Previous Section Home Page

Column 245

Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr) : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I apologise for intervening on a point of order so early in the debate, but I would like you to clarify a ruling, if possible. Under the Standing Orders of the House, would it be appropriate for any Member speaking in the debate who has enjoyed free tickets and free hospitality at the annual super prix to declare that? That is a common practice and any interest on the part of those speaking for and against the proposals tonight should be placed on record.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : That is a matter for individual Members, but I am sure that those who have an interest to declare will make it clear to the House in the normal way. Before we begin the debate, I refer the House to the fact that Mr. Speaker has selected the instruction, which may be referred to on Second Reading.

7.26 pm

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

In deference to the request of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), my family and I have been frequent attenders of the super prix. Indeed, I was a competitor at the first super prix event and, until last year, I could say with some honesty that I was the fastest Birmingham resident to travel the streets of that city. In the first race, I exceeded 100 mph. This year I have been superseded by another Birmingham resident who went a great deal faster than that in a race. I hope that I have satisfied the hon. Member for Perry Barr that I have experienced the super prix, and am delighted to have done so.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the expenditure on free tickets and hospitality at the road race is large and a matter of controversy. Will he estimate the quantity and value of the free hospitality and tickets provided to him and his family?

Mr. Roger King : I cannot exactly recall the price of the tickets, so I cannot provide that information. Children under 14 are not charged anyway, and the number of nibbles that they had in the so-called hospitality tent was very modest. So were my own tastes, I may add : as I recall, I was actually locked out of the tent one year because it was too crowded.

Mr. Iain Mills (Meriden) : Can my hon. Friend confirm to one who also enjoyed that hospitality that there were more members of the Labour party than Conservatives in the tent, and that more had free tickets?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend has raised an interesting point. As I remember, at the first event we were graced, if that is the right expression, by none other than Mr. Derek Hatton, who had come to see how Birmingham got on with running such an event. I do not know whether it had any effect on what he has been doing since then. The event attracted considerable civic attendance from further afield, and I was aware of the presence of a large number of Labour councillors and others enjoying the limited hospitality that was available.

Column 246

Mr. Denis Howell (Birmingham, Small Heath) : Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. King : I am only two lines into my speech, but yes, I will.

Mr. Howell : I hope that the debate develops on a rather higher plane. But in answer to a question that Opposition Members are asking-- whether Mr. Denis Thatcher tended to receive such hospitality--he attended as a director of Halfords, the main sponsor of the event, and put a considerable amount of money into it. I hope that we shall hear no more of such pettiness.

Mr. King : I quite agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I think that we should now move on to discuss the main elements of the Bill. Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) rose --

Mr. King : I shall give way, but I hope that this will be the last intervention.

Mr. Pike : As a Member with no direct involvement, who wants to find out whether the Bill is in the interests of Birmingham and its residents, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be somewhat concerned that Halfords has written to all Members with Halfords superstores in their constituencies urging them to support the Bill. Does he think that the Bill is more important to Halfords than to the people of Birmingham?

Mr. King : That is another interesting point. The element of sponsorship has been one of the major assets of the super prix, which attracts more sponsorship than any other motor race in the United Kingdom except the formula 1 grand prix meeting at Silverstone. As a result of paying large sums in sponsorship, Halfords benefits considerably from media coverage of the super prix, and I think that it is entitled to put its view across.

With its superstore concept the company has expanded dramatically, bringing thousands of badly needed jobs to inner-city areas, redeveloping rundown areas into new and attractive one-stop shopping for the motorist and providing car servicing at an economic price. I think that Halfords has something worth shouting about, and that it is entitled to write to Members saying how important the super prix is in highlighting its services and products.

How fitting it is that, on the day on which Toyota has announced its massive £700 million investment in the midlands, we should debate a subject that centres on the motor car. While to some motor racing is a rich man's pastime, to the motor industry it is still a focal point of engineering activity and a window to the world for our national prowess in automotive technology. What better place to celebrate that expertise than the centre of our country, in the streets of Birmingham--a city that still depends so much on the motor car and its future?

Having gone through difficulties in the recent past, our motor industry is now stronger than it has been for many years, providing good-quality products--not just cars and other commercial vehicles, but components. Racegoers will see very few foreign-built single-seater racing cars on our world tracks. No French, German, Italian or even Japanese cars are entirely built by those countries. It is Britain chassis design and engine technology that so often lead the way in motor racing.

