about with demands for this or that to help fill those virginal acres resulting from the defeat of the Shops Bill are very much mistaken.
In what I thought was a touching contribution, the right hon. Gentleman said that his constituency had reacted sharply when proffered a gipsy site. Often we talk about two nations. Often we talk about the rural community and the urban community. If there is one thing that unites Bristol and north Shropshire, it is ambivalence, to say the least, when given the option of a gipsy site.
§ Mr. John Carlisle
I remind my right hon. Friend of the words of the Prime Minister when she moved to No. 10 in 1979. She declared that she sought better legislation but less of it. Would not my right hon. Friend do better if he took those words to heart?
§ Mr. Biffen
I endorse the sentiments of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) asked what developments had taken place in the truck industry in the United Kingdom. He made some pertinent points and I am sure he understands that I cannot agree with all of them. None the less, my hon. Friend referred to a part of the debate which was not as widely heard when the decisions were made. I will relay his comments to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) touched on a couple of points of constituency interest, and 534 I shall certainly take note of them. He then elevated our debate by his references to the Unborn Children (Protection) Bill which was introduced some time ago by the right hon. Member for South Down (Mr. Powell). As my hon. Friend said, the Bill did not survive the vagaries of the legislative route that had been chosen. I think that the House will wish to return to that matter.
I can understand the point made by the right hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney, who thought that it might be helpful if a little more time passed before the House considered the matter anew. I can in no sense anticipate what might be in the Queen's Speech, but this is one of those profound issues that touch on moral judgments. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon quoted with great effect the words of Cardinal Hume. The House is often at its best in such debates, but I must say that they are among the most difficult to manage procedurally. None the less, clearly we shall return to this matter in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) made an early comment on the debate that will attend the document that is being produced on alternative therapy. I thoroughly enjoyed his contribution. I am not sure where I shall stand at the end of that debate hut, again, it is a matter that properly enjoins the attention of the House. I am sure that he will agree that this is one of those many debates that can proceed just as well after the recess as before it.
§ Mr. Winnick
In case the right hon. Gentleman is worried about my Sunday mornings, may I say that I never watch television. I read his remarks in the press. I assume that they were correct because he did not challenge them. During the interview the right hon. Gentleman said that, if his party were to be re-elected, the Prime Minister would not stay the whole course. Was that remark cleared by No. 10, because the other day the right hon. Lady said that she was only halfway through her premiership?
§ Mr. Biffen
Like all good political speeches, it left more questions unanswered than answered.
We shall have our short break and then return and debate all these great issues—those that cover foreign affairs and those that cover the economy. Of course, the Conservative party will be under the goad of recent by-election and local electon losses, but that is not the precondition for defeatism. It is a precondition for arguing back and winning the argument, the affection of the country and, ultimately, the vote. That is exactly what we intend to do
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 23rd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 3rd June; and that the House shall not adjourn on Friday 23rd May until Mr. Speaker shall have reported the Royal Assent to any Acts which have been agreed upon by both Houses.