Mr. George Galloway (Glasgow, Hillhead) : One of the themes of today's debate has been housing and the Government's privatisation of it. One of my first serious parliamentary experiences--it was an experience-- was sitting on the Committee which considered the Housing (Scotland) Bill. The Bill has been voted for by almost nobody. It had been rejected by more than four out of five Scots at the general election a month or two before. It was wanted by almost nobody except private landlord interests, which are by definition a small number of Scots. It was nonetheless imposed on the people of Scotland. In Committee, it was imposed by an alien majority.
Two English Members of Parliament sat on the Committee. One was the hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Arbuthnot) and the other was the hon. Member for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean)--the latter a deracinated Scot and the former an elegant London barrister whose experience of Scottish housing is limited, to say the least. They wrote out their Christmas cards between Divisions, but they were there when it counted. When the Divisions came, they voted the Bill through. The pattern was the same when the Bill came before the House. The experience of sitting on that Committee has proved an apt metaphor for how my country is treated by this Government and, more disappointingly and increasingly, by the House of Commons.
Column 489The Gracious Speech contains nothing about this question which has become the primary question in Scottish politics and is what I would call the national question. It has come as no surprise that the Queen's Speech is deafening in its silence on the subject. I wonder whether English Ministers of the Crown--I see one Scottish Minister on the Front Bench--realise the extent to which they have come to be regarded as essentially a foreign Government in Scotland. They show no signs in this Gracious Speech of adapting to the alienation that my country feels towards them. It was always said, and I was brought up to believe, that the British ruling elite knew that a bough which does not bend with the wind is in danger of breaking. Yet that does not seem to be the case with the national Scottish question. The defeats of 1979 and 1983 were followed by the decimation of the Conservative party in Scotland in 1987. It was reduced to a rump Government with 10 Members of Parliament, four of whom had to sit on the Front Bench and the majority of the rest of whom could not in any conceivable circumstances be appointed to it. We have a rump Government of 10 attempting to govern a constituent part of the United Kingdom, a voluntary partner in the United Kingdom. Instead of flexibility and nous following that decimation, the Government offered the Scots only admonition and insult. The Scots were told memorably by the then Minister for Trade and Industry, now the Secretary of State for Health, that they lacked "the enterprise culture"--Scots, from the land of Adam Smith, James Watt, Logie Baird and the world's finest engineers and scientists. We were told in a memorable editorial in a yellow newspaper to "Stop yer snivellin' Jock." We were told that the Thatcher revolution must be pressed home in Scotland, albeit on an unwilling population. So the poll tax, rejected by four out of every five Scots, had to go ahead and the opt-out proposals, wanted by no one who is anyone in Scottish education circles and supported by not a single leader writer, serious journalist, person outside the Scottish Conservative party, nor even by many members of the Scottish Conservative party, was rammed through. The privatisation of electricity and the steel industry are to be hammered home on this sullen, ungrateful Scottish population, with all the subtlety and resolute approach of Lord North dealing with the American colonies more than 200 years ago. Increasingly in this House that attitude is seen in all its ugliness. A Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, which we shall debate next week, is the only Select Committee that has not been set up. The Scottish Office is the only Department of State which does not have a Select Committee monitoring its important work. The reason is not because the Scots do not want that or that the Department does not need it, but because the Scottish Conservative party cannot muster enough bottoms to sit on the seats to man that Committee. With due respect to you, Mr. Speaker, Scottish Question Time has become a black farce. When the doors open at 2.30 pm in stream the obstructive and objectionable louts, bearing questions that someone else has written for them, not listening to the answers, representing English constituencies, never visiting Scotland or knowing anything about it, and doing their
Column 490best to provoke and degenerate Scottish Question Time to the farce that it has become. The effect is that the 62 Opposition Members are unable to ask their questions and make their points because English Tory Back Benchers are drafted in to obstruct.
Mr. Favell : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it parliamentary to call an hon. Member of this House an "objectionable lout"? I am interested in Scottish questions, I attend them and I listen carefully to what is said, and I object to being referred to as an objectionable lout. I have no objection to Scottish Members taking part in English business and I expect them to show some decorum.
Mr. Speaker : I do not think that the hon. Gentleman was alleging that any individual Member was a lout. If he was, that would certainly have been unparliamentary. This is a United Kingdom Parliament.
