Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Friday 22nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 2nd June.—[Mr. Robert G. Hughes.]
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
I want to raise an issue of serious, widespread and growing concern about which this House plainly deserves an oral ministerial statement before the recess. The issue is the Government's refusal to set any date by which Operation Container—the scheme for keeping prisoners in police cells—will be discontinued. We still await even the announcement of a timetable for reducing the huge number of prisoners now held in police stations.
Operation Container came into being specifically to deal with the shortage of prison accommodation in the Greater Manchester area caused by the destruction of Strangeways prison more than two years ago. The House will recall that Strangeways, built in the Victorian era and destroyed in the riot of April 1990, was seriously overcrowded, even in 19th-century terms, when the riot took place.
I saw the conditions in Strangeways, before the disturbances, on a visit to discuss with senior staff the problems caused by the detention there of prisoners who were mentally ill but for whom no accommodation was available in more appropriate places of detention. There were then about 1,700 prisoners in Strangeways; today there are still 1,638 prisoners held in police stations under Operation Container. Of that total, 233 are held in cells in 23 police stations in Greater Manchester. That number has hardly changed since last November and, despite the daunting stress imposed on our police service by crime figures for which any previous Government would have been heavily censured, it shows no sign of decreasing.
Greater Manchester police are not alone in having to bear the extra burden of acting as gaolers. Other police forces, from Devon and Cornwall to Northumbria and from East Sussex to Cumbria, have also become part of the prison system. In all, 39 police forces are participating in the operation. The full list was given in a priority written reply that I received from the Minister with responsibility for prisons on 11 May, and the cost of Operation Container is both enormous and still growing. Perhaps the Leader of the House could let the House know the total cost to date when he winds up the debate.
I shall be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman can also let the House know whether the new Home Secretary will be accepting the Greater Manchester police authority's urgent request for a meeting with him to discuss its concerns about Operation Container. A letter that I received this morning from Mr. R. C. Rees, clerk to the Greater Manchester police authority, states that no effective action has been taken to provide temporary accommodation in, for example, military camps for the prisoners now held in police cells, and that, in his police authority's view, the Home Office is clearly in breach of its duty under the Prison Act 1952 to provide prisons.
The letter goes on:The Police Authority is also of the view that this failure on the part of the Home Office, and the consequent necessity for the Police Authority to provide accommodation in police cells, is having a deleterious effect on the policing of Greater 163 Manchester, in that many Police Officers are being compelled to act as Prison Warders instead of protecting the community from crime".
§ Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)
There is also increasing anecdotal evidence in Greater Manchester that, on occasion, there are no empty police cells and that, for that reason, arrests that would be made in other circumstances are not being made.
§ Mr. Morris
I accept that important point and pay warm tribute to the long, sustained and extremely well-informed contribution my hon. Friend has made to discussion of this important issue.
The letter from the clerk to the Greater Manchester police authority continues:It is not yet too late to remedy the situation, even though the Police Authority is actively considering instituting formal legal proceedings against the Home Secretary, unless adequate assurances are given.Surely that merits an oral statement by the Home Secretary before the recess?
The detention of remand or sentenced prisoners in police stations—including many in areas of acute deprivation and social stress—is manifestly unacceptable. The position is now deeply serious and the ending of Operation Container is a compelling priority. That is not only my view. In his reply to me on 11 May, the Minister said that the problem of using police stations for prisoners wasregarded as extremely serious and the task of bringing it to an end … a top priority".The reply went on:Neither I, nor my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, regard the detention of remand or sentenced prisoners in police cells as acceptable either for the prisoners or the police."—[Official Report, 11 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 20.]Those statements make the Minister's inability to set a date by which Operation Container will end—or even to announce a timetable for reducing the number of prisoners held in police stations—all the more worrying for people in Greater Manchester and elsewhere who know that their police forces, with crime figures as they are now, have more than enough to do without adding to their already heavy burdens.
Notwithstanding the best endeavours of police officers, can security be as good in police stations as it is in prisons? Are the Government satisfied that public safety is nowhere at risk from the long-term detention of prisoners in police stations? Those are the questions put to me, day by day, by my constituents.
An operation that was described as "temporary" after the Strangeways riot has now come to look more and more permanent. Indeed, the overall position today is worse than when the Strangeways riot occurred, as police authorities are placed in the de facto position of running a prison service by reason of the Home Office default. Police officers are losing their rest days, police stations are changing their character and, in fact, the fundamental purpose of the police service is undergoing extra-statutory change as it takes on duties it was never meant to discharge.
I went recently to Brownley road police station in my constituency, where four prisoners were being held. They cannot have a shower there, so they have to be transported under escort from the police station for a shower. Exercise and catering provision are other difficult problems, quite 164 apart from the general effect on the work of dedicated officers in a very busy police station of turning it into a gaol for prisoners, some of whom have completed their entire sentences in police cells.
Councillor Stephen Murphy, chairman of the Greater Manchester police authority, has spoken with admirable restraint of a "real deterioration in policing" in consequence of Operation Container and of his disquiet that costs of well over £3 million incurred in the investigation, for prosecution purposes, of incidents both during and after the disturbances at Strangeways have not been met by the Home Office. The chairman points out that many police officers have been involved in this work. Yet the Home Office refuses to provide additional finances to cover the authority's costs. This also is unacceptable, not least to Greater Manchester's poll tax payers. Why should they have to suffer this imposition?
I am sure that the Leader of the House will accept that the problems created by Operation Container constitute a very important matter for Greater Manchester, the north-west and for the country as a whole. There is no party animus locally about the extreme urgency of the need now to have the problems resolved. That can only be assisted by an early meeting between the Home Secretary and those who have to deal with these problems at the sharp end of Operation Container. I ask the Leader of the House for a helpful reply when he responds to the debate.
§ Sir Anthony Grant (Cambridgeshire, South-west)
I listened with great interest to the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), because I have a prison in my constituency. I am happy to say that it is an extremely good and modern establishment. I know that the House always listens with the keenest interest to the right hon. Gentleman, because he renders a great service to this place. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will pay attention to the right hon. Gentleman's contribution.
Before the House rises for the spring Adjournment, I want to talk about the problems of woodlands in Britain generally and in Cambridgeshire in particular. It is a matter of great importance to all who value our heritage and want to preserve the best in our environment.
I cite first Brampton wood in Cambridgeshire, which comprises 330 acres of woodland on the edge of my constituency. It is primarily in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. Many people in both of our constituencies are worried about the wood's future, and we have been inundated, not surprisingly, with correspondence.
I can best describe the wood by using the words of one of my constituents, Mrs. Pamela Timbrell. She wrote that thereare a wide range of wild flowers—some endangered—a diverse collection of beautiful native trees, squirrels and species of deer in a truly wild and natural setting. It is indeed a place of fragile and magical beauty.Another of my constituents, Mr. Barry Dickerson, the county recorder of lepidoptera, which for the benefit of old Etonians means that he is the recorder of butterflies and moths, has recorded 515 different species of butterflies and moths in Brampton wood.
The wood is owned by the Ministry of Defence. It has been found to be surplus to its requirements, and in line 165 with its normal policy it is selling it by competitive tender to the highest bidder, in order, not unnaturally, to obtain the best return for the taxpayer.
The people of Cambridgeshire have always supported the Ministry of Defence presence in their county. Quite sensibly, we have tolerated aircraft noise and so on, because we know the importance of the MOD activities to the defence of the realm. Cambridgeshire has a great history of defence of this country.
The future of the wood after its sale is uncertain. Such woodlands cannot just be left, they have to be managed if they are to retain their beauty and provide enjoyment for nature lovers throughout the county and the country. The wood is designated as a site of special scientific interest, but that does not ensure that it will be properly managed. After all, I understand that 2,000 acres of SSSIs have been damaged during the past 12 months. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Forestry Commission cannot compel the appropriate management of woodlands.
The Cambridgeshire and Bedfordshire Wildlife Trust is keen to buy the wood. It would preserve it, look after it, and ensure that it is developed in the best possible way, preserving the flora and fauna inside it. However, the trust needs time. The MOD should, if possible, sell the wood to the trust. Will the MOD at least give the trust time to submit a suitably competitive bid, which it wants and intends to do? Alternatively, will the MOD give time to allow suitable safeguards to be put in place to preserve that beautiful wood?
We now have a new heritage Ministry. I am not quite sure what it does, but I should not be surprised if it were extremely interested in this problem. The Secretary of State for National Heritage should become involved in such issues. Of course, other Ministries are involved. The Department of the Environment must be interested, if the environment means anything. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should be interested because it has forestry responsibilities. I ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to get those Ministries to work together rather than in separate penny packets, so that we can save something that is really worth while in our society. I know that both my right hon. Friend and our right hon. Friend the Prime Minister take the problem seriously.
I want to discuss the slightly broader issue, because British woodlands as a whole are at risk. I am sure that many hon. Members will have read the Observer supplement last Sunday. It certainly made stark reading. It is only a short while before the great Rio summit on the environment is held. It is ironic that, during the past 50 years, Amazonia—the place we are always told has devastated its forests—lost 10 per cent. of its forests, yet over the same period Britain lost 45 per cent. If those figures are true, they are very stark. It is worrying for the British environment and for a country that has been so notable for its woodlands and its forests.
It is also ironic that the Government subsidise new afforestation where people plant dreary conifers, which do not attract wildlife. They certainly do not create the woods that we want in our beloved country. While providing subsidies for those boring conifers, the Government run the risk of destroying existing much better, much more beautiful and much more lush woodland through the highest-bidder policy that the MOD is pursuing.
166 The matter is urgent, both nationally and locally. It is no good making lots of money, having wonderful machinery and new technology and creating wealth if, in the process, there is not a countryside in which it is worth living. I am sure that the Government would not wish to he known as an Administration who appreciate the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)
Order. Many right hon. and hon. Members wish to take part in the debate. I hope that any hon. Members who are fortunate to catch my eye in the early part of the debate will take that into consideration. It is only a three-hour debate, and I wish to call as many hon. Members as possible.
§ Ms. Liz Lynne (Rochdale)
I know that, as this is my maiden speech, I shall be treated with courtesy and gracious listening, but it is none the less a fairly daunting experience. I feel very privileged to be a Member of the House. Indeed, I believe that all of us, being Members, are so privileged. I suspect that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, would agree that in the light of that privilege and that honour, our behaviour, countenance and manner should reflect that.
I represent Rochdale and I realise that I have a very hard act to follow. My predecessor, Sir Cyril Smith, was a character in his own right. Loved by most—not all, but most—he was a tireless worker for his constituents. He is outspoken and he never hesitates to say what he thinks or believes. Before he came to the House in the famous 1972 by-election, he had been councillor, alderman and mayor of Rochdale. His service to his beloved Rochdale spans some 40 years. I know that the House will wish him a long and happy retirement. I, for one, owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
The Rochdale constituency comprises the old county borough of Rochdale. Within 15 minutes, we can be out of the township into the hills or on to the moors, yet it still embraces commerce, industry and all the inner-town facilities. Rochdale has a proud history. It was a great textile town, but sadly that is fading, although new industries are growing and thousands of small businesses now make a valuable contribution to our economy. Rochdale also has great companies with worldwide reputations.
Regrettably, however, unemployment is still above the regional average. While Rochdale does not have people sleeping out in cardboard boxes to any great extent, homelessness is still a serious problem and a social evil.
John Bright and Gracie Fields are famous Rochdalians. The Co-operative Movement was founded in Rochdale, as was the Workers Educational Association. In 1994, when it is reasonable to expect that I shall still be the town's Member of Parliament, Rochdale will celebrate some great events—the 800th anniversary of Rochdale parish church, the 150th anniversary of the Co-op, the centenary of the Rochdale canal and the centenary of the children's Moorland home. People, however, are the great wealth of Rochdale—its population, its voluntary organisations and its societies. Drama, music, church, community—just name it and we have it.
167 We are a close-knit community, which is why the death of Conrad Cole, a young soldier from Rochdale, in the so-called friendly fire incident has affected Rochdale greatly. It does not seem likely that, under international law, the pilots can be extradited. Because of that, I urge the Government to use their special relationship with the United States to press for a further and fuller inquiry and for the results to be released to the parents and all interested parties.
