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Mr. Renton : I appreciate that that point lies at the heart of the difference of opinion between my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary on this issue. I repeat that my right hon. Friend has stated that he finds this a sensible way forward in a difficult area and is therefore attracted to the Law Commission's approach. Legislation on the report would be a matter for my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, who has a number of other legislative preoccupations at present. I understand, therefore, that he is unable to regard implementation of the report as a matter to which high priority should be given.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley drew the House's attention to what he regards as possible deficiencies in the Law Commission's proposals, but he acknowledged that to legislate as it proposes would be an improvement on the present position. My hon. Friend made the perfectly fair point that this would not prevent the invasion of privacy but only restrict the use to which the knowledge might be put, assuming the individual realised that his privacy had been invaded. The difficulty, as I have already suggested, is to define a satisfactory concept of personal privacy, and to establish in what circumstances the individual can legitimately claim a right to privacy. One of the early chapters of the Younger report is entitled "What is privacy?" One does not have to read far into that chapter to discover that the majority of the committee took the view that the concept of privacy cannot be satisfactorily defined. Attempts to do so either went wide, equating the rights to privacy with what Judge Cooley last century termed "the right to be let alone", or boiled down to a catalogue of assorted values to which the adjectives "private" or "personal" could reasonably, but not exclusively, be attached.
In addition to the definitional problems, there is the fact that privacy cannot be an absolute right. As Younger remarked : "A man's right to privacy has to be balanced against the rights of others ; any additional protection which the law may afford to privacy may be found to impinge upon such other rights, in particular the right of free communication of the truth and comment upon it, which are generally accepted as of great importance in a democratic society."
ed to a company that is the subject of a takeover finding a bug under its boardroom table. Does my hon. Friend agree that that company has a right to privacy when determining its takeover policy?The concept of privacy in such a case would be absolute. My hon. Friend cannot possibly be saying that somebody has a right to listento those private conversations. Mr. Renton : My hon. Friend's comment that the right to privacy would be absolute is interesting and would lead one down a philosophical path at this late hour.
I asked earlier to what use such information would be put. I agree that in normal circumstances one would regard such behaviour as eavesdropping, but to what use would the information be put? Would it be used in insider dealing on the stock exchange? If so, one returns to my earlier point-- which was the substance of what Younger and the Law Commission considered-- that it is important to know to what use the information, whether it was acquired by invasion of privacy or bugging, was put.
Much of the interesting debate on the Protection of Privacy Bill centred on the question, if privacy was invaded, to what disadvantage would that put the individual or company concerned? That leads on to the view that the law on the right to privacy is intertwined with the law of defamation and confidentiality.
Mr. Cran : Does my hon. Friend not agree that the great distinction between the two propositions is that the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Browne) relates to an invasion of privacy occasioned by a newspaper? In such a case everybody, including the individual concerned, knows who is being got at. The problem of the cases that I have outlined is that, because of the sophistication of the devices, one may never know.
Mr. Renton : My hon. Friend is right. The debate about the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester fastens round the right to privacy in newspapers. But the Younger committee and the Law Commission widened the issue, and it is impossible to consider enshrining the right to privacy from newspaper intrusions without also going into the wider sphere. One immediately comes to the difficult queston of the definition of privacy. One man's idea of privacy is not necessarily another man's. One man's idea of privacy on a holiday might be another man's idea of boredom, as we know well. That is why it is difficult to be so exclusive about the idea of privacy in relation to newspapers only and I am sure that my hon. Friend takes that point on board.
I hope that my hon. Friend will understand why it seems to us, in view of those real problems, to be preferable to adopt the more limited approach proposed by the Law Commission rather than to contemplate a more general right to privacy. Those are matters that the House may have the opportunity to debate again, as the Protection of Privacy Bill has obtained its Second Reading.
My hon. Friend the Member for Beverley asked specifically whether a licensing system is in place for surveillance devices. There are no controls on the scale and use of such equipment, although such devices may be subject to other, technical considerations. However, we should not overlook the legislation we introduced in 1985
Column 187dealing with the interception of the public telecommunications system and the post. If the use of electronic surveillance equipment involves such interception, the criminal offences and penalties set out in the Interception of Communications Act 1985 could come into play.
The Government are not persuaded that it is practicable or necessary to extend the criminal law to cover electronic or other surveillance or eavesdropping, objectionable though such activities can undoubtedly be. A criminal offence must be clearly defined, well understood and capable of effective enforcement. It would be difficult to define an offence in this area without making it so narrow that it was easily evaded or soon overtaken by new technology, or so wide that it was unreasonable and unenforceable in practice. We are not attracted to a scheme of licensing particular devices which would inevitably involve complex and bureaucratic procedures, requiring invidious judgments to be exercised about whether individuals had established a legitimate use for the device in question, without providing any confidence that those who wanted to acquire and use such equipment would be deterred from doing so in practice. However, we see merit in the more limited proposal made by the Law Commission and have undertaken to introduce new legislation along those lines. Such legislation must take its due place in the order of our legislative priorities.