Mr. Galloway : I could say that if the cap fits the hon. Gentleman could wear it, but I did not intend to refer to him in my remarks. You, Sir, know the kind of Back Benchers to whom I am referring. The result of this arrogance and insensitivity has been an unprecedented rise in nationalism and nationalist feeling in Scotland. Anyone who denies that is simply flying in the face of reality. That nationalism is taking the form, as it did at Govan and as it has done in every opinion poll, pub, work place and street corner, in a virulent hatred of the Government who are imposing these alien policies on an unwilling population. Ministers are intelligent men and must know that what I am saying is true.
I take issue with my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who just the other week made an offensive remark in Scotland when he said that nationalists think with their blood. That was an ill-judged remark. Nationalists are all over the world--in Nicaragua, on the dusty streets of occupied Palestine and in the trenches at Stalingrad in the great patriotic war. Patriots and nationalists do not think with their blood. Many have given their blood against reaction, backwardness, Facism and undemocratic rule. That nationalism which is developing in my country is apparently being deliberately fostered by a Conservative and Unionist Government. If it is not being deliberately fostered, the Government could certainly not have done a better job of it.
The Sovereign is being ill-served by these Ministers whom she has appointed to govern the affairs of the British state in Scotland. Conservative and Unionist Ministers with a mixture of comprador complacency and cynicism are taking her United Kingdom to oblivion. I read nothing in the Gracious Speech which gives me any hope that the Government are bent on a change of course.
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington) : I welcome the Queen's Speech as the latest instalment of major legislation from this radical and reforming Government. I wish to make two particular points that relate directly to the two subjects of today's debate, industry and the environment.
I urge my right hon. Friends, in the words of the Gracious Address, to
"continue to promote enterprise and to foster the conditions necessary for the sustained growth of output and employment."
Column 491That must mean the continuation of the policy of privatisation which has brought a smaller public sector--it is about half the size that it was in 1979--wider share ownership--which is now about three times the level of the 1979 level--and impressive levels of profitability and performance, for example, in the National Freight Corporation and Cable and Wireless.
It is vital that the policy of deregulation, at both national and EEC level, should be pursued wherever appropriate to minimise the burden of compliance costs on the wealth-creating and job-creating sectors. The Government must stick to their macro-economic policy, which has produced the right framework within which we have had seven years of steady growth at an average of 3 per cent. a year. The growth has been well balanced over the period 1981 to 1987, with a real increase in consumption of 3.5 per cent., a real increase in exports of 4 per cent. and a real increase in investment of 5 per cent. That clearly gives the lie to the argument that consumption has been out of line with investment and exports over the years. However, in one area it is vital that the Government and the private sector should do more than has been done so far, and that is in the provision of rigorous vocational training for non-academic children in schools and colleges and in private sector provision for craft and technical workers' training in industry. A recent NIESR--National Institute of Economic and Social Research--report shows that France produces three times as many trained mechanical and electrical craftsmen as we do, and that West Germany is still further ahead in that competition.
On the vital matter of vocational education and training, I commend to my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench the Financial Times leader on 24 November, which said :
"The Government has to put more resources into vocational education and think harder about the division of responsibilities between industry and schools."
Equally, the private sector must do more to train and retrain its employees, particularly when industrial profitability is at such a satisfactorily high level.
Taking as an example engineering employers and unions, it is vital that, rather than go in for excessive pay settlements which are not covered adequately by increased productivity, they should use extra resources to increase still further their training and retraining methods. Otherwise, the inevitable consequence will be that skilled labour will become increasingly scarce in buoyant economic conditions, and profitable firms will add to the dangers of inflation by bidding up pay and other remunerations to poach scarce employees or to retain those they already have. Not long ago British Airways was paying some of its computer operators loyalty bonuses equivalent to one year's salary, to retain the same workers for a further three-year period. The argument can be viewed in the even wider context of long-term national prosperity and security. I commend to the House an interesting article by Edward Mortimer, in which he asked the rhetorical question :
"Which is the more plausible threat to British national security in the next 10 or 20 years, that the country might be occupied by a foreign invader, or that its population might become little more than a pool of unskilled and largely unwanted labour for more advanced industrial economies?"
That is a very serious point, and I very much hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Trade
Column 492and Industry and other relevant Departments will continue to press that case even harder on their colleagues in the Government. When we have a really well educated and trained labour force we will be in a better position to cope with some of the problems that are likely to arise in the labour market, notably those that may be caused by demographic factors in the early 1990s.
