Previous Section Home Page

Column 92

year 2000. That shows how important it is that they should be used carefully and that the risk to road safety is a growing one. All that the highway code says on the subject is :

"Do not use a hand-held microphone or telephone handset while your vehicle is moving--except in an emergency".

But the highway code is, of course, only advisory. It places on drivers the responsibility to have proper control of their vehicles at all times--but no more than that. That section of the highway code is neither adequate nor sufficiently specific. People are not heeding it, perhaps because they are not reading it.

Careless use of car telephones could also give rise, under section 3 of the Road Traffic Act 1972 to offences of driving without due care and attention. In some circumstances a charge may be brought under this section, but that has always been regarded as a sweep-up provision, where it was difficult to be more precise about the exact nature of the offence being committed. I believe, however, that it is possible to be more precise about the way in which car telephones should be used. Enforcement would be difficult. Effective enforcement involves being able to monitor and stop motorists when they are using them carelessly. In those cases where no accident results, enforcement is difficult.

Some people would argue that such an attempt to restrict the way in which car telephones are used would amount to an attack on individual freedom. Those arguments were widely deployed in the House when we considered the compulsory wearing of seat belts. Some people would also be ready to argue that restrictions on the way car telephones are used would lead to attempts, for example, subsequently to stop people smoking at the same time as driving a car. That would take matters much too far. An alternative approach is to look at the instruments themselves to see the way in which they are designed and fitted. That route would present the best solution.

All car telephones should be equipped with a remote microphone and a remote loudspeaker. Many systems already have such equipment, which ensures that it is unnecessary to hold the receiver in the hand while speaking. Some people argue that extraneous noise levels, especially when driving on the motorway, make it extremely difficult to use such telephones effectively. However, contrary evidence suggests that the latest equipment with high- quality microphones and remote loudspeakers would allow motorway driving and telephoning to be combined comparatively easily.

Should car telephones be compulsorily fitted with voice-activated dialling? The technology already exists, but there are many disadvantages. It is said that voice-activated dialling is unreliable and that it may require reprogramming if a different driver is using the equipment or a call is made by a passenger. Voice-activated dialling is also very expensive. A less expensive way in which to achieve a similar result would be to permit only pre-programmed single or double-digit short-call dialling while the car is moving. Another change would be to ensure that the dialling apparatus is always positioned on top of the fascia at windscreen level. Therefore, in so far as the driver's eyes must be averted from the road when dialling even a short-call number, his eyes would remain in the line of vision of the windscreen and other road users.

Column 93

Such changes in the design and fitting of equipment--I stress equipment, rather than the way in which it is used-- would limit the scope for a driver to cause danger while using a telephone when the vehicle is in motion. The problem does not arise when a telephone is used by a passenger or when the vehicle is stationary. Although a driver may be able to stop to make a call, he cannot readily stop when the time comes to receive one. Most drivers, however, do neither.

I believe that such changes are urgent, and they would enhance road safety. I hope that the Leader of the House will consider my suggestions seriously.

8.42 pm

Mr. Tom Cox (Tooting) : I wish to discuss the holding of remand prisoners in either police cells or magistrates court cells because it is a continuing problem that, sadly, never seems to be resolved. The system started as long ago as 1980 when the then Home Secretary, now Lord Whitelaw, introduced it. He said then that it was temporary, yet eight years later, not only is it still operating, but the numbers involved have increased enormously. People are now moved for greater distances to be kept in police or magistrates court cells. Over the years, many excuses have been given for keeping people in such cells, but I find it hard to accept many of them. It is important to discuss this matter tonight because the conditions under which men and women are being kept are an utter disgrace. If the Government still allow the system to continue eight years after it was introduced, I find it hard to accept why they have refused to improve the conditions under which people are kept.

I shall quote some figures to give the Leader of the House an idea of the problem. In 1982, when records were being kept, 42 people were in police cells or magistrates court cells in England and Wales. In a reply that I received today from the Home Office I am informed that, on the latest available figures, at 31 October 1988, 1,531 prisoners, most of whom were on remand, were being held in police cells. Therefore, in eight years, the numbers of people held in such cells has increased from 42 to more than 1,500. They are held in many parts of the country, no matter where they are due to appear in court. One of my constituents appeared in a London court and was then moved to police cells in Northampton. When his relatives went to see him, the police told them it was inconvenient.