I am sorry that I cannot promise my hon. Friend all that he would like, but I can assure him that we take his points seriously. I shall see that they are made known to my ministerial colleagues at the Department of Trade and Industry, and I am grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to debate these serious matters tonight.
Mr. Alan Meale (Mansfield) : Over a three-year period, the Government have funded the organisation INFORM from the Home Office funds to the tune of at least £120,000 a year. I am told that the organisations's initials stand for "Information Network Focus on Religious Movements". I am reliably informed that it has never inspired any confidence among those working in the field to help combat the effects that people suffer as a result of their involvement in religious cults. There is no evidence of the organisation helping--by advice or counselling--the parents or loved ones of those unlucky enough to be caught up in the web of deceit. It has done nothing to help those who seek to help relatives or advise them on the facts and methods available in their time of need. In fact, this Government-funded organisation seems to serve the opposite purpose, especially in dealing with requests for information or advice on religious cults--notably that requested on the pseudo-religious organisation, the Unification Church, which I shall refer to by its more common title, "the Moonies". Why was a leading member--a director--of INFORM, Mrs. Irene Barker, described recently by the Moonies' information unit, based at 44 Lancaster Gate, London, as their consultant with outside bodies on their activities if no sympathy existed between the two organisations? Why would that same organisation, which is widely distrusted by everyone connected with religion in the United Kingdom, welcome the establishment of INFORM--a body which, shortly after its formation, changed the description of "cults" in its literature to "new religious movements" to match its own title?
The Moonies' recognition of INFORM is one of the major reasons why I feel that Government funding of the organisation should immediately cease. It has to be reiterated that groups such as the Moonies cannot be treated in a casual manner by any Government-funded or supported agency. Incidences of the Moonies activities are many ; indeed they are too numerous to list as they would probably fill the pages of Hansard.
Nevertheless, I want to give the Minister a good idea of the Moonies' size and activities, so I ask him to note my list of organisational fronts. I shall set out at least some of the Moonies' conglomerate multinational operations. There are at least 33 Moonie recruiting fronts, ranging from the World Family Movement to the Hope academy based in California in the United States. Moonie religious fronts number about 24, of which the Unification Church and the Sun Myung institution in Korea are but two. There are at least 21 Moonie political fronts--the "Captive Nations" group and "Project of Unity" among them. Moonie media fronts include organisations, newspapers and magazines that knowingly promote the Moonie message. There are at least three such fronts, including the "World Student Times", "New Hope News" and the "Unified World". There are at least 37 Moonie cultural and social fronts, ranging from the International Cultural Foundation to the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation. Then there are the Moonie businesses. Outside the United Kingdom there are at least 119, ranging from businesses dealing in ice-packed sea foods in Alaska to jewellery shops in Maine in the United States to cosmetic manufacturing in Toronto, Canada. There are even
Column 189companies in Korea engaged in M16 rifle production, in newspapers in Japan and in hotels and casinos in Uruguay. There are undoubtedly many more businesses connected directly with the organisation, but it is the British connection as yet unmentioned with which I should like to deal.
The Minister is aware that a considerable number of Moonie-related companies exist or have existed in Britain. For example, in my constituency of Mansfield, with the help of the Free Press Recorder , a local newspaper, I have uncovered evidence of a printing supply business currently named Crescent Printing Services, based at Church lane, Mansfield. I am led to believe that it is the main printing house of the Moonie religious cult in the United Kingdom. At present, its manager is one Anthony Nicholas Dixon of 50 Victoria street, Mansfield, who also holds a directorship of Unified Family Enterprises and was a director of New Tomorrow Ltd., before that company was dissolved on 12 January 1988.
Both of those companies are undoubtedly Moonie front businesses, as their other company directorships are all registered as being based at the same address in Lancaster gate, London, the Moonie organisation's national nerve centre. In his diligent efforts to uncover the truth about the operations of the Moonie cult, Mr. Stephen Carr, the chief reporter of my local newspaper the Free Press Recorder, has established, via Companies House, other factors of connection between the aforementioned companies. His examination of company records revealed that some of the directors involved are also directly linked to the Moonies' main controlling boards in London.