My second point concerns the environment. Obviously I commend my right hon. Friends for the green thrust of the recently published Water Bill. However, I urge them to follow up my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister's excellent speech to the Royal Society with a whole range of cost-effective and scientifically well-founded environmental measures. I was particularly glad to hear my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment earlier today say that there is to be further legislation on environmental matters later in this Parliament. I hope that it will not be long delayed. Our aim should be nothing less than to achieve a better quality of economic growth that is congruent with, rather than divergent from, the need to protect the environment. I believe that, first, there must be more encouragement of investment in energy conservation and the efficient production and use of energy, such as combined heat and power. Secondly, we need more encouragement for investment in efficient mass transport systems, especially in London and the south-east and in areas near my constituency. Thirdly, we need more investment in what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has called "sustainable economic development"--that is manufactured goods without built-in obsolescence, environmentally sound vehicles, and biodegradable packaging.
The only future for Britain as an exporting nation that wants to preserve a decent standard of prosperity and quality of life is to move up-market and produce the quality goods and services which our customers around the world increasingly will expect and require. Recent evidence in a Gallup poll published in The Daily Telegraph showed that when given the choice between protecting the environment and holding prices down, a massive majority favoured protecting the environment.
Whatever one reads from an opinion poll, it shows the way that opinion is moving. Nine out of 10, or 88 per cent., of the sample "thought that the Government should pass laws to control industry and other producers of pollution, while only 5 per cent. felt that industry could be trusted to regulate itself."
That opinion poll contains a clear message. Therefore, I urge my right hon. Friends to press on with the course on which they have embarked and ensure that by the end of this Parliament we are able to build an environmental record of which we can be proud.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in her speech to the Royal Society :
"the health of the economy and health of our environment are totally dependent upon each other."
Nowhere is that more obvious than in our vital export markets in western Europe, North America and Japan. Increasingly, our sophisticated customers will not accept motor cars which pollute above sensible, internationally agreed levels, machine tools which are unsafe, aircraft which are too noisy and design which is not ergonomically and economically sound.
Our economic future and our rising prosperity will be secure only if we meet the two vital conditions of which I
Column 493have spoken. We must produce many more better educated and trained people, especially by concentrating on the needs of the non-academic majority. Secondly, we must design, develop and sell goods and services which are environmentally friendly and do not further degrade the quality of our lives or, at the extreme, our chances of global survival.
Mr. Dennis Turner (Wolverhampton, South-East) : As a preamble, in examining the Gracious Speech, turning it about as much as I can and looking at it for as long as I can, I cannot find anything in it that will bring any more hope or any greater pleasure to the people of this country. Indeed, the measures outlined in the Gracious Speech will only exacerbate our problems ; in particular the division between rich and poor, black and white and north and south. I wish to speak about three separate but related matters which concern the Department of the Environment, the Gracious Speech and Government policies in that connection. First, I shall say something about the problems that have been created by the rate support grant settlement. I make no apology for mentioning my part of the world-- the west midlands and Wolverhampton. As I have spoken about the rate support grant settlement in general in a previous debate, I now raise the matter of the passenger transport authority grant for the west midlands, which, on the basis of this year's outturn and next year's projected grant, has been cut by £13.1 million. Unless that is amended and changed it will have a profound effect on passenger transport in the west midlands.
It is clear that we shall see the infrastructure of our passenger transport system further eroded and the problems associated with car pollution increased as a result of the cutback in bus services. More important is the marvellous benefit which senior citizens in the west midlands have enjoyed in the past few years from their concessionary passes. For thousands of elderly people the liberalising approach to concessionary fares has been remarkable, and it has been a pleasure to see. The leisure, shopping, recreational and social opportunities for elderly people are marvellous. I fear that as a result of the cut in the grant, concessionary travel may be threatened. The Ministers met the chairman of the west midlands passenger transport committee today, and I hope that as a result of their discussions the Government and the Secretary of State for the Environment will now make some progress on that matter.
The remorseless attack on council house tenants continues unabated in this Session. The Housing and Local Government Bill places even greater penalties--financial and otherwise--on millions of people, and that is in addition to the iniquitous legislation passed during the previous two parliamentary Sessions.
Another particularly obnoxious measure in the proposals for this Session is the restriction of democratic rights and activities of thousands of good men and women in local government and the public services. I resent the fact that people giving their lives to local government and social services are deemed in some way not fit to
Column 494participate in the democratic and political life of this country. The issue is, without doubt, the GCHQ of local government. I shall now deal with the reactionary and doctrinaire privatisation of electricity and water. Opposition Members do not believe the statements made about the improvement of pollution and the environment as a result of the water measure. We do not believe the Government's assurances on the protection of the land, countryside and valuable beauty spots that will be handed over to private companies.