It is perhaps not surprising that Rochdale has always been concerned about the people within its community. It has been deeply involved in the issue of community care. The first local authority home for the elderly was opened in 1950, the family group homes by 1960 and schemes to help pensioners with decorating and gardening were introduced in 1963. In the 1960s, a youth-helps-elderly scheme was pioneered at a time of severe weather conditions. It is therefore wholly appropriate, I hope, that my maiden speech as Member of Parliament for Rochdale should be concerned with community care. Therefore, I ask that before the House adjourns we should debate the pressing issue of community care.
I grew up in a disabled persons' home, as my mother was in charge of it. A lot of my friends, of course, were disabled. One particular friend and I used to go all over the place together. She was 16 and I was 11 when we arrived there, but what used to make me so angry was that when we were out together people frequently asked me questions and never talked to her first, even though she was five years older. I realised very quickly the sort of discrimination that people with disabilities have to suffer. I was determined to help to change that, not only for disabled people but for everyone, to create an equal and caring society.
I should like to ask: where is the vision, where is the idealism, where is the hope? They are certainly not there for the elderly, or for disabled people, or for the mentally ill, or for the homeless, or for those with learning difficulties. Care in the community was supposed to be the great hope, but what has happened to it? I shall tell hon. Members. It is grossly underfunded and has not been properly thought through. I believe very strongly that community care is the right way forward, but not in the way that it is operating at the moment in many places throughout the country. If we are not careful, more and more people will be left to roam the streets. More and more people will be placed in bed-and-breakfast accommodation, with nothing to do all day. More people will be put into flats and bed-sits, without the proper back-up facilities. It is happening already.
We have a very good example of what happened when the large mental institutions were closed. Quite a lot of the inmates were dumped out, to fend for themselves. Many of them can still be seen wandering the streets and sleeping rough. We must not let that continue. We must certainly not let it happen again.
Community care has to be provided with proper resources. That money has to be ring-fenced to stop local councils being able to squander it on pet projects. We need to create a comprehensive disability income scheme so that people with disabilities can be given real financial freedom. We need also to create a new carers benefit that recognises the essential role that carers play in enabling people to stay within the community. We need to take positive action to 168 get people off the streets and into real homes of their own. Our aim should be to reduce homelessness by at least 50 per cent. in the next four years.
All the groups of people I have mentioned have to be treated with dignity and respect. For too long they have been ignored; for too long they have been swept to one side; and for too long they have been the poor relations. As a Member of Parliament, I hope to make my contribution to improved community care and I am happy that my maiden speech should have been devoted to that cause.
§ Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down)
We have just heard a gracious and elegant speech, delivered with passion and compassion by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Miss Lynne). It is not surprising that we should hear such a speech from the hon. Lady because Rochdale produced, as she mentioned, Gracie Fields, who embodied the big-heartedness of that area. I hope that the hon. Lady will enjoy her stay in the House. I am sure that she will enjoy the same friendship that her predecessor, Sir Cyril Smith, who was a large and lovely personality, enjoyed here. I echo what she said about the need to look after the people of this country.
I urge the House not to adjourn, because of the threatened bed closures in my constituency of North Down in the Bangor hospital, the Ulster hospital and the Ards hospital. I denounce the Eastern health board's proposals to cut almost 100 hospital beds in the North Down area. Such bed closures will inevitably have an adverse effect on patient care in the area. There is no doubt whatsoever that waiting lists, which already are intolerably long, will grow longer still.
The board has announced that there will be consultations about the closures, but such talks—I speak from many years' experience of statements by the Eastern health board in the past—will, in my opinion, be a sham. They will be a cosmetic exercise to give a semblance of democracy to decisions already made to cut essential hospital beds—cuts which, if implemented, will clearly be detrimental to the people of North Down.
Every year, the North Down and Ards unit of management has imposed excessive expenditure cuts on hospital and social services in the North Down area. The present proposals are the result of a programme imposed on the unit by the Eastern health board to cut expenditure on hospital services by a further £1 million. I have charged the board with discrimination against the people of my constituency and elsewhere in the Eastern health board area. That area takes in the city of Belfast, which receives more than its fair share of money, in proportion to the population of Belfast, the number of hospital beds available in Belfast and the total expenditure of the Eastern health board on the city of Belfast.
I do not blame the Belfast hospitals for seeking to obtain as much money as possible. Money spent on patients is money well spent. The fact is, however, that money is being drawn away from the rest of the Eastern health board area to the city of Belfast. Therefore, I call for Belfast to be hived off from the Eastern health board area and established as a separate entity, because the cost of hospital beds in the Ulster and Bangor hospitals is lower than the cost of hospital beds in the Royal Victoria 169 hospital or the City hospital, Belfast. I am shocked by the cuts which it has been decided to make in my constituency of North Down.
The whole of a medical ward in Bangor hospital is to be closed. That ward consists of 24 beds. Sadly, patients who need operations will have to wait far longer for them. That makes a mockery of the claim that the national health service is being organised for the benefit of patients. The closure of a whole medical ward will create appalling difficulties for Bangor. The population consists of 70,000 men, women and children. It deserves to have a fully operational hospital with a casualty department. Instead, the Eastern health board cuts, cuts and cuts again. I have warned my constituents that, in due course, despite assurances from the Eastern health board to the contrary, the board will seek to close the Bangor hospital completely.
It is an indictment of the undemocratic bureaucracy that governs Northern Ireland that such proposals can be made with no reference to the elected representatives of the Ulster people. The board is composed of people who were appointed by the Minister and who, therefore, are minions of the Government. Representatives of the press are not admitted to meetings and do not hear the deliberations of the Eastern health board. We find out what is happening by rumour; then, eventually, a statement is made to the effect that the proposal will be implemented following discussions.
The Ulster hospital's orthopaedic ward, with 20 beds, is to be closed. The Ards hospital will lose 52 beds. All those closures will create suffering for patients and relatives, and nurses and other staff will inevitably lose their jobs.
I call on the Government to ensure that the proposed bed closures in the North Down and Ards area are not implemented within the next few months as proposed but postponed until the proposals are fully examined and discussed by the elected representatives of the people of Northern Ireland. That can be done effectively only by means of a Northern Ireland Select Committee, which could cross-examine health board officials and other witnesses. I have been pressing for the appointment of a Select Committee for some time and I now repeat that demand for the restoration of democracy to the people of Northern Ireland.
If my fair and reasonable demand for the appointment of a Select Committee is still refused, I call on the Government to guarantee to the people of my constituency that the Eastern health board proposals will be postponed until the creation of another Northern Ireland Assembly. We understand from the discussions that have taken place over the past few months that there is a very reasonable prospect of a Northern Ireland assembly being established. The health board's proposals are an ideal matter for such an assembly to discuss, and I do not think that a decision should be made in advance of its creation.
In the name of my constituents, in the name of justice and in the name of community care, I urge the Government to ensure that the undemocratic bureaucratic Eastern health board does not proceed with the proposed hospital bed closures, which would create an appalling state of affairs in my constituency of North Down.
§ 5.2 pm
§ Ms. Rachel Squire (Dunfermline, West)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to make my maiden speech to the House. I begin by congratulating you on your election to your new post—a tribute to your ability and of most welcome assistance to new and inexperienced Members like myself.
I shall refer first to previous—experienced—Members of Parliament for Dunfermline, West and Dunfermline Burghs. My immediate predecessor was Mr. Dick Douglas. During his long career in the Labour and Co-operative Movement, he displayed—shall we say—an independence of mind. That career began when, as a young apprentice in the 1950s, he helped to lead a successful strike in the Clyde shipyards. It is a particular shame, therefore, that he decided to end his career by breaking away from the Labour and Co-operative Movement.
The vast majority of past and present Labour Members of Parliament for Fife have been and are an example of the best that the movement can offer. My special thanks must go to my hon. Friends the Members for Dunfermline, East (Mr. Brown) and for Fife, Central (Mr. McLeish). I pay tribute to the ceaseless work of members of the Labour party throughout Fife and especially in my own constituency. My respect and affection for the people of Dunfermline and West Fife grow with every passing day. Throughout the century, they have displayed an unswerving loyalty and commitment to the Labour movement.
I cannot end this part of my speech without paying tribute to an outstanding example of that loyalty and commitment, a former Member of Parliament, Mr. Adam Hunter, who, sadly, died last year. He worked as a miner for 40 years before becoming a Member of Parliament, and subsequently he served the constituency of Dunfermline Burghs for 15 years in a most selfless and conscientious way. He was totally without pomposity and everyone who knew him speaks of him with the highest regard. I can only strive to match a small part of his ability.
That brings me to my constituency. I said that Mr. Adam Hunter had been a miner in the area for 40 years, but the history of coal mining in my constituency goes back much further—more than 700 years, to 1291, when the monks of Dunfermline abbey first extracted coal from Pittencrieff glen. Throughout the constituency, villages developed amid coal mines—Oakley, Saline, Blairhall and High Valleyfield, to mention but a few. Yet now there is only one deep mine operating in the whole of Scotland, at the western edge of my constituency at Kincardine on its border with that of my hon. Friend the Member for Clackmannan (Mr. O'Neill).
My constituency's history is fascinating. This year, we are celebrating the 400th anniversary of Culross as a royal burgh. Next year we will mark the 900th anniversary of the death of Queen Margaret. I hope, too, that Dunfermline abbey will begin to be recognised as the Westminster abbey of Scotland. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]
The communities of the constituency have a long history of work and welcome. They include communities from Townhill to Torryburn, from Charlestown to Crossford, from Cairneyhill to Carnock, from Halbeath to Limekilns and Newmills. The constituency's communities 171 have a long defence tradition and we all owe a great deal to the people who live and work in Crombie, Pitreavie and Rosyth.
I am aware that this debate concerns the spring Adjournment. I should like to tell the House of all my concerns, but that would take days, rather than the few minutes left to me, so I have decided to use that time to raise just one issue—low pay.
George Bernard Shaw said, "Very few people can afford to be poor." I should like to think that that comment was history; it is not. The lowest-paid male manual workers earn less, relative to the average, than they did more than 100 years ago, in 1886. An unemployed married man with four children in Dunfermline was offered a job for 36 hours a week as a radio taxi controller for a wage of £54 a week. It would be comforting to think that that man was an exception; he was not. It would be comforting to think that low pay was confined to parts of Dunfermline; it is not. It would be comforting to think that it was confined to parts of Fife; it is not. There are 900,000 low-paid workers—one in three—in Scotland—and more than 10.4 million in the United Kingdom.
The Government have led the attack against Labour's call for a minimum wage of £3.40 an hour and the protection of wages councils. Will someone explain to me, and to the millions of low-paid workers, why the Government consider it immoral to pay a man or a woman £3.40 for an hour of work, yet moral to charge sick people—many of them on low pay and benefits—£3.75 for half a dozen pills on a prescription?
The Government have claimed that the introduction of a minimum wage would lead to unemployment. Given the extent of low pay, we should have full employment now. Instead, the latest statistics show an official figure of 2,695,300 unemployed, and the unofficial figure is much higher. Scotland is one of the parts of the country that have been hardest and longest hit by unemployment. Fife has the second highest unemployment rate in Scotland, with one in eight people out of work, and in parts of my constituency—central Dunfermline, for example—there is already an unemployment rate of 21.4 per cent.
The Government have said that they are keen on saving public expenditure. If that is the case, they should promote jobs with decent pay. If they did that, the people of Abbeyview in Dunfermline, 60 per cent. of whom depend on benefits, could instead earn a decent wage and contribute towards national insurance and tax. If the Government do not change their policy on poverty wages, that policy will add to the millions who already live on poverty pensions.
If the Government are keen to save on public expenditure, they should ditch the privatisation of the coal industry and the further attacks on local government and the health service. Privatisation will only add to unemployment, increase benefit demands and waste billions more of public money.
If the Government introduced a minimum wage, they could save public expenditure and increase income to the Exchequer. A minimum wage would bring in between £1.3 billion to £1.5 billion a year through tax and national insurance and fewer benefits. Minimum pay would also increase industrial efficiency and effectiveness. That is why 10 of our 12 European competitors have some form of 172 minimum wage protection. The evidence that economic efficiency would be promoted by minimum pay has been provided by organisations such as the Contractors, Cleaning and Maintenance Association and the Electrical Contractors Association. I urge the Government to cease immediately any plans to abolish wages councils completely where the highest basic pay rate is a mere £3.08 an hour. Instead, the Government should assist employers to invest in equality and efficiency.
In conclusion, I want to quote Winston Churchill. He said that without the protection of minimum wagesthe good employer is undercut by the bad and the bad employer is undercut by the worst.It is my hope and intention to work towards making that quote relevant only to the past—not to the present or the future.
