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Column 622some nefarious motive for the Government's monetary policy. In this case, he believes that it is primarily designed to manipulate the equity market for our privatisation measures. If that were the case, I for one--although I have long worked in those markets--would not know quite what monetary measures to take to achieve the result that he thought we were seeking.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) asked for an assurance that the new tax rate for life assurance would be linked firmly to the basic rate. That is indeed the intention of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor. I hope that my hon. Friend and the industry will welcome that.
Unfortunately, I missed what I gather was an excellent speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Esher (Mr. Taylor). I understand that he made a compelling case for the use of ESOPs. Before the Budget he played a leading part in advocating measures to encourage that. I shall read his speech with interest, as I did the excellent pamphlets that he produced ahead of the Budget.
Unfortunately, I also missed the speech of the hon. Member for Redcar (Ms. Mowlam), who asked for some statement on the tax position of workplace nurseries.. As I have said, although I did not hear the hon. Lady's speech, I have heard other references to that issue during the Budget debate. It is not always universally recognised that an employer who provides workplace nurseries or the cash for employees to hire child minders can set the money spent for that purpose against his profits for corporation tax purposes and receive full relief against his corporation tax.
The benefit to the individual from such payments or benefits in kind is treated like all benefits in kind. If, together with other income, the total is less than £8,500,. no tax is paid, but for those whose total incomes are over £8,500, benefits in kind, whether they are that sort of benefit or any payments made to help with the purchase of, for example, a season ticket, are taxed, and it is obviously right that they should be treated in the same way as other financial benefits.
I heard part of the speech of the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who raised a catalogue of questions. I shall go through them and write to him in due course. I understand that he asked why the Official Secrets Act does not include the measures that we propose for the Finance Bill to protect the security of information provided by taxpayers to the Revenue Departments. The answer to that is simple. The Official Secrets Act concerns Government information, but we are concerned here with the private information that is provided by taxpayers and we want, above all, to give reassurance to private taxpayers. I believe that that is widely welcomed. The hon. Member for Linlithgow also asked whether there was any hope of getting agreement within the European Community for any alteration in the results that we now know from the ruling of the European Court of Justice on the impact of the abolition of the United Kingdom's zero rates on certain previously zero-rated supplies, notably new construction for charities. Unfortunately, to achieve any change in a directive in the Community, one requires not just a majority of member states to agree with one--not even unanimity among member states, which would be extremely unlikely given the attitude of some member states to the existence of zero rates--but the support, or at least the acquiescence, of the
Column 623Commission. As the Commission brought the case in the first place, it is inconceivable that it will suddenly stand on its head. The hon. Member for Linlithgow asked other questions of a more complex nature, and I shall write to him or ensure that he receives the information.
Mr. Dalyell rose--
Mr. Dalyell : On the question of the World bank and the directions that are given to Mr. Cassell, I have asked Treasury Ministers whether they could not be as open as the Americans on this issue and also at some time to give a Treasury view on the concept of the debt for nature swap. Will the Treasury Ministers consult Sir Kit McMahon about the problems of the major banks in relation to the Brazilian debt?
The debate was opened by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), who was on his best and most pugnacious form. I have always thought of him as one of the best boxers in the shadow Cabinet, but today he was a shadow boxer. He paid an implicit tribute to the Budget by attacking only one measure--a small measure in financial terms--within it. By implication, I may take it that he accepted the rest, albeit with somewhat bad grace. His hon. Friends have tended to be equally resolute about specific Budget measures. They limit themselves to expressing generalised concern about inflation, about savings and about the trade balance. Despite expressing concern about those matters, they condemn the very policies that are essential to curb inflation, to encourage savings and to bring about an improvement in the balance of payments.
The shadow Chancellor, whose absence I regret, yesterday told my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary that he had never been in favour of stoking up credit, that he just wanted to cut interest rates. He had never been in favour of increasing domestic demand, he just wanted to increase public spending. Of course, he is a leading and distinguished advocate and I am sure he comes across that sort of plea all the time from bank robbers, caught red-handed--"Well, I didn't really mean to rob the bank, I was just there to help my friends open the safe." [Interruption.] I see that I have hit the bull's eye on this occasion.