In view of the tremendous mess that the Government made of the recent social security legislation, what guarantees will the Secretary of State give of adequate income support for those millions of people in Britain who are on the poverty line? They will face greater hardships if higher water charges are imposed--whether it is the 7.5 per cent. or 12.5 per cent. that the Secretary of State mentioned, or the 20 per cent. plus, which may be a more realistic estimate. We know that the present water payments are inadequate, and metering will almost inevitably follow.
In my day essential reading for Socialists joining the Labour party was "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". I am sure that essential reading for Conservative Members may have been Adam Smith. Robert Tressall identified in a graphic way the unfettered and uncontrolled march of capitalism. He wrote that the ultimate phase of capitalism would be the provision of a huge gasometer which would embrace our planet, after which one shilling of old money would be charged for every gasp of oxygen that mankind inhaled. That is happening to water in this Session, and it may be our air in the next Session. 7.45 pm
Mr. Spencer Batiste (Elmet) : The debate combines the subjects of industry and the environment, which are particularly appropriate for my constituency. The constituency of Elmet embraces a chunk of the city of Leeds, the countryside, with the towns and villages that surround it, and includes a wide range of industries. In the short time available I should like to look at how to continue and enhance the industrial advance, which is the base of our local prosperity, and how to address the by-product of that success, which is most evident in the pressure on our environment.
How will the Queen's Speech affect those two issues? The Queen's Speech promises to continue to promote the enterprise culture. That continuity is important. For industry to plan over the medium and long term it needs to have some measure of certainty about the environment that it will be facing in the years ahead. Within that continuity, what new things are promised? Electricity privatisation is promised, and I welcome that. There will be other opportunities to debate the merits of that proposal.
I particularly welcome the fact that the Yorkshire electricity board, one of the biggest of the electricity supply companies, will have its headquarters within my constituency. What that means for my local business environment is that the decision centre of one of the largest companies within the United Kingdom will be located firmly within the region that it serves. That is a vital part of regional policy. Decision centres stimulate the local
Column 495economy around them. They create new professional services which overspill in their sophistication into other aspects of the local business community. They create a sub-contracting network, and that in turn feeds new industries. The economy of a region has to be broadly based and must have included within it important decision centres.
I shall look carefully at the measures proposed in the Queen's Speech for merger and competition policy. I believe that over the next decade, with the approach of 1992 and the advent of the integration of the European market, nothing will be more important than a sensitive balance in our merger and competition policy. Regions such as mine need the investment of the European industrial giants, which I hope will emerge, if we are to compete effectively with the giants of Japan and the United States. At the same time, we need our own local plcs and medium and small businesses.
That is by no means an easy balance to strike. Our tax system, as it has existed for many years, concentrates far too much shareholding power in the hands of far too few fund managers too remote from our region. We need to divert the fruits of our prosperity from consumer spending to saving. We should encourage a much broader base of individual savings, so as to have more diversity in the way in which our companies are financed.
With that diversity and prosperity comes the other side of the coin--the growing concern about the environment, which we have heard expressed on a number of occasions in this debate. That applies particularly to areas such as mine, where the countryside butts on to a city and where there are planning worries. So far we have heard various horror stories from different constituencies. I shall offer what I think is an unbeatable triumvirate. There is a proposal for a new town in the north of my constituency, a new motorway in the middle of it and a new opencast site with a river diversion in the south. Moreover, the established communities from north to south in the constituency all feel threatened by excessive and unsuitable development.
All hon. Members have raised such issues in debate, and we have to recognise that the cities, the suburbs, the towns and the countryside are not isolated from one another. They are complementary and interlocking parts of one seamless robe of our environment. It is no good pleading specially for one part without trying to develop a coherent response for the totality.
Part of the problem so far is that we are embarking on an era of rapid change and growth, but we do not have clear policies that offer to local communities predictability in advance of planning applications. We do not have rapid decision making when applications are made, or the promise of strong enforcement of planning regulations when abuses occur. That feeling of unease, in all communities, in all parts of the country that face that problem, is growing and must be addressed.
Reference has been made to the need for a White Paper on planning and the environment, and I strongly support that. When an unsuitable planning application is put forward, people simply do not know what the end result will be--although they do know that it will take a long time to be determined. Even when it has been determined, the developers can keep returning for further bites of the same cake. What should be the main features of such a White Paper? First, where development is appropriate for an
Column 496inner city, it should happen in an inner city. There is no point in developers building new towns in the countryside when areas of dereliction exist which, if they were brought forward as a level-based site, would be far more suitable for such development. The riverside development in London has produced thoroughly desirable environments, close to facilities that people want. There is no reason why such developments should not occur in all our cities in areas currently regarded as derelict. That must be the start of our policy.