I received a letter dated 12 December from the wife of a man who is being held now at Bow road police station in London. She says : "He has been on remand for eight weeks in various police stations and prisons throughout London and as far as Grimsby in the north." Yet that man must appear at a London court.

We all know that remand prisoners who are held in prison have certain rights under the prison rules, yet those rights do not extend to anyone being held in a police cell or in a magistrates court cell. In prison, if one is dissatisfied about the conditions under which one is kept, one can complain to the number one governor, the wing governor or the boards of visitors. One has a statutory right to complain about the conditions under which one is kept, but if one is kept in police cells or in magistrates court cells, the only person to whom one can complain is the officer in charge or a member of the lay visitors. If one complains,

Column 94

however, the answer is "Sorry. There is very little we can do. We don't have the proper facilities to hold you here for a long time." Let us consider the conditions of such prisoners. Invariably there is a lack of space, and often the only means of keeping one's possessions is in plastic bags. The cells are often impossible to keep properly clean and there is often no clean bedding. Someone who is held in a police cell or in a magistrates court cell may suffer from an infectious disease. That person may be moved or released, but the next person who is allocated the cell will be sleeping in the same bedding.

The heating and ventilation in many such cells is non-existent. Often the meals are poor ; and there is no provision for those with special diets. The facilities for medical treatment are poor ; people often have to wait a long time before they see a doctor. We are aware that, sadly, people suffering from mental illness are put in such cells, yet we know from all the available records that they should not be kept under such conditions.

Opportunities for exercise are often lacking. Wandsworth prison is in my constituency and I often receive complaints about the lack of exercise, but at least those facilities exist. In many police stations or magistrates courts, there are no facilities for people to exercise, however short that exercise time may be.

Washing facilities are an utter disgrace and often there is no privacy. A report dated 24 November, which was presented to the Wandsworth police consultative committee, of which I am a member, recorded what was reported to the committee by lay visitors : "Lay Visitors are currently attempting to effect improvements in arrangements for female remand prisoners and also to ensure that remand prisoners can enjoy some privacy when making use of washing facilities This has already led to at least one complaint from a female remand prisoner as regards the lack of privacy in the presence of male police officers. This problem is compounded because the wash basin at the Lavender Hill Police Station (the only washing facility available) is not enclosed."

Such lack of privacy would be bad enough for many men, who would say they were entitled to privacy when taking a shower or bath--if such things were available. We all know how our wives and daughters would feel if, sad to say, they found themselves in these conditions.

All this has been happening for a long time. Senior police officers have often told me that these people should not be in police cells. The police do not have the facilities to keep remand prisoners for a long time, or the experience to do the job. Police staff who are allocated to look after remand prisoners take up time that could be used for other work.

I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department on the Treasury Bench ; this subject, I hope, greatly concerns the Home Office. The sad thing about the number of people who are still held in police stations or magistrates courts on remand is that space is available in prisons up and down the country. I shall not go into detail this evening, but the Under-Secretary knows that that is a fact. Many held in police cells ultimately receive no custodial sentence. We must bear in mind the fact that, when Lord Whitelaw introduced the system in 1980, he made it clear that it was temporary. My plea is that courts should show far more concern about the number of people whom they place in custody on remand-- there does not seem to be great concern now.

Column 95

The Home Secretary and the Home Office must stop this practice. It could be stopped, and many people involved in penal matters in the country believe that the time to stop it is now. Eight years is long enough : what was supposed to be a temporary provision must now be ended. I hope that, in the near future--even before Christmas--we shall hear a statement from the Government that the system will at long last be ended.

8.53 pm

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : Before the House rises for Christmas it should consider three matters concerned with love--that which makes the world go round.