The shadow Chancellor expressed his concern about inflation, but concern from the Opposition about inflation is always synthetic, and concern about an 8 per cent. rate of inflation is positively hypocritical. I looked up the last but one Budget speech of the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) back in 1978, which began with him boasting that they had just got inflation down to single figures--to 9.5 per cent. By his next Budget, of course, it was creeping back into double figures. The Labour Government had one temporary dip whereas we have the occasional blip.
Mr. Lilley : It is about as low as the Labour Government ever got inflation. Their visit into the lower single figures was as fleeting as our upward movement in the single figures will be, because we are determined to give priority--as this Budget shows--to getting inflation back down. It is that feature of the Budget which probably has the greatest support on the Conservative Benches and in the country. The Opposition expressed concern about savings and asked how the Budget would improve the aggregate amount of savings in the economy-- [Interruption.] --and my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford (Mr. Cash) answered them eloquently and excellently.
There is a simple straightforward answer to that question. The Budget increases savings by £14 billion. The £14 billion repayment of debt is equivalent to adding £14 billion to the amount of savings in the economy. That money is available to be borrowed to finance our current investment boom.
It is a strange paradox that the Left in Britain and in the House want the state to do almost everything. They want it to have a monopoly of health care, to be in charge of investment, to do all the research and development, training and education and everything else. Yet from their reaction to the repayment of the public debt it seems that the one thing they do not want the state to do is save. The Government do not intend their revenues to be in permanent surplus. We intend to move gradually back to a position of balance. However, if during that period we can contribute to the overall level of savings in the economy, particularly during a period when private savings are being restored to a more satisfactory level, so much the better.
Before I return to the important macro-economic matters, I want to refer to two specific facets of the Budget which deserve greater attention than they have received. The first is the help that my right hon. Friend chose to give to charities. The Budget has been warmly welcomed in the charity world. The charities' VAT and tax reform group described it as "a significant Budget for charities", and so it is.
Central to that measure was my right hon. Friend's concern to protect charities as far as possible from the adverse consequences of the European Court of Justice's ruling on zero rates, to which the hon. Member for Linlithgow referred. In the first place, it was not necessary for the Commission to bring that case. It was able to do so only because of the Labour Government's assent in 1977 to the directive under which it was brought. Its decision to pursue it is a symptom of its obsessive passion for uniformity throughout the Community. It ignores the fact that different countries have different ways of organising things. We in particular have a well developed and important charity sector, which is not present in many other continental states.
Mr. Lilley : What a petty point. Britain has an important and worthwhile tradition of voluntary activity and voluntary giving, which I am proud of and would not seek to denigrate. [Interruption.] This is not something that we have had to resort to. Britain has a history of prosperity that few other countries have had.
We have endeavoured to interpret the court's ruling in a way as favourable as possible to the charity world, but we are not able to protect the charities' business activities as defined in VAT law. We have been able to ensure that charities' non-business activities are protected and that residential buildings, including hospices, old people's homes and churches are protected, but we have not been able to protect their business activities. Therefore, we have looked for other ways to ensure that charities are helped as much as possible. My right hon. Friend has taken VAT off charities' fund-raising activities. Until now, charities escaped VAT only if they succeeded in keeping the revenue from such events below the registration threshold, which often required a complex sub-division of their activities. My right hon. Friend has also exempted classified advertising, thereby extending an aspect of zero rating that he introduced in a previous Budget. He has extended it also to sterilising equipment. My right hon. Friend also removed VAT from car tax. I refer not to vehicle excise duty, because arrangements for that already exist, but to the tax on the value of cars leased to the disabled, largely through Motability. That involves a large sum of money for each car, and that measure has been warmly welcomed by the disabled.
My right hon. Friend has relaxed rules on covenanting membership of and subscriptions to heritage and conservation charities. He has also improved the payroll giving scheme by doubling the limit to which people are able to donate, tax included, to charities of their choice. That improvement will give a further fillip to that excellent scheme.
