Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House at its rising on Thursday 23rd March, do adjourn until Tuesday 4th April and at its rising on Friday 28th April, do adjourn till Tuesday 2nd May.—[Mr. Fallon.]
§ Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It is extremely unusual, but I wonder whether it is in order for the debate to be opened by an Opposition Front Bench spokesman. I thought that it was supposed to be a Back-Bench occasion.
§ Mr. Dobson
By tradition, the debate—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples) would keep quiet, I could get on more quickly.
By tradition, the debate on the Easter Adjournment allows hon. Members—all hon. Members—to raise issues which we believe should be dealt with before the Easter recess, and I propose to do just that. I wish to refer to the Government's treatment of two very different groups of senior citizens. One group is badly off, and the other group is well off. I need hardly add that the Government propose to ignore the badly-off group and to make the well-off group even better off. The first of the two groups are war widows whose husbands' service in the forces ended before 1973. We understand that they are to get nothing from tomorrow's Budget. The other group are well-off pensioners who, we understand, are to get tax concessions in tomorrow's Budget to subsidise their private health insurance premiums.
Let us consider first the plight of the pre-1973 war widows. Most of them lost their husbands in the second world war or as a consequence of injuries received in that war. They have been shabbily treated by successive Governments. Many had a particularly hard time trying to bring up their children and are quite worn out with the effort of trying to scrape a living.
From 1 April 1973, changes in the armed forces pension scheme made much more generous provisions for widows of members of the forces, but that scheme did not include widows whose husbands were killed in action or whose service in the forces ended before that date. Today, no fewer than 57,000 war widows are not covered by the 1973 scheme. They still look to this House to redress their outstanding grievances. In particular, they seek parity of treatment with widows who are provided for under the 1973 scheme.
The Government have estimated that it would cost about £200 million to pay the pre-1973 widows the same as the post-1973 widows. But the British Legion and the British war widows are not even asking for all that extra sum to be found immediately. They point out that the widows are growing older all the time and more and more of them are dying. They calculate that the Government are saving up to £20 million per year on pensions which they no longer have to pay out, so they have asked that the money saved on pensions no longer paid out to widows who have died should be shared out between the survivors. That would give an extra £6 or £7 per week to each pre-1973 widow.
38 Another more generous alternative has also been suggested. It, too, would not cost the full £200 million. Under the 1973 scheme, a widow whose husband dies of causes attributable to his service gets £25 per week more than one whose husband dies of natural causes. So the Government have a ready-made way to calculate how to pay pre-1973 widows equal compensation for the death of their husbands on active service or from causes attributable to that service. They could give them that extra £25 per week each. It is estimated that to pay the additional £25 per week to all pre-1973 war widows would cost the Ministry of Defence about £70 million—not a great deal in these days of multi-billion pound Budget surpluses. The war widows expect some action to be taken.
§ Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North)
I endorse my hon. Friend's remarks. Is he aware of the correspondence of 5 January 1983 from the Prime Minister's office? Before he concludes his remarks, will he make sure that that correspondence is quoted?
§ Mr. Dobson
My hon. Friend is obviously closely following my logic. I was about to mention that very point.
The war widows were encouraged in their expectation that some action would be taken by the Prime Minister when she was Leader of the Opposition. On 13 October 1975, a letter sent on her behalf from her office stated:Specifically relating to war widows, we promised in our October 1974 Manifesto that we would remove the distinction concerning whether or not the husband had been in service before or after 31st March 1973.In fact, the Tory election manifesto of October 1974 had promised no such thing, but that mistake was never corrected and, in my view, the letter committed the right hon. Lady to removing the distinction between the two categories of widows.
In case any Conservative Members wish to cavil about basing the Prime Minister's commitment on that letter, a further letter was sent on 5 January 1978—not 1983 as some hon. Members believe—from the office of the Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, which made a clear promise to the pre-1973 war widows. It reads:However, I quite accept that the present situation is unsatisfactory and Mrs. Thatcher has agreed that it is now our wish to establish as rapidly as economic circumstances permit, a scheme whereby the widows of all servicemen killed in action (or dying from causes attributable to active service) would receive a pension similar to that now awarded to widows of servicemen currently in the Armed Forces".Clearly the time has come for the Prime Minister to honour her promise. She cannot argue that economic circumstances do not permit the Government to find the money because she constantly boasts how prosperous the country is these days.
We have been told that tomorrow the Chancellor of the Exchequer proposes to use some of his Budget surplus to pay off the national debt. Surely he should first pay off our national debt to the war widows. There is no group to whom our nation owes a greater debt. But for the sacrifices of their menfolk and their comrades in arms, we should have lost all the freedoms that we now enjoy. I am sure that most people believe that the Chancellor should pay that debt of honour to the war widows before he starts paying off the national debt.
There is, of course, another priority group of older people whom the Prime Minister has insisted must be helped before the war widows. The Prime Minister has forced the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Health 39 to propose that people over 60 who buy private health insurance should have income tax relief. Like most of the changes proposed by the present Chancellor, that concession would benefit almost exclusively the well-off. Figures from the general household survey show that only 4 per cent. of people over 65 years old have any form of private medical insurance cover. However, 27 per cent. of retired professional people and 12 per cent. of retired employers and managers have such cover. At the other end of the scale, only 1 per cent. of skilled and semi-skilled pensioners are covered by private medical insurance and, if the official statistics are to be believed, no unskilled manual worker pensioners at all are covered by any private medical insurance scheme.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
Was my hon. Friend also about to point out that people who have such cover find it astonishingly inadequate as they get older because schemes which have taken their money for 40 years refuse to cover them when they get to a certain age and for certain clear and easily defined groups of illnesses?
§ Mr. Dobson
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, to which I was about to come.
As the figures show, only well-off pensioners have the private medical insurance cover to trigger off the tax concession. It is no use the Government arguing that the concession will mean that poorer people, who currently have private medical cover at work, will be able to carry on with such cover when they retire because of the tax concessions. The fact is that in the next youngest age group—the 45 to 64-year-olds—only 3 per cent. of skilled manual workers, 2 per cent. of semi-skilled and 1 per cent. of unskilled manual workers have private medical insurance cover to carry over.
The proposed tax relief is estimated to cost more than £200 million and it is designed to put money into the pockets and handbags of the better off. It will also add in its small way to the north-south divide and to the overheating of the economy in the south-east. Although the national average of people covered by private medical insurance at the time of the last national household survey was 8 per cent., that national average masked enormous regional variations, ranging from just 3 per cent. of the population covered in the north, 4 per cent. in Wales and 5 per cent. in Scotland and Yorkshire to 10 per cent. in what the statisticians call the outer south-east, 12 per cent. in Greater London and no fewer than 17 per cent. in the outer metropolitan ring around London. It is therefore the prosperous south-east that will predominantly benefit from the tax concession.
During the general election the Prime Minister justified her use of private medical treatment on the grounds that she was spending her own money in her own way. Now, as a pensioner, she is demanding a subsidy from other taxpayers to go with it. In some cases that subsidy will exceed the average sum spent by the National Health Service on hospital services for each pensioner. Therefore, there will be no saving to the National Health Service even if those privately insured pensioners were to obtain all their medical treatment privately. However, they will not.
More than half of the people of all ages who have private medical insurance obtain in-patient hospital treatment from the NHS when they fall ill rather than from 40 some of the dodgy private hospitals on offer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) said, when it comes to the pensioners, the private health insurers specifically exclude most of the pre-existing medical and chronic conditions from which pensioners suffer—such as arthritis, senile dementia or loss of mobility—and 60 per cent. of people aged between 65 and 74 have such a long-standing illness. That figure rises to nearly 70 per cent. for people aged 75 or over.
The tax relief will reduce the funding available to the NHS while doing little or nothing to relieve the demands that the beneficiaries will make upon the NHS. Moreover, we understand that the tax relief will be available not just to the old people themselves but to relatives, such as sons or daughters, who pay more tax but wish to contribute to private medical cover for their parents. Under this Government, the motto is not so much "Honour thy father and thy mother" as "Turn thy father and thy mother into a tax break".
If the Government want to give priority in the Budget to the health needs of the elderly, the answer is not to give tax relief on medical insurance premiums for the well off. The priority should be to provide funds to cut NHS waiting lists for all elderly patients, to increase investment in district nursing, health visiting, chiropody and physiotherapy and to devote more attention to chronic illnesses.
On its own admission, the private sector offers no help in the area of chronic sickness. The latest Private Patients Plan brochure targeted on the elderly specifies what treatment is covered. It defines treatment asA surgical or medical procedure, the purpose of which is to cure a Medical Condition and not to alleviate long term illness".If anyone has a long-term illness, there is no point in looking to the private sector for help. Not to be outdone by PPP, a BUPA representative recently said that chronic illness wasnot a suitable subject for insurance. You've got to find another way of tackling it".Only the public purse will find the money to tackle that problem for all our pensioners. Tomorrow, however, the public purse is to be used not to help all pensioners, but to single out for special treatment an already privileged group.
That brings me back to the other group of pensioners whom I mentioned earlier—the war widows. After the second world war in which most of their husbands served, this country established a National Health Service on the basis that the best health services should be available to all and that money should no longer be the passport to better or quicker treatment. The Government have no intention of finding the £200 million required to do justice to the war widows. Worse still, adding insult to injury, they propose to spend at least that amount to help an already privileged group of pensioners to receive quicker treatment than the war widows who cannot afford private health care.
Finally, a Private Patients Plan advertisement addressed to pensioners reads:Today the dice seem loaded against older people when they need hospital treatment … private medical insurance is not generally available to them and the alternative … the National Health Service … already has around 800,000 people on its waiting list. And more than half these people are over the age of 55.This could mean six months or more waiting for an operation. Don't risk it … apply for membershipof PPP. 41Like most people you will probably be quite willing to be treated under the NHS but because of the heavy demand on its services this may not be possible unless you wait months … even years in some cases.With Retirement Health Plan you can get the hospital treatment you need … when you need it. Here's how it works!That is indeed how it works in Thatcher's Britain—no £200 million to redeem our debt to war widows, but £200 million to help the healthier, wealthier pensioners to jump the queue for hospital treatment in ront of those widows.
§ Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)
I wish to postpone the Adjournment of this House for the Easter and May recesses until the Central Electricity Generating Board gives a categorical undertaking not to import any more Russian coal now or in the future.
Last week's disclosure that 25,000 tonnes of coal had recently been imported to two power stations in Nottinghamshire shows, I believe, a commercial misjudgment and an insult to the miners there, whom, lest we forget, were the very people who kept up the supply of coal to the CEGB during the miners' dispute in 1984–85.
The reason given by the monopoly industry for the importation of that coal was that it was for a test burn, which sounds dubious when we consider that the stations in question, Staythorpe near Newark and High Marnham, are two of the oldest in the Trent valley. I believe that the purpose of the exercise was to see whether the CEGB could mount an importation of Russian coal without it being discovered.
That Russian coal was mined at Donets, south of Moscow, carted a thousand miles across Russia to a Baltic port, and shipped in two Russian ships to the Humber ports. It was then transported through the country lanes by 40-tonne juggernauts to the power stations at a cost of approximately £40 per tonne.
If that coal was cheaper than British coal, it could be argued that it was a good buy. However, the CEGB could have bought the same consignment from Nottinghamshire collieries situated seven miles from the respective power stations at a marginal cost of £30 per tonne.
During the past month in Nottinghamshire 250,000 tonnes of coal has been stocked at a cost of £4 per tonne. The House will appreciate the stupidity of the board's actions—25,000 tonnes of coal at an extra cost of £10 per tonne is equivalent to £250,000, a cost which, once again, the poor consumer will have to foot. A small price, one might say, to insult the people of Nottinghamshire. Nevertheless, this folly has serious implications for the future of British Coal.
British Coal cannot mothball deep mines and a sudden surge of imports would lead to yet another round of colliery closures—collieries which could be needed in the mid-1990s, and which could be made viable.