The first is hospital radio. I am the voluntary spokesman for the National Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations. On 14 February next year there will be an "I love hospital radio broadcasting" day. There will be a lobby of the House, whose members will ask my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to zero-rate VAT on hospital radio broadcasting equipment--in other words, to treat our charity in the same way as talking newspapers for the blind. This would mean only a small amount of money to the Treasury but a great deal to all the enthusiastic volunteers in the association. Ours is the largest registered charity with no paid officers in the United Kingdom. Every penny goes into the service. There are 330 stations in the United Kingdom, many serving more than one hospital.

Many hon. Members will realise that much of the equipment being used in hospital for radio broadcasting is breaking down, so it is important that the Home Office look favourably on our application for a broadcast frequency allocation for hospital radio--a single frequency. That would help considerably with the costs that we incur for radio headsets.

My second point about love has to do with the erection of memorials in cemeteries. Many people would ask why we should bother about them, as so many believe in cremation, but I think that many people are concerned about the quality and type of memorials that are permitted in cemeteries.

The Local Authorities Cemeteries Order 1977 empowers a burial authority, in general a local council, to grant the right to put up a tombstone or other memorial, subject to such conditions as it thinks proper. Paragraph 3 of the same order gives authorities a general power of management to

"do all such things as they consider necessary or desirable for the proper management, regulation and control of a cemetery."

So local authorities can make such rules as they wish about the size and appearance of gravestones. There are no general guidelines in the form of byelaws.

Many constituents are worried from time to time about what they see as unreasonable rules and regulations laid down by local churches or local authorities, which do not show enough compassion in allowing different types of memorials. I know of one family who live in an east end constituency who have spent about two years trying to come to an agreement with their local authority about the sort of memorial that they are permitted to erect.

My final point about love concerns the "I love Basildon" campaign. It was launched earlier this year and it will continue throughout 1989. There have been many

Column 96

critics of the finest new town in the country, which is rapidly becoming the finest town of any kind. The campaign is all about telling people that we are building a fine town and that we want to keep it that way. It deals with litter, graffiti and vandalism. It even teaches dogs to read signs saying that they will be fined £100 should they foul the footpaths.

On a serious note, many hon. Members will be appalled at the amount of litter that is dumped on our streets and at the graffiti that spoils our environment. If any hon. Member can tell me why this is happening, I should be glad to know. From time to time in the House we mention the problems of litter, graffiti and vandalism but then they are forgotten. I am delighted that the Government, led by the Prime Minister earlier this year, are doing all that they can to help the "Keep Britain Tidy" campaign. We are doing our bit in Basildon. Badges and car stickers saying "I love Basildon" have been produced and all sorts of competitions are being held in the town to make people more aware of their environment. I am especially delighted that the schools in the town are entering into the spirit of the campaign, but it is not just young people who are responsible for dumping litter. Time after time when one is stuck on the motorway one sees people winding down their car windows and chucking out tin cans or cigarette ends. Who do they think will pick up that rubbish? Some people may consider that a frivolous point, but I believe it to be important.

There is no finer way of demonstrating our love for our country than by taking more care of and treating our environment with more respect than we do now.

9 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : As the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) talked about love, I was reminded of the epigram of Oscar Wilde : art an illusion, love a myth, and religion a fashionable substitute for belief. I was under the impression that in the modern world love is something that occurs only in soap operas, not in people's real lives. But apparently things are different in Basildon.

It would be a mistake for the House to rise before it had a chance to discuss a report published last week by the Department of Trade and Industry entitled "Summer International plc, formerly Sumrie Clothes plc". It relates to a two-year investigation into the affairs of Mr. Michael Hepker. The report is by Sir Michael Kerry, QC and Keith Carmichael. In effect, the report calls Mr. Hepker a liar and a cheat. It suggests that he was involved in concert parties in relation to share ownership and that he committed a number of offences under the Companies Act 1985. The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is in the House of Lords, but one of his junior Ministers should come here and tell us why the Department has said that Mr. Hepker will not be prosecuted. From where does his immunity stem?

The report states :

"In a number of respects we have been given evidence and explanations of events which have, to say the least of it, strained our credulity We have considered reporting to the Court Mr. M. Z. Hepker's failure to provide satisfactory answers to many of our questions."