§ Mr. Michael Stephen (Shoreham)
As is customary for those who have the honour of addressing the House for the first time, I wish to begin by referring to my constituency and to my predecessor. I am proud to represent Shoreham, which lies between the south downs and the sea in the county of West Sussex. We have a small port and an airport in Shoreham. In times gone by, we built wooden ships for the Royal Navy and for the merchant and fishing fleets. There was a time when Shoreham relied for its livelihood on shipbuilding contracts procured by its Members of Parliament. However, its Member of Parliament today has many tasks, but none is more important than to safeguard and promote the interests of local industry and commerce upon which the livelihoods of so many of my constituents depend.
Shoreham and Lancing are at the heart of the British simulator industry. Men and women of the most amazing technical skill and inventive genius build simulators to train the crews of aircraft and tanks. We also have a company that is equally extraordinary and at the leading edge of technology in the automotive engine industry. It designs engines for motor vehicles throughout the world. We also have a company that builds hi-tech operating tables and other extremely sophisticated equipment for the world's hospitals.
We have a famous public school at Lancing. At Findon we have a racing stables where Grand National winners have been trained. In the places that I have already mentioned and in Southwick, Sompting, Ferring, East Preston, and Rustington, there are pleasant residential areas to which people from all over the country come to spend their retirement years. Pensions are important for me. I have already joined the all-party pensions group and I have become a founder member of the group of 70 hon. Members who are pledged to fight for the Maxwell pensioners.
One of my predecessors as hon. Member for Shoreham was the father of the poet Shelley. However, my immediate predecessor was the right hon. Sir Richard Luce. He was a distinguished Member of this House for 21 years and he was well liked and respected by hon. Members on both sides of the House. He served his country well as a Foreign Office Minister and as Minister for the Arts. He is now vice-chancellor of Buckingham university and I am sure that the whole House will join me in wishing him every success in that new appointment.
On policy matters, I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on our policy towards Europe. 173 Britain should play a positive role in shaping the future of our continent. We should be good Europeans, but that does not mean simply saying yes to what the others want to do. I believe in co-operation, not federation.
The Government will also receive my support for returning the nationalised industries to the private sector. The private sector should do that which is best clone in the private sector. I welcome the citizens charter because it is vital in any organisation, whether public or private, that the people who work in it know what is expected of them and that the people whom it serves know what they have a right to expect. In short, I believe that the citizens charter is the mission statement for the public service.
I would like to raise many issues in relation to the environment, but I shall refer to only one today. It is water. We all now know that water is a precious natural resource, and I would like to see the building regulations amended so that all new buildings are equipped with the means of collecting and storing rain water.
Many people in my constituency fought in the second world war, and many others lost their loved ones in that dreadful conflict. We must all be grateful that the cold war has ended, but we still live in a dangerous and unstable world. We must remember the lessons of the 1930s. Countries are attacked because they are too weak, not because they are too strong.
I had the honour to serve Her Majesty in The Life Guards. I regret the need to amalgamate some of our famous regiments, and I respectfully ask my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence to reconsider the manning levels required for the Army. However, I welcome the Government's commitment to provide our soldiers, sailors and airmen with the very best equipment that modern technology can provide.
I also practised as a barrister for 14 years and I therefore have a particular interest in law and order. In 1987 I wrote a pamphlet urging the Government to ask Parliament to confer on the Court of Appeal the power to increase over-lenient sentences, and I was very pleased when that power was provided by the Criminal Justice Act 1988. As we have seen in recent cases, that does not always mean that a sentence will be increased, but it does mean that a higher court now has the opportunity to reconsider the matter.
I believe that automatic remission of sentences should be abolished, because it is a fraud on the public. If a judge sentences a man to six years imprisonment, our constituents have a right to expect him to be behind bars for six years. I know that judges take remission into account when fixing sentences, but sentences should mean what they say. If judges wish to pass shorter sentences, let them do so and let them see what the public think about it.
I am aware of the need to maintain discipline in prisons, but our constituents do not receive reductions in their income tax for good behaviour. Good behaviour is to be expected in this country, both inside and outside prison, and those who behave badly in prisons should have their sentences increased.
I am not against parole, as opposed to remission, and prisoners should be entitled to earn reduction of sentence. Many people are in prison today because the education system failed them, and more thought and more resources need to be devoted to remedial education in prison. Far too much of the time that prisoners spend in custody is completely and utterly wasted, and it needs to be put to better use.
174 Another matter relating to law and order is pornography. The law should be tightened up in relation to printed matter, films, television and the increasing use of the telephone system for pornographic purposes.
In Britain today, unemployment gives us all cause for concern. I will not say when the recession will end, because, as Groucho Marx once said, "It is dangerous to make predictions, especially about the future." However, I do know that the recession is temporary. Many people in our constituencies risk losing their homes because they cannot pay their mortgages. If they are on income support, they get their mortgage interest paid, but if they are on family credit, they do not. I have urged my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security to consider paying mortgage interest to people on family credit. That would be expensive, but when the taxpayer is helping a person to maintain and preserve a capital asset, I see no reason why the taxpayer should not get his money back when the recession ends and the property eventually is sold. For that purpose I suggest a legal charge upon the property.
The great majority of my constituents are Christian people. They believe that religious education in our schools should be predominantly of the Christian faith. They believe also, as I do, that everything that the Government do should be guided by Christian principles. Those principle are shared by the other great religions represented in our country today. I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will never forget those principles, and I wish him every success in the years to come.
§ Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)
I am pleased to follow the hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen). I am sure that he will make an able representative of his constituency. He and I have in common an interest in law and order, although I suspect they are slightly different aspects. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not follow the tradition to a great extent and get carried away with a eulogy, because I do not want any thunderbolts to come down from heaven and consume me in the next 10 minutes. As it happens, before the recess we should spend a little time discussing an aspect of law and order which I should like to think would be of interest to the hon. Member for Shoreham, but I am prepared for the possibility that it is not.
Two years ago, after a statement by the Home Secretary the day after four innocent people had their convictions quashed for the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings, the right hon. Gentleman set up a judicial inquiry under Judge Sir John May, a very distinguished judge, to consider not only those convictions but the seven other convictions that related to the Guildford and Woolwich case—those of Mrs. Maguire and her family, which have also been quashed. That inquiry seemed at the time to be urgent and there was an awful lot of curiosity about how it came to pass that those people were ever convicted of those offences. Two years and eight months have passed since that inquiry was set up, and it seems to have ground to a halt.
I cannot say that I am all that surprised. The history of judicial inquiries is not a happy one. Judicial inquiries into miscarriages of justice normally end by re-convicting those who have just had their convictions quashed. It became 175 clear early on that Sir John May was not willing to be party to a whitewash and that he was conducting a rigorous inquiry. From that moment on, it also became clear that Sir John May would never be permitted to report. The years have ticked by and there is no sign of a report. I understand, although I have not spoken to him, that Sir John is considerably frustrated about the situation.
The reasons why I have never believed that he would be permitted to report are not all that difficult to work out. The Guildford case is distinguished from the other big celebrated miscarriages of justice in that all those concerned—it is possible to demonstrate it and I attempted to demonstrate it in my evidence to Sir John May's inquiry—must have known that they had got the wrong people. They chose not to face up to that for fear, perhaps, of the consequences for their own careers or for fear that the roof of the legal system might fall in. It is quite easy to demonstrate that. We have only to look at the cast of characters involved to see why there will be no report from Sir John May.
The judge was Lord Donaldson, now Master of the Rolls—the judge, I believe, in both the Guildford and Woolwich trial and the Maguire case that followed. The senior policemen involved—many police officers were involved—were Sir Peter Imbert, now the Metropolitan Commissioner, Commander Bill Hucklesby, who became very senior in the Metropolitan police before he retired, and Commander Jim Nevill, who was also extremely senior in the Metropolitan police. They helped to capture the IRA unit called the Balcombe street. There was a big siege at Balcombe street, which many people will recall —it lasted a week.
From that moment on, it must have been obvious—indeed, it was obvious—that those were people who carried out the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings. They were prepared to confess to it. They were able to describe it in enormous detail—such great detail that it was not possible to pretend that they had not been involved. The script had to be rewritten, and it was rewritten on a fairly spectacular scale. The problem was that the Balcombe street people insisted on owning up. When they came to trial, they all got up in court and said that as members of the Provisional IRA they would not normally recognise a British court, but on this occasion, since innocent people had been convicted for offences for which they were responsible, they proposed to plead not guilty to the enormous list of charges in front of them, and invite their barristers to participate in the proceedings only in so far as it would draw out the enormous amount of fraud and perjury that had been committed.
As a result of that dramatic new evidence, the Guildford and Woolwich defendants were entitled to a retrial. That posed a very serious problem for the authorities because there was a serious danger that the truth would emerge. Had they owned up at that stage, we could have said, "Oh well, it was a mistake," and perhaps it was up to that point, although I do not necessarily accept that either. But that is not what happened. A little-known 17th century procedure was revived whereby the Court of Appeal could sit also as the court of first instance, thereby knocking out the appeal to which those innocent people were entitled and the retrial to which they were entitled, at 176 a single go in the absence of a jury.
That is an important point, because the Royal Commission on criminal justice is coming under a lot of pressure to blame it all on the juries. If it has succumbed to that pressure, it has been had. I will say only that. At every crucial stage in all such big cases steps have been taken to make sure that no jury is around. One cannot blame the jury. In this case, Lord Roskill, Lord Lawton, a former British Union of Fascists candidate for Hammersmith, and Mr. Justice Boreham presided. Even on the most generous interpretation, it is very hard to believe that they could not see what was going on and that the script was being rewritten from top to bottom.
Besides the distinguished people I have mentioned—Sir Peter Imbert, Commander Hucklesby, Commander Nevill, Lord Roskill, Lord Lawton, and Lord Donaldson —the Crown in all those cases was represented by the late Lord Havers, subsequently the Lord Chancellor. Now that we see the cast of characters involved it becomes clear, does it not, why we are never going to hear from Sir John May's inquiry? I have never believed that we would, and I now see reports saying that we are not going to. A decision has not yet been made, but it is about to be made. No doubt that will be when we are in recess. Perhaps it will take the form of a planted written answer to a tame member of the governing party.
I was invited, along with some other people, to submit evidence to Sir John May's inquiry. I did so and attempted to point out in words of one syllable where I thought that the responsibilities lay. I invited him to draw the appropriate conclusions.
When the royal commission was set up, after the release a year or two later of the Birmingham Six, to inquire into the criminal justice system in general, all those of us who had submitted evidence received a letter from the inquiry asking whether we would mind if our evidence was transferred to the royal commission—and no doubt subsumed into the enormous amount of evidence that it would receive. I wrote back and said no, I did not wish my evidence to be transferred. My evidence was specific to the Guildford and Woolwich inquiry. I wished it to go before Sir John May. I have heard nothing since that time. I knew from that moment on that the inquiry was doomed.
My purpose in raising this matter is to make only one point. When each of the great miscarriages of justice has occurred, the Home Secretary and occasionally the Attorney-General or someone else comes before the House and makes a statement. They say that everyone is upset about it, they hope that it will not happen again and they are determined to learn a few lessons from the case. I just hope that, if Sir John May's inquiry is to be abandoned —and it is—the Home Secretary will have the courage to come to the House and explain why it is to be abandoned. I hope that he will submit himself to questioning by the House and that we shall not one day find in Hansard some planted written answer telling us that it is all over.
§ Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale)
First, may I welcome you to your post, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is good to have two Yorkshire folk in the Chair in this new Parliament. I 177 also congratulate the hon. Members who have made maiden speeches in today's debate. I can scarcely believe that five years ago I stood here in fear and trepidation doing much the same thing. It is clear from the quality of what we heard tonight that the new Members elected to Parliament in this latest election will grace our debates and will certainly be great ambassadors for the constituents whom they represent.
In my judgment, the House should not adjourn for the spring recess until it has considered and taken stock of the widespread opposition throughout North Yorkshire to the plans of the National Grid Company to construct a new overhead powerline from Teesside to Shipton in the Vale of York. It would go right through the Vale of York, running some 60 miles. The proposal is the subject of a public inquiry which began today in Northallerton. That inquiry is expected to last at least two months—a clear indication of both the serious nature of the proposal and the strength of opposition to it.