It is worth pointing out that at Indianapolis, where one of the oldest motor races in the world takes place, the vast

Column 247

majority of cars that come to the start grid are British-designed and British-built. I do not think that we shout loud enough about that. [Interruption.] I said that most cars to be seen in a race were British. Toyota uses a British chassis, British engineering, British road-holding equipment and British components. The engine at the back is a Toyota unit, yes, but British engineers have tuned it up. In the type of motor racing that takes place in Birmingham--the super prix and international formula 3000 racing--we are pre-eminent in providing the competitive products that teams from throughout the world use during a season.

The background to the Birmingham super prix is well documented. We had a Second Reading debate about it on 1 April 1985, and it was admirably promoted by Sir Reginald Eyre, whom the House now misses. He delivered a cogent, sensible and enthusiastic speech on why Birmingham should capitalise on the opportunities to stage a motor race in its city environment. He could only do so, however, because the local authority had decided, by a significant majority, to promote a Bill to allow that motor race to be held. The Bill enjoyed all-party support. Strangely, a Labour administration on the city council was keenest to promote a motor race in the city.

This Bill has also received substantial support from the city council : 75 members were in favour of it, and of the 16 who were not, six abstained. It can be said, I think, that the Bill comes to the House from the people of Birmingham, whose elected representatives have debated at great length whether to seek a further Bill to allow us to run the motor race that we want.

Mr. Rooker : May I make a small point? Birmingham city council has 117 members. Where were the other 20? What list are they on?

Mr. King : I am only quoting the figures that I have here. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will be able to guide me. I suppose that those people, for one reason or another, were not present to cast their vote. The number 20 rings a slight bell : I recall that there is a militant section within the ruling party in the town hall with a name similar to "the Grosvenor group", whose members do not agree with anything that the council is doing. They are now contesting the leadership. Because their attitude is always derogatory and they are always seeking to disrupt their own party, presumably they stayed away that day.

I think that we would all agree, however, that the fact that a Member is not in the House of Commons to cast his vote does not imply that he is either for or against the motion. We always decide questions on the basis of the votes of Members who vote when the opportunity is there. Nevertheless, it is not all that difficult to go to the town hall to cast a vote, and I see no reason why those people should not have gone. I can only imagine that their absenteeism--if that is what it was--meant that they did not feel able to support the measure.

Ms. Short : The group that the hon. Gentleman has just misdescribed came together over the issue of whether Martineau house, a home providing holidays for disabled children in our city, should be closed. Will the hon. Gentleman give us his view on whether the home should have been closed?

Mr. King : I shall not be led up that road. The Conservative view was that that house should not have

Column 248

been closed. The hon. Lady's point is utterly irrelevant to the debate. I have no intention of being steered away from the main topic of the debate, the super prix.

In1985, Birmingham city council was given the power to run motor racing through the city centre. The intentions of the city council were stated in the preamble to the Birmingham City Council Act 1985, which states :

"The city is a major commercial and industrial centre and with a view to promoting the city, encouraging tourism and attracting business it is expedient that the council is authorised to provide or arrange for the provision of motor races on certain streets in the city".

That preamble places the motor race, which became known as the Birmingham super prix, within an overall economic development strategy.

The recession in the 1970s and early 1980s which severely affected Birmingham's traditional manufacturing base and resulted in record levels of unemployment, focused attention on the need for the city to diversify into service-sector employment. The tremendous success of the national exhibition centre in attracting new wealth and new employment led the way. The economic benefit of visitors and their spending power in leisure and business tourism was recognised as a significant vehicle for creating labour-intensive industry in hotels, leisure and associated trades.

Hon. Members from all sides of the House will probably pay tribute to the way in which the city has revitalised Birmingham, which in the past few years has developed from an area of despondency and decline which some felt was irreversible. Thanks to the determination of all its elected representatives and the people of Birmingham, the city has proved that it can find a new path to prosperity and new opportunities by concentrating and targeting on new avenues of commercial enterprise, not on the bedrock of manufacturing but on a new tourist centre.