All that is a continuation of measures undertaken in a series of Budgets presented both by my right hon. Friend and by his predecessor, my right hon. and learned Friend the present Foreign Secretary. They add up to a formidable list. They include improvements to covenanting and to the ability of companies to make one-off donations, changes affecting value added tax liability, and an enhancement of the payroll giving scheme. Today, I answered a parliamentary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith), asking me to list all the financial measures introduced by the Government to help charities. I warmly commend my reply, which will be published in the Official Report tomorrow, to all my right hon. and hon. Friends, who will find that it serves as a handy reference to all the Government's measures of benefit to charities.
The value of the grants and reliefs that the Government now give the charitable movement is more than £1.5 billion, which in real terms is twice the sum given 10 years ago. Even more important is the fillip to private giving by covenants, the payroll giving scheme, and other means. Above all, there is the series of tax measures that have left people with more of their earnings from which to make donations if they so choose.
It is often said by the Opposition that we encourage selfishness. If that were true, we have failed--because there
Column 626has been a great increase in generosity and in the level of giving in this country. Private giving to charities has more than doubled in real terms during the lifetime of the present Government. That is something that all right hon. and hon. Members must welcome. Another measure that was welcomed in all parts of the House-- possibly even by the Liberal party, grudging though its members may be--is the decision to encourage the use of unleaded petrol. There are three ways of encouraging greater take-up. The first is price. There was already a considerable fiscal differential in favour of purchasing unleaded petrol. We are increasing that differential by a further 4p a gallon, making it the biggest differential in favour of unleaded petrol of any country in the European Community, with the solitary exception of Denmark.
The second is by improving unleaded petrol's availability. Although the number of garages offering unleaded petrol has increased severalfold since the last Budget, they still number only about 5,000, or a quarter of all garages in the country. The number is rising fast. About half of all garages devote storage capacity and pump space to two-star or three-star petrol. Therefore, we made the decision--the Financial Times called it a master stroke--to increase duty a little on two-star and three-star petrol, so that its cost would be much the same as four-star. By encouraging the phasing out of two and three-star petrol--sales of which are fast dying out anyway, to only 6 per cent. of the total--we are encouraging stations to increase availability of unleaded petrol.
The third way of encouraging greater use of unleaded petrol is through greater information. We have already referred to the myths surrounding unleaded petrol. Few people realise that most cars can take unleaded without conversion, or with a simple conversion costing only £15 or £20, and sometimes available free. Motorists who change to unleaded petrol can easily switch back to using four-star leaded petrol if unleaded is unavailable, and there is no difficulty about mixing the two in the tank. I understand that my right hon. friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will in the coming days and weeks step up the information campaign to ensure that these points are widely understood. I am sure that the House will welcome that.
Another important issue which has featured in the debate is the trade balance. The shadow Chancellor said that it was a more important indicator of the success of economic policy than the standard of living. That is a wonderful return to the old mercantilist fallacy. The ultimate end of economic policy is to improve the standard of living of ordinary people. In that respect, we have been immensely successful ; our record completely out -classes that of former Labour Governments. Perhaps that is why the Labour party has to look for other measures of economic success with which to judge us.
The Government believe that, as regards the instruments and measures of economic policy, the main priority should be inflation. The measures necessary to bring about a reduction, and the ultimate elimination, of inflation are precisely those which will, in time, bring about an improvement in the balance of payments. The importance which the Opposition attach to the balance of payments is quite clearly out of line with that of the rest of the world. They are content, willing and anxious to finance the investment boom that lies behind much of the imports to this country and therefore to finance the deficit.