The proposed power line would pass through the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Langbaurgh (Mr. Bates) and for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), who raised the issue in debate last April. My right hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Alison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Boothferry (Mr. Davis) have also received many representations on the matter. All my hon. Friends whom I have mentioned wish to be associated with my remarks this evening.
It is the first time for almost a quarter of a century that a major extension to the national grid has been sought. The application arises out of the decision to construct a new gas-powered electricity generating station at the ICI complex at Wilton on Teesside. Neither I nor any of my hon. Friends have any objection to that splendid project in isolation, but we believe that there has been a clear failure of the planning procedures laid down in the Electricity Act 1989. It is a matter of great importance to the House that an amendment to those provisions be considered as a matter of urgency.
It has been well established that, when permission was granted for the Teesside project, no consideration was given to the potential consequences for the national grid. None of the local authorities—in my constituency, North Yorkshire county council and Hambleton district council —none of the parish councils or residents and landowners who would be affected by the consequent power line were consulted about the power project application. Yet residents and landowners are told that the new power line is essential to transmit the electricity generated by the Teesside plant into the national grid.
Without question, those affected by the proposed new power line should have been consulted before the power station was approved because the power line has clear environmental impact. That impact should have been a relevant consideration in granting the power station consent.
§ Mr. William Hague (Richmond, Yorks)
Does my hon. Friend agree that in any case the National Grid Company has yet to demonstrate that there is a compelling and clear need to construct the lines, which makes the environmental cost of their construction even harder for local residents to bear?
§ Mr. Greenway
My hon. Friend has anticipated the very point that I was coming to. It is indeed the view of North 178 Yorkshire county council that the National Grid Company has not demonstrated the need for the proposed power line, and that existing transmission lines are adequate for the current level of electricity which it is obliged to transmit through North Yorkshire, including the power generated by the Teesside plant. However, there is a strongly held belief that further gas-fired generating stations are planned and that the proposed new power line is largely anticipatory of the likely requirements for transmission capacity in future.
The proposed power line should be a matter of grave concern to all right hon. and hon. Members for reasons that I shall explain in a moment. Privatisation of the electricity industry has brought many welcome benefits to both industry and domestic consumers and has introduced much-needed competition into power generation. The potential growth of cheaper and more cleanly generated capacity will bring environmental benefits in terms of reduced emissions. Those benefits are most welcome, but they should not be at the expense of the environmental impact of transmitting the new capacity through the national grid.
I make three points. First, this is the first major extension of the national grid for more than 20 years. What happens now will be a precedent for potential similar applications to extend the national grid in the years ahead. Secondly, as a result of the former point, the Electricity Act 1989 should be amended to require new generators, electricity boards and the National Grid Company to assess the implications for the national grid of any new power plants before permission is granted.
Thirdly, although in the past 20 years there have been many welcome advances in the technology of electricity generation—indeed, the Teesside project is one of the most advanced in Europe, if not the world—it appears that little if any advance in the technology of transmission has occurred in that time. We still have the same 150-ft-high pylons every 400 yd right across the country, of which there are already far too many in both my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).
I am sure that many hon. Members often pass through North Yorkshire on holiday or en route to other destinations and will have observed the number of pylons there. They are a blot on the landscape. Their environmental impact is immense for the many people who live in their shadow. The National Grid Company claims that it can blend the pylons into the contours of the landscape. I fail to see how that can be achieved in the flat, open landscape of the Vale of York, especially at the southern end of the proposed line in my constituency.
I have never known such outrage, anger, resentment and despair as has been aroused by the proposed power line. The healthy increased majorities enjoyed by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks and myself, as well as the return of the Langbaurgh constituency into Conservative hands at the general election demonstrates that the proposal is not seen as a party issue. Nor is it seen as a quarrel with the Government. My constituents see it as an issue of moral justice. They will gain nothing from the proposal, but they will lose a great deal if the proposal goes ahead.
Would my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House convey those concerns to my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, in his new post, with his new responsibility for energy? Many of my constituents 179 now look to him to reject the National Grid Company's plans to review the provisions of the Electricity Act 1989, and to press the company to give the highest priority to the research and development of less environmentally damaging methods of electricity transmission.
Until then, the National Grid Company's obligations to link any new generating capacity into the national grid should be ended, unless it can be shown that there will not be the sort of environmental damage that is likely to result in north Yorkshire.
I can think of no more important matter affecting my constituents on which to make my first speech in this new Parliament. However, this is not a NIMBY issue. It is not a local protest but a matter of the gravest national concern. Unless the provisions of the Electricity Act 1989 are amended, the constituents of other right hon. and hon. Members will face the same sort of proposal very soon.
§ Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Thank you for calling me, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I congratulate other new Members of Parliament who have gone through the nerve-racking process of making their maiden speeches and have acquitted themselves so well.
As a member, just, of the West Midlands police authority—a singularly ineffective body, for which I take no responsibility—I would like to use this opportunity to comment on the announcement by the Director of Public Prosecutions that there are to be no prosecutions as a result of the West Yorkshire police inquiry into the operation of the West Midlands serious crime squad.
Before I do so, I understand that it is traditional to pay tribute to one's predecessors and I do so willingly. I first became active in the Labour party just before Tom Litterick, the only former Labour Member for Selly Oak, was elected in 1974. Like my immediate predecessor, Tom Litterick was renowned for not always supporting the Government line. Unfortunately, I think that I am the first Member of Parliament for Selly Oak whose party is in opposition, and I shall not be faced with such difficult decisions.
Tom Litterick was one of the first to speak out in support of Mrs. Maguire and the other people whom we now know were the subject of miscarriages of justice. He did so at a time when that was very unpopular. I am proud of Tom Litterick's record for speaking out. I know that he would have been as concerned as I am about today's announcement.
Anthony Beaumont-Dark also had a reputation for being something of a rebel. Who am I to disagree with him about the poll tax? He has said that at times he was even paired with a Member from his own party. Hon. Members may be interested to hear that Mr. Beaumont-Dark recently confessed that there had been occasions when he was glad that he was not in the majority on a certain issue.
Anthony Beaumont-Dark had voted to restore capital punishment. During the election campaign, he told a public meeting how relieved he was that other hon. Members had not agreed with him and had voted consistently against bringing back the death penalty. In making that change of heart, I think that his mind was on the evidence of miscarriages of justice that has emerged in the past few years. The case of the Birmingham Six is 180 especially relevant to the area that I represent. I am pleased that Mr. Beaumont-Dark has recognised that we should never restore capital punishment.
The West Yorkshire police inquiry was mostly concerned with events which have taken place more recently. However, I am worried that two officers involved in the interrogation of the Birmingham Six were still in the serious crime squad when it was disbanded in 1989.
Early cases, such as that of the Birmingham Six and of Keith Twitchell—who, after six months, is still awaiting the result of his petition to the Home Secretary—took place before the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That Act, which was supposed to put right some of the previous problems with police operations, has been routinely ignored by the serious crime squad, who continued to behave arrogantly and ruthlessly. At least 20 cases have gone to court, and to the Court of Appeal, where there has been evidence—most noteworthy is the ESDA evidence—to show that confessions and forensic evidence have been fabricated.
The police have not dealt with the use of supergrasses in the way that one would expect, and plenty of the evidence in court has given us cause for concern. Today we have heard the outcome of the inquiry into those cases.
When the Police Complaints Authority summary was sent to the West Midlands police authority, it expressed concern about a report in 1985 by Commander Hay of the Metropolitan police, which made various recommendations. The most noteworthy recommendation was that officers should not spend more than two years, or a short time, in squads such as the serious crime squad. Those recommendations were completely ignored.
I have been trying to get to the bottom of the matter and to find out who saw the recommendations and why they were not acted upon. I have written to Geoffrey Dear, the chief constable at the time. He denies seeing the report, even though the Police Complaints Authority stated that several chief officers within the West Midlands police saw it. I then wrote to Les Sharpe, his deputy at the time, who is now chief constable in Strathclyde.
He could not help me, and it is still impossible to find out who saw the report, why it was not acted upon, why officers involved with the Birmingham Six case were still serving in the serious crime squad in 1989, and why so many of them had served for more than five years in the squad and had created a culture in the squad which has resulted in many people in the west midlands being deeply troubled by the operation of their police service.
We need to be concerned not merely about members of the serious crime squad but about the management structure of the West Midlands police and the way in which the culture of the serious crime squad was allowed to continue.
It is to be regretted that the inquiry has taken two years and nine months to come to its conclusions. Although the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department gave assurances last December to my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) that there would be absolutely no cover-up in the investigation into the serious crime squad, the public in my constituency and in the west midlands, who want absolute confidence in their police force, will be deeply troubled by today's new announcement.
The chief superintendent in charge of the West Midlands police division that covers my constituency had direct line management for the serious crime squad. I am 181 concerned that the role of those police officers will not come to light and that we shall not find out who was responsible for the fabrications and the activities which have led to such public concern.
My constituents want a police force that they can trust and the House should not adjourn until the matter has been discussed adequately.
§ Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton)
I follow in the footsteps of the new hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones) and congratulate her on a fluent maiden speech, in which she expressed very positive views. I am sure that the House will hear from her on many future occasions. I was pleased that the hon. Lady conformed to tradition, at least at the beginning of her speech, by paying tribute to her predecessor, Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark. However, I was a little saddened that she did not continue with the tradition that the House has kept for some years, that a maiden speech should not cover matters that are controversial. However, the hon. Lady is of her own mind, and no doubt we shall hear a lot more from her in the future. I congratulate her and all the other hon. Members who have made maiden speeches today.
I am glad to have the chance to speak in this brief debate and raise an issue which affects my constituency. The subject was touched upon earlier in a powerful maiden speech from the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne). I relates to the decisions and funding requirements of regional and district health authorities as they affect two of the most vulnerable sectors of the community—the elderly and the mentally and physically handicapped. Such decisions are crucial to the provision of community and residential care for the mentally and physically handicapped.
In the previous Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) served as Chairman of the Select Committee on Health. He said:As a result of the policies of community care pursued by successive Governments, too many patients are being discharged too soon, for the wrong reasons, and without adequate support into communities which are unwilling, or unable to accept them.I agree with that.
The announcement made on Thursday of last week by Crewe health authority that Cranage Hall hospital is to be closed in March 1995 falls into that category of closure, although the health authority added the rider that the decision will be subject to available resources being in place. Although some mentally and physically handicapped people belong in the community, when the necessary support structures are in place, individuals remain who, for whatever reason, require the security and stability of long-term hospitals—hospitals, which, in many cases, have been their homes for many years or decades. Those people cannot be expected to leave them without being caused considerable distress.
There are 255 residents in Cranage Hall hospital, and they are described by the health authority, with a glib attempt at semantic subversion, as "individuals with learning difficulties". Such a categorisation serves simply to distract attention from the real medical and social needs of many severely handicapped patients. In Cranage Hall hospital, there is a hard core of severely mentally and 182 physically handicapped people. I have argued for the retention of a facility for them on that site since I was first elected to Parliament nine years ago.
I must put on record my appreciation of the efforts of Mr. Richard Jackson of RESCARE, who has done so much to represent the best interests of patients, and of Mr. Derek Stubbs, the present chairman of the Cranage Hall parents and residents welfare society, who has also played a key role. I have worked closely with those two groups to further their proposed alternative concept for the future of the site—a future which involves the creation of a village community, with full medical and social support for those patients who require an institutional or semi-institutional setting and who quite simply could not survive the harsh realities of life beyond its boundaries.
The regional and district health authorities, in their wisdom, have totally rejected a plan by the Bradford and Northern housing association, which is a non-profit-making body. It envisaged a brand-new facility on part of the Cranage Hall site, which would have been funded by the sale and development of the rest of the buildings and grounds. The plan provided hotel and leisure facilities, and housing of different categories for the local community. It was an imaginative plan that deserved consideration, but sadly it did not receive it. One had hoped that the plan would have had some appeal because it would have transferred the patients—and the costs of treating them—from the health service budget. They would have become tenants of the Bradford and Northern housing association.
The number of mentally ill and mentally handicapped people in our prisons, and sleeping rough on the streets, not just of our capital city but throughout our country, is a testament to the failure of the speed at which the policy of community care is being implemented. However, there have been successes in community care where committed and experienced staff have established close inter-agency links, and have been given adequate funding and resources. They have made a real go of things. I have visited such facilities and have been much impressed by what I have seen. None the less, the costs of running them are extremely high. Community care can only work if it is given adequate funding and has a high priority on the agenda of those authorities responsible for health, social and community services provision.