It said that there is "strong" evidence of breaches of sections 324 and 198 of the Companies Act by Mr. Hepker in that he did not disclose his interest in shares held by Le

Column 97

Chevalerique and Anglo-European in the company Sumrie Clothes. The report also said that there was evidence of a concert party. A Minister should come to the House and explain not only why there was no prosecution but why the inspectors made it clear in their report that Ministers at the Department stopped them carrying out their investigation and prevented them from taking it to a proper conclusion. As long ago as 29 July 1987, the inspectors recommended to the Department that the Secretary of State should make an order under section 445 of the 1985 Act that the shares held by Le Chevalerique should be subject to restrictions under part XV of the Companies Act. That means that the shares could not be sold and that no voting rights would attach to them until their ownership had been cleared up. The inspectors recommended that because they believed that Mr. Hepker was prevaricating and not telling them the truth. Amazingly, the Department did not back the inspectors but said, on 19 August 1987, that it would not recommend making such an order because of the likely effect on the company and its employees.

I do not believe that that was the reason why the Department refused to carry out the wishes of the inspectors. It turned down the inspectors' request, first, because of the political embarrassment that it knew that nuisances and investigators like me would cause. I was the one who forced the Department to publish the report after a series of parliamentary questions. The two inspectors have made it clear privately that they do not understand why the report was not published for six months or why the Department refused to allow them to continue their inquiries.

I have been on the inside of the affair from start to finish. I know that the Department has decided that it does not wish to pursue its inquiries to their ultimate conclusion. The inspectors write : "We have since that date" --

that is, 19 August 1987--

"followed up a number of outstanding leads but are now convinced that under the terms of our appointment there is nothing more which can usefully be achieved. Accordingly we have brought our investigation to a close."

Civil servants and Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry have discovered that it would cost between £160 and £180 an hour to employ someone to pursue their inquiries. Apparently, although the Government are flush with money, they cannot afford that sum to catch City fraudsters. They can afford that money to catch people who defraud the Department of Social Security and to do almost anything else, but, when it comes to someone whom their own inspectors make it clear is a criminal, they are not prepared to pursue the matter.

As long ago as 15 August 1985, I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer under confidential cover, as follows :

"Dear Nigel, For the reasons which will be obvious from letters one to five, I do not think that Mr. Michael Hepker is a fit person to run a public company."

I ended that letter :

"I am slightly puzzled as to why it is that Mr. Hepker is able to break so many of the laws of England and the rules of the Stock Exchange too. Perhaps you could let me know where his immunity comes from."

Three years on, I believe that it is now time for a Minister to come to the House with that report in his hands and say where Mr. Hepker's immunity comes from.

Column 98

The Department of Trade and Industry has also been told about a company called Meldoak which involves Mr. Hepker. I wrote to the Attorney-General on 15 August, 17 August, 22 August and 3 September 1985 and on 19 January 1986, with copies to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In that case, according to the allegations, all the company's money, £650,000, was stolen by Mr. Hepker.

The south Wales police carried out an investigation and found that there was a prima facie case to answer. The Director of Public Prosecutions saw the papers and found that there was a prima facie case to answer, but he then said that, as the bank account of that United Kingdom company was held in the Isle of Man, the criminal offence had been committed in the Isle of Man and the papers would be passed there. A Minister should come to the House and tell us what help the United Kingdom authorities are giving to the Isle of Man fraud squad. It is traditionally known that the Isle of Man fraud squad is virtually non-existent and that the British police help them in such difficult circumstances. We should be told what the state of play is in this case when there is a prima facie case to answer. Why is there no prosecution?