For instance, I refer to Martin John Warner, Alexander Kenneth Stewart, Timothy John Miller, Michael Leslie Breen, David Fraser Harris, and Doris Barbara Orme, all well-known senior Moonie figures, together with one Dennis Frederick Orme, the ex-head of the Moonie cult organisation in the whole of the United Kingdom. Other companies listed as being involved with Moonie figures connected with that company are Alexander Wiltshire Limited, Ocean Fresh Limited, Omega Bakeries Limited, Holy Oak Community Limited, the East Lothian Shipbuilding and Fishing Co. Limited, and many others.
Both main link companies share one major similarity, that all shares in them are or were held jointly in the keeping of the trustees of the Sun Myung Moon foundation, the main financial clearing house of the Moonies' worldwide operations.
The Minister is aware that major challenges in the United Kingdom have already been made to the registration of the Moonies as a charitable body. Alas, I am sad to say that, so far, the Attorney-General has failed to act because of what he described as no exact proof that the charitable body was not functioning as a charity.
That view is not good enough for the House. It has not taken me long to get evidence that, rather than being charitable, that body is operating purely as a business venture, with the added advantage of its status, coupled with worse employment practices than any business should ever be allowed. For instance, there is definite evidence that many of the people employed in the ventures that I have mentioned are not paid for their endeavours. In some cases they are paid, but, immediately on being paid, they are asked to sign a form stating that they have donated their pay in total or in part to the Moonie organisation.
Column 190I have in my possession some horrific accounts of ex-Moonies who describe in detail how they were dispatched in groups from all over the United Kingdom, with everything from pot plants to toys, prints and other items which they were made to sell door-to-door in high streets and in pubs and clubs to raise money for that body. Worse still, they were told to refrain from telling potential customers the truth of the offer of sale and, instead, were encouraged to lie to be successful sellers.
It really is not good enough for the Minister to say that the Government cannot act because of the law in its present form. Evidence exists of hundreds of cases of the sort that I have described. Other opportunities exist in the laws related to tax evasion. Some of those companies are undoubtedly operating in part on the black side of the economy. Laws related to health and safety in premises, bank accounts and company law should be checked if proof is needed of their activities. I am positive that such endeavours would be fruitful.
If any proof of such endeavours as I have mentioned were needed, I would point to the fact that I have informed the Registrar of Companies at Companies House that the company, Unified Family Enterprises Ltd.--one of the companies that I previously named--is in breach of the Companies Act 1985. I discovered that at the time of my research it had only filed accounts of its activities up to 31 March 1986.
In my determination to rid the Mansfield and north Nottinghamshire area of the Moonies' business operations, I have today contacted the Inland Revenue in my area to ask it to investigate Crescent Printing Services' financial and business ventures to establish whether it is fulfilling legal tax requirements.
In addition, I have asked Mansfield district council--the local authority concerned--to conduct inspections under the Factories Acts to determine whether health, safety and employment practices are being properly fulfilled. Local police have been urged to acquire the names of all persons associated with that firm.
I have also advised all local businesses and organisations, private and public, voluntary and statutory, of the background to Crescent Printing Services and its connection in the wider world outside the Mansfield and the north Nottinghamshire area.
I say to the Minister that if either I or a local reporter with the Free Press Recorder in Mansfield can discover such information, his vast army of helpers in Whitehall must be able to find out much more and act on the matter. Will the Minister take the matter seriously? Excuses that the law is difficult do not hold water in this place, especially as the Government have a reputation of changing, scrapping or introducing new law at a pace that will be recorded in the annals of history.
I would be willing to supply the Minister with any of the documentation about which I have spoken to help him in his endeavours. I would be grateful if he could ask his noble Friend the Minister of State, who is responsible for such matters, to receive a delegation on this matter. I would be grateful, too, if he would commend the public duty fulfilled by both the Free Press Recorder in Mansfield and the investigatory work of its chief reporter, Mr. Steven Carr. They have tirelessly sought to uncover the evidence that I have presented in the interests not only of the people whom I serve, but others elsewhere.
Column 191I urge the Government to stop funding the INFORM organisation until such time as the matters I have raised have been answered fully and to the satisfaction of the House.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten) : The story of the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. Meale) is an interesting one. I appreciate his concern and the concern of his local community in north Nottinghamshire. In view of the talents of the chief reporter of the Free Press Recorder, it is likely that he will soon be lost to north Nottinghamshire and that he will find himself a bolthole in Fleet street. I fear that he may well be recruited by one of those newspapers which were the subject of some comment during the last debate, to which the hon. Member for Mansfield and for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) listened.