The CEGB may find it amusing to play the international coal market for short-term gain but to force the closure of Nottinghamshire pits and to reduce the home supply leaves the British consumer at the mercy of the international coal barons. Do we really want the lights in this Chamber to be dependent on the vagaries of such overseas supplies? This game of poker which the CEGB is playing with British Coal over price and future supplies has already had its effect in Nottinghamshire. Exactly one month ago today British Coal announced 2,000 job losses and one colliery closure. That, after productivity has risen 42 by 75 per cent., a record unmatched by any other industry in the United Kingdom, and with coal prices to the power stations down 25 per cent. in real terms during the past three years.
What more do the people from the CEGB want from the Nottinghamshire miners—blood? They certainly had plenty of that in the past. When the miners were going through the picket lines and were being called scabs they considered it a compliment, but the CEGB has now stuck its knife straight between their shoulderblades.
What British Coal can offer the CEGB, which no other coal supplier will contemplate, is long-term contracts at known prices. Security of supply gives stability to consumers. Gambling with this country's future energy needs, endangering this country's prosperity and inflicting an insult beyond measure on the Nottinghamshire miners is for empty heads. The empty heads at the CEGB who have caused that must go. I sincerely hope the chairman of the CEGB, Lord Marshall, will make amends and offer an apology to the Nottinghamshire miners.
§ Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)
I want to raise another matter about a local colliery, this time in Derbyshire—Arkwright colliery which was closed in early 1988 After making profits for many years British Coal finally put the lid on, just as it is putting the lid on the Nottinghamshire pits now, despite the fact that they were used as doormats during the strike.
On November 9 1988 there was an escape of methane gas and almost all the tiny village of Arkwright was affected—56 houses were emptied, as a result of which the local authorities had to be called in to deal with the matter. In 1988 the Coal Board came along and filled the drift with concrete where it had to apply the closure and left it. That is typical of British Coal and that has been its usual attitude over pit closures.
The Tupton seam of the Arkwright colliery drift mine had been subject to methane gas problems for some considerable time, so much so that one of the miners at Arkwright colliery, who is listening to this debate, raised the matter with the local authority and said that British Coal should be warned, having sealed off the drift, that there might he a chance of methane escaping into the nearby village, a quarter of a mile away.
British Coal ignored the letter from the local north-east Derbyshire district council and said that everything had been effectively sealed and told the council not to worry because everything was all right.
British Coal replied to the council on 19 September, but on 9 November between 40 and 50 families escaped with their lives. It could have been a holocaust, a mass funeral. Somebody, quite fortuitously, happened to notice that gas leak. East Midlands Gas was called in and it found methane.
The following day I raised this matter in parliament arid I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy demanding a public inquiry on that and certain other matters. Those who have heard me raise this issue before, know that I called for a public inquiry because British Coal has, until now, refused to accept total liability for the gas leak. Due to British Coal's lack of control after Arkwright colliery was closed, methane gas escaped. Scores of families could have been gassed or could have been the victims of an almighty explosion.
43 The consequences of the leak have been as follows: many families have lost large sums of money for household items—the contents of freezers were destroyed; many people had to take time off work during the evacuation—they were evacuated for about a fortnight in all; one person lost his job because he was evacuated with his family and his employer refused to set him back on; property values have slumped by thousands of pounds. The local authority had to make payments to remove families for that fortnight and payments had to be made to relatives and friends for boarding those families. Families had to be split up and people are still suffering from nerves and other problems arising out of that gas escape.
When I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy I expected some action, but I did not get it. The Secretary of State for Energy, in typical liaison with British Coal, decided to pass the buck. He passed it to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who passed it to one of his juniors and down the line it went until I got a reply on 31 January. There was to be no inquiry. The Government said that British Coal had dealt with the gas hazard and they would accept responsibility only on the basis of a good neighbour policy, granting £100 per household. That poses an interesting question. The coal mine existed for many years and was liable to escapes of methane gas—all the miners testified to that. The pit was closed and gas then escaped. Whose gas was it?
East Midlands Gas analysed the gas and said that it did not belong to it, even though it supplied the gas to tenants. The gas was sent to Harwell to be analysed, to discover whether it was landfill gas, but the Harwell institute found that it was not. Most villagers believed that it was coming through cracks caused by subsidence due to the pit. Most people realised that the gas was pushed up through the cracks as a result of rising water levels and 40 families in the village were lucky to escape.
British Coal officials say that they are not sure that it is their gas. That seems incredible, given that the pit is only a few hundred yards away from the village. It is more incredible that British Coal was willing to bore into the mine to get rid of the methane gas. It drilled down about 60 ft and built a chimney. British Coal has already spent an estimated £1.5 million and has managed to bring down the methane levels, yet its officials still say—having spent all that money and carried out all that work—that the gas leak is not their responsibility or liability. British Coal has refused to deal with the solicitors whom the villagers have collectively employed to fight their case.
This is a green issue which involves the environment—a chimney has been pouring out methane gas. Government Members talk about the environment every time they open their gills, and here is a little village with 40 families involved in an incident—many of them are down here today. They cannot obtain proper recompense from British Coal or justice from the Government because the various Secretaries of State are passing letters between them. A junior Employment Minister went up to the coal mine last week and, supposedly, confided to some officials that British Coal should accept liability. I suppose he will now deny that. In letters to me, both Departments involved say that British Coal is not totally responsible.
This is a strange affair, which is all about money. British Coal has made a mountain of money out of Arkwright 44 colliery, from the ribs of the miners and their families, but now, when those people are suffering, it refuses to pay them back. The families are subjected to having little monitors installed in their houses and many of them live in fear. Even worse, British Coal refuses to allow Arkwright colliery's records to be given to the solicitors representing those families. They are being treated with arrogance and contempt. They have been subjected to a horror story; they have been evacuated from their houses for 14 days and they still live in fear. British Coal is acting as it did during most of the miners' strike, and refusing to allow the families' solicitors to see records pertaining to the pit and the period when the gas escaped.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I hope that my hon. Friend appreciates that, under the Coal Industry Nationalisation Act 1946, the Secretary of State has the power to issue a directive to British Coal to release the statistics relating to such a matter. Therefore, the responsibility rests with the Government, not solely with British Coal.
§ Mr. Skinner
That is one of the reasons why I am raising the issue today. The Government have a responsibility to play fair with these people. The Secretary of State for Energy and the Government have the power to settle this issue and I assure them that the villagers are prepared to take the matter to court. However, I do not want them to spend their money. I do not see why they should have to employ solicitors and spend money in order to obtain the relevant records, a fair deal, a public inquiry and compensation. Why should they not receive those now? The Prime Minister found £500 million to try to save Tory seats in Kent and another £500 million at the press conference at which she gave the wrong figures. We are talking about a smaller amount which is needed in a Labour-held seat.
In response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn), of course, the Government could tell British Coal, through the Secretary of State for Energy, to play fair. Why do they continue this agony? Why do they not play the game? The Government should demand that the records are released, without the villagers having to go to court. Instead of passing the buck between Departments, Ministers should answer the questions and guarantee compensation.
This disturbing case could, as I said, have resulted in mass funerals. The villagers were lucky and that is why they have come to London today demanding the treatment that would have been given if the incident had occurred in Downing street. If even a minuscule amount—compared to that in Arkwright—had escaped in Downing street, at Chatsworth, the property of the Duke of Devonshire, or anywhere within the realms of the establishment, there would have been an inquiry. However, it happened near a pit yard where people produced the wealth of Britain for all those years; the wealth creators have been ignored. The people in the belly of the establishment always get away with it. It is high time that the Government told British Coal to get on with its job and issue the directive referred to by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield.
We are fed up with crocodile tears and British Coal talking about acting as a good neighbour and giving £100 and a little bit on the side. The villagers have come here today to call upon British Coal to shoulder its responsibility and upon the Government to have a fresh 45 look at what has happened and to call on the Health and Safety Executive to conduct a public inquiry into the affair. The villagers are calling on the Government to release the Arkwright colliery's records so that their solicitors can deal with the matter. They are fed up with all the talk about the environment and now want action.
The matter will not go away. These people have travelled 150 miles to London today and they will not disband as soon as they return to Arkwright. They will fight all the way. However, a great deal of money—such as court costs—could be saved if some fairness and justice were shown in this matter.
§ Mr. William Powell (Corby)
It is entirely right that we should seek to adjourn in order to celebrate the divine resurrection. I wish to spend a few moments reflecting on a human resurrection that has occurred in the last 10 years. It is right to pay tribute to the many thousands of people responsible for the remarkable recovery that has occurred in the former steel town of Corby—the central town in my constituency.
The House will be aware that, exactly 10 years ago, it adjourned after the Government had lost a vote of no confidence, and with a general election in prospect. On 3 March, 1979, the British Steel Corporation notified the steel unions represented in the Corby steel works that it proposed to stop steel production in Corby in a year's time. There was nothing surprising about that announcement because it was preceded by months of speculation in the press and rumours of Cabinet discussions. I have no idea whether they were true.
It was not merely a matter of speculation because it was underlined in the steel White Paper of 1973, introduced in the dying months of the Government led by my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). The White Paper said that steel production was likely to cease in Corby by the end of the decade—the 1970s—for two extremely good reasons. First, steel production started in Corby because of the local iron ore that was mined by opencast mining. That high-quality iron ore was beginning to run out and it was obvious that there would be insufficient local iron ore beyond the end of the decade to be able to sustain the steel making process, which has been carried on for about 40 years.
The decision to concentrate steel production in the five great plants meant that all the smaller steelworks such as Corby, Consett, Ebbw Vale and Shotton, were likely to find themselves under considerable threat as a result of the concentration at Llanwern, Port Talbot and so on. There was nothing surprising, therefore, about the decision announced in March 1979, but it was regrettable that between 1974 and 1979 so little was done to prepare for the closure. I use those dates deliberately. The House will recall that the steel White Paper that made the forecast to which I have referred came out in the December 1973. At that time, 73 per cent. of people in a town of 50,000 owed their livelihoods to the steelworks. So clearly a body blow of immense proportions was dealt to the principal town of what is now my constituency but was then the constituency of Kettering.
There is no question but that a resurrection of staggering dimensions has since occurred. The effect of closure in Corby was an unemployment total of 7,000; it has now fallen to 1,800. I am reasonably confident about 46 forecasting that by the end of this calendar year it will have fallen below 1,000. I can also predict with confidence that there will be full employment in Corby by the end of 1990—that was not predicted back in 1979–80.
All this has come about as a result of the activities of many human beings. I want to say some words of praise about a wide variety of people—not all of them Conservatives—who have played a considerable part in bringing about this remarkable transformation.
First, I single out the Government's principal agency to have been involved—the Commission on the New Towns. It has worked extremely hard and effectively to construct factory units, to encourage tenants to occupy them and to sell land in its ownership to companies moving in. It has also promoted Corby extremely effectively as a desirable place for inward investment, and has done so with confidence in the future. The commission has turned in a remarkable performance and the Department of the Environment has provided a good many services, too. The Commission on the New Towns is subject to that Department, which has made available derelict land grants on an extensive scale.
Much of the land in Corby consisted of old opencast iron ore workings in a most unsatisfactory condition. It would have been too much to expect private investors to have had the confidence to spend huge sums on restoring this land to a condition in which they could begin the construction of new factory units. The public sector has an important role to play in the sort of activities that have taken place in Corby, not least by providing derelict land grants. In the case of Corby, these grants have been generous, continuous and effective—a magnificent example of public sector pump-priming, which has enabled private sector industry to take advantage of what the state, the nation and the taxpayer have provided.
One of the most important lessons to be drawn from Corby's experience is the paramount importance of derelict land grants. I see that my hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) is present in the Chamber; he plays a considerable part in drawing this fact to the attention of Ministers. It is important that everyone should understand that derelict land grants are essential if old industrial areas are to be restored and the sort of developments of the past decade in Corby are to take place.
I want to pay tribute to Tresham college in Kettering and Corby. That college of education has done an enormous amount of work with incoming private industry to train the work force in the requisite skills. It is another example of public sector pump-priming which can generate redevelopment and secure and promote a town's future. The work done by the college has been outstanding, and I am proud to represent the constituency in which it has played a pioneering role in the transition from past to future. All the more pity, therefore, that none of the activities I have mentioned were attended to in the mid-1970s—a great deal of suffering would have been avoided if they had been.