I must admit that I am appalled by the discourtesy of the chairman and chief executive of Crewe health authority in not informing me, as the local Member of Parliament, of the decision until after the public announcement of the closure had been made. It is not acceptable that hon. Members who have been actively involved in an issue of such importance which directly affects their constituency should be left to hear of such a decision through a telephone call from a local radio station which had already been given a full statement—albeit a statement which misled the media and the public about the practical effect of the proposals and the type of patients involved.
An added dimension to the decision to "fast-track" the closure of Cranage hall hospital is the problem of capital resources and how that will impact upon the care of the elderly who also live within the Crewe health authority. Three years ago, the health authority's elderly bed strategy went to consultation. It proposed that both Barony and Arclid hospitals would close in September 1993 and that new homes for elderly persons would be built, one of 183 which would be located in Sandbach to cover my constituents' needs. The acute and rehabilitation service would be relocated at Leighton hospital in two or three brand-new wards. In the meantime, following on from the health service reforms, Leighton became the mid-Cheshire trust hospital and separate from the health authority.
The bid by Sainsbury's for the site at Barony hospital was accepted by the health authority; a contract was signed between the two parties, and an agreement was reached to clear the site in a set period, because the supermarket was to be built and opened by the end of 1993. It was intended and understood that health authority money would build new acute rehabilitation wards at Leighton hospital and that the trust would run them. The capital cost of the building would go via the region to the trust as an external financing limit allocation. The trust has a satisfactory capital plan—although it is not perfect—and it has much to renew in the way of equipment, some of which is many years old.
It is my understanding that the region is now saying that the district health authority cannot have the so-called Sainsbury's money, and that the trust must build the needed acute and rehabilitation beds at a cost of £2 million out of its present external financing limit. At the moment, the region is not committed to the building of those wards, but building must start in September of this year, for occupation in September of 1993. Therefore, contracts will have to be entered into without certain knowledge of where the huge capital sum is to come from.
The region cannot continue to step back from the problem. The real fear is that it is planning to rob Peter to pay Paul by using the proceeds of the sale of Barony hospital to Sainsburys to fast-track the closure of Cranage Hall hospital for the mentally handicapped. The Mid-Cheshire hospital trust at Leighton would be left in some financial uncertainty unless a clear commitment were given by the region now, as a matter of urgency, that the £2 million extra capital funding for the acute geriatric and rehabilitation beds will be forthcoming, as was previously understood to be the case by all the parties concerned.
I appreciate that I have dealt with detailed matters, but they are vital to my constituents. I call on the regional health authority and Crewe health authority to come clean with the people of my constituency, to tell them what the plans are and from where the money will come. Having done that, they should announce that the fast-track closure of Cranage Hall hospital will be put back by at least a decade, during which time other valid plans can be fully and properly researched.
§ 6 pm
§ Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)
I wish at the outset, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to congratulate you on your appointment and to add my voice to those who have congratulated other maiden speakers. I particularly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones). Many, especially on these Benches, appreciated her comments.
Three new seats were won in Birmingham by Labour at the general election. We had spent the previous two years being told that they were barometer seats. We gathered that whichever party won Northfield, Selly Oak and Yardley would go on to form the Government. It seems 184 that something went wrong with the barometer. I am convinced that in four or five years from now, we will be concerned not simply with so called barometer seats in Birmingham but with constituencies throughout the country, and that Labour will form the next Government.
Of course, one cannot be certain that there will not be any by-elections between now and then. I and my two colleagues from Birmingham—my hon. Friends the Members for Selly Oak and for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms. Morris)—have been allocated offices across the adjoining main road. We are worrying already about the problems that we might face as we cross the road together, perhaps coming to vote in a Division.
It is customary in a maiden speech to speak of one's predecessor. In Northfield, I succeed Roger King, who represented the constituency for nine years. He thrived on the reputation of being the motor industry Member. One of his claims to fame was to have won the first House of Commons versus House of Lords motor race. I think that if he wanted to be remembered for anything—he referred to the subject even in his own maiden speech—it was his campaign against the special car tax. No one could mistake the delight on his face when finally that tax was reduced by half in the last Budget. His only regret must have been that it was the party that he supported that introduced the special car tax in the first place in the 1970s. The recent reduction is welcomed by many of us on the Labour Benches. I add my congratulations to Roger King on his new appointment. He is not leaving the motor industry, for he has been appointed director of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Northfield is synonymous with the motor industry. It lies to the south-west of Birmingham and contains the giant Longbridge car plant. Many of my constituents work there or in the associated component supply industry. The work force at Longbridge has contributed to the success of Rover in recent years, yet the car industry, like manufacturing as a whole, which is so vital to the Midlands, has been hit hard by the recession. Sales of new cars were down by 20 per cent. in the last year alone.
Those points are not simply of academic significance. Northfield's unemployment rate increased by 36 per cent. in the last year, but that bald figure hides a story of human misery and deprivation. The problems of poverty in Birmingham's inner city are reasonably well known. Though faltering and incomplete, some resources have been put into such areas and are beginning to tackle the problems of poverty in the inner cities. Far more invisible is the issue of outer ring poverty, in particular the poverty on our outer ring estates.
I might mention the estates at Bartley green, Weoley, Longbridge and Northfield itself. There are pockets of unemployment in those areas of between 70 and 80 per cent. They contain a high proportion of older people with a high dependency on benefits. There are also growing numbers of lone parents. In addition, startling poverty and deprivation results from the spiralling problem of debt which affects many of our constituents.
It is ironic to realise that a standard indicator of deprivation is lack of access to a motor car. A report by the director of public health in south Birmingham revealed that the area with the lowest access by families to a motor car was the ward of Longbridge. They make motor cars there, but they cannot afford to own them.
Where there is poverty, ill health soon follows. In south Birmingham, the area that I represent, along with my hon. 185 Friends who represent Selly Oak and Yardley, one clearly sees the problem of ill health. There is a high proportion of low-birthweight babies and stress-related illness is common, with people having a high dependence on tranquillisers.
If the Government are serious about tackling the problems of ill health in society, they must begin seriously to tackle the problems of poverty, bad housing and environmental deprivation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire) that it also means tackling the scourge of poverty pay. Unless and until we tackle the problem of poverty in our outer ring estates, we shall have increasing problems with racism. We must reject any attempt to stir up resentment against people who live in the outer ring or inner ring. We shall not achieve anything until we address the problem of poverty in the outer ring and empower the people who live there to contribute to their own destinies.
An example in my constituency is the possible development of about 200 acres of land currently occupied by the psychiatric hospitals on what is called the Rubery and Hollymoor hospital site. It is due to be closed and redeveloped. That raises large issues about the kind of care in the community that will follow. If that land is redeveloped—it is being sold off by the regional health authority, to he developed, we understand, by a firm called Charters, which has had an involvement in Docklands—there must be choices about the type of development that will take place.
Will that development provide offices but few jobs for local people and will it provide housing that local people cannont afford? In other words, will commercial considerations be paramount, and will the local community merely be consulted and the real decisions be taken elsewhere? There is an alternative to that. Real jobs could be provided in that development, along with the necessary training. Housing could be provided in a way that is affordable for local people. It could also be constructed to protect the environment. In other words, the local community should be partners in the whole process and be given a say in the decision making.
As their representative in this place, I know which choice I shall make. It will be for the regional health authority and the developers to choose, but I shall be returning to the whole issue time and again, because the whole community deserves no less.
For the Government, there is the challenge of deciding whether they are prepared to face up to the problems of poverty and deprivation on our outer ring estates. Are they prepared to devote the necessary resources to improve housing conditions, protect the environment, provide adequate levels of benefit and abolish low pay?
Much has been said recently about citizens charters and the rights of citizenship. Those rights will mean little if they are not accompanied by the right to have decent living standards and to live in a pollution-free environment—in other words, to have a decent home. I, and my hon. Friends from Selly Oak and Yardley, will be bringing that issue before the House time and again because it greatly concerns the people we represent.
I am grateful to have had this opportunity to address the House.
§ 6.9 pm
§ Mr. Walter Sweeney (Vale of Glamorgan)
I am honoured to have been elected to represent the Vale of Glamorgan and should like to thank the 24,220 people who voted for me, particularly the 19 people who wavered most before putting a cross next to my name.
I am honoured because I follow in the footsteps of Sir Raymond Gower, one of the most distinguished Back Benchers. He acquired a reputation as the most prolific letter writer in the House. He also had a reputation for turning up on people's doorsteps at the most unexpected moment. It is said, no doubt anecdotally, that many of his constituents would hear a light tap on the door and would arrive at the door just in time to see him disappearing down the path. However, he was an assiduous Member of Parliament. He represented the Vale of Glamorgan—previously the old seat of Barry—for 38 years.
Sir Raymond's death in 1989 led to the famous by-election victory of my immediate predecessor, Mr. John P. Smith, who won by 6,000 votes. I pay tribute to John Smith for his extremely hard work as MP for the Vale of Glamorgan. He established himself as a popular Member of Parliament and very nearly pulled off the virtually impossible task of holding on to a seat won by Labour from the Conservatives in a by-election.
The Vale of Glamorgan is a beautiful constituency. If anyone is considering taking a holiday within the United Kingdom, I recommend it. It has about 20 miles of coastline and some attractive inlying areas, and so far, the countryside is relatively unspoiled. We have also benefited from the highest level of inward investment of any constituency in Wales, so there is much prosperity in the vale. One sad thing blights that picture: the breakdown of law and order, which has been widely experienced by my constituents.
My solicitor's office, which lies in the heart of Barry, was burgled five times in a few months, and I decided to conduct a survey on what was happening elsewhere in Holton road, which is the second largest shopping street in south Wales. The results of my survey made grim reading. One retail business has been burgled more than 200 times in two years. That reflects a national problem: last year, 5.3 million crimes were reported in Britain.
Before adjourning the House, we need to send strong messages to certain people. I welcome the announcement of a victims charter, but it does not go far enough. The main message that must go forth from this House is that we care far more about the interests of victims than those of villains. We need to send a message to the police, criminals, the motor industry, the courts, solicitors, victims and the public.
The message to the police should be that we support them in their tremendous endeavours to protect us. In return, we look for increased efficiency from them. We need to back up the police. If a police officer is assaulted in the course of his duty, we need to be able to rely on the courts to hand out tough penalties to his assailants. If a police officer or member of the armed forces is murdered in the course of his duty, the death penalty should be reintroduced. On the whole, the police force are marvellous but, as in any profession, there are a few rotten apples. Where those rotten apples cause miscarriages of justice through tampering with evidence, the courts should fall on them like a ton of bricks, and long prison sentences should be imposed.
187 The main message for criminals must be that crime does not pay. Offenders who reoffend while on bail should know that they will be automatically remanded in custody and not given a chance to commit further offences. They should also know that, if they commit a string of offences and are eventually brought to justice, they cannot expect a string of concurrent sentences. The more offences they commit, the heavier should be the punishment. They should be made aware that, except in the most exceptional circumstances, they must pay full compensation to the victims of their crimes.
Our message to the courts should be that they should order full compensation, fines and prosecution costs. It is a disgrace that the Barry magistrates court does not normally award prosecution costs against defendants. When I put that to clerks of the court, I was advised that it was difficult to get blood out of a stone—most of the criminals are unemployed. If people are unable or unwilling to pay the orders made by the court, they should be set to work in a new scheme analogous to community service. They should be paid for that work but the money they earn should go first to the victims of their crime, secondly to the court in payment of their financial penalties, and thirdly to the prosecution in payment of costs.
The House should also send a message to solicitors, and I call on the Lord Chancellor to review the operation of the courts. I understand the Lord Chancellor's reasoning in trying to control the ever-burgeoning costs of legal aid by introducing standard fees for criminal legal aid work in the magistrates courts. I declare an interest, having practised for many years as a solicitor in courts. The Lord Chancellor has failed to take account of one of the main reasons why the cost of legal aid has gone up.
With the increased number of defendants appearing in court, there is far more waiting time, for which solicitors get paid at an uneconomic rate. They need to be able to charge for that waiting time if their bills are to reflect the amount of time devoted to the cases in question. Although I do not object to fixed fees for legal aid, the legal profession should, in return, have a reform of the courts' system. Such a reform should get rid of unnecessary adjournments, which are not the fault of solicitors acting for defendants, and reduce waiting time—for example, by introducing a staggered listing system similar to that which already exists in county courts.