I shall certainly draw to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend Lord Ferrers, who in another place is ministerially responsible for these issues, the strong feelings of the hon. Member for Mansfield. I shall ask him to look into those issues. Before I consider the specific issue of INFORM and the body that the hon. Gentleman and I think of as the Moonies, it would be helpful to comment on the activities of religious cults in general. Cults are not a new phenomena, but in the 1960s and 1970s there was a growth in their number. Strictly speaking, many are heresies within the Judaeo-Christian tradition, but some are influenced by mysticism, especially eastern mysticism. Many others are tinged with money-making influences, which seem to be a driving force behind their operations. Sometimes the definition is extended to include Christian fundamentalist sects, although that is debatable. A characteristic of the groups is the elevation of a charismatic leader into a divine or semi divine status. To many of us their claims are ludicrous--it would be ludicrous to attach that status to any cult leader--but their appeal to the young, the impressionable and the inadequate, with a promise to build a better world or to develop character or improve the opportunities for adherents to succeed in a competitive world, can be damaging. As a result, wealth has often accrued to those leaders at the expense of their ultimately misguided followers, leaving then indebted and disillusioned.
By and large, the people who join cults, such as the Church of Scientology, the Unification Church, the Hare Krishna or similar groups, come from surprisingly well-educated, professional or semi-professional backgrounds, with good prospects for their future careers. They are not children but young adults, and only a small percentage tend to remain linked to such cults in the long term. I am not suggesting that involvement with cults does not sometimes have tragic consequences. It is rarely those involved in the cults who come to us. Often it is the parents who seek help from us or organisations such as INFORM and others.
There is no doubting the distress and the alienation that parents feel. In the worst cases, parents experience not only a rejection of their standards and expectations, but also see a loved one dominated by a force which they cannot understand and which they believe is ultimately
Column 192self-destructive. It must make it even worse to know that, on many occasions, the drive has precious little to do with mysticism and everything to do with making money and exploitation. It is understandable that those whose children are involved should, from time to time, ask the Government to intervene, and that is what the hon. Member for Mansfield has done this evening.
The problem, rather like the problem encountered in the privacy debate, which was heard by most hon. Members now present, is one of balance. We enter that dangerous and sometimes difficult territory where order must be balanced against liberty and where the cure must not be more harmful than the evil it seeks to remedy. In this country, we have a long tradition of religious toleration. In recent weeks, that tradition has been stressed by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, myself and right hon. and hon. Members on the Opposition Benches as the Moslem community has been in some tumult and turmoil about the publication of "The Satanic Verses".
Freedom of expression and freedom of religion is a difficult area through which to tread. Those freedoms, including the freedom to change religion or belief and the freedom to manifest religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice or otherwise, are guaranteed by the European convention on human rights, and that sometimes makes intervention difficult.
The Government can and should keep a close eye on cults. I urge the public of Mansfield and the surrounding towns and villages who have any evidence of any organisation or its members' involvement in breaking the law to inform the police immediately. The Nottingham constabulary would be pleased to hear from any member of the general public, or reader of the Free Press Recorder
Mr. Sheerman : Many hon. Members hear complaints from members of the general public, who are rightly angry, as the host Christian community, when people such as the Moonies sell literature purporting to emanate from a Christian denomination or group, thereby wholly misleading people. Only when strongly challenged do such groups reveal their identity.
Members of the public then complain to the police, but they do not get very far. Could the Home Office give the police some general guidance for action? I have the feeling that most police forces do not know what to do when such instances are reported to them.
Mr. Patten : Any police constable or officer, when presented with prima facie evidence of a breach of the law, would consider taking it to the prosecuting authorities. Any police officer who thought there had been a breach of the criminal code of this country would act swiftly. However, I shall certainly bear the hon. Gentleman's remarks in mind. We shall review the need to give the police further guidance on this issue in our regular talks with the Association of Chief Police Officers.
The activities and views of organisations are often deeply repugnant to sensible people, as the hon. Member for Huddersfield has just said. That applies to a wider range of groups than those normally regarded as cults. It would be taking a big step if the Government selectively decided to intervene against individual groups without clear evidence of mass breaking of the criminal law--
Column 193cults, such as the Moonies? There is disturbing evidence that many of the laws for the protection of ordinary citizens are being broken, yet little guidance for the protection of the public is being given.
Mr. Patten : During the last debate, the hon. Member for Huddersfield evinced some disappointment that no Minister from the Department of Trade and Industry was present. I shall draw these matters to the attention of my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. There may be something in what the hon. Gentleman has said.
There are real difficulties in grappling with the problems which are created by organisations which operate under the protection which is afforded to religious bodies. That is well illustrated by the reception which was given to the proposals for a system of voluntary guidelines adopted by the European Parliament. These were criticised not only by new religious groups, but also by the established Churches, which considered them seriously to limit religious freedom and likely to affect the established Churches, too.