Column 627I noticed the contrast between the words of Opposition Members and those which characterised the foreign financial press corps, whom I met yesterday and who grilled me about every aspect of British economic policy. They concentrated on inflation and every aspect of the Budget ; only at the very end of the evening did one person mention the balance of payments and balance of trade. They have their priorities right, and the Opposition should learn from them. The Opposition made much of one measure in the Budget--one would think it was the only measure--that seemed to rile them beyond belief. That was the measure to encourage private health insurance by the over-60s. As regards the National Health Service, I start from exactly the same standpoint as the hon. Member for Livingston and other Opposition Members. I have always supported the NHS and believe that the rich must pay for the poor and the healthy pay for the care of the sick. It is a privilege for us to do so and a duty from which no one has the right to opt out. However, there is absolutely no reason why, if they wish and can afford to, people should not opt out of burdening the NHS with the costs of their own health care. It is extraordinary that the Opposition seem to resent that, because when people do so they reduce the burden on the NHS and the length of queues. They release beds and resources and make it easier to finance improved health care.
Mr. Lilley : There is a particular case for those who have reached 60 or retirement age. Many of them who have been covered, during their lifetime, by schemes paid for by their employers or by job-related schemes, find when they retire that the cost of health care rises and their ability to pay falls. As a result, the market in provision of health care for the elderly has not been as developed as we would like, and we wish to give it a stimulus--as this measure does.
The Opposition bandy about absurd figures and suggest that attracting additional people into private health care will not save money. That is manifest nonsense. The cost to the Exchequer of every extra person who, as a result of this incentive, takes out private health insurance, is--at most, if he or she is a top rate payer--40 per cent. of the cost of that insurance. The saving to the Health Service is 100 per cent. of the health care that those people no longer require from the NHS. Unless the cost of private health care is 100 over 40--2.5 times--the cost of NHS provision, there is a net saving at the margin from the scheme.
The Budget is commendable on three counts. It demonstrates the improvement of our public finances from a borrowing rquirement of some £25 billion, in today's terms, under the last Goverment to a surplus of £14 billion. It demonstrates the improvement of our economy, which has risen from the bottom of the growth league to the top, where we are still riding high. It has also transformed the politics of this country. The Opposition are now constantly at a loss as to what to do. They know that the
Column 628policies that we have introduced are working, are seen to be working and are welcomed by the country as a whole- -as I believe will this Budget.
Debate adjourned.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Debate to be resumed tomorrow.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.)
That the draft Redundancy Payments (Local Government) (Modification) (Amendment) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 14th February, be approved.
That the draft Pneumoconiosis etc. (Workers Compensation) (Payment of Claims) (Amendment) Regulations 1989, which were laid before this House on 16th February, be approved.
That the draft Evidence in Divorce Actions (Scotland) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 22nd February, be approved.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Question agreed to.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : I wish to present a petition on behalf of 7,000 people from the county of Humberside. The petition was organised by Mrs. Jane Day of 8, John Harrison close, Barrow on Humber. Mrs. Day is a constituent of mine. She obtained the 7,000 signatures over the course of the last few months from shopping precincts in Grimsby, Scunthorpe, Winterton, Brigg and Barton. The petition was inspired as a result of a tragic case in my constituency some time ago in which a six-month-old baby girl was raped and left blind and mentally handicapped, and by an Old Bailey case of parents who starved to death a 10 -month-old baby boy. The petition reads as follows :
The humble petition of the people of the county of Humberside sheweth that
Sentences for child abuse, in all forms sexual, physical and mental, are too lenient. The Petitioners look to the Government to protect all children, through legislation.
Wherefore your Petitioners pray that your Honourable House :-- Ensure, through legislation, that laws are enacted to protect all children ;
Implement a clearly defined deterrent against child cruelty and abuse ;
Ensure, through legislation, that the deterrent serve its purpose ;
Ensure, through legislation, that funding meets the ever-increasing demands on those working to protect children and those detecting abuse and cruelty in children.
And your Petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray etc. To lie upon the Table.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : This is a very sad but important parliamentary occasion and one that is shamefully overdue. It is the first time that the House has been able specifically to discuss the deeply grievous accident to the British Airtours Boeing 737 at Manchester airport on 22 August 1985, in which 55 people died and many others were severely injured when their holiday jet burst into flames on the runway.