The next message is to the motor industry. I want the House to legislate to make the installation of deadlocks on motor cars compulsory at the manufacturing stage. No new car should be sold in this country today unless it is fitted with a satisfactory lock. We have already legislated to make seat belts compulsory: why should not deadlocks also become compulsory? That would save an enormous amount of money in insurance claims, and young people driving high-powered cars would no longer be penalised because their cars were more likely to be stolen. It would be much cheaper to install those locks at the manufacturing stage than to add them later as accessories.
The most important message is to the victims of crimes. They should be allowed to use force to protect their personal property, provided they give full notice to the malefactors of the risks that they run by proceeding with their criminal actions. It is no good victims relying on the 188 police. A report in the Financial Times today said that a police constable on the beat in London is likely to come within 100 yards of a burglary being carried out only every eight years. We cannot rely exclusively on the police, and must allow the victims to help themselves. I should also like victims to be invited to attend court so that they have the opportunity to make representations on compensation. Courts should make apologies to victims if full compensation is not granted, and explain why it has not been awarded.
The message from the House to the public should be that the House will not rest until the citizens of Barry and every other city, town and village are safe to go about their business in peace.
§ Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)
I add my congratulations to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment.
In rising to make my maiden speech I confess to feeling "ever so 'umble". I am aware of the great traditions of this, the mother of Parliaments. I cannot deny the contribution made by the Chamber to the history of the British Isles. The irony is that I stood for election to the Westminster Parliament to secure my release from it, and the return of my nation to the full nation status that is richly and rightly deserved.
Mine is a particular privilege and honour as I represent the constituency of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, where I was born and bred. I have the pleasure of representing my people, among them family, friends and innumerable acquaintances. Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is a geographically large constituency, although it is sparsely populated. My constituents have traditionally been staunchly independent—a tradition that, thankfully, persists.
In 1974, my predecessor, Dr. Dafydd Elis Thomas, was elected to represent the constituency—one of the first real breakthroughs for Plaid Cymru. He held the seat with distinction until his decision last year to resign and make another career move. He was well known in the House as possessing a supreme intellect, and his contributions to debates are legendary. He also set the scene for a debate on the proper place for Wales in the European scenario. A committed European, he typically foresaw the proposed integration of the states of the European Community well before others. Many of his early speeches of 10 or 12 years ago still find favour today.
We in Wales, particularly Plaid Cymru, have always been comfortable with the concept of further integration, while preserving one's identity to the full. As well as being committed to Europe, my predecessor worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and the people of Wales. He served on the Select Committee on Education, Science and Arts, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs and the Standing Committee that debated the Broadcasting Bill. He was a former president of Plaid Cymru and had a keen interest in regional and countryside policy, as well as cultural and educational policy. Last year he served on the Standing Committee on the Further and Higher Education Bill. He is a hard act to follow and I am mindful of the presssure.
I emanate from a professional stable once occupied by another Welsh wizard, Mr. David Lloyd George. I served my articles at the firm of Lloyd George and George, and 189 was articled to Lloyd George's nephew, Dr. William Lloyd George. My father knew Lloyd George—actually, he did not, but I thought that I would say so, anyway.
Welsh is the first language for the vast majority of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, a constituency of breathtaking scenic beauty, and an amalgam of rural hill farms, slate mining towns and villages, coastal holiday resorts and traditional county councils. There is a saying in Welsh, "Tra Mor, Tra Meirion". For those who do not speak the language of heaven, I shall paraphrase the saying: Meirionnydd will last as long as the sea lasts. That is a romantic concept, but one which could soon be evidenced by local government reorganisation.
Meirionnydd Nant Conwy has everything that one could ask for, including gold mines. It could be argued that the monarchy might be in difficulty were it not for the reserves of high-quality gold in the hills of my constituency. I have to be careful not to romanticise overmuch—a temptation when one is describing something that one dearly loves. However, we do have problems —problems which may threaten the very existence of my constituency. They include high unemployment and chronic youth unemployment. There is a housing crisis of staggering proportions and crises in agriculture brought about largely by the Government's laissez-faire attitude to the common agricultural policy reform proposals. Such an approach appears typical when one considers the depth of Euro-cynicism among Government ranks.
Nothing that I have heard in the Chamber gives me comfort or reassurance that the serious problems are being effectively addressed—in fact, the contrary is true. Urgent initiatives must be taken if we are to combat the chronic youth unemployment. Is it not possible to re-evaluate the youth training schemes to make them more attractive to the young and to prospective employers? Would it not be possible to set a mandatory longer term for employment to qualify for the scheme?
We must try to regenerate the economy of Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, particularly as the Trawsfynydd power station is soon to be decommissioned. During a recent visit to the European Community headquarters in Brussels, I canvassed the possibility of funding for the future in the event of the station's closure, and was staggered that the subject had not previously been discussed.
We need inward investment, and to ensure that, we need a transport infrastructure that will attract jobs and job creators to Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. I referred to the crisis in housing. In the public sector, 1,100 people are on the local authority waiting lists. That figure is creeping upward daily. If there is to be a serious reorganisation of local government in Wales, it provides the opportunity to bring responsibility back to the local authorities, where it should be. The right-to-buy legislation had benefits for individuals, but wrought havoc on the public housing stock. The Government should be urged to fund Tai Cymru properly and so assist enthusiastic housing associations in their vital role. The problem is sufficiently acute to merit an attack on both fronts.
Planning legislation should be introduced in the private sector to minimise the detrimental socio-economic effect of second homes and the consequent harm to the constituency's intrinsic culture. It is well know that a small amendment to the Use Classes Order could readily address that problem. That would involve minimal legislation, but could have a major effect.
190 One family in five in my constituency depends either directly or indirectly on the agricultural industry. We must face the challenge posed by the CAP cuts head on, and we must cut the cloth to suit our needs. Only then can we be assured of a healthy and prosperous future for the constituency. It is no use sitting here and complaining: the answer is to take a full part in the European deliberations. The Secretary of State for Wales, as the Government Member responsible for agriculture in Wales, should have done so at an early date. I am hopeful that he will shoulder his responsibilities as he should and, even at the eleventh hour, take on the challenge for our communities.
On 11 May, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) said that Plaid Cymrudid incredibly well to win four seats in Wales",although he confessed that he did not know what the message was. He also invited my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) toexplain to the House where he thinks Wales is going."—[Official Report, 11 May 1992; Vol. 207, c. 427.]My hon. Friend is well able to answer any questions put to him, as he displayed in his masterly maiden speech, but I shall reply to the hon. Member for Christchurch.
Wales is on its way to self-government. The electorate of Wales will see Plaid Cymru as the only radical party in Welsh politics. They see Plaid Cymru as being in the main stream of European politics and they see in support for Plaid Cymru the way forward to solving its problems, some of which I have but briefly highlighted.
I pledge to work tirelessly and ceaselessly for the benefit of my constituents and the people of Wales. Thank you, Sir, for your indulgence.
§ Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere)
I rise with trepidation to make my maiden speech. Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the making of a maiden speech as an occasion that no hon. Member would ever forget. I am sure that that is as true of me as of every hon. Member.
My trepidation has been increased by the series of eloquent speeches from other new Members, including the hon. Members for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones), for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen). I particularly enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne). I once visited Rochdale to watch a rugby league match, and I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a most interesting and agreeable place—and underrated—but I regret to tell her that on that occasion Rochdale Hornets lost by a wide margin.
I rise to make my maiden speech today to draw the attention of the House to a serious problem that has arisen in Hertsmere, but before doing that I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Cecil Parkinson, not just as a matter of custom but because everyone in Hertsmere would want me to. Besides occupying the highest offices of state, he was always held in the highest esteem and affection by his constituents, as a tireless servant of their interests. I know that he has many friends in this place and many others in the constituency.
Cecil Parkinson represented Hertsmere for more than 20 years. He first entered the House in a by-election in 1970, following the tragic death of Lain Macleod, then the 191 Member for Enfield, West. One of the many pleasures of representing Hertsmere is that of meeting many people in Potters Bar and other parts of the constituency which used to be in Enfield, West who remember lain Macleod to this day, who cherish his memory and who are proud of the influence that he exerted on the public life of this country. They are proud of his legacy and of the one-nation ideal which is still very much alive today. Their association with the late Iain Macleod is a matter of great pride to my constituents.
Besides Potters Bar, Hertsmere consists of a number of other communities in the southernmost parts of Hertfordshire, each fiercely independent and proud of its identity, but linked by a common thread of interest. Hertsmere has some of the loveliest countryside in close proximity to London. In the past week or so, we have heard many maiden speeches praising the beauties of the countryside of various constituencies, and I would add Hertsmere to that list—with the distinction that there can be few other places so close to London with such beautiful countryside. I know that both my predecessors were keen to preserve the quality of life in that countryside against the inevitable encroachment consequent on its proximity to London.
My constituents would also like me to mention the rail links between Hertsmere and London. It seems to be almost a convention that maiden speakers should complain about the state of the railway services to their constituencies, and we have heard a long list of such complaints—to which I should like to add a word of praise. Over the past 13 years, there have been great improvements in the rail services in my constituency, especially with the introduction of Thameslink, which has been supported by a considerable programme of investment in the railways. That in turn has greatly improved the rail services between my constituency and London.
Unfortunately, given the almost infinite capacity of British Rail to give with one hand and take away with the other, the improvement in daily services has been accompanied by a threat to Sunday services in the constituency, particularly to the communities of Radlett, Borehamwood and Elstree. In other parts of the constituency too, Sunday services leave something to be desired and my constituents want them improved.
My constituents are also interested in housing. A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned complaints about housing. My constituents are pleased with the developments in housing in the past 13 years—especially the 3,600 of them who had the chance to purchase their own homes through the council house purchase-of-property scheme. Thousands of others became home owners over the same period.
In the current economic climate, my constituents greatly appreciate the suspension of stamp duty on house purchases which continues in effect until August—and they would be pleased if the scheme were extended.
One other matter gravely concerns a large number of my constituents. They all find it disagreeable, but for some of them it causes a great deal of hurt. I refer to a series of systematic attacks on the Jewish community in my 192 constituency. In the past three months, Jewish people have been subjected to organised attacks on themselves, their religious institutions and their leaders.
In March, one of the synagogues in my constituency was visited twice by criminals, who attacked the premises and daubed them with slogans of the basest kind, thereby causing great pain to constituents who attended the synagogue. That was followed in April by two incidents when, at a different synagogue, congregants attending services were verbally harassed in an unpleasant way by people who were clearly acting in concert.
On top of all this, the private home of a rabbi was recently visited by people who one can only conclude were the same miscreants who had perpetrated the earlier offences. Once again, appallingly hurtful slogans were daubed, this time on the rabbi's private home; not only was his privacy invaded, but the entire Jewish community in the constituency were greatly affronted.
All right-thinking people in my constituency—my constituents are right-thinking people—are filled with the greatest disgust by these actions. Among the Jewish community, they re-awaken old fears and create potent new ones—and they cause the greatest possible hurt.
I raise this matter on the Adjournment because it is important, and I do so in the full knowledge that the Government have had an exemplary record of taking action against just this sort of activity. We know that the resources of the police have been greatly increased in the past few years, and legal machinery has been put in place to deal with such activities.
The Public Order Act 1986 created the new offence of incitement to racial hatred—a fact which I am sure is of considerable solace to my constituents at this time. They will be pleased to know that anyone engaging in this type of activity can now receive a sentence of two years' imprisonment. I hope that, when the courts deal with this sort of offence, they will take a robust view of sentencing and will sentence not only according to the immediate physical consequences of an act but according to the wider hurt and fear that it may create.
I urge the Government to take every opportunity, as I know they will, to stamp out this sort of activity. I am absolutely confident that it represents the antithesis of what the Government and the Prime Minister stand for and of the sort of society that he wants to create—indeed, this sort of activity should have no place in any decent society.
Although they can create a great deal of hurt, the people who perpetrate these crimes are probably very few in number. Nevertheless, my constituents are also concerned about the fact that, in recent times, extreme political parties have apparently enjoyed so much success in countries not far from our own. In those countries, sentiments espoused by political extremists in this country are expressed clandestinely, or even openly.
In the light of that, I urge the Government to continue to defend our constitution and our electoral system. I believe that that constitution and electoral system have served this country well, at times when other countries' constitutions and electoral systems have served them much less well. It would be a very sad day when the forces of extremism that we now see in other countries gained even a foothold in our own.