The Government believe that the public exposure of the true nature and activities of cults will help people to reflect more carefully before becoming involved. It is for that reason that the Government are currently providing some pump-priming funds for Information Network Focus on New Religions, or INFORM, to which the hon. Member for Mansfield referred. We have said that we will provide funding for no more than three years. For the 18 months to the end of March 1989, we have provided £70,000 and, subject to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary being satisfied that INFORM is achieving its objectives, we will provide up to £50,000 more over the next 18 months.
INFORM promotes study and research into cults and makes available high quality and objective information about the activities of cults in this country. It operates through a network of experts, mainly academics and churchmen, who keep in touch with the changing circumstances of cults. The information which INFORM produces is available to parents, teachers and others involved with the pastoral care of young people in particular, so they can be alert to the practices and activities of these groups.
Through the network, those who are seeking help and guidance can be referred to qualified counsellors. An informal network already exists, but more formal arrangements are being developed by the board of mission and unity of the General Synod of the Church of England at the request of the British Council of Churches and with the support of leaders of other Churches, including the Roman Catholic Church. So it is being tackled at a high level by Churches in this country, who are operating in close co- operation with INFORM, a body which became operational only on 1 January 1988.
In the first 15 months of its work INFORM has established something of a reputation for giving objective information about the groups which operate. It has received many thousands of requests for information and, knowing the hon. Gentleman's interest in these issues, I took the trouble to inform myself about the number of cases it has dealt with : 129 substantive cases involving inquiry. This is a very time-consuming business, as the hon. Gentleman can doubtless imagine, and many days can be spent on each case. The majority of requests, it will
Column 194not surprise the House to know, have come from parents, relatives or close friends of the generally young people involved with this cult.
The Church of Scientology has attracted the most references thus far to INFORM, but interest certainly also centres on the Unification Church-- there have been a good number of cases--and on others such as the Children of God, Transcendental Meditation, and a wide range of other groups which I know are of interest to many on both sides of the House.
Some members of anti-cultist groups believe that those responsible for setting up INFORM are too closely involved with the cults and their objectives. A particular target of attention is Dr. Eileen Barker, to whom the hon. Gentleman has referred. She chairs INFORM's board of governors. She is a sociology lecturer in the London School of Economics, and has specialised in the study of cults, especially the Unification Church, the Moonies. I wonder if the moon is indeed shining out there as we speak now.
Dr. Barker's researches have necessarily brought her into contact with the Moonies, just as this debate has brought me into contact with the hon. Member for Mansfield this evening. I can imagine no one more agreeable to spend the early hours of Tuesday morning with, apart from you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and indeed my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown), for fear that the Whips Office is left out of the all- round approbation of those of us in the Chamber.
Dr. Barker has attended conferences organised by these organisations to present papers and to further her research. She is well aware of the dangers which such contacts could have for the researcher, but she firmly believes, in her own words, which I have secured for greater accuracy, that it would
"be nothing short of professional irresponsibility for the sociologist not to observe and understand"
at first hand the perceptions of the Unification Church. "Considering the importance for the Unification Church of its conference, any systematic observation of the movement, which did not include attendance at Unification conferences, would, to say the least, be methodologically deficient."
I think she is right, and her methods were agreed by the Economic and Social Research Council, which funded her research.
Mr. Meale : I fully understand the methodology of someone who, at the highest level of a Government-funded organisation, attempts to act as a bridge and information unit between them, but the fact of the matter is that most of the organisations in the United Kingdom which concern themselves with religious cults and attempting to help people who have been damaged because of them distrust this organisation, and indeed, greatly distrust the director, Dr. Barker, whom we have just discussed. There is a wealth of evidence which clearly shows that Dr. Barker is very sympathetic to the Unification Church. Would it not be sensible for the Minister to accept that and ask the Home Office to examine it before the review is completed?
Mr. Patten : I have listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman. I am sure that he chose his words with great care because he referred to someone outside this House and we are talking in a privileged way in the House tonight. If the hon. Member for Mansfield has clear evidence of improper behaviour by anyone connected with INFORM, it is extremely important that he brings that
Column 195evidence to the attention of my noble Friend Lord Ferrers who is the Minister responsible for this policy in the Home Office. If the hon. Gentleman has a dossier or papers about Dr. Barker, or anyone else, which he wants to lay before the Home Office, he knows that he need only approach me and I will ensure that my noble Friend examines the papers closely.
We should be cautious before we condemn anyone without the evidence being displayed before the House. The benefit of keeping in contact with the Unification Church is that INFORM can maintain contact with cults and provide a link between parents and children when all other means of contact have broken down. It would not be appropriate for me to discuss individual cases in the House, but there is evidence that, through contact with the Unification Church and the Church of Scientology, Dr. Barker has been able to provide a link to the benefit of parents and their children which would not otherwise have been possible.