Then, in the suburbs and existing towns and villages around our cities, there is a fear of excessive and unsuitable developments. We must consider the role of conservation areas and dramatically expand both their area and their enforceability. We cannot block all developments in villages, towns or suburbs, but the people living there want to ensure that any development is of a density, style, design and character compatible with the local communities. Many of the fears expressed so strongly arise because, all too often, planning powers are inadequate to deal with both density and unsuitability of developments in existing communities.
I welcome what has been said many times by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State--that the green belt forms a vital bulwark in our planning regulations. If we do not move to protect our green areas, they will not be there for future generations. There will be no bulwark to prevent the expansion of the existing cities into the surrounding towns, causing ever larger and more soulless conurbations. The green belt is just as important to those living in the cities as it is to those living in the green belt itself. Finally, I am concerned about the growth in the use of private Bills in an apparent attempt to bypass normal planning procedures. Obviously private Bills are sometimes necessary, and there is a long tradition of private Bills being so used, but there is a growing practice of using a private Bill on slender grounds to carry with it much larger planning implications. The House needs carefully to consider the way in which that procedure is developed.
This is the ninth Gracious Speech under this Government. It is extraordinary that a Government who have been in power for such a long time should have so much new and lively policy making. This Gracious Speech especially reflects how far we have come as a nation during that time, but equally it signposts how much further we still have to go.
Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) : At the beginning of today's debate the Secretary of State for the Environment made the rather curious statement that my hon. Friend the Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham) was seeking obscurity by making a radio broadcast. If my hon. Friend wants obscurity, he should speak from the Back Benches in this House when so few hon. Members are present.
All the predictions were that the Gracious Speech would once again contain proposals further to dismantle public services, to promote private interests and to curtail public freedoms. Those predictions have once again been proved to be right. All that is being proposed will be done in the name of progress and radicalism. The truth is that the Tory party is not about new thinking, is not radical, is not progressive, and is not even very clever--except for the success of its deception. The only progressive move that
Column 497the Government are making is progressively to put the clock back, as is inevitable for a Prime Minister who looks admiringly at the Victorian era while talking of the next step forward.
All that the Government propose has been tried before. Although it is true that a strong, viable and efficient private sector is vital to our economic well-being and prospects, if privatisation is so right, so efficient, so unchallengeable in its concept and so self-evident in its progressiveness that it is sensible to hand over to its keeping public utilities that represent the very lifeblood of our nation, why was any change necessary in the first place? It is a measure of the Government's sleight of hand that the advancement to public utilities--something that was done because of the failure of the private sector--is now condemned as being a step back, while the breaking up of public utilities and a return to the old ways is hailed by the Government and their agencies as a step forward. An unregulated, uncontrolled private sector will sacrifice all for bigger profits--whether it be health, safety, environment or people's livelihoods. As has happened only too often under this Tory Administration, if the assets are more profitable than the product, the product will be sacrificed. Making things is not important when making money is fashionable ; hence the slump in our manufacturing industry. We have become not a nation of shopkeepers but a nation of shop assistants, all happily selling Japanese hi-fi's and sailing merrily along in what is thought to be a fast flowing current when, in fact, it is a whirlpool that is sucking us all down the plughole. Yet who cares, as long as they are having a good time along the way? People had better start to wake up to what is happening. They should see through the mind-numbing trivia of the tabloids.
The Gracious Speech offers a glaring example of the hypocrisy and double standards that the Government have practised over the past nine years. In the pursuance of tax cuts, they increase mortgage repayments, rents and charges for public services. In the name of wider choice, they drive council tenants out of democratic ownership into the hands of profiteers and speculators. In the interests of profit, they oppose European efforts to raise environmental standards and plan to sell life-giving water to private business and foreign investors.
The Government tell us and the country that public subsidy is wasteful and anti-competitive, yet they deliberately raise the price of electricity to industry and domestic consumers so that they can fatten up the business for prospective buyers. In order dogmatically to pursue a policy of encouraging the growth of the nuclear industry at the expense of coal, and in opposition to their deeply held view that the market should decide, they plan to extract from consumers a tax to pay a reluctant private sector and so ensure the continuance of their discredited nuclear policy.
The Government have been in power for almost 10 years, and yet the real level of unemployment remains at about 3 million. The Government have employed various devices to bring about an artificial reduction in the figures, and they are about to embark on yet another ploy. The Gracious Speech refers to removing
"unnecessary obstacles to employment, particularly in relation to women and young people."