In 1985--I believe in playing politics long--I wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about a case called Supasave in which it was alleged that £1.5 million had been taken by Mr. Hepker. The liquidator who was investigating the offence is still doing so and has no intention of letting the matter go. It was a complicated matter, but, because I am a reasonable man and realised how complicated the money merry-go-round was, I drew a diagram for the Chancellor of the Exchequer so that he could see what was happening as the money moved around the companies. I have in my hand a copy of the original diagram. A Minister should come and tell us what progress has been made in prosecuting Mr. Hepker in that case. On 2 August 1985, I wrote to Price Waterhouse about some of the affairs of Sumrie Clothes. Some of them have been discussed in the report, but the inspectors say that they were not pertinent to their inquiries. I drew attention to six major affairs where there was prima facie evidence of breaches of the Companies Act 1985. Price Waterhouse has never replied to my letter. I sent a copy of my letter to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. A Minister should come here and tell us the state of play on those six allegations. The matter simply will not go away. I understand that recently Mr. Michael Hepker was kept under continuous surveillance. I am not going to say who was keeping him under surveillance, but a copy of the report that I have found its way into the hands of Private Eye. On Wednesday there will be more revelations about Mr. Michael Hepker which will involve him, the report, Supasave, Meldoak and the breaches of the Companies Act 1985 which I reported to Price Waterhouse. It will also involve other public figures.

I have arranged to meet the editor of Private Eye tomorrow to ask him if he will allow me to send this copy of the report to the Department of Trade and Industry. Will the Leader of the House help me? There is no point in my trying to persuade the editor to let me produce the report and give it to the Department of Trade and Industry if Ministers deal with the affair in the way that they dealt with the report produced by the Government's inspectors, the Meldoak case, Supasave and the six facts that I

Column 99

referred to Price Waterhouse. If the Leader of the House will tell me that if I can persuade the editor of Private Eye to send this valuable document to the Department of Trade and Industry the Department will act on it, I will do that in the public interest. 9.10 pm

Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) What I would like to know is, what action do the Government intend to take following the article in The Observer on 13 November entitled

"CND men : We sprang spy Blake"?

In that article two former CND activists, Pat Pottle and Michael Randle, are quoted as admitting that they organised the escape from prison in 1966 of the Soviet spy and MI6 traitor, George Blake. Blake had been sentenced to a record 42 years imprisonment by the Lord Chief Justice five years previously in 1961. Many believe that the 42 years represented the number of British agents for whose deaths Blake was responsible.

George Blake seriously undermined the work of Britain's and our allies' security services. He was and remains to this day one of Britain's most notorious traitors. That any British citizens should want to help that man to escape from prison is surprising ; that any British citizens would want to admit that they had organised his escape is astonishing, unless they intended to cash in on their activities by publishing a book.

Not only does The Observer quote Pat Pottle saying "We did it", but he is quoted as saying :

"We are proud of what we did."

If it is true, that must represent the most appallingly treacherous behaviour. It is unlikely that the two individuals to whom I have referred were simply embarked on a publicity stunt because their names had been implicated previously in the affair by Montgomery Hyde in his biography of Blake in 1987 and The Sunday Times has subsequently picked up the story. It is only now, however, that those two individuals have admitted their part in the affair.

The Attorney-General's office has confirmed that a prosecution is not precluded simply because the events occurred 22 years ago. This matter cannot be ignored. If it is, it will give the green light to other criminals to keep their heads down for a number of years and then to try to cash in many years later by publishing a book. An early-day motion signed by 80 of my hon. Friends will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper urging the Government to initiate legal proceedings on the matter. I understand that a prosecution could be forthcoming for contravention of section 39 of the Prison Act 1952 which relates to assisting escape from Her Majesty's prisons. The participation of two former CND activists in such apparently treacherous activities would tend to give credence to the suspicions held by many of us that some individuals involved in CND are not necessarily arguing their case from a wholly patriotic and British standpoint.

It is particularly interesting that Michael Randle is a lecturer at the school of peace studies at Bradford university. I do not for a moment imagine that the university knew about Mr. Randle's earlier prison-related activities and expertise when he was first employed. However, it raises the interesting point as to how much influence CND has at the Bradford university school of

Column 100

peace studies. Whether peace studies are a suitable subject for academic study and research is an interesting question in itself. I do not intend pursuing that argument now, although Baroness Cox and Professor Scruton have argued forcefully in their book "Peace Studies : A Critical Survey" that peace studies are not a genuine educational discipline.