If there was any doubt about INFORM, the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Church and the Free Church Federal Council would not have welcomed the establishment of INFORM. They were represented on the working group which set up the organisation and are now represented on the board of governors together with representatives from the British Association of Counselling and the British Sociological Association's sociology of religions study group. The most reverend primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is a patron together with Bishop John Crowley from the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Westminster. The General Synod of the Church of England is also providing funds. Those are distinguished people from Churches representing a variety of faiths.
Column 196I welcome the involvement of the Churches. They have an important role to play in guiding and teaching. I have no doubt that the cults will flourish only where there is a spiritual and moral vacuum left unfilled. I sometimes think that people turn to some of the nutty cults when no message is reaching them and they then indulge in things which they would not otherwise do. The Churches must assess their teachings so that they support and encourage those people who are most vulnerable in our society, the most impressionable and most easily led. In that way, they should be able to help expose the falseness of the claims of the cults.
For the reasons that I have explained, the Government cannot become involved in anti-cultist activity or make subjective judgments about groups on the basis of anecdote and prejudice. I urge the hon. Member for Mansfield to produce the evidence to put before the Home Office if he feels that anything is wrong with any organisation connected with cults.
The Home Office regards INFORM as a significant step towards healing the harmful side effects of the activities of cults. We hope that all those concerned in north Nottinghamshire and elsewhere with the effects of cults on family life will co-operate with INFORM and will regard it not as an obstacle, but as a tool in the work of exposing the sometimes undoubtedly unsavoury and sometimes undoubtedly unacceptable--and the hon. Member for Mansfield would say sometimes illegal--activities of the cult movement. We shall watch developments carefully and keep those cults under careful scrutiny. But if there is evidence of any illegal activity, we shall ensure that it is referred to the police. I urge the hon. Member for Mansfield to urge his constituents in turn to follow the same course.
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke) : This is not only a god-forsaken hour but one that seems to have been forsaken by my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, whose presence at this debate I expected. I deeply regret his absence. Charitably, I acknowledge that the duties of a Minister are onerous, and charitably I acknowledge that therefore his absence is understandable. However, when I spoke to him between 10 and 11 o'clock there was no indication that he might be absent from this debate. [Hon. Members :-- "Traffic jams."] Yes, such things happen.
Despite all that, I greatly welcome this opportunity to introduce a short debate--or, more accurately, a short dialogue--on the theme of capital allocation and spending on roads in Hampshire. Were my hon. Friend the Minister present, he would have noted that my interest in that theme has become a little more marked. I do not apologise for raising the subject again. Far from it--I am glad of the opportunity, for such opportunities do not often come the way of Back Benchers and are not to be overlooked.
Despite the lateness of the hour, and despite the fact that I have raised the subject with my hon. Friend on other occasions, I am unrepentant at doing so again because it is one of supreme importance. My broad theme is addressed to the circumstances in which the county of Hampshire finds itself, but I suspect that they are not wildly different from those found in other counties in the south of England.
One may consider first the background to the predicament in which Hampshire finds itself. It is obvious that infrastructure investment--not least in roads--must be seen and assessed as part of the overall strategy of any Government's economic policies. The Government, whom I support so strongly, have an overall policy strategy that seeks to give dominance to market forces. The Government believed that economic recovery and regeneration would come through giving market forces--I say good evening to my hon. Friend the Minister--the fullest expedient rein.
The Government believe also that economic recovery and regeneration has been brought about in that way, and I accept that proposition. The Government have always argued also that market forces would generate economic activity, which would be a catalyst for national economic recovery. Again, that argument is one that I accept. It follows that the Government have always acknowledged that there would be regional differences in the rate of economic regeneration. They argued that the south of England, including Hampshire--which has for a variety of reasons avoided in general the worst of recession and has a higher level of economic activity than other parts of the country--would act as a catalyst for economic regeneration in other parts of the country. The Government argue that, that is happening, which I also accept.
The Government further argue that despite recession and a lower level of economic activity nationally in their earlier years of office than was desirable, an acceptable level of infrastructure investment, especially in roads, has been maintained. In the 1983 general election campaign, for example, the Government proclaimed a 100 per cent. cash terms increase in local authority capital expenditure on roads compared with 1979. The election campaign
Column 198guide proclaimed a real terms 12 per cent. increase in capital spending on motorways and trunk roads since 1979, and a total real terms increase in roads spending of 17 per cent.