I have made my maiden speech with a great deal of pride. I am proud of being a Member of the House of Commons, and I am proud of its history; I am also proud 193 because I know that, in every party represented here, there is no place for the extremist activities that I have described. I hope that that will long continue, and that I never see the day when extremists occupy our Benches.
§ Mr. Jamie Cann (Ipswich)
I feel rather as I did when I first went to the dentist—full of trepidation, but knowing that at least it will all be over soon.
I have the honour to have been elected to represent Ipswich in the Labour interest, and in the interests of the people of that town. Before I go any further, I must mention my predecessor, Michael Irvine, who was an assiduous attender of the House and also a very pleasant man. He fought hard and defended the Government's position with courage, and I was therefore delighted to scrape home with a majority of 265.
Let me also mention Mr. Irvine's predecessor, who will still be well known to many hon. Members. Ken Weetch was the Labour Member from 1974 until 1987. and he is still very popular in both the constituency and the House.
Ipswich is just up the River Orwell from the port of Felixstowe, and was founded in the 5th century as an Anglo-Saxon village called Gyppeswic. It was burnt down four times by the Vikings, but we are still in favour of Europe—just. This year, its football team won the second division championship. It is now going into the premier league, and it is a matter of some sorrow to me that I shall not be able to watch the away matches because the rights have all been sold to BSkyB, or whatever it is called now. The team also won the 1978 FA cup against Arsenal, I am pleased to say. At that time, everyone in the town was incensed by the football commentators' description of Ipswich as a "sleepy little market town". We are not that; we are an industrial-relations town at root.
Ipswich still has many manufacturing industries, producing grass-cutting machinery, compressors, car components, lift motors, valves, pipes, castings and so forth. It has, however, broadened its range, and is now a large commercial centre specialising particularly in insurance firms. It is also the fifth largest container port in Britain. We in Ipswich have many facilities, and we live in a beautiful area in which we take a great deal of civic pride. We consider ourselves the regional capital of East Anglia; colleagues in Cambridge and Norwich dispute that, but of course they are wrong.
We have our problems, of course, but I wish to mention only one of them today. A large concern in the constituency. Ransome and Rapier, recently went bust; not only did it go bust, but, unfortunately, it went bust a few months after it had been bought by Robert Maxwell, and its pension fund is one of those that have been looted by him. The House will not be surprised to learn that I am one of the hundred or so Members of Parliament who are trying, on an all-party basis, to get something done about that. It is all very well for us to adjourn for our holidays next week, but some of my constituents do not know whether they will receive their pension cheques at the end of the month. Already a pension fund has closed down, affecting some people in Suffolk.
I believe—along with all the other members of the action group—that it is right, proper and desirable for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement. We should like that statement to say that the Government undertake to drip-feed and underwrite any pension funds 194 that may be in danger of closing absolutely, so that they may be kept going until investigations have apportioned blame. In particular, we should like the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that he intends to help to force the banks to release the £217 milion of pension fund money that they are holding. It is not their money; it was lodged with them as security, but it belongs to the pension fund, and we should like the Government to help us to get it back. We also believe that the right hon. Gentleman should take on board the 30 suggestions made by the Select Committee on Social Services, so that we can ensure that such a thing never happens again.
That is the only problem affecting Ipswich to which I shall refer today, because it is the most urgent. Ipswich has other problems, however, and I promise that on future occasions I shall bring them to the notice of the House.
§ Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central)
I have been privileged to sit here this afternoon and hear the many contributions made by other hon. Members, particularly the maiden speeches. However, the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) made me feel even more daunted by the challenge.
In making my maiden speech, I find little difficulty in following one convention—that of referring kindly to the previous Member of Parliament for my constituency. Mr. Ian Grist is an old-fashioned gentleman of courage and integrity, and I have met no hon. Member on either side of the House who thought ill of him. He was very well regarded by his fellow Welsh Tory Members, who showed particular and unusual loyalty to him when he was sacked last year as a junior Welsh Office Minister.
It was said at the time that Ian Grist paid the price for backing the wrong horse in the Tory leadership election. I hope that it will now be of some comfort to him to learn that his friend and colleague, the hon. Member for the neighbouring constituency of Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), has succeeded him in his former post. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Cardiff Member on his promotion: I am sure that, like Mr. Grist before him, he will seek consultation and consensus before controversy and conflict. One result of the general election for which we can thank my hon. Friend the new Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) is the reversal of a "Major" change in the Welsh Office: again, there are three Heseltinians working in harness there.
Reading the maiden speech that Mr. Grist made 18 years ago, I was struck by his reference to the changing structure of employment in the constituency. He noticed the decline in traditional industries that was taking place then, and the fact that the service sector was becoming dangerously dominant. Over the past two decades, little has changed in that regard. If anything, the trend has accelerated: with the notable exception of Panasonic and Allied Steel and Wire, it is the service industries that now dominate Cardiff to an excessive degree.
The service sector provides over 80,000 jobs in a city that has a population of less than one third of a million, and during the past decade there has been a further 9 per cent. reduction in the activity of productive industries. Jobs in metal goods and vehicles have declined over that period from 10,000 to 8,500. Other manufacturing has seen a decline in employment from 8,500 to 7,000. The figures confirm a long-term loss of Cardin productive 195 sector and the manual employment that it provided, and it is no longer an industrial city. Indeed, Bournemouth manufactures more than Cardiff. The Government generally and the Welsh Office especially must help local authorities and industry to redress the employment imbalance.
This month's employment statistics show that, in Cardiff, Central, 4,765 people are officially registered as unemployed. It is the second highest level of unemployment in Wales—higher than the levels of unemployment in the valley constituencies. That is the unemployment that is to be found in the centre of the Principality's capital.
The constituency contains pockets of dangerously high levels of male unemployment. It is 27 per cent. in the Adamstown ward and 20 per cent. in Cathays and Plasnewydd. These inner-city wards need work desperately. In some parts of the city, as many as one in every two young men are out of work. The stresses and strains that this places on our society can be seen, perhaps, in Coventry and Los Angeles. They were evidenced in Ely, another Cardiff ward, last year.
My research has shown that, before Mr. Grist, the Member who represented my constituency was my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). My hon. Friend won the seat in 1966 and held it for the next eight years. When he made his maiden speech as the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central, he referred to the building of the Severn bridge, and that presents an opportunity that I can hardly resist. During his eight years as the Member for my constituency the toll on the bridge decreased from half a crown to 12p in 1974, which was a 41 per cent. decrease in real terms.
The toll increased to £1 during the 18 years of Mr. Grist's representation of the constituency. In real terms, that was perhaps a modest increase of 35 per cent., about 2 per cent. per annum above the rate of inflation. I have represented the constituency for only one month, and the toll has already increased by 40 per cent. for cars—the charge is now £2.80—and 180 per cent. for light vans, for which the charge is now £5.60. In only a month, the tolls have increased by much greater amounts than the sum total of previous increases over the previous 26 years.
It is worth comparing the figures with the tolls that are levied on the Dartford bridge, which are currently 80p each way for cars and light commercial vehicles. It is a valid comparison, as the Dartford bridge, which was opened in October, was built to relieve bottlenecks between Essex and Kent. Could the difference in treatment relate to the number of Conservative-held constituencies in Essex and Kent, bearing in mind that there are only two Conservative-represented constituencies in Gwent and Glamorgan?
If, as we are told, high tolls are needed to finance the second crossing of the Severn, why are there no tolls on the new M40, which was built at considerable cost to relieve the M1 and the M6? Over the next few years, it is estimated that £1 billion will be collected on the Severn bridge, and much of that money would have been spent in south Wales. As we have no overall tolling policy in the United Kingdom, unlike some other countries, we have what amounts to a selective tax on the economic region of south Wales.
196 Two hundred years ago, small farmers and traders in west Wales became so enraged at the unfair tolls exacted on the goods they took to market that they burned down the toll gates, but I am not advocating burning down the Severn bridge. The farmers disguised themselves as women, and the uprising became known as the Rebecca riots. My wife has an ancestor who, as a Rebecca rioter, was deported to Australia. Press reports suggest that business men and women who are running small businesses in Avon and Gwent will demonstrate on the Severn bridge during the bank holiday, thus producing even more traffic chaos than normal.
I ask the Government seriously to reconsider the tolls and to note the protest. The tolls are unjust and have caused otherwise law-abiding citizens to consider taking action that even threatens to drive the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) into the arms of the daughters of Rebecca. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman for Wales, to use all his influence to change the unjust tolls.
§ Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)
First, Madam Deputy Speaker, I congratulate you on your appointment. As you know, I have long been one of the your greatest admirers in the House. I look forward to a long and happy relationship with you. It is one that has started most auspiciously this evening.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) on his maiden speech. He made it with wit and with a succinctness that I shall try to follow. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, wishes to respond to the debate at about 7 o'clock, which gives me only two minutes. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central that it takes some courage to refer to early cross-dressing in Wales in a maiden speech. I look forward to hearing more of his speeches.
There is a lesson for all newly elected Members, and it was the first lesson that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) taught me. I think that it is a lesson that he teaches everyone. It is important to know that, if we are to take advantage of this place, we must be present. Being here is the important thing. There have been two wonderful examples today of the advantage of being here. The first example was provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, who took advantage of the opportunity that our proceedings offered to have a debate on a matter of principle. That was followed by a somewhat controversial vote, but it was an interesting manoeuvre.
We then heard my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). He provided an object lesson for all newly elected Members and experienced Members. He demonstrated how useful this place can be for an assiduous Member who wants to pursue the cause of justice, as my hon. Friend has done so well and so often.
In the short time that is available to me, I suggest that the House should debate the disposal of county hall before we move off for the spring adjournment. I should explain for new Members who do not know London that county hall is the wonderful building almost opposite the House that used to be the headquarters of the Greater London council. It is a grade 2 listed building. It was paid for by London ratepayers, and it was there to be the home of 197 Londonwide local government. Had my party won the election, it would have been restored to that position. It would have been the home of the new greater London authority. Unfortunately, an ungrateful electorate did not give the Labour party the majority that it merited, which means that we shall not have to return to this issue on a later date.
The House should surely have some time to consider the various options that are now being proposed for county hall. The GLC was abolished in 1986, as an act of political spite by the Government. It was inspired and initiated by that vicious old loony who is now on her way to the other place. That viciousness was subsequently compounded by a decision not to allow county hall to be used for public purposes.
It was suggested that it should be used for offices for Members of Parliament, and that would have been welcomed on both sides of the House. There was also a proposal that it should be used by a Government Department, and we would have been prepared to accept that if we could not have it for a new Greater London authority. If officials of the Department of the Environment are to move, perhaps they should move into county hall rather than being moved down river to Canary Wharf to save Olympia and York.
Currently, there are two proposals for county hall—one from the London School of Economics and the other from a Japanese hotel organisation called the Shirayama group, which is a privately owned company with a staff of seven and a turnover last year of only £10 million. The LSE has put forward a more than adequate proposal for the use of county hall, so it is absurd that a proposal from a fly-by-night cowboy concern should be looked on with apparent favour by the Government, and certainly with favour by the London residuary body.
It is scandalous that an international academic institution such as the LSE should be bounced in favour of a cowboy Japanese hotel group. If county hall were to be turned into a luxury hotel and luxury flats, patronised by Japanese tourists, it would be an obscene and absurd use of that wonderful building. I hope that, when the Government consider the proposals from those two very different organisations, they will favour a British educational institution over a Japanese hotel group.
§ 7.1 pm
§ Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin)
I congratulate you on your appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Broadcasting Select Committee's loss is the Chair's gain. I am sure that you will enjoy your position; we shall certainly enjoy your presence in the Chair.
It has fallen to me to respond to a large number of Adjournment debates over the past five years, and I must confess that there have been occasions on which my attention has wandered while I have sat through three hours of speeches. However, I appear to have done the job so well that I am asked back time and again.
My attention has wandered much less today than in the past, because of the interesting maiden speeches that we have heard. It always sounds patronising to say that maiden speeches are outstanding, but I truly thought that they were today. Most of us tend to put more sweat into a maiden speech than into subsequent speeches, so perhaps the amount of work put into their preparation is reflected in their quality. The quality was certainly high today. 198 Although, there were 10 maiden speeches, and it would take me more than the 10 minutes available to respond to them all properly—but I shall try.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Miss Lynne) spoke with great fluency about the discriminisation experienced by people with disabilities. I am sure that she will want to speak about that on future occasions and that the House will want to hear her.