I question whether the university's school of peace studies approaches its academic work in a wholly objective manner, whether it is deserving of Government funding through the University Grants Committee, or whether--as some of us suspect--it is little more than a production line of anti- Government political propaganda. The peace school is rather good at getting itself into national newspapers. I dug out references to it in the national media in 1987, using the textline facility to which all right hon. and hon. Members have access. It certainly makes interesting reading. April 1987 : "A study published yesterday by Bradford University's school of peace studies has claimed that over 600 neutron bombs are stored in the US, and a similar number of weapons soon to be deployed in Europe may be easily converted into neutron weapons."

May 1987 :

"A report published yesterday by Bradford University's school of peace studies claims that cancellation of the Trident missile could save £11.6 billion."

June 1987 :

"A report drawn up by the Bradford University school of peace studies alleges that 22 accidents involving nuclear weapons in or around the UK have been concealed by the military authorities." It is interesting to note the objective justification for that claim :

"The school's report, admitting that it relied on inference and deduction rather than on hard facts, justifies that by citing the Government's own policy of secrecy and the frequency of accidents involving nuclear weapons elsewhere."

I feel sure that all right hon. and hon. Members will agree that that is a very academic way of approaching the subject!

An August 1987 item reported :

"A report published today by Bradford University's school of peace studies has accused the British Government of collaborating with the US to delay or obstruct the Geneva committee on disarmament." And so they go on. There are a number of references of that kind, but nowhere does one read anything about the Soviet Union--that is, not until November 1987 :

"Bradford University's school of peace studies has concluded that the Warsaw Pact may not have overall conventional weapon supremacy. They have concluded that, allowing for the high quality of western equipment, there is a rough parity."

So now we know!

I do not suggest that everything produced by the school lacks intellectual rigour or is politically one-sided--although I understand how someone could reach that conclusion. However, it strikes me as incredible that such a school, based at one of Britain's major universities, has practically nothing to say to the press or in its own publications about the threat posed by the Soviet Union's massive armed forces and those of the Eastern bloc countries. There is little mention of the Soviet Union's numerical superiority of troops, tanks, artillery and aircraft.

More importantly, no mention is made of the nature of the Soviet system, the absence of any legal opposition in that country, the long-cherished Communist ambition of world domination--

Column 101

Mr. Cryer : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Riddick : I am under pressure of time, so I shall not do so, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.

The school makes no mention either of the fact that Soviet leaders have been responsible for the deaths of millions of their own citizens, that Russia has taken over so much of Europe by force, and that that Communist country ruthlessly smashed by invasion opposition in Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland--in effect, and Afghanistan. In other words, the school says nothing to explain why the West, including Britain, feels that it is necessary to possess nuclear weapons as a deterrent to the Soviet Union's expansionist ambitions. One looks in vain to the school's prospectus and to its publicationsfor evidence of any balance in its approach. Its publications include titles such as, "As Lambs to the Slaughter : The Facts about Nuclear War," and "Defence Without The Bomb". That was produced by the alternative defence commission set up by the peace school in conjunction with the Lansbury House Trust. By its own admission it is a unilateralist body. The prospectus tells us : "This is a major initiative concerned with the development of proposals for alternatives to British defence policies which currently rely in whole or in part on nuclear weapons."

Of course, the individuals involved were unilateralists. The senior lecturer in peace studies at the school has been heard to say that much of the intake of students has come as a result of courses being advertised in "Sanity", CND's magazine. But it was Professor O'Connell, formerly professor of peace studies, who let the cat out of the bag when he told a conference back in 1985 : "The Bradford school of peace studies is not an activist enterprise ; it serves instead to provide activists with the academic resources which they need."

Yes, indeed ; that is exactly what many of us thought. I should like to know what the Government are doing funding this bogus centre of academic study.

Mr. Cryer : Will the hon. Gentleman tell us whether, when he began to organise this attack on Bradford university, he approached any Bradford Members for their comments, or whether he submitted any of his comments to any member of the peace studies department for comment? That would at least have been fair.

Mr. Riddick : No, I did not. The issue has come up very recently. Michael Randle, the ex-CND activist, has only recently admitted to having sprung Blake. In the past, however, both Baroness Cox and Professor Scruton carried out detailed examinations of what goes on in the peace studies school. The school itself was not very forthcoming in providing information when it realised that it was under attack.