The accident happened when the House was in recess, so there was no ministerial statement ; no oral questioning of the Secretary of State by Members with constituents who were killed or hospitalised ; no parliamentary tributes to emergency services which are among the finest in this country ; and no opportunity for the House to express the condolences and sympathy which customarily go to the bereaved and those injured in major accidents.
That being so, right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House expected an oral statement by the Secretary of State when his air accidents investigation branch finally reported on the Manchester accident on Monday this week. It was then more than three and a half years after a major accident about which there had never been a ministerial statement, but the right hon. Gentleman did not make a statement. In fact, he had already made it clear in a letter to me that he would be doing no more on the day of publication than place some copies of the report in the Library.
The Secretary of State's decision to release the report without comment is widely resented, not least among the bereaved and injured. There is also deep and widespread resentment about the Civil Aviation Authority's decision to pre-empt the report's publication, at 1 pm last Monday, by staging a press conference about it at 12 noon on that day. The CAA acted in total contempt of Parliament last Monday ; it also gave further offence to the bereaved and injured, many of whom heard the CAA's self-justifying comments in broadcasts before seeing the report.
I am sure that the Minister for Roads and Traffic, who is to reply to this debate, will know that the report did not reach hon. Members until after the CAA's press conference and that he will understand the resentment that has been caused.
As the right hon. Member in whose constituency the accident occurred, I did not receive the report until 2.30 pm last Monday. It came with a note from Lord Brabazon, the Minister for Civil Aviation, informing me that its publication was timed for 1 pm and that the report was strictly embargoed until then. Yet I had been approached before 1 pm by journalists who already had the report and the CAA's comments.
The CAA's tactics are now seen as a shabby exercise in news management which made worse the Secretary of State's decision to publish the report on 13 March, the day before the Budget, when the media's attention was certain to be heavily concentrated on the Chancellor's options the following day. Many people feel that the choice of publication date was a calculated attempt to bury the report--a document of very considerable importance for the travelling public--with grossly indecent haste.
Column 630This debate is about making sure that the report is not buried and that, in keeping with the campaign mounted by those who were bereaved and injured in the Manchester accident, its lessons are fully learned and quickly acted upon.
In an important and moving letter from William Beckett, the co-chairman of the campaign, whose 18-year-old daughter died in the accident, he told me of their
"total lack of confidence in the CAA"
and of their determination to ensure that the report is used to secure radical and wide-ranging improvements in passenger safety. In the Secretary of State's recent letter to me, before publication, he wrote in high praise of the report ; but ultimately any such document can only be as good as those charged with the task of giving its recommendations effect. By that test, the prospects for the report of the Manchester accident are not at all good.
The CAA, with its responsibility for aviation safety, claimed at its press conference last Monday
"to have moved quickly to improve safety standards since the Manchester accident."
Yet Tony Parry, Greater Manchester's chief fire officer, whom I hold in high regard, says that if the same accident had happened today the same number of people would have died. That is biting criticism of the self- congratulatory news release put out by the CAA last Monday, and from a very senior and respected fire officer. For their part, the survivors and relatives of those who died in the accident have reacted even more sharply. They said, after publication of the report, that they will
"take legal action against the CAA unless it instigates safety regulations urged by the Department of Transport within six months." Moreover, they feel strongly that the Secretary of State must now himself offer some leadership if improvements in passenger safety are to be secured, and they want to hear an assurance in this debate that he accepts his responsibilities.
Urgency is now demanded for compulsory replacement rather than repair of cracked combustor cans, for removal of passenger seats blocking emergency exits, for action on the report's recommendations about water sprinkler systems, for the mandatory introduction of smoke hoods and, among other safety measures, for widening the aisle between the two forward galleys/bulkheads. The Secretary of State must have a view on these important matters and he has a duty to the travelling public to make it known in this debate.