Dr. John G. Blackburn (Dudley, West) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the House should welcome the proposal by the Labour administration in Birmingham to produce the Bill, because it benefits not only the motor industry but the entire west midlands? I represent Dudley, and many components are manufactured in my constituency. The components industry is dependent on the promotion of the motor car and the motor industry. Does he agree that that is an important factor?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend is quite correct, but the impact of the motor race has far wider implications than the immediate environment of our constituencies and affects the whole region. When such an event is promoted by the media and on television, the region benefits. A great city such as Birmingham, with nearly 1 million people, can embark on promotions on a scale which places such as Dudley would have to contemplate extremely carefully. Dudley does not have the the facilities or the ability to promote such an event ; nevertheless, Dudley will gain from Birmingham being the vital, throbbing heart of the region's strong economic activity. A series of ambitious and imaginative schemes were devised by the city council to stimulate leisure and business tourism. On the sporting front, a major athletics stadium, the Alexander stadium, was constructed to international specification, capable of hosting major events such as the European junior championships, international meetings, and the Women's Amateur Athletics Association/

Column 249

Amateur Athletics Association national championships and Olympic qualifying meetings. The national indoor sports arena is soon to be built in the city centre. Those who have seen the architects' drawings know that that will be a tremendous asset for Birmingham and for the region. The national exhibition centre, which is being extended, hosts major sporting events such as the European figure skating championships in January 1989.

The development of sport as a people attraction resulted in Birmingham's ambitious bid to host the 1992 Olympic games. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) who is present today and who so ably led our delegation all over the world. As the years go by, we appreciate the great ambassadorial work that he did. Its effects are still being felt, because it focused world attention on Birmingham's ability to do things, to think big and to act big. If a great city such as Birmingham does not have confidence in itself, how can it show confidence in its people and promote the future we want for our citizens?

On the cultural level, the city council has invested heavily in its theatres, the city of Birmingham symphony orchestra and new festivals for jazz, film, readers and writers. It has recently agreed to relocate Sadler's Wells--a major achievement. We are not simply debating vroom, vroom for Brum, Brum and the promotion of a motor race, but promoting the city for cultural reasons, not only for sport and excitement. I was delighted when the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) tabled an early-day motion which was signed by most hon. Members representing Birmingham constituencies, welcoming the Sadler's Wells ballet to the city at some cost to the ratepayers, but I did not notice anyone demurring from that, because investment in such activities can only benefit our city and it is right and proper that a limited amount of promotional, recreational and cultural activity should take place.

On the business tourism front, a major new international convention centre is being constructed in the city centre, transforming a rundown area into a major development alongside the national indoor arena--an extensive leisure development opposite the new Hyatt hotel presently being constructed.

Some of my hon. Friends will wish to talk about the extent of the advances in tourism in the city. Birmingham is now the fifth most visited British city. That is a great achievement. It has not been instant, but it has developed because we are providing those facilities. About 40 hotels are currently being planned, built or opened as a result of the major new initiative in developing the city.

Ms. Short : The international convention centre and the highly subsidised Hyatt hotel are in my consituency. The development borders on an extremely rundown estate which has had no work done on it for years and has no community facilities and has more than 30 per cent. unemployment. The problem is that all those subsidies to the private sector are failing to bring resources to people in need in Birmingham.

Mr. King : The hon. Lady has answered her own problem. The national conference centre, the indoor sports arena, the Hyatt hotel and other developments currently under way are providing or will provide thousands of jobs

Column 250

for people in the immediate environment. That is the crux of the issue. Those places will have to be manned, maintained and run, and there is no reason why the hon. Lady's constituents should not find work. I admit that there are problems in the inner city, but they will be solved not simply be doling out money on a weekly basis, but by providing the infrastructure from the commercial sector wherever possible with help from the local authority to create jobs and provide opportunities for those people. I believe that the city council has been successful in providing that.

The Birmingham super prix has been part of the economic strategy. It is a high-profile, ambitious statement of intent that Birmingham is changing, married to the traditional engineering and organisational skills of the city. The Birmingham super prix has proved particularly successful in fulfilling the requirements set by the promoters of the Bill a few years ago.