I am sure that the House will understand when I say that the two maiden speeches that gave me the most pleasure were by Members for west midlands constituencies. We did our bit in the west midlands, with seven net gains for the Labour party. That will increase the west midlands regional group—already a splendid group—by 25 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones) made a highly knowledgeable and serious speech about the west midlands serious crime squad—one that certainly demands a response from the Minister when he replies to the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) produced the most startling statistic—that the lowest access to car usage by families in any south Birmingham ward is in the Longbridge ward. It is a statistic that in future I shall quote as though it were my own.
It is appropriate also to refer to a speech that was not a maiden, but which in many ways related to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak. I refer, of course, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I do not need to patronise him, but I thought that it was a masterly speech, given his tremendous record on exposing miscarriages of justice. The Government should understand the sense of outrage that people feel about those who have received sentences—which in the past undoubtedly would have been capital sentences—and who are now known to have been innocent. My hon. Friend controls his outrage in a most remarkable way. His comments certainly need a response from the Minister.
Other hon. Members also made their maiden speeches on law and order, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said, they were of a slightly different flavour from his. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) spoke about law and order, and we do not like to disagree with comments made so early in someone's parliamentary career. However, he also said something with which I strongly agree, and that was about the plight of the Maxwell pensioners. That issue was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann), who also made a splendid maiden speech. Again, the Government must respond to those speeches. I am sure that many other hon. Members would also have raised that matter had they had the opportunity to do so.
I was impressed by the phrases used in the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire). I liked the phrase she used about parts of her constituency, where "work and welcome" are characteristics. Again, that is a phrase that I shall use as though it were mine. The substance of my hon. Friend's speech was about the low-paid, a subject to which I hope she will return again and again. Labour Members make no apologies for the campaign we fought during the general election on the basis of a strong belief in a national basic minimum wage.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) was most generous in his remarks about his 199 predecessor, my friend John Smith, who was a splendid Member for Parliament for that constituency. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke with pride about the area that he represents, and he too paid tribute to his predecessor. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke fluently and without notes in his maiden speech. He showed quite remarkable confidence.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) made an extremely witty speech. It is difficult to jest in this place, but he managed to do so while also making serious points. I hope that he does not incite his constituents to riot. He certainly made a powerful case about toll charges on the Severn bridge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich raised another issue about which I want to speak before my coat is pulled; I am rapidly running out of time. As my hon. Friend said, due to the operation of the free market, his constituents, like those of other hon. Members, will have less and less choice in the amount of sport that they can see on television. I raise that matter in what is perhaps a populist manner, but it is extremely serious and important. The new Leader of the House is the fourth in five years, and one of his key responsibilities will be as a member of the Broadcasting Select Committee—where I hope to join him.
That was one of the few achievements of the last Parliament and one of the few about which I feel pleased. Most of the others I opposed. However, we massively extended our democratic system by allowing television pictures from this House to reach millions of our constituents. That has been an unqualified success. I hope that the televising of Parliament will be extended and developed. I hope, too, that there will be television coverage of more Select Committees and Standing Committees and that there will be more regional coverage by the regional television companies. In addition, I hope that more educational use will be made of the signal from this Chamber.
The Leader of the House must, however, have a few words with some of his right hon. Friends. There is not the slightest point in transmitting spectacularly good pictures of what goes on in this Chamber, or anywhere else, if there is no national system of broadcasting. I used sport as a very important example. We were unable to watch World Cup cricket and we will be unable to see many Football League matches, because the so-called market forces have ensured that a small company with a lot of money behind it has denied most of my constituents, who do not have satellite dishes, the right to watch all these events.
If that is an extension of freedom of choice, it is a new definition. It is not even, in any sensible way, the operation of market forces. If market forces had operated in relation to satellite broadcasting, the companies involved would have gone bankrupt a long time ago, but, they were bailed out by other related companies with plenty of money to spare.
Having referred to the sports side of the question, I return to the television coverage of the proceedings of this House. It is not just that national television is being threatened as a result of the loss of the coverage of sporting events that previously all people could watch. There are now serious threats to the news and current affairs 200 coverage that is provided by our national television networks. Tremendous damage was done to the system by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Now we hear that programmes such as "World in Action" are likely to lose their prime time slots. "This Week" and other current affairs programmes are also threatened. We hear that some companies think that programmes such as "News at Ten" are taking up prime time slots and that "News at Ten" should be changed to "News at 3 am" so that a game show can be transmitted at 10 pm.
The effectiveness of the way in which politics and current affairs are covered in this country, including the way in which the signal from this House is used by the broadcasters, depends upon serious programmes being transmitted at times when viewers are able to watch them. The BBC and ITV national networks must be defended and sustained. No good will be done by unedited transmission of the proceedings in this House to a few people with satellite dishes. People are informed about national issues by news and current affairs bulletins that are made available to everybody and transmitted at a time when they are up and awake and able to take advantage of them.
I do not believe that I am putting in too grandiose a way when I say that, if anybody says anything about the coverage of the general election campaign, they will have to acknowledge, in fairness, that, if the people of this country had had to rely on newspapers alone for their information, any remote notion that the election was fought on a level playing field would have been ludicrous. The only conceivable argument that it was or began to be a level playing field would be that there was national broadcasting on radio and television that followed the guidelines laid down by the House.
If, during the next five years, the national broadcasting system is undermined—we see it already in sport and we may see it in current affairs—and it becomes more like the newspapers, with dozens of editions available but no content of substance and no requirement that there should be fairness and impartiality, the next election will be fought on a grotesquely unfair basis, because people will not be provided with proper, balanced information about news and current affairs.
The responsibility of the Leader of the House to this House is different from that of any Member of the Cabinet. He will be judged not by the extent to which he is a hatchet man for the Government but by the extent to which he sees that he has a responsibility to the whole of the House, which includes ensuring that the affairs of this House are properly transmitted by television signals and other means to the public at large, upon which they can make a balanced judgment on how we go about our affairs and debate the great issues of the day. It is his duty and responsibility to do that in as non-partisan a way as he can. If he does that, he will certainly have our support.
§ The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton)
I hope that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) will forgive me if, during the short time available to me, I do not refer to all the points that he has made. The spirit in which I shall approach my duties as Leader of the House was fairly 201 well set out in the speech that I made at the conclusion of the debate last week on the Gracious Speech, which I hope did not qualify me for his terminology as a hatchet man.
I do not suggest that I used to have fantasies about being Leader of the House, but I have always had a hankering to be in the position, at the end of this particular debate, of being able to look the House in the eye and say to all those Members who had made speeches that they had been so persuasive that I had decided that we should not have the recess. However, I have decided that discretion is the better part of valour.
Therefore, on this slightly strange occasion, when the Leader of the House is supposed to be one of the world's most formidable polymaths, capable of replying to all the points that have been made in profusion during the debate, I shall do what is expected of me. If I am unable to communicate as much information as the House would like to hear, I have to admit that I have learnt a great deal, including the names of an almost infinite number of towns and villages. At one point I thought that I was going to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) the name of every squirrel in Brampton wood.
Let me attempt to comment, in the time available to me, on some of the speeches, including a formidable number of very good maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) paid what we all regarded as a pleasing tribute to her predecessor, Sir Cyril Smith, who was certainly one of the characters of the House in the time that I have been here. She showed that she will be a worthy successor because of the vigour with which she spoke about community care. That did her great credit. I hope that she will understand that, were I making a longer and different speech, I should wish to comment on the way in which the Government's plans for improving the delivery of community care are moving forward at this very moment, in the way she knows. However, she was right to place great emphasis on the importance of the subject.
We also heard a pleasing maiden speech from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire), who is not currently in her place. [HoN. MEMBERS: "She is."] I apologise unreservedly.
§ Mr. Newton
I can now assure the hon. Gentleman that he will get left off the end of this speech.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West brilliantly described her predecessor, Dick Douglas, as a man of independence of mind, a description with which all of us would agree, and went on to make a plea on behalf of Dunfermline abbey as the Westminster abbey north of the border. That drew a surprising degree of assent—given that there must be a number of other competitors—from some of her Scottish colleagues on the Opposition Benches.
The hon. Lady spoke more controversially, although not unacceptably so, about the problems of low pay. On that front, I would merely observe that only two Community member states—France and Spain—have a statutory minimum wage of the kind that she appears to advocate. France is experiencing record levels of unemployment and Spain has the highest unemployment 202 of any country in the Community, so those two countries are not an especially good advertisement for what the hon. Lady proposes.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) spoke of his predecessor, Sir Richard Luce—a man held in high regard by all of us—and then went through a formidable list of demands which, to my great pleasure, appeared to bear a considerable resemblance to the Conservative party manifesto, thus presenting me with a rather less difficult task than some Opposition Members did. My hon. Friend spoke persuasively, and his was an impressive maiden speech.
I think that I am right this time: the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) is not in her place. [HON. MEMBERS: "She is."] In that case, she has moved. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will probably agree that it is useful if hon. Members sit in the same place most of the time because we then have some chance of knowing whether they are here. At any rate, I am glad to remedy that error, too, and say how pleased all of us on the Conservative Benches were with the hon. Lady's comments not only about her Labour predecessor, Tom Litterick, but about her immediate predecessor, Anthony Beaumont-Dark, whom we remember even better and with a good deal of affection and respect.
The hon. Lady commented mainly on the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of the investigations of the West Midlands serious crime squad. She will probably understand —as her hon. Friends certainly will—that the only comment that it is proper for me to make is that the decision whether to prosecute is entirely for the DPP. It was a fluent and impressive maiden speech, none the less.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) recognised not only his own interest in the motor industry but the formidable interest of his predecessor, Roger King, both in the motor industry in general and in the sport of motor racing in particular. Reference was made to Roger King's victory over the House of Lords —which the absent hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would no doubt regard, approvingly, as some kind of symbol—in a rally some time ago.
The hon. Gentleman's speech will have struck a chord with many of his Scottish colleagues. He referred not only to the problems of inner cities, which we all seek to address, but to a problem that is more familiar to Scotland —the outer-ring estates around cities—and drew a parallel with Birmingham. The Government are well aware of the sort of problems of which the hon. Gentleman spoke, although we might not all agree on what is the right solution. I shall certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman's interesting remarks are drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) spoke in a way that will have impressed hon. Members on both sides of the House about his immediate and short-lived predecessor, who won the seat in the by-election. My hon. Friend properly paid tribute to John Smith, who, as he said, nearly pulled off the very difficult task of retaining the seat at the general election. Conservative Members are pleased that my hon. Friend managed to pull it off himself, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will look closely at his remarks about crime in the area.
I have some difficulty in competing with the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. 203 Llwyd), the name of whose constituency I have some difficulty in pronouncing. He clearly shares with us a high regard for his predecessor, Dafydd Elis Thomas. We were sad to see Dr. Thomas go, but it is clear from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he will be a worthy successor in speaking for the Welsh interest in the House. In view of his reference to Welsh as the first language of his constituency, I hope that he was pleased to see that a Welsh language Bill was included in the Queen's Speech.
As the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke with tremendous fluency and without notes, and in a way that will have commanded support across the party divide about the disgraceful attacks on synagogues in his area. He will have drawn the support of us all for his remarks on that, and I assure him that the Government and all my right hon. and hon. Friends will be concerned to do anything that they can to help him and the police and other authorities in his constituency to try to stamp out that entirely unacceptable behaviour.
I fear that I must apologise to those who spoke in the debate who did not make maiden speeches, as I may not be able to comment on what they said in the two minutes left to me. Instead I come to the last two maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) paid tribute to a long-standing friend of mine, Ian Grist, with whom I used to be in the Conservative party organisation years ago, and made some remarks while I was briefly out of the Chamber which I had recorded for me. The hon. Gentleman apparently referred to the burning of toll gates in Wales during the 18th century and appears to have referred to—although I hope not made —a threat of similar demonstrations in the vicinity on a bank holiday in the near future.
Lastly, I come to my nearest neighbour in my Essex constituency of Braintree, the new hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann). I much appreciated his remarks about his predecessor, Michael Irvine, who brought a number of Maxwell pensioners to see me when I was Secretary of State for Social Security. I know Ipswich rather well. I was a boy in Harwich, and I used to watch Ipswich play football in the days when there was still something called third division south and nobody had heard of Ipswich. One thing that he and I have in common, across the political divide, is our great pleasure at the success of his town in football over the past few years.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 22nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 2nd June.