In regard to smoke hoods and water sprinkler systems, the right hon. Gentleman will know of the important recent announcement made by British Airways. I welcome its important initiative in supporting work on a cabin sprinkler system and in calling for tenders for the supply of smoke hoods to its passengers. In this regard, I ask the Minister to comment tonight on the fact that, although the Civil Aviation Authority was kept abreast of the progress of the AAIB's findings in investigating the Manchester accident, it was more than two and a half years after the accident before a specification for passenger smoke hoods was issued. Many people find such dilatoriness on so crucial an issue beyond comprehension when there is clear evidence that 45 of the 55 lives that were lost in the accident could have been saved by the use of smoke hoods.
Smoke hoods are already provided for crew members and there is now the possibility that, with an in-flight fire,
Column 631an aircraft could land with the crew alive and the passengers dead. I am told--the Minister will perhaps be able to confirm--that members of the CAA and of the AAIB routinely carry smoke hoods themselves. In any case, if there were to be a further accident in which it could be shown that passengers had died as a result of the inhalation of toxic fumes, the CAA could be legally liable for breach of statutory duty, namely, failing to fulfil the general objectives set out in section 4(1)(b) of the Civil Aviation Act 1982. It is not, however, action after another tragic happening that any of us wants to see, but the prevention of further tragedies by applying the lessons already learned at such very high cost in human life.
There is, of course, an overriding need to vouchsafe rapid evacuation from an aircraft that is on fire but, as the report shows, other important requirements must be met if lives are not to be lost preventably. While it should be possible to equip new aircraft with sprinkler systems for fire suppression, I understand that there would be very real difficulties in requiring operators to retrofit such systems. Their provision is thus a longer-term aim and, even when it has been secured, smoke hoods will still be required as part of a "twin strategy". To make them available is an urgent necessity, as is limitation of the number of seats, improving egress from aircraft and a strict insistence on elevating passenger safety above profit in our approach to all the problems and prescriptions dealt with in the AAIB's report.
The Minister will know that many news editors, much to their credit, were more than a match for the news managers when the AAIB's report finally saw the light of day last Monday in that they gave very wide coverage to the reaction of Greater Manchester's chief fire officer and to the views of the bereaved families and survivors of the accident, among other critics of the CAA's serene self-satisfaction. The AAIB's in-depth study of survivability was given due praise but the Minister will know that many parts of the media are strongly critical of the delay until more than three and a half years after the accident in publishing the report. I questioned the Secretary of State about the delay on 10 January--as reported in Hansard, column 691--and he replied with an expression of "considerable sympathy" for my criticism. I hope we shall hear more tonight about why it took so long to publish the report.
There are some who seem to know more about this than has been reported to this House. Listen, for example, to The Times leader of 14 March :
"The exceptional delay in bringing out the report is not explained entirely by the comprehensiveness of the investigation that ensued. It resulted also from objections to an earlier draft of the report by some of the interested parties in the United States. There is cause for concern here."
We need to know, before this debate concludes, how the Secretary of State responds to that concern.
The Times leader went on to say that such exceptional delay, even if not deliberate prevarication, may have put at a disadvantage some of those who were negotiating for compensation, and it proceeded : "The findings of such inquiries should be in the public domain as early as possible, for obvious reasons, and it may be that the remedy is to make sure they have the necessary legal privilege. Let there be a second report registering objections and conceding or answering them ; the public interest is not served by the sort of time-lag that has occurred in this case."
Column 632Again, the Manchester Evening News, in a strongly worded leader on the same day, entitled "Far too little, far too late", argued for much more openness in investigating aviation accidents : "We remain convinced there should have been a full public inquiry into the runway fire. The Clapham rail disaster in December claimed 20 fewer lives yet a public inquiry was immediately promised with a pledge that it would publish its findings rapidly. Why should that be?" The Secretary of State must accept that there is very widespread concern about the issues raised by the Manchester accident and the way in which they have been dealt with since August 1985. I make no apologies for having referred so frequently tonight to the reactions of the bereaved families and those who were injured in the accident. They have a prescriptive right to be heard by the House--I am sending the Secretary of State a full statement of their recommendations on the way forward--and it is quite shocking that they were still awaiting copies of the AAIB's report while the CAA was holding its press conference in the Connaught rooms last Monday. They feel bitter, as John Beardmore, a survivor who was in intensive care after the accident, made clear last Monday afternoon. Talking of the CAA, he said :
"They let us down once by certificating that aircraft as safe when it was a death trap. Now they have let us down again by not taking enough action to improve safety in the most important
matters--smokehoods and exits."