Within those three years, the super prix has become established as a national event, as well as a sporting occasion. The organisers have created a festival that appeals to a family audience and one has only to visit it, as some of my hon. Friends have, to see that. I would have found it difficult to comment on the running of such an event had I not been there to see for myself what it means to the population in the surrounding area and to the economy of the city. Not only are there two days of motor racing, but the city comes to life, with street theatre and circus. Because the community has something to do in an area where it has been denied it for so long, criminal activity usually registers an all-time low. We are not surprised that, when the event takes place, there are few problems of violence and theft or the other traditional problems we associate with an inner-city environment.

The event has quickly developed and achieved high profile media coverage with live television and national news attention promoting the city of Birmingham. It has drawn a crowd the majority of whom come from outside Birmingham. At last year's event, market research showed that on Monday, 23 per cent. came from Birmingham, 29 per cent. from the midlands and 48 per cent. from the rest of the country. If we were trying to attract inward investment into the city, we could not have a better means than the super prix, because half the people watching it come from well outside the midlands. They are taking back home the visual impact of a city that is alive and dynamic, and in which investment is not misplaced.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : Can my hon. Friend confirm that many of the hospitality suites situated around the super prix circuit are taken by companies from all over the United Kingdom with national and international connections and that they bring to Birmingham many business people who gain the impression that my hon. Friend has put forward so eloquently this evening?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend is right. He has visited the super prix and he said to me how envious he was that the city had been able to have such an event established. As the years go by and the event matures, it becomes increasingly self-perpetuating because of investment by many of the companies and organisations that relish the prospect of having a hospitality suite at a motor race meeting where, if it were not for the fencing, it would be almost possible to reach out and touch the cars. The cars are not right over

Column 251

the other side of an airfield circuit, but are passing by the side of the spectators. That gives a unique dimension to an exciting sport.

There is high national public awareness of the event. An opinion poll conducted outside the midlands showed that 47 per cent. of those asked recognised Birmingham as the home of city centre motor racing. In the short space of three years, we have got the message home to the people who have visited the city that we are the capital of inner-city motor racing.

The event has brought direct economic benefits to the tourist industry. A survey of local hotels showed an increase of 110 per cent. in hotel occupancy and in terms of visitor expenditure, that represents about £500,000. Day visitors account for at least as much. The direct spending by the city council on the event represents more than £750,000 spent locally. Those figures are indicative of the cash injection in the local economy.

The city centre shops, which now open on the bank holiday, are well satisfied with the business generated by the motor race. In the first year of the event we had a problem. Many of the shopkeepers felt that the event would not bring them much custom because everybody would be watching the motor race. By a process of coaxing, they have gradually opened up their shops. We now find that, while the menfolk are watching the motor race, the ladies are shopping. That is an admirable development and a splendid opportunity for the city to offer a family day out, which one cannot enjoy at Silverstone or Brands Hatch. It is a major plus point.

It is important for the life of the city centre that its shops can compete over bank holidays with the attraction of the out-of-town shopping centres, and the motor race has enabled them to do that. We often hear about out-of- town planning developments, so to have an event that brings people into the city centre at a time when it would normally be deserted is significant in providing a living, dynamic and vibrant city centre.

The Birmingham super prix is now the second most prestigious motor race in the United Kingdom. It is the most prestigious round of the international formula 3000 championship and enables many teams of drivers to attract the sponsorship necessary to compete in the championship. The crowd is second in size only to the British grand prix and is the largest of any round of the international formula 3000 championship.

The Birmingham super prix has gone a long way to meeting the objectives of those who first envisaged the event almost 20 years ago, but just in case anyone feels that all I am reporting is a business bonanza, I must reveal that that learned organ of the capitalist press Marxism Today enthused about the race, considering it a Socialist achievement which has taken motor racing to the masses. With that endorsement, who can go wrong?

There are some constraints on the event which require legislative change, which is why we are here this evening. I shall now deal with some of the changes that the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill seeks to bring about, so that we can continue to develop successfully this major attraction. The Birmingham City Council Act 1985 conferred on the city powers to run motor racing, but within certain constraints. The experience of having held the event for three years has resulted in the city council needing amendments to legislation to enable the city to overcome technical problems, to enhance the event and to reduce costs.