I pay tribute to the local authorities that have been working in this area. I said earlier that not only Conservatives had been involved in the regeneration. I pay tribute to Labour councillors and Labour authorities who have done their bit—it has been a considerable bit—to encourage companies to come in and to boost the reputation of the area that they represent. I am glad to report that we have had no loony Leftists ruining the 47 reputation of the area for the outside world—far from it. The local authority and district council immediately set about, not holding demonstrations, but going to the seat of power, even though by May 1979 it was occupied by Conservatives. The authorities tried to work with the Conservative Government for the good of their area.
Other Labour authorities have done exactly the same, and I pay tribute to them. The only way out of industrial catastrophes such as my constituency faced is through partnership between all people of goodwill, regardless of their political persuasion. That is what has happened. During the six years or so that I have been a Member of Parliament I have been pleased to be able to work just as effectively with people who are convinced and committed supporters of the Labour party as with convinced and committed supporters of the Conservative party. Such parterships have been entered upon during the past decade. It is important that they should be made in the future in areas that still face recovery from industrial disaster.
The hon. Member for Knowsley, North (Mr. Howarth) mentioned the closure in Kirkby, which was announced over the weekend. Although Kirkby faces disaster and huge unemployment I hope that it will realise that there is real advantage in trying to work with, rather than trying to denigrate and discredit, people who may not be of the same political persuasion. Partnership is essential.
I also pay tribute to the work done by the district council and the county council—the latter has been Conservative for the past four years, was Labour for the four years before that, and Conservative before that. Conservative or Labour, the council has done its bit to build up communications, to secure funds from the EEC and the Government and to ensure that the investment in infrastructure, which is so necessary to improving communications, could take place.
In the heat of debate in this Chamber we often hear partisan exchanges which do considerable discredit to the people on the wrong side of them, so it is right that these things should be said from time to time and that people should have the chance to reflect on them.
Over 400 companies have come to Corby in the last 10 years, some of them small, some of them household names. There have been setbacks as well as triumphs on the way. There are many lessons to be learned and applied to areas which have experienced industrial devastation post 1979.
I want to close by paying tribute to two groups of people who have each, in their way, played a unique part. The first of those groups are people, on the whole, private business men, who have invested their own money in the town. Most of the investment which has occurred has not come from the Department of Trade and Industry, the EEC or any other public purse; it has come from the sources of private industry itself. Huge investment has taken place on an immense scale.
There is absolutely no question at all that the whole range of Government policies has enabled this to happen, and it is too easy to say that the Government, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Employment, local authorities or other public institutions have done everything. They have done an enormous amount to prime the pump, but they have led a huge cascade of investment, 48 running into hundreds of millions of pounds of people's own money, and these people deserve public tribute as well. Above all else, as we talk about policies and politics in this country, we should never forget that we are actually talking about people. People are the only resource, the only source which gives us any vehicle or authority for what we do here.
Finally, I would like to pay tribute to the people of Corby themselves. Every family was affected by what happened 10 years ago and many of them have had to carry the strain in circumstances of the utmost difficulty and poverty. Now prosperity is returning, and I confidently predict that the prosperity will grow and benefit every single family living in the town. I pay tribute to all those people who have taken the strain in circumstances beyond their control, who may well have felt let down by all sorts of things which happened in the past, for which it would not be appropriate to lay too much blame here this evening, when I do not want to distribute blame but to pay tribute. Thousands and thousands of families have taken the strain, have come through it, and they deserve the admiration and approbation of this House.
§ Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich)
I believe that this very precious time for Back Benchers should be used to explain in very simple terms why the House should not adjourn before it has addressed itself to certain abuses, and it is important that we should guard the time for that purpose. I shall not detain the House long, but the issue that concerns me is very real.
Over a number of months now, the House has discussed the question of BSE, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which has infected a great many cattle, and there have been discussions on the various ways of dealing with it. I was concerned to discover that infected carcases were being buried in a landfill site in the middle of my constituency, on the Cheshire plain, alongside two specific water sources from which in due course drinking water is taken. When I asked the Ministry of Agriculture whether the animals were being incinerated or buried, it reported that 48 carcases had been disposed of in this way.
Having studied the relevant reports, I appreciate that there are alternative means of disposal, and that the heads had been removed from the infected cattle and taken elsewhere for testing. Nevertheless, I am still greatly concerned at the fact that a landfill tip is being used for such purposes. The site is quite close to housing and while I do not wish to overplay the matter I believe there is some doubt as to whether lime is being used before disposing of the carcases, as is essential when dealing with the destruction of infected beasts.
Having read the Ministrys own reports, there is some suggestion that infected animals may carry the virus infection in the spleen as well as the brain. If that is so, I would want to be assured by the relevant Ministers that in disposing of infected carcases in a landfill site they are not implanting a virus which could have an effect over the next 10 or 20 years. It is all very well talking about caring for the environment, but caring for the environment means taking very careful action where there could be a possible risk to anyone, either now or in the distance future.
I therefore feel that the Minister of Agriculture should be prepared to set up an inquiry into the means of 49 disposing of infected cattle. I know that there are very few incinerators available to destroy such carcases easily, and I understand that some veterinary surgeons doubt whether incineration is necessarily the best means, but if there is any doubt about the way in which infected carcases are being treated I am extremely concerned that they should not be left in the earth.
I am anxious not to cause panic or concern among my constituents who live around the landfill site, but I hope that the Government will make a clear, definitive statement about what is happening there and how the carcases are treated. I hope that the Leader of the House will be prepared to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to reply in some detail to the very genuine fears of my constituents.
If BSE is a growing problem, a number of questions need to be answered. Is incineration the best method of disposal? If so, what plans do the Government have for building incinerators capable of carrying the numbers of carcases which will undoubtedly need to be disposed of in the near future? If incineration is the only method, presumably the landfill site will no longer be used. If, on the other hand, it is possible to dispose of infected carcases safely in that way, why are only the heads being removed when the Ministry's own information seems to suggest that other parts of the carcases may still carry the infection?
Finally, veterinary health is absolutely vital because of its effect on the food chain. We know from the treatment of viruses in human beings that it is easy to store up difficulties for future generations by misuse of landfill sites, which could be a potential time bomb. I hope that is not the case.
I hope that the Ministry will not be prepared to allow infected carcases to be quietly disposed of, as they have been so far, on a site which is of great concern to my constituents. I hope that Ministers will consider the methods of disposal and reassure everyone concerned in my constituency either that this is the only safe way of dealing with the problem, or that they will come forward very urgently with alternative plans.
The very fact that the disposal of these carcases has been taking place in what amounted almost to secrecy is bound to concern us all. I do not wish to start a panic or to over-dramatise the situation, but if the House adjourns without the serious concern of my constituents being set to rest, I personally shall be exceedingly alarmed because I shall begin to believe that there really is something to hide.
§ Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams)
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will not consider the length of the contributions today as a measure of the importance of the subjects which have been raised. Obviously the hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) raised a subject which will be of concern to all hon. Members. I suspect that the matter that I want to raise will also concern hon. Members on both sides of the House.
My hon. Friend the Leader of the House should be aware that 90 of my colleagues feel as strongly as I do about the problem of land use. Hon. Members have raised the issue of land use eating into green fields on many occasions over the past few months. Many hon. Members 50 have referred to the need to debate the future of the development plans published in a White Paper in January. Those plans should be discussed in this House.
Extra weight was given to the need to discuss the proposals in that White Paper by a statement made by Plymouth city council on Friday. The council believes that it has run out of land and intends to ask the Boundary Commission for permission to eat into 2,000 acres of land in my constituency for building purposes.
Problems with land use have often been discussed in this House. However, the major problem of land use has been accelerated by the view expressed by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that nearly 500,000 new houses need to be built on 53,700 acres in the south of this country.
We are all aware of the need to provide more homes. However, there is increasing concern that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has no regard, although he professes otherwise, for preserving the green fields and the environment of the south and south-west. Unless we have an opportunity to debate the future of the development plans and the Government can hear the strength of feeling on the Conservative as well as on the Opposition Benches, they will be doing an injustice to the House and to the country.
There are 85,000 acres of public vacant land. By vancant I mean dormant, under-utilised or unused. That land is on the register of public land which was set up in 1981 by the then Secretary of State for the Environment to indentify waste land or land that was surplus to requirement, but in public ownership. Over the past eight years, an enormous amount of that land has been sold. Many of us on the Conservative Benches were delighted that the land had been sold and used. However, as fast as land comes off the register, more land goes on. So long as we have the present planning system, land will continue to become vacant, dormant and under-utilised in public ownership and will continue to be placed on the register. I believe that the land register will continue for another 50 years or more as public vacant land is sold and new public land becomes available.
There is public waste land in most cities. There is certainly much public vacant land in Plymouth. It belongs not just to the local authority, health authorities and education authorities, but to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence and to the Property Services Agency. It is no good the Government saying that they are concerned to preserve the environment and to conserve the beautiful parts of Britain if they continue to allow public vacant land to dominate the scene while they allow the green fields to be eaten up before public vacant land is used.
Instead of debating whether we should continue to use green fields in preference to public vacant land, we should debate the merits of the future of the development plans. Can we discuss whether we want to get rid of the county structure plans in the way that my hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment is proposing? Do we want city councils like that in Plymouth or in other major conurbations to commandeer thousands of acres of green fields and destroying the environment because they say that they have run out of land? The Government are not pushing hard enough for public vacant land to be released and used. The land register has indentified the 51 public waste land and vacant land, but the Government have not insisted that they and other public organisations divest themselves of that land.
I was grateful for the comments by my hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) about my specialisation in this subject. Some hon. Members have read the splendid publication "Public Land Utilisation Management Schemes" which I wrote in conjunction with others last year. That document identifies the scope and extent of public vacant land and argues how it should be used before the Secretary of State for the Environment eats into green field sites in the south and south-east.
There is no point in my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment insisting on more housing being built if public money is not available for the necessary infrastructure to go with it. Ivybridge in my constituency is one of the fastest growing towns in the country. It has inadequate schooling and the police claim that they cannot provide the police presence that they would like because the town continues to expand and there is insufficient public investment. In that town there is insufficient health care, inadequate housing facilities and leisure and recreation services. Similarly, the road network is inadequate.
It is pointless to continue to build on public vacant land or on green field sites unless there is sufficient infrastructure. Problems with inadequate infrastructure can be found in Ivybridge and elsewhere in my constituency. The future of the development plans is very important and we must debate that subject before the House adjourns for the Easter recess.
§ Mr. A. E. P. Duffy (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Before the House adjourns for the Easter recess, I want to draw to the attention of the Leader of the House the alarming growth in pollution of the stretches of the Rivers Don and Rother which frame my constituency. I look to the Secretary of State for the Environment for an urgent response.
I spoke about these problems during the Second Reading of the Water Bill. I informed the House that, since 1980, I have engaged the Department of the Environment in correspondence about capital allocations and external financing limits for Yorkshire Water in the light of what I feared then were growing problems of the water supply and pollution. The then Minister of State described my inquiries as unnecessarily gloomy and claimed that the overall trend in river quality was improving.
The expectation then was that Yorkshire rivers would become cleaner during the 1980s. Instead, river quality has worsened throughout the decade. The Yorkshire water authority chairman has admitted to me in correspondence that hundreds of kilometres of south Yorkshire river stretches are still polluted, and the Prime Minister confirmed as much in her reply to me last Thursday. Furthermore, there are growing doubts in south Yorkshire about the quality of domestic water, whether from the Pennines or from the River Derwent. A fear about aluminium from purification processes is associated with the Pennines, and worries about nitrates from agricultural pollution are connected with the River Derwent.
The Government have insisted that when the Water Bill is enacted it will address the problems of water supply and 52 river pollution. Whether the Bill will eventually provide for the appropriate investment and regulatory framework is not my concern today. My continuing worry is that the scale of the problem in south Yorkshire is so huge and probably still deteriorating that the situation cannot await the potential benefits, as the Government see them, of the Water Bill.
Yorkshire Water produced figures last week which show that pollution incidents in the region's rivers have increased more than three fold in the past decade and that complaints about the quality of drinking water in south Yorkshire have also risen steadily over the past two years. Hundreds of Sheffield-area folk have protested recently about dirty water supplies.