The 1987 campaign guide proclaimed a 30 per cent. real terms increase in capital expenditure on motorways and trunk roads since 1979, and a 30 per cent. increase in Government grant for local authority capital spending on roads. As recently as the last Autumn Statement, the Chancellor declared that infrastructure investment would increase yet further because of continuing economic recovery. He spoke of an extra £220 million being spent on roads in 1989-90 and an extra £250 million in the following year, and proclaimed that £3 billion would be spent on roads within the next three years. If Hampshire could look to a fair share of that increased investment, there would be no need for tonight's debate. Hampshire's experience is diametrically opposed to the broad national figures of which the Government boast. By any criterion Hampshire has been and is a county of growth, whether we measure that growth in terms of population, housebuilding, industrial and commercial development, job creation or the creation of wealth. Arguably it has done more than its fair share--if we can talk in those terms--of generating economic activity from which the rest of the country can benefit. All that has inevitably resulted in increased traffic. It might be reasonable to assume that there has been a corresponding and fully justified increase in the county's infrastructure investment, not least in roads, but the reverse is the case.
My hon. Friend the Minister may recall his answers to my written questions on 2 March--column 292 of Hansard --and 3 March--columns 341 to 343. Hampshire county council has not been over-greedy or over-ambitious in its bids for allocations for capital expenditure on roads. In most years since 1979, at today's prices, it has bid for between £18 million and £20 million. In 10 years it has once exceeded £21 million--again at today's prices--and it has twice bid less than £18 million. There has been a broad consistency in its applications. On the other hand--this is the galling reality--the county is about to enter its sixth successive year of real terms decrease in capital allocation. Allocation for spending on Hampshire's roads reached its height in 1984-85. Allocation in that year, in todays' prices, was £19,200,000. It dropped by 6.4 per cent. in 1985-86, by a further 2.6 per cent. in 1986-87 and by no less than a further 17.1 per cent. in 1987-88. In 1988-89 it fell by a further staggering 24 per cent., and is due to drop by another 6 per cent. in the financial year that is about to start. A capital allocation of more than £19 million at today's prices in 1984-85 will become a capital allocation of £10 million next year. The county has to accept that, despite the economic growth that it has witnessed and the economic activity that it has generated, for six years there has been a continuing decrease in capital expenditure on the county's roads because of central Government restraint.
Meanwhile Hampshire's roads have been used more and more, well above the increase in the national average for traffic, because Hampshire is a success story. The wealth and economic activity of the county is increasing and the traffic is increasing. The national traffic levels have increased by about 25 per cent. on average in the past six years. The figures for Hampshire vary in different parts of the county, but where development and expansion have
Column 199been greatest the rate of increase in the volume of traffic has been phenomenal. The M3 passes through my constituency at Basingstoke where there has been an increase of about 95 per cent. in the past six years.
My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has announced increased investment in roads nationally of £220 million next year and £225 million the following year, reaching £3 billion over three years. Hampshire will not benefit from that next year. Experience leads the county to be extremely cynical about the following years. I shall now make some local observations. All hon. Members representing Hampshire constituencies can recite their own catalogue of concern and disquiet about roads in their constituencies. I shall select just two. The A33 from Reading to Basingstoke is a nightmare, and increasingly a death trap. The road links two of the most industrially and commercially active towns in the country. The volume of traffic multiplies each year. The present road is lamentably and dangerously inadequate. Hampshire county council rightly seeks to construct a new dual-carriageway A33. Restraints on spending mean that nothing can be done for several years. There are between four and six fatalities per year on that road and the fatality rate is increasing. It is possible that between 30 and 50 people will die on that road before Hampshire county council can find the capital to build the new dual carriageway. That is simply monstrous. Another example is the A30, which crosses the Basingstoke ring road or the A339, at what is known as the Black Dam roundabout, east of Basingstoke. My hon. Friend the Minister will recall our past exchanges on that subject. The Department of Transport is the highway authority for that part of Basingstoke's road network. Whatever may emerge from district and county or district or county initiatives, the present situation should never have arisen. There can be few clearer instances of under-investment in the roads of Hampshire than what now happens at what is effectively exit 6 of the M3. The danger factor increases monthly with the volume of traffic. Repairs currently being carried out on the M3 only aggravate an already intolerable situation. Basingstoke district council has an exemplary record of sensible and sustainable growth. Basingstoke has been a magnificent success story. Hampshire county council has much to boast about. In sharp contrast the refusal of the Department of Transport to do anything other than carry out cosmetic improvements speaks for itself.
I somewhat mischievously invite my hon. Friend to find time in his busy schedule one day to get into a car with me, drive down the M4 from London, take exit 11 at Reading down to Basingstoke and travel down the A33, roughly between a quarter to eight and a quarter past eight in the morning. If he accepts that invitation I will arrange for him to be shown a video of what was happening at Black Dam roundabout while we were doing that journey so that he will have personal experience of the traffic in one small part of the county of Hampshire.
Perhaps that is enough of purely Basingstoke concerns. The theme of the debate is further afield than just Basingstoke.