Column 498I shudder to think what that means, coming from a Government who promoted a White Paper called "Building Businesses Not Barriers" and who criticised the very planning controls that were established to protect our people and our environment, proposing freedom for business to develop virtually as it pleased and ignoring community interests.
When such a Government talk of obstacles to employment, they are not referring to their non-existent industrial policy or their destruction of 3 million jobs ; they are referring to proper wages and conditions, health and safety considerations, and sickness and pension obligations on employers. It is the likes of those hard-fought-for improvements for working people that business and the Tory Government regard as obstacles to employment. Having done their best over the past 10 years to denude the trade unions of power, they believe that the time is now right to give employers the freedom to dictate wages and conditions, as indeed the Government did in the great Victorian era. Another step forward, the Prime Minister will no doubt proclaim. It is more like another nail in the coffin of civilised life in Britain.
The last Labour Government left an inheritance of falling inflation and falling unemployment--something that this Government are still unable to match. Yet, despite inheriting that jewel and improving situation, despite all the benefits of North sea oil which Labour never enjoyed, despite massive income from selling off public assets, which Labour could not have had, despite savings made at the expense of the elderly by ending the link between pensions and earnings, which Labour certainly would never have done, after almost 10 years, unemployment is still almost three times higher than it was in 1979, inflation is creeping back to the 1979 level, and we have the worst ever trade deficit. So much for the so-called economic miracle. In the midst of all that, such is the Prime Minister's belief in the gullibility of the British people that she can tell us that we have the best Chancellor that this country has ever had. What arrogance and what nonsense, and what an insult to the intelligence of the British people.
On the subject of the trade deficit, perhaps the Minister will tell the House how the interests of trade and industry will be best served if, as is strongly rumoured, the Cabinet have decided to award a substantial order for battle tanks to an American company rather than to the British company, Vickers Defence Systems. Is he aware of the impact that such a decision will have on jobs, to say nothing of the further adverse effects on our balance of trade? Why must Opposition Members constantly remind the British Government of the importance of supporting British industry?
As a northern Member, I ask the Minister--that is, if he is listening--to tell us why our confectionery industry was sold to the Swiss, why our brewing industry is in danger of being sold to the Australians, why our water industry is being sold to the French, and why our defence industry is to be sacrificed to the Americans. Why are not the Government doing anything about that, other than facilitate the process? Is the answer that the Tory Government are the real enemies within?
The Gracious Speech contains no hope for the British people or for British industry. It is the programme of a Government who are deaf to all but those whom they wish to hear. The advice of experts, the experienced and the well informed and the wishes of the majority of people in their
Column 499localities are ignored as the Government dogmatically pursue their determination to drag our country back in time.
The Gracious Speech confirms the continuation of policies that are designed to return our country to an era that is long forgotten, and, in terms of the living and working standards of British people, best forgotten. However, I suppose that the Prime Minister will disagree with that. Perhaps she will even say, "We are not amused," as she has adopted the practice of adopting the royal "We", so often employed by Queen Victoria. But this country does not exist for the amusement of the Prime Minister. M.H. Thatcher will never be H.M. Thatcher. The sooner the British people remind her of that in a general election, the sooner our civilisation will stop the march backwards, and the better it will be for all of us.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : I remind the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) that it is not only Labour Members who have shown an interest in the replacement of the Chieftain tank. No fewer than 115 of my colleagues have put down an early-day motion in which they express confidence in Vickers' development of a Challenger 2 tank. Concern about that issue is not confined to the Opposition.
I hope that you will forgive me, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I deal with an issue that has not received a great deal of airing today. I shall address my remarks to Northern Ireland, and particularly to the industrial and economic development of Northern Ireland. I make no apology for doing that. In a sense, I want to show solidarity from a mainland British Member of Parliament for the grevious state of that part of the United Kingdom and for the threat that it faces from terrorism.
We often blame our Northern Irish colleagues for what we deem to be their parochialism, but we often pass down the other side of the street. It is only right and proper that, occasionally, mainland Members of Parliament talk about the Province and show concern. One person who cannot be accused of passing down the other side of the street is the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. I pay tribute to his great efforts. Last week in Northern Ireland I was told that, whatever the political differences may be with the Secretary of State, he is highly regarded for his courage, firmness, ability to listen, energy and commitment to the Province. We should pay tribute to him. By his personal efforts he has attained a significant industrial development in Belfast, which might produce as many as 500 jobs from a Japanese company. He actually went to the far east to secure the order. We should pay tribute to him for that also.