Local council officials are considering whether disgruntled consumers may have a case against Yorkshire Water under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. I understand that Yorkshire water authority, in common with others, is reconsidering its policy on the use of aluminium in purification processes, following research studies suggesting a possible link between aluminium and Alzheimer's disease.
There is also growing concern in south Yorkshire about the presence of nitrates in drinking water. One quarter of south Yorkshire's drinking water comes from the River Derwent, which is fed by streams and rivulets running through agricultural land. Even if no more fertilisers are used around York, it is feared that water nitrate levels in south Yorkshire will continue to rise. It takes between five and 40 years for the chemical to seep through. There is the fear that the River Derwent will exceed the Community's limit for nitrates in drinking water by the end of the century.
During last winter, I conveyed those fears to the Department of the Environment. In a letter dated 9 January, the Minister for Water and Planning claimed that the revised capital allocation would enable Yorkshire Water to implement its programmes. The Minister, looking to the future, thought that the authority would benefit in particular from the £1 billion programme planned to bring most sewage works up to the necessary standard by 1992.
My purpose in speaking today is to argue that the situation in Yorkshire continues to deteriorate and that there is a need for greater remedial action in advance of the implementation of the Water Bill. My authority for making those submissions is to be found in the current finding of the Yorkshire Post poisoned rivers campaign, in the investigation by the Sunday Times' "Insight" team, and consumer perception. According to a survey commissioned by Yorkshire Water published only last week, more people are worried about the state of rivers in Yorkshire and Humberside than ever previously recorded. According to the findings of the Sunday Times' "Insight" team, Britain's rivers are being polluted at a faster rate than at any time since records began. Industry must bear the brunt of the blame for that.
My constituency is flanked by the Rivers Rother and Don, which are particularly affected. British Coal Products, a subsidiary of British Coal, is one of the top offenders. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) will not mind if I mention that firm, for he will know that its giant coking plant in Chesterfield has appeared to break the law 12 out of the 17 times that tests were undertaken by water authority officials. A sample of the Rother taken by the "Insight" 53 team downstream of the British Coal Products' plant, bordering my constituency, contained measurable concentrations of both cyanide and mercury—neither of which the company is licensed to discharge—yet that plant has never been the subject of a prosecution.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) will welcome a reference to the pollution problems of his side of Sheffield city. British Tissues, in my hon. Friend's constituency, is another offender. It failed consents on 14 out of 27 occasions that its discharges were tested in the past 12 months. Recently, the company spent £2 million on improvements to clear up effluent, and believes that there will be no further problems. However, problems have been arising downstream. British Coal has been prosecuted 21 times in the past three years for pollution offences, but continues to breach the limits. Again, the biggest sufferers are the Rivers Rother and Don, and the worst stretches frame the city of Sheffield.
As the Rother approaches Sheffield, it passes through Rother valley country park, which is popular with nearly 700,000 visitors a year. What those visitors do not know is that the water in the lake must be pumped from a brook three miles away. The next stop is the huge coking plant at Orgreave. Last year, British Steel made profits of more that £400 million but spent only £85,000 on effluent treatment at that site. According to local anglers, no fish have been caught in the Rother for at least 20 years.
Yorkshire Water attempts to clean up the river, but we have seen only a catalogue of delays and broken pledges. In 1974, the water authority said that the Rother would be grade two by 1979. In 1979, Yorkshire Water put the date back to 1987. In 1987, the authority announced a revised target of 2001. The picture is almost as bleak in respect of the Don, where sewage is a greater threat than industry. I dare not use the language describing the nature of the pollution that was used by The Sunday Times yesterday. However, I can tell the House that sewage degrades more rivers than any other form of pollution.
Last year, more than 4,000 pollution incidents were caused by sewage. According to the "Insight" team, cleaning up discharges will cost far more than previously thought. One in five of Britain's sewage works is breaking the law by discharging sub-standard waste into rivers. The Yorkshire water authority is one of the worst offenders. The sewage works at Blackburn meadows, for example, on the boundary of my constituency and within Sheffield city limits, will require more than £30 million to be spent if it is to meet consent standards. At least five miles downstream of the Don disgraceful conditions are observable.
A similar situation exists in Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere in Yorkshire. Last year, Yorkshire Water admitted that about 70 sewage treatment works out of about 600 in the region failed to reach consent standards governing the content of effluent discharged into rivers. Although most of those 70 works are small, substantial investment will be needed if they are to comply. According to the "Insight" team, the total bill could exceed £1.6 billion. That is £600 million more than the figure conveyed to me by the Minister for Water and Planning in his letter of 9 January.
Yesterday's issue of The Sunday Times commented:A spokesman for the Department of the Environment yesterday confirmed that the cost of dealing withstorm 54overflows was not includedin the original figure of £1 billion. That is why I thought that it was urgent to raise the matter today, and why I look to the Leader of the House to convey to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment before Easter how reckless and grievously the shortfall of money is bearing on my constituency, and how important it is to make an early statement.
§ Mr. William Cash (Stafford)
I thought that it would be appropriate to deal today with an issue about which I feel strongly, and in respect of which I believe that strong feelings are held by other right hon. and hon. Members. I refer to the relationship of this country to Europe and the context in which we discuss matters which arc directly germane not only to domestic legislation but to Community obligations.
A relevant issue arose in Question Time today, in respect of the validity of the Merchant Shipping act 1988, a matter which is currently before the Court of Appeal. I know that you, Madam Deputy Speaker, would not want me to go into detail, but as I pointed out in a question to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, only last year when the matter was being considered by the courts the Government took the view that it was perfectly right for them to introduce that legislation. The courts upheld that view on a preliminary hearing and awarded costs to the Government.
We are now in a peculiar position in which an appeal against that finding is in process, yet the court previously ruled that the Government should be awarded costs because of their success in introducing a Bill in the House, even though it was argued at the time that the legislation may be inconsistent with our treaty obligations. I introduce my arguments with that point because of its topicality, but it is merely an example of what I regard as a much graver threat.
I should declare at once that I am and always have been pro-Europe. I was a founder member of "Westminster for Europe". There are, however, trends within the Community which are diametrically opposed to the interests of this House as a legislative chamber. Having just returned from a visit to the European Community as a member of the Select Committee on European Legislation, I can say without hesitation that creeping federalism is alive and well. I make no apology for feeling strongly that we have failed to appreciate the extent to which assumptions are made in the Community about the direction in which European legislation is going, and the extent to which the Community's powers are drawing us down a cul-de-sac within the legal ring fence of the treaty of Rome.
I am a strong supporter of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's position as expressed in the Bruges speech. That speech has been gravely under-estimated, misconstrued and misinterpreted. Nothing in it is inconsistent with the position that we could and should adopt in the House, but much of what is happening in the Community, largely in the form of actions taken by the Commission, ought to be challenged by us.
Only a short time ago I asked my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House if he would ensure that we debated the hormone regulation before its adoption in the Council of Ministers. As happens all too frequently, the debate in question was held late at night, at midnight or thereabouts. 55 Nevertheless, the House filled up. The other day we had a similar debate about the heavy commercial vehicles directives, and again the House filled up. The reason why the House fills up when such matters are debated, even at a late hour, is that hon. Members are increasingly conscious of the impact of European measures, not merely on the legislation of this country as a whole but on their constituents.
Hon. Members have a responsibility which cannot be discharged by, for example, Members of the European Parliament. I do not wish to denigrate the European Parliament, but the democratic vote of this country's electorate is expressed through this Chamber to Ministers who are in turn accountable to the House. They sit in the Council of Ministers, but there is a direct relationship between the functions that they perform there and matters determined in British general elections.
§ Mr. Cash
I see the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) shaking his head. Clearly he does not agree with my analysis, but that is how I see the position.
There is increasing evidence of the misuse of powers granted under the treaty of Rome and the Single European Act. An example is the use of article 100A of the treaty, which deals generally with the internal market. The Select Committee took evidence recently from the Treasury Solicitor and although our report has not yet been published I think that it is fair to say that some of us felt misgivings about the extent and nature of the use of article 100A, and that in some instances the treaty as a whole has been stretched beyond all reasonable recognition.
As Community legislation is bound to be implemented through the House and imposed on the electorate, this is a serious matter because such an enlargement of competence on the part of the Commission and European legislators can effectively bypass the national Parliaments altogether. When the basis on which a local authority exercises its power is challenged, our courts tend to cut down the use of the legislation if the possibility that the authority is exceeding its powers is seriously in question. The European Court of Justice, on the other hand, using its interpretative methods, does exactly the opposite—it tends to enlarge the competence and powers of the Commission, with the result that an almost limitless range of options opens up for those who legislate, through the Community, for our electorates.
That tendency should be resisted because in my view it is bound to lead to more federalism than even the Community's sternest critics thought possible. I will add a rider. As a Conservative Member, I would argue that many of the provisions in the social dimension—relating, for instance, to worker participation—which I do not believe are contemplated under the treaty of Rome, are being brought in through the back door to satisfy the Socialist leanings of many Community members.
We must put our foot down and stop the acceleration of this trend. I am in favour of majority voting under the Single European Act, but I believe that we must debate European matters at an earlier stage in their progress through the House. I trust that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will be able to tell us reasonably soon that a change in procedure may allow that. If that 56 happens, we shall be able—in conjunction, I hope, with other Select Committees—to consider such matters at a time when they are relevant to decision-making, and not when it is already too late in the day. At present we are faced, in effect, with a fait accompli which is causing grave concern in the House.
We should consider this matter in the context not only of our own national Parliament but of all the national Parliaments. If we believe that federalism is an increasing trend in the rest of Europe—I believe that it is rampant—it is up to us to encourage Members of those other Parliaments to take a similar stance to ours. Acquiesence to federalism, given its importance to our democracy and our constitution, could be likened to the appeasement of the 1930s. We are dealing, ultimately, with how our electorate is governed, with Cabinet government and with how we legislate in this country. We cannot allow the House to be reduced to nothing more than a regional council.
I am pro-European, but many of the democratic institutions of our friends and colleagues in Europe have relatively recent origins. The true democratic traditions of the House have enabled us to defend liberty many times during the past 75 years. The simple questioning of authority, and the ability to question those who are accountable, remains at the heart of our system. A remote, undemocratic European Parliament is the only alternative way to maintain a form of democracy in Europe. But that would lead to a single European Parliament with a single European Government—which the leaders of the European People's party have called for. That is the inevitable consequence which the House cannot accept. We can live happily with our friends and colleagues within the current system governing the European Community, but we have an economic union and not a political union. We can, we will and we must resist federalism.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
The point I wish to raise bears on what the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) has just said. It would be inconceivable for the House to adjourn for Easter without recording the fact that last Friday the High Court disallowed an Act which was passed by this House and the House of Lords and received Royal Assent—the Merchant Shipping Act 1988. The High Court referred the case to the European Court. Fortunately "Erskine May" makes it clear that matters before the European Court are not sub judice according to the rules of the House. I am not making any comment that would breach the rules of the House, but for the first time in the history of Parliament an Act passed by both Houses and the regulations under it have been set aside.
I shall put on record what I read in The Scotsman on Saturday on my way from Aberdeen to Inverness. Under the heading "Law of Britain no longer paramount", it stated:Law aimed at protecting the interests of the British fishing fleet was negated by an unprecedented High Court ruling in London yesterday.It continued:That was understood to be the first time a British court had interfered with an Act of Parliament in that way … Lord Justice Neill, sitting with Mr. Justice Hodgson said that 20 years ago it would have been unthinkable for the High Court to question the validity of an Act of Parliament.57Now, the courts had a duty to give effect to European Community law and where there was a conflict to prefer European law to national law. He said the owners of the … vessels were seeking a declarationin respect of part 2 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1988 and the Merchant Shipping (Registration of Fishing Vessels) Regulations 1988. The same theme was taken up in the Financial Times under the headline:Court blocks fishing law in a constitutional firstand The Guardian which stated:Judges block fishery law".I understand that there is an element of bipartisanship because the newspapers reported that the Government have taken the case to the Court of Appeal and the case may come up in the next day or two. Although I share some of the feelings about federalism expressed by the hon. Member for Stafford, much of what he said has long since happened. The right of the courts to override our legislation was always envisaged in the treaty of accession which was signed by the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath). I shook my head during the speech by the hon. Member for Stafford because he thinks that when people go to Europe they are accountable to the House of Commons. I know that the hon. Gentleman is a constitutional lawyer, but he may not appreciate that all Acts entered into by Ministers in the Common Market are enacted under the prerogative.