Column 252

The Bill seeks to amend the 1985 Act in a number of ways. Firstly, it seeks to extend the number of days and to have more flexibility of dates to enable the super prix to continue. At present, it is confined to taking place on the Sunday and Monday on one of the two May bank holiday weekends or the August bank holiday weekend. It has been held over the August bank holiday weekend for the past three years and will be held again this year at that time. It is now proposed to extend the number of days available from two to four and to allow flexibility of dates so that the event can end on a Sunday or a bank holiday Monday in May, June, July, August or September. There are powerful reasons for that. The formula 3000 international championship round held in Birmingham now requires three days, which is an international ruling outside the control of the city. We are fortunate in having a waiver for this year so that we can hold the race over two days, but that waiver will not continue, so we must extend the time in which the race can be held. Birmingham is granted a waiver through the international motor sport authority, FISA, to enable the event to run for two days.

Birmingham city council needs to protect the international stature of the event, as it has a track record of promoting the event over the past three years in a way that is attractive to the media, to the sponsors and to the spectators. The city wants especially to guarantee television coverage. Without the formula 3000 prestigious international race, which is only one step down from grand prix racing proper, the whole event would be in jeopardy. Birmingham city council therefore needs an extension to three days.

Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : The hon. Gentleman has made an argument for extension from two to three days, but has not yet spoken about a fourth day. As I understand it, the only circumstances in which the city council would require the powers for a fourth day would be if a grand prix were offered and the city council was prepared to fork out £1 million for the privilege of staging it.

Mr. King : I was coming on to that important point in a moment. Secondly, Birmingham city council believes that it has proved the super prix to be a major motor racing event. We should now be in a position to promote the most prestigious motor racing event, a grand prix, should one be offered. That would require four days. The city council wants to welcome back all the drivers now in grand prix racing who have driven at the Birmingham circuit over the past three years. Many drivers in formula 3000 go on to formula 1 racing, which is more prestigious. It is recognised that there is intense competition throughout the world for grand prix racing and that unless Birmingham city council is capable--I stress that word--of offering four days to the international motor sport authorities, it will never be offered a grand prix.

Thirdly, the difficulty is that, should the city be offered a grand prix, it could well fall on dates that are not at present available for it. In answer to what the hon. Member for Erdington said, it is not the city council's intention actively to obtain a formula 1 grand prix. In any case, they are difficult to get. However, there may come a time when there will be the opportunity to stage such a prestigious event.

Column 253

There is no doubt that a formula 1 grand prix meeting requires an outlay of about £1 million and, as the hon. Member for Erdington said, it will have to be debated by the local council at some considerable length. Indeed, it is only right and proper that the council should do so. However, in no way does this change in the legislation bring nearer the holding of a formula 1 meeting. Ultimately, it will be the city council that will have to debate the merits of investing that sort of money if the opportunity occurs, but frankly, I cannot see that happening for many years.

The plus side is that £1 million up front, if one can use that expression, stands a chance of earning a city such as Birmingham many more millions of pounds in income from the teams and from the enormous extra number of people who will come to the city during the three or four days that the circuit is available for use for practice or for the main event.

Mr. Rooker : Does the hon. Gentleman not appreciate that, in laying the foundations for such an event in the way that he has just explained, the city council would be required to overturn completely its stated policy from day one--a policy that is currently maintained--of not allowing cigarette advertising on the circuit? One cannot have formula 1 grand prix and keep that policy. Does the hon. Gentleman envisage that we should bring the merchants of death on to the streets of Birmingham? Is that what is in the minds of the promoters? Many consequences would flow from such a decision and would overturn existing commitments and promises that were given and received in good faith.

Mr. King : I know that that point concerns the hon. Gentleman, because it concerned him in relation to the original Bill in 1985. If my memory serves me correctly, such a situation has occurred before in formula 1 racing. Certain cars with cigarette advertising on them have had to have that advertising blanked over during meetings in a particular country. In any case, the criticism that the hon. Gentleman has rightly pointed out would be a matter for debate by the local authority, which may well decide that such an event is not for them because of the restrictions that may be placed on it by the Formula 1 Contractors' Association, which at some stage may say, "No, we are not going to abide by any cover-up of cigarette advertising." As it is, I believe that only two teams, Camel Lotus and McClaren, are closely identified with cigarette advertising and use colours that are associated with popular cigarettes. That is a tenuous connection, and as far as I know no overt publicity or promotion is given to the event in that way

Mr. Rooker : But smoking kills people.