Notwithstanding the great efforts of the Secretary of State and his colleagues, all is certainly not well with industry and the economy of Northern Ireland. There is considerable deindustrialisation. There is also a high level of disposable income, but that is based on over-reliance on the public sector and on low house prices. There is a need, not so much for more public investment, but for foreign investment. After all, what better door into the EEC after 1992 than Northern Ireland, with a willing work force and many development opportunities?
However, foreign industrialists have an over-exaggerated fear about security. Therefore, in the few minutes available to me, I urge my colleagues not to try to
Column 500set road blocks on the path towards a solution. I do not pretend to know the solution, but I shall mention a few road blocks. There tends to be too much of the feeling that the situation is hopeless, that it will not go away, and that there is nothing that we can do about it. I am an eternal optimist. It does no good to state that sort of opinion. There seems also to be too much of the point of view that we can deal with the situation by a military solution alone. That is not enough. There must be a political dimension. It is significant that one right hon. Member who dealt with the issue in some depth during the debate was the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen). He dealt with the border security problem. If I misrepresent him, I shall be glad to give way to him, but I hope that he was not suggesting that, by dealing with the border issue, we could solve the problem of security. That is not true. If we want to carry international opinion with us, it is not feasible to erect a type of inner-German border fence along the border, even it it were possible to do so. The proposals in the Gracious Speech represent excellent steps. I commend all the legislation that the Government are putting forward. I hope that my colleagues will not delude Unionist Members into thinking that there is a widespread movement among Conservative Members to have the Anglo-Irish Agreement abrogated. There is no such widespread opinion. If my colleagues say such things, they simply encourage Unionist Members to talk themselves into a blind alley of intransigence. The Anglo- Irish Agreement will survive, not because the Prime Minister or the Taoiseach are concerned about losing face, but because, if the agreement is abrogated, minority parties in Northern Ireland will refuse in any circumstances to become involved in talks leading to devolution. Whether we like it or not, the Anglo-Irish Agreement is with us.
I urge caution also in the Patrick Ryan affair. I hope that he will be extradited. I would not want to comment on his guilt or innocence, but clearly he should face a fair and proper trial. However, I caution against the view that it is a political decision. Under the Criminal Jurisdiction Act 1976 of the Republic, it is fundamentally a legal decision, not a political one. The Attorney-General must be satisfied that there is a sufficiency of evidence on the face of the warrant, and that decision is made on legal grounds. Whether or not Patrick Ryan is extradited--and I hope that he will be--I hope that his case is not seen as a litmus test of the success or otherwise of the Anglo-Irish Agreement.
In a very difficult situation, we should try to find ways forward instead of trying to set up road blocks. We should try to encourage our Unionist colleagues--and I do not seek to lecture them--to think about a way forward that will make practical sense. The only way forward is along a devolution path based on a Bill of Rights, proportional representation, and some kind of weighted majority voting. I should not like to speculate on the details. I am sure that, ultimately, some sort of compromise is possible.
Perhaps we could look at the Anglo-Irish Agreement in terms of amending it in a European Community dimension. The powers over Northern Ireland given to the Republic are insignificant compared to the powers given to the Commission over both the Republic and the United Kingdom under the Single European Act. In terms of a European-wide dimension it may be possible for Unionist
Column 501leaders to hammer out some kind of compromise so that we can knock heads together and hold talks that will lead to devolution. Many years ago I read John Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress". That book told of a wicket gate to which one had to find the key to be allowed on to the Delectable Mountain. I do not know the key to the Northern Ireland problem, but it is essential that men of good will should talk together. I do not ask them to agree, but they should at least talk, because unless they do that we shall never defeat the men of evil.
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) : I thought that there might be some advantages in being returned to the Back Benches, but I not so sure about that, because I have had to listen to a debate that has suffered because it has been so broad ranging. I wish that it had been more specific to the issue of the environment, because that is one of the most important issues facing us.
I agree with the hon. Member for Elmet (Mr. Batiste), who spoke about the private Bill procedure. I am tempted to go down that road because, as the hon. Gentleman knows, I have a special interest in that procedure. I hope that the reforms that we are putting before the House will control what undoubtedly has been happening. Planning permission is being given by the back door for environmental projects that would never have received planning permission if they had gone through the proper public planning procedure.