§ Mr. Cash
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the European Communities Act 1972 effectively grants the European Community power by and through the authority of the national Parliament of the United Kingdom, and that the Single European Act did the same under the European Communities (Amendment) Act 1986?
§ Mr. Benn
I do not want to dispute with the hon. Gentleman, but he must not confuse the legislative provision with the powers of the prerogative under which all treaty-making takes place. We passed the European Communities Act 1972—I voted against it—following the signature of the treaty of accession which was never published until the then Prime Minister had signed it. The Single European Act was signed under the prerogative. I was on the Council of Ministers for four or five years and I was president of the Council of Energy Ministers during the six months of our presidency. One does not go to the Council of Ministers empowered by the House, but under the powers of the prerogative, an entirely different process.
Membership of the EEC threw us hack several hundred years in domestic law, to prerogative powers in Britain. We went back into the recesses of feudalism to draw out those prerogative powers we are now using to latch federalism on to us. The House is threatened by its own history as well as by agreements entered into by Ministers when they go to Europe.
I do not want to move away from the subject of the legal judgment, but I believe that if we were to apply our laws properly, judges who negated an Act of Parliament would be guilty of contempt, but that may have to await the appeal when the Government have completed their negotiations.
I want to make it clear to the House that we are absolutely impotent unless we repeal section 2 of the European Communities Act. It is no good talking about being a good European. We are all good Europeans; that is a matter of geography and not a matter of sentiment. 58 Are the arrangements under which we are governed such that we have broken the link between the electorate and the laws under which they are governed?
I am an old parliamentary hand—perhaps I have been here too long—but I was brought up to believe, and I still believe, that when people vote in an election they must be entitled to know that the party for which they vote, if it has a majority, will be able to enact laws under which they will be governed. That is no longer true. Any party elected, whether it is the Conservative party or the Labour party can no longer say to the electorate, "Vote for roe and if I have a majority I shall pass that law," because if that law is contrary to Common Market law, British judges will apply Community law. The European Court of Justice is not so relevant—it is very political and would give us enough rope to hang ourselves—but British judges will tell the House of Commons that it has no right to pass that law.
When people discover that whoever they vote for they cannot change the law or the system of taxation under which they are governed, either they will go to Brussels and petition the Commissioners who are the modern kings, or they will say, "Why bother to vote? Let us take more direct action to change the law." That delicate fabric of consent on which our system of Government rests has already been torn. We do not know all the consequences. One consequence is separatism in Scotland, as some people in Scotland believe that they would be better off conducting their own negotiations. The fragmentation of the United Kingdom is an inevitable consequence of membership of the EEC.
We cannot go away for Easter without putting on record in Hansard and in the House that on Friday the supremacy of the British Parliament was negated by judges who claimed that what we did as recently as last year was illegal. Before coming back to the matter we may have to wait until the Government succeed in their appeal or make a statement to the House. These are fundamental questions which unite opinion on both sides of the. House. Whatever we want to do with our democracy, we all agree that we have to retain it in order to do anything with it.
The time has come to warn the House, and even the passionate Common Market Europeans, that we go thus far but no further. If we dig deeper into the pit, we may find that the courts would not even accept our right to repeal the European Communities Act. We would be in a constitutional crises of enormous magnitude if we were to repeal section 2 to regain the power that we have lost and the court said, "Sorry, but in effect, by usage and practice and common law, Parliament has lost the right to liberate itself."
These issues are more important than might be apparent from the fact that we are discussing the Easter Adjournment. I am grateful for the opportunity of speaking briefly on the matter. It is of a different character from others that have been raised. For all that, it may be an issue that has greater duration than some other important matters that hon. Members have raised.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)
I should also like to implore my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House not to adjourn the House for Easter until we have had an opportunity to review progress on the reform of private sheltered accommodation for the elderly. I reported to the 59 House about a year ago on the establishment of a working party to draw up a code of practice to regulate the private sheltered accommodation industry. I did that because I had received letters from all over the country following articles in the Daily Telegraph about people who were suffering difficulties over service and maintenance charges, the quality of repairs, the operation of wardens and matters concerned with ground rents. They were delighted that somebody in Parliament was taking up the issues surrounding the difficulties concerned with private sheltered accommodation.
It is important to debate the issue because the amount of sheltered accommodation in the private sector is growing all the time. I estimate from my research that in 1985 some 5,000 units of sheltered accommodation were built. In 1987 the figure had risen to about 9,000. Today the industry has built well over 20,000 units in total. At selling prices of between £40,000 and £150,000 one can see that it is a major and dynamic part of the housebuilding industry. Every unit of sheltered accommodation that is built and sold usually frees one conventional house. At a time when the House has been debating housing and planning, it is important to consider the issues surrounding sheltered accommodation because it provides a new and additional source of housing which the official statistics may not yet have recognised.
The reason why a code of practice to regulate the conduct of the industry is important is because of the developing care that sheltered accommodation can provide. Today we have what might be called conventional sheltered accommodation—a simple flat built with others in a complex of high quality, with a warden in residence to look after the elderly persons should they run into trouble. The services for the unit are organised on a professional management basis by large companies, some associated with builders and some independent. In simple terms, floors are swept regularly, light bulbs are changed, gardens are tended and the property is kept in first-class order.
That simple formula is changing in a number of ways of which I think the House should be aware. We see now a population who are living longer. Today's elderly mobile are rapidly becoming the elderly immobile. They are in need of continuing care. That is the next stage of sheltered accommodation, where 24-hour nursing and medical facilities are available on the same site as the flat or bungalow development in which the elderly live.
The amount of control and regulation of the accommodation is limited. The code of practice will have relevance to the purchase and running of this type of property, but I put down a marker to the Government that people involved with social services and health will have to watch developments carefully lest the unscrupulous get involved and people's whole way of life is threatened because of poor management.
We also see the development of the leisure village which has arisen out of sheltered accommodation—a complete facility providing for every want of an elderly person. Those too are being developed without regulation or a code of practice to delineate how the developments are sold, and to lay down the terms and conditions of their management and the rights of redress of anyone who encounters difficulties with them.
60 Looking to the future, I also put down a marker about sheltered accommodation outside the boundaries of the United Kingdom. As sure as eggs are eggs, British developers are already using their expertise to build sheltered accommodation abroad. Currently it is being done by high-quality developers. I do not believe that people are at risk if they purchase such accommodation, but I can see a day when the opportunistic enter the industry and the House may have to debate the difficulties that people are running into over the purchase of sheltered accommodation abroad. Again, the code of practice that the working party is drawing up will serve as a useful indicator to prevent problems.
An article a week ago in The Daily Telegraph was occasioned by problems encountered by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths). I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not in his place, but that is not his fault, in that he did not know that the subject was to be raised. He referred to the continuing difficulties even though a year had passed since a debate in the House on home-based sheltered accommodation. The hon. Gentleman drew attention to the fact that, north of the border, people in one development run by a reputable company are still experiencing difficulties over service and maintenance charges. It would appear that the industry still has a long way to go to get its accounting procedures sorted out. That was a key element for the working party.
The working party received widespread support. On it have sat representatives of organisations such as Age Concern, the House Builders Federation, McCarthy and Stone as representatives of major developers, and the National Federation of Housing Associations. The whole gamut of those involved in the building and management of sheltered accommodation was represented on the working party organised under the aegis of the House Builders Federation. I want to take the opportunity to put on record my thanks to Roger Humber, who chaired the working party, and to Vivien Aldred, who, as assistant director of the House Builders Federation carried the burden of much of the work in drafting the comprehensive approach to setting new standards for the private sheltered accommodation industry.
The draft code of practice went out for consultation to a wide range of bodies, including councils professional bodies and others. We have received the consultation papers back and the code of practice has incorporated the recommendations. We have tried hard to incorporate points of good practice in setting up a well-managed scheme covering sale and resale, services, service and maintenance charges and budgets. We are trying to introduce regularity and uniformity into the approach of the industry so that when people study the sales literature, in no way can they be misled about what exactly the deal will be.
During the last year our efforts have been aided by the introduction of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and the code of practice drawing the attention of potential purchasers to that important legislation. That means that, in future, service and maintenance charge statements must be accurate and must not make misleading statements. If they do the law will apply. It is a comprehensive code designed to make certain that the buyer can beware because he is fully furnished with information. The code goes on to say that in the case of every new development, from now on, there should be a post-purchase pack giving the purchaser all the necessary information. This would set 61 out the obligations of the builder, the managing agent and anyone else with a legal responsibility, lest it should be necessary to respond to complaints.
We have picked up many of the problems that the 150 or so people from all over the country who have written to me on this matter have raised. Their evidence has been laid before the working party. Thus the voice of the consumer, so far as our activities are concerned, has been heard.
I want to deal with one or two points that have arisen from our investigations. Some of the agents that manage sheltered accommodation are also closely associated with the builders. The industry must now consider very carefully the separation of construction from management. Those who are responsible for managing sheltered accommodation should act in a truly independent manner, in the interests of leaseholders.
Then there is the question of value for money. Many elderly people who buy this type of accommodation are seduced by its superficial attractiveness. The quality is high, but these people's financial base is fixed. While interest rates are high, the investment income from the capital freed by the sale of their conventional home and the purchase of sheltered accommodation enables them to meet the management and service charges easily. However, when interest rates fall, some of these people will be in difficulty, bearing in mind that service and maintenance charges rise inexorably. The industry must take urgent steps to address this problem. The last thing we want is a new breed of welfare cases.
Today's sheltered accommodation caters for the mobile elderly. In 20 years' time the residents may well be the elderly immobile and may have to break into their capital base to re-equip their homes with bathrooms and kitchens to cater for their new circumstances. This is something that the industry must take into account in formulating its future policy. The code of practice will do much to redress many of the problems. Its credibility will depend on the spirit with which it is applied by the industry.
In the year of the code of practice, the industry should give urgent consideration to the formation of a trade association, or the creation of an ombudsman facility whereby people with genuine complaints could find proper redress. This code of practice answers many of the complaints to which I drew attention in the House last year. Currently we are negotiating, within the National Housebuilding Council, a new mechanism to give it teeth. It is a voluntary operation, welcomed by the industry, and it should do much to protect the good name of sheltered accommodation, as well as to redress the problems that have been identified.
§ Mr. Alex Eadie (Midlothian)
I want to raise the matter of the decision of the Secretary of State for Scotland to withdraw funding from Newbattle Abbey college in Dalkeith, which is in my constituency. The decision was intimated on Thursday 9 March, in the answer to a written question, to which I shall return later. Parliament must consider whether it is right to adjourn for Easter, in view of the fact the decision to which I refer concerns a national question of importance to the whole of Scotland, which should he debated.
Newbattle Abbey college is an adult residential facility. It has been christened the second-chance college for mature students who, for a variety of reasons, decide to 62 undergo a period of disciplined residential study. It is specially equipped for this purpose and has the necessary experience and environment. Its success cannot be challenged. The best parallel I can think of is Ruskin college, Oxford. This is Scotland's equivalent of Ruskin. That is one of the compelling reasons for its being a national question. With the withdrawal of funding, Scotland will lose its equivalent of Ruskin, and there is no similar adult residential college in the country. In educational terms, the blow is the harder to take, in that there are four such colleges in England and Wales.
It is easy to understand the anger in some education circles in Scotland at this decision. The manner of its taking must be questioned by Parliament. for it could be a sign that, in decision-making, all is not well in the Scottish Office—that there is evidence of faulty administration, if not maladministration. The Secretary of State for Scotland announced last year that he was considering the withdrawal of funding. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and I had a meeting with him, and I have kept the notes
One of the first issues that we raised concerned consultation. We put it to him that it was rather peculiar that there had been no consultation whatsoever with any of the education bodies involved including the trustees and the board of governors. I received a very strange and rather garbled reply. The Secretary of State said that the Scottish Education Department had raised the issue. One wonders who is in control of the Department. We put it to the Secretary of State that there was plenty of time for consultation, as it was anticipated that funding would not end until the 1988–89 academic year. We pointed out that all the statements in his letter to my hon. Friend had a tone of total finality.