That is the authentic voice of those who have taken the closest interest in developments since the Manchester accident happened. They have strong public backing for their demand for higher standards of aviation safety. To give just one example, of which I was reminded today by Dr. James Vant, who has done so much to advance the cause of passenger safety, 18,081, or 97 per cent., of 18,666 people questioned in a recent attitude survey said it should be mandatory for airlines to provide smokehoods for passengers.
The accident at Manchester airport was an unusual one, but its lessons are widely applicable. If they are fully heeded, more lives will be saved and fewer people will be scarred by preventable injury. We must never again allow passengers to die on board a stationary aircraft after an engine fire on take-off as they did in Manchester on 22 August 1985.
The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Peter Bottomley) : The whole House wants transport safety to be maintained and improved. The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) has made the point that the Manchester accident was an unusual accident followed by an unusual number of deaths. He will accept that, if much can be learned from the investigation following that tragic accident, people who fly throughout the world will benefit.
I reject completely any suggestion which people may infer from what the right hon. Gentleman said that either the air accidents investigation branch of the Department of Transport or the Civil Aviation Authority had turned their back on things that were obvious. I can illustrate that point by saying that if other countries had smoke hoods that would meet people's needs and could be put on easily and without delay when getting out of an aeroplane, they would be more common elsewhere. We ought to learn from the expert investigation and see how far forward we can go on the 31 recommendations.
Column 633Although the Civil Aviation Authority can speak for itself, I must reject some of the chronology to which the right hon. Gentleman referred. I do not question his motives or his sincerity. He has demonstrated in the House and outside a very keen interest in achieving the maximum possible aviation safety. Both I and the Secretary of State for Transport join him in that aim. He says that inquiries should be in public. I believe that it is far more important that the public should have the assurance that experts have done the investigation, and that the report should be published. I do not believe that strong accusations should be made in public as the experts go through the investigation. The primary cause of the Manchester air disaster was quickly identified.
The right hon. Gentleman has asked me what was the Civil Aviation Authority's response to recommendation 4.8 :
"direct fusion weld repair of circumferential cracks in the JT8D engines combustor cans should be deleted from all approved engine overhaul manuals."
The CAA has accepted that recommendation and has issued an airworthiness directive. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will accept that the CAA has responded to the recommendations. The CAA press conference, to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, began with a review of fire research, specifically without direct reference to the report. Reference to the report was made only after the publication time. I hope that those listening to this debate will recognise and accept that.
The publication date was the earliest possible, as determined by the chief inspector. It might be inferred from the right hon. Gentleman's remarks that the Department of Transport was trying to smother publication of the report or that there was prevarication. The Times leader applied that description to me on a different day. I reject it for myself, as well as for the Department, over this report. Prevarication, at its gentlest, means "to walk unsteadily", which is an accusation that I hope no one would make of me, certainly during Lent. It can also mean to "deliberately try to mislead". In matters of aviation safety, as in other aspects of transport safety on the road and at sea, the Department of Transport has no interest and no record of misleading people. We have a greater interest in enhancing and maintaining safety than any other group of people in this country. The Secretary of State and I and our colleagues, as well as our predecessors and successors at the Department, carry the burden of attending incidents such as the M1 crash at Kegworth, and we watch the emergency services at work. We were the people who were called to the King's Cross tube disaster. I mention just two incidents that I have attended and leave aside the representative samples of the 5,000 deaths on the road each year. Any suggestion that we do not care or that we shall not do everything that we can to improve safety is wrong.
I shall not take up other remarks made by the right hon. Gentleman about quotations from others, as I suspect that those remarks were made before the CAA stated its position on the recommendations in the air accident investigation branch's report.
Towards the end of his remarks, the right hon. Gentleman asked why people whose reputations may be affected must be provided with an opportunity to