I should like to concentrate on one matter in my constituency. If the Secretary of State for the Environment were here, I would present him with a bouquet of flowers. It is a quaint continental custom to present men with flowers as often as one presents them to women. My flowers would be rather special because they would be the species called phurnacitis narcissus. The narcissus is a pretty white flower, but in my constituency it is black because it is polluted by the Phurnacite plant. A recent environment programme on the BBC, the New Scientist and various journalists and organisations, have dubbed it the worst industrial polluter in Britain.
The plant makes smokeless fuel, but that term is ironic given the structure of the plant, which looks like something from the early industrial revolution. Its chimneys belch smoke of all colours day and night. What goes up must come down, and it comes down over people's cars, their newly- painted houses, their washing and their gardens. It is an appalling sight.
The plant is a wholly owned subsidiary of British Coal and everyone, including Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, believes that it is a relic of a bygone age. The national energy policy and a desperate need to protect jobs in my constituency, which has the highest male unemployment rate in Wales, have kept the plant open, despite all its critics. It has recently been described as Dante's Inferno mk 2, and that is no exaggeration.
The valley is one of the nicest in south Wales, and this plant is a great blot on the landscape. A 1978 inquiry into the works said : "The confirming influence of the surrounding hills inhibits the dispersal of any effluents and tends to channel them in the
Column 502direction of highest population density. Prolonged and severe temperature inversions during winter lead to a build- up of pollution."
When there was no fog elsewhere, very often there was fog in that area.
At the moment the plant employs about 500 people, and in addition keeps hundreds of local miners at work. Closing the plant would have serious employment repercussions for the people in the plant and for the people in the few pits that are left in the area.
In the view of the strong anti-pollution committee that has been formed there, the plant has blighted the prospect of new jobs in the area. That is pure speculation, because there is no hard evidence to confirm that view. That is unfortunate, and it is a weakness of the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh Office and of those responsible for trying to attract industry into the area that they cannot tell us whether the plant is a disincentive. If the Irish Government can collect statistics of that kind, I do not understand why our Government cannot do something as simple. As the New Scientist put it, Cynon Valley is trapped meteorologically, politically and economically with its pollution. I wish that the Secretary of State were here to tell me precisely what he will do to solve the problems in my constituency.
In 1986 Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution served an improvement notice on the plant under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, but the company appealed against it to an industrial tribunal on the ground, among others, that it could not afford to buy any new equipment. The tribunal upheld the company's case, revealing massive gaps in the present law. In this country there are no legal standards for emissions such as those that exist in the United States.
After pressure from the Secretary of State for Wales, the company recently announced that investment of about £3 million in the first stage of a five-year programme is to be made at the plant that will enable it to use a new and cleaner process. That is what British Coal Products Ltd. tells us. There will be a mild heat treatment process to phase out each of the remaining four Disticoke factories, and the company says that that will result in a considerable reduction in pollution. The managing director of British Coal Products Ltd. told a public meeting recently that that was the case. He said that the process had been tried out in Scotland and that it had worked there. The people in the area have heard such promises before from National Smokeless Fuels, and now from British Coal Products Ltd., which is simply the same company with a change of name. They have carried out a check in Hamilton on the process that we are told will clean up the environment in Cynon Valley. I have discussed the matter with my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) and we are asking for an appointment with the chairman of British Coal so that we can discuss it. Complaints were made about such things as unacceptable levels of coal dust, smells caused by the products produced by the breakdown of molasses used in the process, and coal stones caused by dust emissions due to weather conditions, and there was a general expression of concern at utterly untenable situations that are regarded as having the potential for nuisance and health risk.
That is the process that the company intends to bring into Cynon Valley. Cynon Valley has suffered for 39 years from pollution from this works, and we are now saying that this is unacceptable. The Secretary of State for the
Column 503Environment and British Coal must tell us the facts, because we think that the facts are not as the company would have us believe. Apparently the company requires no planning permission to bring this process into Cynon Valley. I find it impossible to square that with the promises made by the Secretary of State for the Environment and the Prime Minister.
The Library has done a good piece of research for us. It tried to obtain an unbiased opinion on the mild heat treatment process, and it has told me that that has proved difficult. A member of the Library said :
"one of our senior academics speaking off the cuff has informed me that there is no one in the UK working in this field. Given access to the smokeless fuel plants, there are academics who could carry out the type of measurements needed to assess the hazards of MHT, but unless this happens only the Coal Board know how dangerous MHT really is."
It is ridiculous to hear the Secretary of State say that he will put things right all over the country, and to hear the Prime Minister say :
"No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy- -with a full repairing lease and this Government intends to meet the terms of the lease in full."
The Coal Board has taken enough out of the Cynon Valley and its people. It is time it put something back, and it is certainly time that it cleaned up the environment.