That tack was changed very quickly when the purpose of the college was questioned at the interview. We asked why there had been a tone of such finality, why there had been no consultation, although an attempt had been made to imply that the matter just might be given due consideration. The argument advanced was that the college had served its purpose, that there had to be a change and that resources could be better used. If the argument is that adult residential colleges have outlived their usefulness, that is in direct contradiction of the Alexander report. Indeed, to some extent it was argued that there should be no adult residential colleges, whether in Scotland or in England and Wales.
We pointed out to the right hon. and learned Gentleman that our arguments deserved an answer. Surely the Secretary of State must consider the issue of adult education in Scotland—in this case what we have described as the last of the Ruskins. One of the arguments that the right hon. and learned Gentleman put forward concerned funding. He criticised other public bodies, such as the trade unions, for no longer assisting. I must nail the lie of the statement at the weekend that the Newbattle Abbey residential college was funded by trade unions and was meant to be funded by trade unions. That is being economical with the truth. It is simply not true. If it was felt that there had to be some new system of funding, surely there should have been some consultation instead of that shooting-from-the-hip style of Government. Why take a totally arbitrary decision on whether the college should raise its own revenue?
We even had to correct the Secretary of State about the college population. Correspondence had been submitted 63 to the Scottish Education Department and we presumed that, because the Secretary of State was interested, he would have seen it. We pointed out that, according to his figures, 45 people had been "lost" and that the typical figure since 1979 was 95. In an aside, somebody said he was quite sure that cannibalism was not practised in the Scottish Education Department. The mature students of Newbattle Abbey had also sent a letter to the Department about the college population. When I asked whether the figures that had been submitted were accurate, I received the reply that the Secretary of State would look into it.
When I mentioned that the students' letter also referred to the annual finances, the Secretary of State fell back on the ploy of saying that the figures had come from the Scottish Education Department. I have been a Minister in my time, and I would say that a Minister is responsible for the figures that his Department give. It is a pretty weak defence if someone as esteemed as the Secretary of State for Scotland blames his Department for the figures.
I pointed out that the students had explained the geographical areas from which they came. I was fortunate in having with me the statistical bulletin of the Scottish Education Department. Although I do not want to go into this in any detail, on the argument about students coming from south of the border, I quoted the references in the bulletin to St. Andrews university in the county of Fife. I have great knowledge of St. Andrews because I am a former chairman of the Fife county education committee and some of my family are graduates of the university. The statistical bulletin showed that, on the question of adult residential colleges taking students from south of the border, St. Andrews university should be closed because a preponderance of its students come from south of the border—and they are most welcome.
The Secretary of State produced the strangest argument of all—when I said that Newbattle was the equivalent of Ruskin college at Oxford or of Coleg Harlech in Wales and that those colleges will still be allowed to function although the Secretary of State is proposing to put Newbattle Abbey to death. I received the weak answer that the Secretary of State for Education and Science finances those colleges but that he, the Secretary of State for Scotland, finances Newbattle Abbey.
The final decision was the most distasteful of all and it is why I raise this issue today. I tabled a written question on 1 February asking the Secretary of State what response he was making to the letter from the governors and the chairman giving him a short outline scheme of how the college could be retained. Despite the fact that that was a priority question, the written reply was that the matter was still being considered and that the Secretary of State would let me know. I waited for a while and then did what hon. Members often do—on 16 February I tabled another question, pursuant to the first. The answer was that a response would be made soon.
Then, last Thursday, 9 March, the Secretary of State announced his decision, by what we must assume to have been an arranged question, tabled by his hon. Friend the Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart). A civil servant came to my home with the letter on Thursday afternoon but I was not at home as I was attending a meeting in Sheffield. The chairman of the governors received a letter announcing the decision at 2 pm, half an hour before the 64 governors' meeting. Incidentally, the letter was delivered to the wrong college, to Eskbank college in Dalkeith. Not only was there indecent haste in reaching that decision, but the procedure followed would not score high marks for Government efficiency.
It is with great regret that I have to say that I have already had occasion to question the administration of the Scottish Office. I have had occasion to write to the Secretary of State for Scotland, asking for a meeting—the subject of the meeting does not matter now—but it took him a month to reply—and the reply refused the meeting. A month later I received an apology about the length of time that he had taken to reply to my letter. The Secretary of State admitted that that was a disgraceful way to treat an hon. Member.
That story proves that there is an element of maladministration in the Scottish Office: perhaps that is one reason why the Scottish Office is treated with such political contempt in Scotland at present. Indeed, it is predicted that the Conservative party will probably be wiped out in Scotland at the next general election, which is not surprising if the Government carry on in this manner towards hon. Members and respected figures in education in Scotland.
The central issue is whether there should be a change in the organisation of Newbattle Abbey college. The governors' request was reasonable. They asked that there should be a five year leading-in time if there were to be any changes. As we know, there is nothing more constant than change. A strange irony that will not go unnoticed in Scotland is that, if the college came under the Department of Education and Science, a minimum two-year period would be required before any change could be made.
This is a sad and disgraceful case, and the Scottish Office has not come out of it very well. The issue must be debated before the House adjourns. It is in the Government's interests, never mind the education interests that I have mentioned, that the maladministration of the Scottish Office be investigated.
I shall conclude with a quotation:We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning to form into two teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation.That is a quotation from Petronius Arbiter in 210 BC. The Scottish Office is doing a wonderful job trying to ape that statement.
§ Mr. David Porter (Waveney)
I was lucky enough to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, during last year's Easter Adjournment debate. I began by saying that the House should adjourn so that I could remind my wife and children that they are not a single-parent family. I repeat that on this occasion, as it is so good it deserves wider currency.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend at the beginning of his remarks, but would it not be appropriate to record that, since that event, his family has increased with the gift of a further daughter, whom we all welcome?
§ Mr. Porter
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding me of that.
65 I should like to raise the subject of education in so far as it relates to recent developments. My assessment as I go around my constituency is that many teachers—perhaps most—are beginning to accept the changes that we have introduced. Recently, a trade union activist at a school in my constituency said, rather sadly, that it was a tragedy for the Labour movement that a Tory Government had introduced the GCSE, as it was exactly what was needed.
There was much scaremongering about governors during the passage of the Education Reform Act 1988. It was wondered whether there would be enough of them and whether they could cope with the amount of work that they would have to do. There is no shortage of volunteers to be school governors in Suffolk.
We are hearing more nationally about governors' opportunities and less about their problems. We have much public relations work to do to convey our aims to the public, such as those for assessment, standards and the national curriculum. Much harm is being done by some governors who have taken office even though they are fundamentally against what we are doing.
In general, parents are accepting that schools take more local decisions and have more local responsibilities and that they have a part to play. However, there is still a credibility gap, when we remove surplus places through school closures in rural areas, especially at a time when the young population of schools is increasing.
I should declare a kind of interest, as a former high school teacher. It is nearly seven years since I finished teaching in classrooms, but it has become a different world. The reality of our entrepreneurial world, business and commercial realities and education reforms has fundamentally shaken secondary schools and colleges. Enormous changes have been absorbed. The same will happen in universities and primary schools, which are beginning to get to grips with new realities. In some ways, it will be painful for them, as it was for secondary schools.
The changes are not all related to money, although it has a place. Historically, the needs of and funding for primary schools has too often been under-estimated. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has frequently stressed the importance of the primary education sector. The primary and home phase are crucial. If, when children start primary education, everything is not quite right or on target for their development, it can be put right. If it is not, by the time they reach middle school it is sometimes too late, and by the time they reach high school it is a damage limitation exercise.
The modern practice in primary schools demands much more equipment. Many primary school teachers believe that the position is deteriorating. The Education Reform Act set up a new formula to determine the funding of primary schools, about which they are quite worried because they believe that the historic under-estimate will be perpetuated. They believe that all pupils of statutory school age should be treated similarly and cite what may seem silly examples, but none the less they illustrate the point. Infants use more materials than older children, which is self-evident. Infant library books are brief and read in a day or two, so a larger selection is necessary. Frequent handling by less-skilled hands means that equipment must be replaced more frequently. In many primary schools, that view is perfectly valid.
Valuable teacher time is sometimes wasted on trivia, such as collecting and locating scrap materials instead of 66 stock-cupboard supplies, mixing paint, cleaning equipment, tying shoe laces and all the things that are an ancillary's job. Teachers believe that it is time that discrimination against young people was ended. I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to pass to the Secretary of State for Education and Science that concern about the primary sector. What I have said may not apply in London, where priorities are often different.
There is talk of teacher shortages, both in subjects and geographically. Answers to questions that I tabled last week gave the figures for Suffolk, but they appear to be out of date. I am asking for more up-to-date figures from local teacher representatives rather than anecdotal evidence that there is a teacher shortage in some areas. Reports vary, but clearly teachers are still applying for jobs. House prices, especially in East Anglia, where they have doubled over the past 18 months, are a serious problem. Golden hellos, regional differentials and individual deals with teachers under the new school powers should help enormously.
The problem of subject shortages must be addressed. The national curriculum is at risk if we cannot recruit quality teachers and the necessary number of them. I caution against differentials of salary whereby secondary school teachers are compared with primary school teachers, which would further devalue the primary sector.
I hope that the period of upheaval, confrontation and dispute of a few years ago has passed. We must maintain an all-round partnership if reforms are to work and to stick between teachers, parents, taxpayers and children.
I urge praise from the Government for those who have adapted and a period of encouragement and self-value that can be cultivated among teachers, on which public esteem can be built. Without public esteem, education will be relegated and we cannot afford, with fewer and fewer young people, to allow that to happen.
§ Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)
I wish to raise the pressing problems experienced in my part of the world with water. We have problems with our beaches, flooding, our water supply and especially sewage treatment.
I especially wish to address my remarks to water quality. Most frightening is the question mark still hanging over the Camelford incident in north Cornwall, in which 20,000 people were affected by aluminium contamination of their water supply on 7 July 1988. At that time, South West Water said that there was no risk to health, but there followed reports of sickness, blue bath water, people's hair turning green and, far more serious, implications for long-term health regarding sulphuric acid contamination of the water supply.
On 5 August—almost a month after the original incident—it was admitted that the contamination had been caused by 20 tonnes of aluminium sulphate being pumped into the wrong tank at Lowermoor treatment works. Over a month later, South West Water finally accepted full responsibility for poisoning the water supply. It was not until mid-December 1988 that it was admitted that the level of poisoning was nearly double the level originally disclosed. Health tests are still continuing on the people of Camelford, but the Government are about to remove themselves from a responsible role by selling off the water authority.
The secrecy surrounding this incident is unforgivable and the Government have colluded in trying to sweep it 67 under the carpet by refusing to hold a proper independent inquiry. I have called for such an inquiry before, and I do so again now in the strongest possible terms. It is a disgrace that no inquiry has been held. The issue should be debated by the House because it has implications generally for water treatment, the protection of consumers and the Government's privatisation strategy. The Government are about to wash their hands of yet another responsibility, but they have failed to solve many of the problems of the water industry in Cornwall or in the running of South West Water.
In 1987, when the South West Water corporate plan was submitted, 196,000 of the authority's customers received at some time water that failed to comply with the bacteriological standards set by the European Community, 129,000 received water that failed the aesthetic acceptability test and 20,000 received water containing excessive undesirable chemicals. By that time, 33 supply areas had been granted delays in coming up to the standard required—and that was before the Camelford incident.
In 1988, 23 of the 109 designated beaches in the South West Water region failed to meet European standards. The Sunday Times yesterday revealed that one in five of Britain's sewage works was breaking the law by discharging sub-standard waste into rivers, often by storm overflows, which were cited as one of the worst culprits. Almost one fifth of the beaches in the South West Water area have failed to meet the EC standards and experts have said that it will cost at least £150 million to clean up 14 beaches, including Marazion and Mounts bay. Yet the Government plan to privatise the company and the question mark that hangs over that privatisation is whether a future private company will be able, willing or interested to make the necessary investment.