Mr. King : I stress that, if the opportunity of a formula 1 race meeting is offered to the city, it will be the subject of most intense debate and the point raised by the hon. Gentleman will no doubt be discussed by the local authority.

Mr. Rooker : I am sorry, but I shall have to press this, because the hon. Gentleman has failed to meet the point. One of the reasons that this House, in its wisdom, gave Birmingham approval for the 1985 Act--we all agreed with it when it finally went through for reasons that I shall

Column 254

explain later--was the commitment that was given, but that commitment is not written into the Act. If the city council wishes to overturn its policy on tobacco, it does not have to come back to the House. Given the fact that the biggest cause of death in this country is coronary heart disease and that the biggest single independent factor involved in those 3,000 deaths per week is smoking, I should be even more opposed to all this than I was before. However, as a Member of Parliament, I would be prevented from raising the matter, because the event will have been sub-contracted to the local authority.

Mr. King : I have no doubt that, if the opportunity arose to stage a formula 1 meeting--it is a slender one--the hon. Gentleman would have the opportunity to press his point.

If the city council wishes to offer amendments to what it has formerly agreed--as the hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, that commitment is not included in the Act--it is for the city council to try to persuade the hon. Gentleman that there will be adequate safeguards. If a formula 1 race meeting is agreed by the city council, I imagine that it will be agreed on certain conditions with the Formula 1 Contractors Association. If people agreed that cigarette advertising was anathema to the local authority--to be fair to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) I must confess that I would support that view--the contractors would be required to remove such advertising from their cars.

There is nothing new here. The issue will be considered on its merits and I have no difficulty in saying that the local authority and its Members of Parliament--presumably we shall all be consulted--will have an opportunity to make our voices known.

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) : The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that, when the previous Act was introduced in the House in 1985, objections to tobacco advertising were raised by myself and my hon. Friends. I was given a written assurance by a senior member of the council- -

Ms. Short : It is not worth anything.

Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend says that that assurance is not worth anything, but I shall draw attention to what I regard as assurances that have been broken later in the debate if I succeed in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

I advise the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) that I was given written assurances that there would be no cigarette advertising connected with the event. Will the hon. Gentleman make it quite clear to the House, because he is now responsible for sponsoring this Bill, whether he regards the city council as having an option to keep that assurance?

Mr. King : I have no problems in saying that, if the city council made those assurances--and yes, it did ; we were all here when we debated the original Bill in April 1985--I see no reason why that agreement should have been rescinded in any way. I think that it still holds absolutely good, and there should be no problems on that score.

Mr. Davis : I must press the hon. Gentleman. Will he give a categorical assurance as the hon. Member promoting the Bill that he would not condone any decision

Column 255

to allow cigarette advertising in the course of a grand prix event--and what is more, that it will not happen because of the assurance that was given to hon. Members in 1985?

Mr. King : I thought that I had just made that point quite clear. I am giving that assurance. As far as I am aware, nothing has changed from what was previously agreed. Unless the hon. Gentleman can produce a letter saying that things have changed, we must assume--I assume and I give him the assurance--that that commitment still holds good and that there is no question of cigarette advertising being allowed on racing cars or even of the promotion of cigarettes being allowed within the environment of the circuit. I willingly give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. I cannot imagine that anyone would want to change such an assurance.

Mr. Jack : Perhaps I can assist my hon. Friend by telling him that, at the moment, the West German grand prix requires that all forms of written promotion for cigarette advertising be removed from the cars, and that is what happens. The cars remain in their colours but there are no sponsors' names on them. Does my hon. Friend agree that motor sport is now increasingly being used as a promotional tool for another environmentally sensitive issue--lead-free petrol?

Mr. King : My hon. Friend made a good point at the end of his intervention and I am grateful to him for reminding me that it is in the West German grand prix that such advertising is removed. Therefore, the safeguards do exist, and I can give the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) an assurance on behalf of the promoters that what was previously agreed still holds good now. There is no question of us going back on that.

It is also a requirement in the revised rules of running a formula 3000 event that the circuit must be altered to provide a safer pit area. At the moment, the area is somewhat confined and cars have to decelerate quite quickly and engage in a few twists and turns to get into the pit area. In addition, the acceleration lane is not long enough to allow them to build up to a circuit speed. Although the circuit is perfectly safe, it is felt by FISA and the organisers of formula 3000 that improvements have to be made.