Recently I have been in correspondence with the county surveyor, Mr. A W Jacomb. I want to put firmly on the record my appreciation of his co- operation and kindness,
Column 200and the high regard in which he is held by Hampshire Members of Parliament. The county surveyor has drawn to my attention another bone of contention--the transport supplementary grant criteria. The simple truth is that Hampshire is far from happy with its experience, perception and understanding of the working of the transport supplementary grant. The county argues that the grant works counter to its interests in a number of ways.
First, the county argues that the implementation of the review of the national primary route network has had disadvantageous TSG implications for Hampshire. In the circumstances created by the review of the national primary route network two years ago, the county council formulated a strategy based on the uncompleted spinal system of motorways in the county, a supporting trunk road system and a relatively small number of county roads. The county sought by that strategy to direct long distance traffic on to an appropriate road network. The county specifically sought to avoid the environmentally sensitive parts of the county road system.
The result has been that the county is receiving an unacceptably low allocation for county primary routes. It regards that state of affairs as intolerable. The county believes that the TSG criteria are biased against such a responsible overall county strategy, incorporating not just motorways and trunk roads but that small number of county roads.
Secondly, the county is deeply cynical about the implementation of the principle of more than local importance when seeking capital allocation for county roads. That principle seems in practice to work disadvantageously for Hampshire. Much of the coastline of Hampshire is urbanised. The linking road system forms part of the county primary network. The traffic flow on the road system of the urbanised coast route often far exceeds the flow of traffic on many national primary routes. The county's argument is that those routes should be given particular consideration as links to the national primary network, but that argument has been disregarded by the Department of Transport. The county's experience is that bids for capital allocation for such roads do not obtain TSG support.
Thirdly, the county believes that the TSG criteria insufficiently take into account development within the county, and especially the south Hampshire and the north-east Hampshire structure plans. The Department of the Environment tells the county council that it must foster economic growth, that it must revitalise older urban areas, that it must accommodate new development, that it must conserve the countryside. The county planners seek to do this, but without significant investment by the highway authority, it is impossible--and Government restraints do not permit this expenditure.
I have presented my argument. Because of the growth and development that Hampshire has witnessed, and the consequent increase in the volume of traffic, the county council needs a greater capital allocation for expenditure on roads and a greater transport supplementary grant. The county looks to the Government, and in particular to my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, for a positive response.
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The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on taking another opportunity to raise the subject of roads in Hampshire. As he half indicated, he spends his time as a master of fox hounds with me as the fox. That is perfectly reasonable, of course, since as junior Minister at the Department of Transport I have to do all that I can to improve highways and to help highway users in England to protect the environment. In that respect, there are few areas more important than Hampshire. I must also do all that I can to reduce casualties--about which we have had various debates and questions this parliamentary day--and to allow for economic growth and cope with its consequences.
My hon. Friend acknowledged that infrastructure improvements--the things that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I would refer to as roads, bridges and railway lines--have enabled his part of Hampshire to grow at a rate substantially greater than that of the country as a whole, and to enjoy even the times of recession in Britain.
Indeed, Basingstoke and the areas around it have been showing the way towards a modern Britain. Large numbers of people, large numbers of vehicles, both domestic and commercial, and more movement have led to pressure on the roads in Hampshire and in other parts of the country. I shall pass over the dilemma of whether we should put extra money into the provision of more even economic growth across the country, or whether it is necessary to cope more adequately with those areas where pressure on the roads is greatest. Some areas would love to have the problems that my hon. Friend has described. My hon. Friend and the House will understand if I interleave my remarks about Hampshire with comments about the country as a whole. It is well known to the county surveyor of Hampshire--and, I hope, to county councillors--that capital receipts must be taken into account when deciding how much the 107 highway authorities in England should have for expenditure on roads. I am delighted to be informed that in the last financial year Hampshire county council's spending power from receipts exceeded that of any other county council. I am sure that that is a reflection of good husbandry on the part of the county council, but I am not certain that those who provide information to councillors in Hampshire necessarily put that point at the top of their list. The ability to use capital receipts, or a portion of them, is one of those arcane mysteries that one comes across occasionally when people are making their points in public.
Some elements of the local authority capital control system are changing. The situation in the future may not be so good as I claim--I do not have perfect foresight--but in general the previous system had worse implications for counties than for areas governed by certain other types of authority. Government have been unable to make a total distinction between local authorities with substantial capital receipts, which tend to be the housing authorities, and those such as the highway authorities and the counties which have expensive capital requirements for roads.
My hon. Friend will recognise that for 1989-90 the capital allocations for roads, as for all other services, have been set lower than provision to take account of total local authority receipts across all services, including council housing sales. The spending power of local authorities from capital receipts in 1989-90--which my hon. Friend