It is no wonder that there is a problem, for South West Water has admitted that 55 out of the 75 main sea outfalls and 129 out of 134 main estuary outfalls have been judged unsatisfactory. That does not even take into account the storm overflows and minor discharges, which could bring the total number to more than 2,000. The result is that, although we live in an area that relies heavily on tourism to raise money, many of our beaches have failed to reach the safe bathing standards. In the borough of Restormel, for example, Readymoney cove, Fowey, Charlestown-Duporth and Pentewan beaches have failed to reach those standards. Pentewan was found to be pollluted at four times the European limit.
My colleague, Councillor Malcolm Brown from St. Austell, attended a recent structure plan meeting and roundly condemned our sewage problems. He said:As a country we are way behind our neighbours in Western Europe.He was right to highlight that tragedy and we should debate public investment in the water supply before we pack our bags for the Easter holidays. I suspect that many hon. Members will go to foreign climes where such problems do not exist and hope they can quietly forget about them.
I have received many letters from constituents on the same issue. Gorran and District residents association wrote to me saying: 68raw untreated sewage flowing down the main street on to the beach and into the stream which also flows across the beach must be a health hazard.The Pentewan Sands sailing club, which relies on a clean sea for its income, wrote:This year we are holding the World Division I Board Sailing Championships. We are greatly concerned over the increasing level of pollution which is adversely affecting the attractions…it would be a tragedy if due to the continuing and growing discharge of effluent into the bay, major sailing events were directed away.The experts back up that concern. A report issued by the Marine Conservation Society and the Coastal Anti-Pollution League says that 300 million gallons of raw sewage are disposed of every day in our coastal waters, much of it in the wrong places and untreated, contrary to the Prime Minister's recent comments on television. She seems to be unaware of the fact that untreated sewage still goes in to our coastal waters. A survey by environmental health officers revealed that 52 per cent. of the beaches in England and Wales failed to meet EEC standards, whereas the Government claimed that the figure was only 38 per cent.
Many of our rivers are deteriorating as well, as a result of changes in farming practice. In 1980, 88 per cent. of rivers were in classes 1A or 1B. By 1985, the figure had dropped to 66 per cent., with only 58 per cent. of monitored river lengths satisfying the river quality objectives.
Part of the problem for Cornwall has been that it has the least dense population, with only 132 people per sq km in comparison with 328—the average for England and Wales. I come from a rural area, where the cost of transporting water and sewage per person is far greater than elsewhere. I am concerned that people in Cornwall will have to pay to clear up the mess after privatisation simply because successive Governments have failed to invest properly in clean water and proper sewerage systems.
Although only 1.5 million live in the South West Water area, at times there are up to 500,000 tourists supplementing that number. Local people therefore have to pay for the infrastructure to support a heavy influx of visitors. Those visitors are welcome, but I am sure that they expect the beaches to be cleaned up through national intervention and Government money, rather than depending on an over-stretched local private company which will not be able to find the money for investment. South West Water is trying to clear up the problem, but the Government have restricted its borrowing powers and, as a result, it is unable to spend any more than its charges. It has no permission to borrow. South West Water must have the opportunity to increase its programme, but the restrictions on borrowing make that impossible.
The result of poor investment in sewage treatment in earlier years has placed an embargo on the building of new homes in many areas of Cornwall. Truro is a prime example. I do not want to seem to be considering only my own patch, so I shall quote from a letter I received from Councillor David Hocking of Penryn, objecting to the embargo in his area. It highlights well the impact that such an embargo can have on local people. He writes:The proposed embargo I understand will be a total embargo on all housing, including extensions, which causes great concern. Penryn and Falmouth since 1980 have lost 23 per cent. and 21 per cent. respectively of council owned housing to the private sector with no houses to be built by the District council to replace them the housing problems 69 continue to get worse … In Penryn I have several housing associations interested in building houses on a shared equity scheme, some to rent and some to sell to the private sector to fill an urgent local need, this I feel is under threat as the embargo could last for 5 to 6 or even 7 years and the figure quoted to carry out the necessary work is in the region of £10 million.Such an embargo on house building, especially in much-needed shared ownership and housing association housing, is catastrophic, especially in view of the difficulties my county has in housing people who are much in need at present.
The Government's only answer to any of that is privatisation. It is hardly a surprise that this Government take that attitude. They believe that, if the shares belong to someone else, the problems do as well. However, whether it is poisoned water or polluted beaches and streams, the problems are public, not private. South West Water has been boasting that it has been reinvesting its profits to start to tackle those problems, but privatisation will transfer those profits into the pockets of already wealthy shareholders.
Prices are already rising for privatisation and the burden is falling on the local population. It is time that the Government started to think about the public good rather than private affluence. After all their words about the environment, they could not do better than to start by investing some of the Chancellor's surplus billions in tomorrow's Budget into cleaning up our water. They would be doing so by public demand and the House should be given the chance to respond.
§ Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)
I wish to refer to compensation following compulsory purchase orders. I ought perhaps to declare an interest—or should I say a non-interest—because in my farming activities I am currently subject to a compulsory purchase order relative to the construction of the M40. That compulsory purchase order is already in place, however, and in the light of that experience I am looking towards the future.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for his recent response at Prime Minister's Question Time. I am grateful that, following our exchange, our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has published a consultative document, albeit rather low-key and somewhat specialised. In general, the proposals—for example, the proposal to rationalise the payment of interest on deferred compensation for a variety of public purposes—are welcome. It is, however, typical of the thinking of any Government that the document appears to have been triggered off by the rather contingent fact that the abolition of the rating system for the domestic householder left no key in place for the calculation of home loss payments so a new formula has had to be devised.
In addition to those detailed considerations, a number of much more general issues of public policy need airing and we should have a full debate on them in due course. The first concerns the very special problems of equity when one privately owned piece of land is taken over by another undertaking which is already, or is about to become, part of the private sector. The House rightly feels that compulsory purchase will be required for public utilities, whether privately or publicly owned. There may be a danger—this is recognised in the consultative document—that one farmer, landowner or householder may have 70 his property taken over and used by another private undertaking for profit. For example, some of the land taken under compulsory purchase order in connection with the Channel tunnel was taken for duty-free shops and the like.
There is another anomaly, on which I may have more to say on another occasion—the anomaly in compensation for the fencing of fast roads. If one's land is taken for a motorway one gets a free fence; if it is taken for a high quality dual carriageway, a fence may be provided but it may be knocked off the calculations. Similarly, there is still a residual problem in the operation of the Crichel Down procedure, which may be of benefit to some landowners but not to others because of different treatments by different public or other requiring authorities.
Those are examples of problems which remain, and a sense of unfairness undoubtedly still pertains. I stress that we have a common interest in straightening out the procedures and in getting things done. We do not say that there is never a case for compulsory purchase—rather the reverse—but the system must be seen to be fair. If it is not seen to be fair, further delays will result in the construction of very necessary works. To cite an example that has arisen just this week, one has only to consider British Rail's experience in trying to construct its Channel link to realise how difficult it is to get proposals accepted over the caucuses of interest in the way.
Such a system will not be acceptable in the future. I will identify three major advances that will be necessary in the planning of any new major infrastructure. First, it will be necessary to show that there is at least some measure of compensating environ-mental benefit for any environmental damage. Secondly, local communities through which the works may run, or which the works may affect, should obtain a measure of compensation for their losses. Thirdly, there needs to be a better deal for the individual. I should like the old philosophy of the compensation law—that one receives market value and no more—altered to allow an uplift of 10 per cent. or some other figure to reflect the fact that the sale is not made with the consent of the seller. In that sense, compensation does not at present reflect the seller's loss.
In any case, we are talking about a matter of public prudence, because it is essential to get common consent if works are to be carried out. The M40 was conceived 20 years before construction began. That is far too long a period. This debate is about delaying the Easter Adjournment, but it draws attention to the dangers and costs of delay in the matters to which I have referred.
§ Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)
One of the themes of our brief debate today has been the need for more public money to be spent. That has been mentioned by Conservative Members, by the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and, of course, by Labour Members. We therefore hope that tomorrow's Budget will not be a repeat of last year's Budget, which benefited only the rich and prosperous and held no appeal for the overwhelming majority of ordinary people.
I want to leave a few minutes for my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist), but there are two matters that I wish to raise. The first is the report on toxic waste published last week by the Select Committee on the Environment. That report was an 71 indictment of the appalling extent of the dumping of toxic waste in Britain. Paragraphs 264 and 265 and onwards refer to the situation in my borough, where there is much antagonism between the local community, including the council, and a company whose operations involve toxic waste. Everything in the report proves that the people of Walsall have been absolutely right to demonstrate against toxic waste and to protest against the borough being used as a dumping ground for it. I urge that the report should be debated as soon as possible and legislation introduced at any early date. No one can doubt that the report was highly critical of the way in which the dumping of toxic waste operates in Britain and of the Department of the Environment. We need early action and early legislation to deal with the matter.
The second matter that I am keen to raise, albeit briefly, is one that I raised long before it became a subject of great controversy in connection with a certain novel. In recent months thousands of political prisoners have been executed in Iran. Amnesty International has spotlighted the terror in that unhappy country. A few weeks ago—before the international furore over the novel—a number of Labour Members urged the Government at Foreign Office Question Time to protest in the most effective possible way against the terror, and against the executions taking place in Iran.
Young people in their teens—boys and girls alike—are being put to death by the present regime in Iran. An Amnesty report quotes a prisoner in Iran as follows:One night a young girl … was brought straight from the courtroom to our cell. She had just been sentenced to death, and was confused and agitated. She didn't seem to know why she was there. She settled down to sleep next to me, but at intervals she woke up with a start, terrified, and grasped me, asking if it were true that she really would be executed. I put my arms around her and tried to comfort her, and reassure her that it wouldn't happen, but at about 4 am they came for her and she was taken away to be executed. She was 16 years old.That happened not in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy but in present-day Iran. The use of torture in Iran is widespread—perhaps worse than in any other country since the end of the last war. All honour to those in Iran who have resisted the terror and the continuing mass murders—the time will come when they will be internationally honoured and recognised for what they are doing, just as those who resisted the Nazi tyranny in the 1930s were honoured.
Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives in the futile Gulf war. I do not say for one moment that Iraq was blameless—I do not have much time for that regime either—but Iran more than any other country was determined to keep that war going and not to allow peace negotiations to take place. It agreed to end the war only at the last moment, when it knew full well that it could not continue because it did not have the manpower to carry on after all the loss of life over the years, and it knew that the regime would be endangered if it continued.
To some extent, Iran has used the controversy about the novel to try to improve its own image, but most Islamic countries as well as Europe and the United States recognise that Iran is a murderous tyranny. Its rulers have been keen to continue to allow torture and murder. Just as in Nazi Germany the first victims before the war broke out were Germans, so today in Iran most of the victims and 72 those who continue to be tortured—boys and girls as well as adults—are devout Moslems. In their last moments before they are executed, they say the prayers of their religion.
It is not for the Iranian regime to make out that it is the sole defender of the Moslem religion—far from it. That is why most Islamic countries recognise Iran for what it is. I hope that we shall have further opportunities to debate the subject after the recess. The regime in Iran has been a party to mass murder, torture and kidnapping and its rulers have shown the same contempt for international law as they have for human rights. There is no need for the United Kingdom to apologise to the Iranian regime. Above all, the Iranian regime should apologise to its own people.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East)
The House should not adjourn for Easter unless hon. Members have had a full debate on the poll tax—not a clinical objective debate on the pros and cons of the measure but an opportunity for hon. Members who wish to see its defeat make an unashamed attempt to convince working people, as an act of solidarity and defiance, to join the mass campaign for non-payment.