Bradford university's school of peace studies seems to be a mouthpiece of one-sided unilateralist arguments funded by the taxpayer. The taxpayer should no longer have to bear that burden. 9.22 pm

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : I last had the misfortune to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick) when he was making a very inept defence of the Economic League. On that occasion he was attempting, in a very amateurish fashion, to defend the indefensible ; tonight he has attempted to make an equally ill-researched attack on the Bradford peace studies department.

Column 102

If the hon. Gentleman knew anything about the department and its work, he would know that it enjoys a national and international reputation among a wide range of individuals for objectivity and independence of view. I suggest that, before he engages in another attack on the department, he attends one of its series of seminars or pays a visit to the department itself, where its members will be only too pleased to inform him about international and national relationships. I certainly hope that, before he launches another such amateurish attack on the department, he will obtain some information about its work.

I wish briefly to draw to the House's attention some matters that Bradford Members have experienced great difficulty in bringing to the House. I refer, of course, to the actions and policies of Bradford's Conservative council. It is only 14 weeks ago that the Conservatives secured political control of the city of Bradford, and it is only nine weeks ago that, at its first full meeting, Bradford council embarked upon a massive cuts package, secured by the mayor's casting vote. We still await the High Court's verdict on whether its action was lawful.

We know that the Conservatives in Bradford have no mandate whatever for the policies upon which they have embarked. There was no election manifesto commitment to the people of Bradford to embark on these policies. No Conservative candidate who has advocated cuts has been elected in any election in Bradford. There is no popular support from the people of Bradford for the cuts package that the Conservatives, under the Conservative leader, Councillor Pickles, have inflicted upon us in recent weeks.

In my view, it is quite wrong that the House of Commons should be prevented from debating these matters and from having them drawn to its attention. The education cuts amount to more than £3 million in the current year, and schools throughout Bradford are very worried about their impact. Head teachers have warned us that they may result in classes having to be increased to 60 children. We have been warned that children may be sent home.

We have also been told that desperately needed repairs are likely to be deferred for years, perhaps indefinitely. Only recently we were told that £18 million needs to be spent upon urgent repairs in Bradford. In the midst of all this, we have heard recently that Bradford is to be the site of a city technology college, sponsored by the Dixon group. We understand that £8 million of taxpayers' money is to be provided to build the CTC.

Mr. Stanley Kalms, the chairman of the Dixon group, who was good enough to meet me recently, confessed that he was anxious to build a CTC in the north. It seemed clear to me from my conversation with him that he was desperate to build a CTC anywhere in the north. It was equally clear that his knowledge of Bradford was just as poor as that of the hon. Member for Colne Valley. He knew nothing about the close relationship that schools in Bradford have had for many years with local business and industry. He certainly knew nothing about the great disappointment that many of my constituents felt when it was announced that the CTC was to be sited on Newby square, which has been used for housing for many years and which, until the middle of October, the local community believed was to be the site of new family-sized housing at low rent and at low cost.

There has been outrage in Bradford at the prospect of a CTC being built on Newby square. People believe that it

Column 103

will do great damage to existing schools, particularly the existing upper schools. It is feared that the CTC will undermine the viability of existing sixth forms. Many upper schools fear that many people in Bradford will regard them as ghetto schools where the less able children who cannot gain a place in the CTC have to go.

If Mr. Kalms has £1 million to spend, I urge him to spend it on the existing schools in Bradford. We know that the science laboratories of 11 middle schools are either too small or even unsafe. That would be a very good way for Mr. Kalms to spend his £1 million.

Mr. Cryer : Does my hon. Friend accept that I wrote to Mr. Kalms and suggested that he should spend some of the money on retaining the remedial teachers whom Bradford, under the Tories, is sacking at the end of this year? They are helping brain-damaged children to learn to read, which is very important. However, Mr. Kalms felt unable to help this very important though rather obscure side of education. Instead, he wants to spend the money of shareholders in the Dixon group on an advertising sign on a college that is to be paid for largely by Bradford ratepayers.

Next Section

  Home Page