The city council wishes to do that by changing the circuit slightly to enable racing to take place on the inward carriageway of Bristol street, thus releasing the outward carriageway of Bristol street for use as pits. That would require the construction of a short link road between the two carriageways. It will make for a more attractive and interesting motor race and one which, by implication, will be a great deal safer.

Clause 7, the new section 4(2) in schedule 3, and clause 6(1) involve longer highway closures. Under the 1985 Act powers, highways are closed for the event from 9 am to 6 pm. At the request of the police, highways are in fact closed from 6 am under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. The city council wishes to have that additional time specifically mentioned in the Act.

Racing--by which I mean practice--will not take place on any day before 9 am. In addition, two additional hours at the end of racing are proposed to allow racing to finish should there be any delays during the day due to crashes. Because of bad weather and incidents on the circuit, we have experienced delays because of the time taken to restore the circuit to its

Column 256

correct and safe state. Last year, that resulted in us losing two races at the end of the day, when we had to close the circuit and re-open the roads at 6 pm.

Speaking as a witness and as a pure matter of fact, there is little sense in losing such races, because the amount of public access to the roads for two or three hours after 6 o'clock on a bank holiday Monday is negligible. That is thanks to the superb arrangements made by the West Midlands police to route traffic away from the circuit. We submit that for the circuit to be used for an extra two or three hours would not excessively infringe anyone's right of movement.

Ms. Short : The hon. Gentleman has forgotten that people live within the circuit and for them getting in and out of their houses and driving their cars to the shop or church in the evening is a serious concern. They do not welcome the extension of hours. If it was legal to close the streets for longer than the times granted under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847, why are those powers needed in this Bill? Has there been some doubt about the legality of the extended road closing in previous years?

Mr. King : As far as I know, the hon. Lady can rest assured that there is no illegality. The police have powers to make limited closures in the way that I have described under the Town Police Clauses Act 1847. However, I believe that, to put this on a regular basis, it is right that the promoters should bring the Bill to the House to request that it be written into the Act. With the permission of the House, we are extending the days from two to four and in that way exceed the limited role of the police to make specific changes now and again. We need to study the implications behind such extension of road closures. Other hon. Members may wish to speak about the reaction of the local community to the city's proposals through, for example, opinion poll sampling, and, perhaps, Mr. Deputy Speaker, you will allow such debate.

Mr. Terry Davis : On the question of closing the roads for certain periods of certain days, will the hon. Gentleman clarify the meaning of the Bill that he is introducing? The Bill would make it possible for the city council to close the roads for four days instead of two, as at present, and to close them for four days at any time between the end of April and the beginning of October, with the fourth day being either a bank holiday or a Sunday. Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that the effect of the Bill is that the city council can decide to have a road race on any Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday between the beginning of May and the end of September, to close the streets for all four days and to close them until 8 o'clock instead of 6 o'clock in the evening?

Mr. King : That is a fair summation of what we propose.

Mr. Davis : In that case, why did the hon. Gentleman tell the House that there was no problem, because it involved only two hours on a bank holiday Monday?

Mr. King : As a result of experience, a certain number of engineering days are allowed to set up and to dismantle the circuit, to which clauses 3(b) and 6 refer. Under the 1985 Act, the number of days available for the safety fence erection works is 10 days before and five days after the event. The city council wishes to extend that to 20 days

Column 257

after the event. That will minimise the engineering works undertaken in anti-social hours, thus minimising disruption to residents, to businesses and to traffic.

It must be accepted that any work carried out within the confines of the highway will inevitably cause some disruption to the traffic using the roads. The problem experienced by the council is that, because of the restricted time that it is allowed to set up the circuit, it requires more men working and more disruption. It is hoped that, by spreading the period when the erection and the dismantling of the circuit can take place, the inconvenience to the road users and to the local residents--one must take into account their day-to-day problems--will be reduced dramatically. They will not therefore have to face the high pressure of the circuit engineer building the circuit with the consequent disruption that we have experienced.

Additionally, because of the time restriction, there is the cost of working through the night on many occasions, which is also disruptive to local residents. By extending the engineering days in such a way, the work can be carried out during the day, when the residents will not be inconvenienced by night-time noise and work.

Next Section

  Home Page