On 10 March, in a debate about lawlessness, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) said that he will not stay within the law and will not pay the poll tax. If Hansard is anything to go by, the hon. Members for Spelthorne (Mr. Wilshire), and for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and others almost had apoplexy. I hope to raise their political blood pressure a little further in the couple of minutes available to me. Their reaction was to my hon. Friend's legitimate objections to the draconian economic and undemocratic attacks of the poll tax by his strategy ofselective non-payment by people who wish to give a political lead".—[Official Report, 10 March 1989; Vol. 148, c. 1151.]Either on my hon. Friend's basis or on my preferred strategy of not paying the poll tax as part of a mass campaign of non-payment, over 10 per cent. of Labour Members have already made a similar declaration since 19 of us drew up a non-payment declaration in July of last year. Important or interesting as that may be, far more important is the reaction of ordinary workingclass families.
On Saturday 4 March, 450 delegates and visitors, representing six regional federations and 150 affiliated bodies, attended the founding conference of the All-Scotland Anti-Poll Tax Federation, ranging from the Shetland Islands to the urban heartlands of Lothian and Strathclyde. The federation's affiliated membership is already over 300,000. I searched through every newspaper in the Library, but on Monday 6 March not a word was said in London or Scottish-based newspapers about the conference. The Tory press lowered a cloak of silence on that movement. It may be easy for the Leader of the House to dismiss such observations as part of a conspiracy theory, but I cannot believe that it is a coincidence that there was no report, but no matter. Less easy to hide from the working class of Glasgow will be the 20,000 people on the anti-poll tax march and rally next Saturday 18 March, at a demonstration organised by the Strathclyde federation and the YTURC.
73 This is the last opportunity for hon. Members to ask for a full debate on the poll tax before its introduction into Scotland next month. It will be introduced into England and Wales one year later, in April 1990.
Most adults in Scotland are now receiving community charge voucher books—12 tear-out slips—to prepare them for their monthly visits to the post office. Despite the severely cushioned and artificially low level of the tax in its first year—the 20th-century version of Danegeld—in a couple of weeks, each single person in employment in Glasgow on a take-home pay of as little as £55 a week will have to pay £25 a month or £6 a week. A man and woman living as a married couple will be jointly considered. If one partner is not employed and not registered as unemployed—therefore, receiving nothing—they will still be liable to the poll tax, even if their partner takes home as little as £110 a week.
In my constituency, the position will be at least as bad. Our city treasurer estimated that, by next April, the poll tax will be £350. I think that it will be nearer £400.
The unemployed, pensioners and students will be expected to pay 20 per cent of the poll tax—that is about £60 a year in Strathclyde or £70 in Coventry. To Tory Members, that may seem to be a minute sum, but no one in the dole queues in Coventry, Scotland or elsewhere can afford to lose the price of two pints of milk, a loaf of bread and a small tin of beans each week. Perhaps that is one reason why, this morning, over 12 months before the introduction of the tax in Coventry, England and Wales, I received a petition from 1,330 pensioners in my area asking for the abandonment of the tax.
Millionaire Tory Members and Lords will save thousands of pounds. Perhaps that is how they managed literally to dig up 100 extra Lords to defeat the Mates amendment last summer. That wealth transfusion will result in individuals such as Lord Vestey saving £4,700 a year—perhaps as compensation for his little local difficulty in paying his tax bills a couple of years back.
At least the current rates system has some correlation with income—the higher the value of the property, the higher the income. The poll tax takes no account of ability to pay. It is regressive, its method of registration is draconian, and it attacks basic civil and democratic rights—for example, the right to vote. My hon. Friends have put those arguments.
We are told that the poll tax is the flagship of the Prime Minister's third term. I prefer to think that, in retrospect, we will regard it as her Titanic—the point at which she and her party's political fortunes went into terminal decline.
From next month in Scotland, and from April 1990 in England and Wales, people will have a choice. They can either pay the poll tax and let the Government continue to ride roughshod over working-class people, or they can refuse to take any more and decide to fight back by refusing to pay the tax, not as individual martyrs but as part of a mass, collective refusal such as that being organised by the Scottish Anti-Poll Tax Federation and by the growing anti-poll tax union movement in the rest of the country.
§ 7.7 pm
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)
We have had a long haul since Christmas, but, during that time, we have made good progress with the legislation. Sadly, though, we 74 have suffered the loss of Sir Raymond Gower. He was widely respected and liked on both sides of the House, and his work for his constituency won the esteem of all. We shall miss him.
The debate has raised many national and international constituency issues. In all, there have been 16 contributions. I did not detect much feeling against adjourning for the Easter week. I hope that the House will agree the motion after I have responded to as many as I can of the issues that have been raised.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) took the opportunity to open the debate. He is entitled to do that. He seems, at least for the present, to have given up the traditional role of Opposition Front-Bench Members commenting on Back- Bench speeches, which is a pity. It seems to show perhaps one further move from the days when the Labour party had any responsibility for the Government of this country.
The hon. Gentleman raised two subjects. He referred to the Budget. Obviously, he would not expect me to comment on the Budget. A full and detailed account of the position regarding war widows and their payments was set out before Standing Committee F which considered the Social Security Bill on 7 March. It would not be right for me to quote from the proceedings or go into great detail. I shall make just one or two brief comments on the hon. Gentleman's speech. First, if he thought he was quoting from a letter of the Prime Minister dated 5 April 1983, I must tell him that that letter was a forgery.
§ Mr. Dobson
My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, North (Mr. Allen) referred to that date. In fact, I corrected him and said that it was a letter in 1978.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I am glad that that has been cleared up, because a number of hon. Members have been talking about a letter dated 5 April 1983 and that was given some currency, when the date was not correct. There was a letter written when my right hon. Friend was in opposition. Of course, since that date there have been a number of changes in the post-1973 position. The tax relief for war widows has changed and there is now age allowance. A substantial number of those war widows also receive full retirement pensions.
As my hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security said in Committee, there would be substantial difficulty if we were to apply the post-1973 occupational pensions to war widows because, of course, a number of others would be affected—such as the disabled, other groups of widows and public sector workers—and the cost would be substantially higher than the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras stated.
§ Mr. Wakeham
I shall not give way, because the hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Nellist) took more time than it was agreed that he should, and I shall not have time to answer a number of the matters raised.
The Minister for Social Security promised on 7 March in a Standing Committee debate to study the details of any particular cases that are sent to him and to assess them on the basis of hardship and need. He will be consulting members of the Committee to consider some of the cases mentioned.
The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras also mentioned tax relief on private medical insurance 75 premiums. We believe that relief is needed because members of company medical insurance schemes usually lose their benefit on retirement. We shall need to provide help for those who wish to continue with medical insurance when their income falls and premiums rise.
I can understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart) about the imports of Russian coal into the Nottinghamshire coalfields. As I believe he recognises, the level of imports is a commercial matter for the Central Electricity Generating Board. I understand that the small volume of coal imported represented less than one day's burn at the stations involved. Those imports hardly represent a major threat to the relationship between the electricity industry and British Coal. We have always made it clear that the electricity industry must be free to buy its coal where it judges best. Coal will, of course, continue to be the major source of fuel for electricity generation for many years to come. Indeed, I understand that British Coal and the Central Electricity Generating Board have recently agreed to an extension of their existing agreement on coal supplies until 31 December of this year.
The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) mentioned the methane gas at the Arkwright colliery; indeed, we have corresponded on this subject. He wished to have the release of some documents. Of course, those are British Coal's internal management documents and release of them is a matter for the corporation and not for any Minister. We have no statutory power to compel the release of that information. However, I have every confidence that, if British Coal were asked by the Health and Safety Executive, it would make those documents available.
My hon. Friend the Member for Corby (Mr. Powell) rightly mentioned the resurrection of Corby. It was very much a steel town. I remember with affection his predecessor, Bill Homewood, who sat on the other side of the House. He was a steel man all his life. I was sorry to read in the papers that he has recently died. My hon. Friend mentioned the progress that has been made in Corby and gave a lot of credit for that to many people. Not so long ago I visited him in his constituency and I agree with everything he says, except that I believe that my hon. Friend was too modest to include himself in the people who have shown drive and enthusiasm in rebuilding Corby after the difficulties of earlier years. He is right to point other areas to the lessons of Corby.
The hon. Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody) mentioned the concern about the burial of diseased cattle in a landfill tip in her constituency. Incineration and burial are both safe methods of disposing of cattle suspected of having BSE, and local needs and circumstances determine which method is used. I appreciate that it is obviously of concern to her constituents, and I have asked my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to write to her to give her the reassurance that I am sure is available.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) spoke about land use. When he speaks about land use, the House is well advised to listen because he knows much about it. As he knows, we have recently encouraged local planning authorities to increase the coverage of local development plans and to keep them up-to-date, so as to 76 provide a clear framework for day-to-day decisions on planning applications. The White Paper entitled "Future of Development Plans" published in January takes that approach further by proposing a single tier of mandatory district-wide development plans to be prepared and adoped by district councils using streamlined procedures. Such plans would need to be consistent with national and regional guidance issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and the planning policies of the county councils.
The hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) rightly raised the question of rivers and pollution in his constituency. I was present when he recently raised the matter with the Prime Minister. The River Derwent near York, which provides a lot of water for his constituency, is of the highest of standards. The Rivers Don and Rother are not so good. Some £25 million will be spent on improving a stretch of the River Don, and improvements to the remainder of the Rother will be made through the extension of the sewage treatment works' capacity that should enable the Rother to be upgraded. I shall certainly draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to the hon. Gentleman's points.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) for raising a number of questions about the EEC. He is right that the way in which we deal with those matters in the House is not as satisfactory as it should be. I am having discussions with a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House to consider whether there can be some improvement.
The hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) raised the concern about the entitlement of certain foreign beneficially owned fishing vessels to remain United Kingdom registered vessels. I believe that he and the Government are on the same side of the matter. That is now before the Court of Appeal and I know that the right hon. Gentleman would not expect me to comment in more detail than that. The judgment is expected on 15 March and then, of course, the case may go to the House of Lords.
My hon. Friend the Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) mentioned the working party the House Builders Federation that produced the report to which he referred. I know from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment that the report which my hon. Friend produced together with his colleagues is an admirable document and is being considered by the Department of the Environment and others.
The hon. Member the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Eadie) raised the question of Newbattle Abbey college, and the Government's decision to cease payment of a grant to that college. Of course, the future of the college is a matter for its governors and trustees. I understand his disappointment at the decision, but I do not accept that the decision was made in haste. It would take too long to deal with the detailed arguments tonight, but I believe that they are set out very clearly in a letter to the hon. Gentleman from my right hon. and learned Friend, the Secretary of State for Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) raised the question of teacher shortage in primary education. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his support of the GCSE and I shall draw his comments to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science. There are more than enough 77 primary teachers nationwide, but there are recruitment difficulties in parts of London and the south-east. However, recruitment to primary school training is buoyant so there is scope for employing more teachers to meet present shortages. The implications of the national curriculum will change the pattern of demand for secondary subject teachers in the 1990s. We shall have enough teachers overall, but shall need more in some subjects, such as technology, science, and modern languages, and less in some others.
The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) spoke about the quality of water. The general point needs to be made that one of the great advantages of the Water Bill, which will privatise the water industry, is that it will create the National Rivers Authority. Then we shall have a much better mechanism for improving the quality of our rivers and waters. Privatisation will, of course, enable much more money to be spent on capital investment than in the past. Our recent record for cleaning up bathing waters is a good one—two thirds of the 348 waters in England, Northern Ireland and Wales now meet EEC standards compared with only half in 1986.
My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) raised the question of compulsory purchase. Recently, on behalf of the Prime Minister, I answered a question from my hon. Friend and I was pleased to hear his views tonight. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment has issued a consultation paper, but my right hon. Friend is right to stress that, where compulsory purchase is required, compensation must be fair, must be seen to be fair and there should be no undue delay.
The hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) raised the question of the report of the Select Committee on the Environment about toxic waste. As the Prime Minister said to the House the other day, many of the issues raised in the report are already being dealt with. Consultation is near completion, legislation is being prepared and a detailed response to the report will be given by the Government in due course. He was also right to raise the question of Iran and I share his concern about the disturbing reports.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South-East wants a debate to urge people—
§ It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 ( Periodic Adjournments).
§ Question agreed to.
That this House at its rising on Thursday 23rd March, do adjourn until Tuesday 4th April and at its rising on Friday 28th April, do adjourn till Tuesday 2nd May.