Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to raise the matter of separation of powers. As I understand it, the police are not an arm of the Government. No information has been given to the House about the way in which a list of five people, shortlisted for the position of Scotland Yard's director of public affairs, was given to Scotland Yard by the Prime Minister's chief press secretary.
I consider that the functions of the police are a matter that should be of concern to the House. If the Prime Minister's chief press secretary now has the additional function of telling the person in charge of the Metropolitan police who should be shortlisted for such an important position, the House should be notified and we should be able to table questions.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a further point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should like your advice on a matter of great importance--certainly to the people of Liverpool. The Sun today contains a front page story headlined "The Truth". It is not in inverted commas. The story is based on a statement made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). It says :
"Irvine Patnick revealed that in one shameful episode, a gang of Liverpool fans noticed that the blouse of a girl trampled to death had risen above her breasts."
I do not intend to continue ; it is so painful to read it. The article also states that the hon. Member for Hallam spoke to officers on duty. A police inquiry is taking place at the moment and I should like to know whether the hon. Gentleman--I notified him that I would be raising this matter in the House, and if he is not here that is his business--will be asked to give evidence to the police inquiry.
I find it difficult to raise this matter because the other day in the House I said that we should not be looking for scapegoats. On the front page of The Sun is a picture of Superintendent Marshall. We should not look on him or anybody else as a scapegoat. However, the hon. Member for Hallam is now suggesting that Liverpool people did the most despicable things to their own people. All the television programmes showed evidence to the contrary.
I do not want to become too angry and emotional about this, but I find it degrading and disgusting--[ Hon. Members :-- "What is the point of order?"] The point of order is clear. It is time that hon. Members showed some dignity, restraint and understanding. If they think that this is funny, they should explain it to my people in Liverpool who are now in deepest grief because 95 of their people died on Saturday. May I have an assurance, Mr. Speaker, that that hon. Member will go to the police inquiry and give the so-called evidence? We need that evidence to prove beyond doubt that matters are going beyond the bounds of decency.
Mr. Speaker : That is not a point of order for me. The whole House has been deeply affected by this major tragedy. I think that it would be wisest for us all to await the result of the inquiry and not to speculate.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you received a request from a Minister to make a statement clarifying the position of two senior Government press officers who, we learned last night from a BBC programme at 7.20 pm, are being disciplined for having argued that they were required to take action that infringed party political neutrality? The programme, which lasted for 40 minutes, was about the Government's chief press officer, the most important man--
Mr. Speaker : Order. This is an Opposition day, in which a large number of hon. Members wish to participate. I have received no request for a statement. The hon. Gentleman must find other methods of raising the matter before the House : he cannot do so through the Chair.
Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) referred to a comment made to The Sun by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick). Do you agree that on Monday you called that hon. Member to speak in the debate? Do you also agree that he made no such comments to the House then? Would you advise hon. Members, Mr. Speaker, to be temperate in their language when commenting on the events at Sheffield and not to repeat to newspapers hearsay that they are not willing to put to the test by raising it in the House first?
I am the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough. On Saturday night, when I went down to the ground, I was not even admitted to the premises. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Patnick), whose constituency is nowhere near Hillsborough, could have gone into the mortuary and talked to policemen on duty, while I, as Member for Parliament for that general area, could not even get into the ground. That is beyond me. It seems to me that the hon. Gentleman is doing precisely what my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) has described.
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A number of questions have been raised about the suppression of the Department of Trade and Industry report on the Harrods takeover. I wonder whether you have received any notification from the Department that it intends to publish the report, or that a Minister intends to make a statement to the House.
As you know, Mr. Speaker, the matter has certain implications. In the report, the Sultan of Brunei is alleged to have supplied some money for the takeover. As he is apparently on close terms with the Prime Minister, it is naturally a matter of great concern that the report should be published as soon as possible to eradicate the rumours that are circulating.
Column 339serious concern that has arisen this week. The Secretary of State for Social Security has sent to DSS officers in Scotland a memorandum giving them instructions on taking unpaid poll tax from people's income support. The memorandum is based on a statutory instrument which has been prayed against but which has not yet been debated on the Floor of the House. Has the Secretary of State the right to give instructions to DSS officers based on a statutory instrument to which the House has not given its approval?
Mr. Winnick : You stated, Mr. Speaker, that right hon. and hon. Members could pursue matters by other means. As you, Mr. Speaker, decided on such matters, may I have an assurance that, if I wish to table--as I probably shall--questions relating to Mr. Bernard Ingham's role in the recommendation as to who should be appointed director of public affairs at New Scotland Yard, I will be able to do so? Mr. Ingham is now virtually the deputy Prime Minister, and we should surely have an opportunity to discuss his role.
Mr. Dalyell : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Rather than right hon. and hon. Members raising points of order, would it not be much better if the Government themselves, in the traditional way, made a statement, or even had a written question planted, about the disciplining of civil servants? Why should right hon. and hon. Members have to demand information on every possible occasion? Is it not for the Government to show the House what is happening in respect of the disciplining of civil servants?
Column 340responsible. I am here to ensure that the rules of the House are observed. I am not responsible for what is said by right hon. and hon. Members, provided that it is in order.
Mr. Neil Hamilton (Tatton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Instead of Opposition Members coming to the House to crowd out the debating time available to the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) and to his right hon. and hon. Friends with bogus points of order in prime time, and to make statements that they would not dare to make outside the House because they would be actionable as defamatory, would it not be better if a change were made to the rules of the House so that Opposition Members could have a whole day set aside for bogus points of order and they could all be raised together?
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The fact that Bernard Ingham is not a Member of Parliament creates some difficulties for you, but there is a way out of them. Mr. Ingham has plenty of admirers on the Conservative Benches, and I suggest that one of them takes the Chiltern Hundreds and nominates St. Bernard and his dog so that he can stand on behalf of the Tory party. Then we can deal with him.
Miss Emma Nicholson presented a Bill to create offences of unathorised access to electronically stored data and of its transmission ; to confer powers of monitoring search, seizure and destruction of such data ; and for related purposes : And the same was read the First time : and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 120.]
That European Community Document No. 10470/88 on batteries and accumulators be referred to a Standing Committee on European Community Documents.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to reform leasehold. Many hundreds of thousands of people live in flats that they own under long leases, yet those Englishmen's homes are someone else's castles. The unsatisfactory nature of leasehold reform as applied to long leases for mansion blocks has long been recognised, although it is only recently that the abuses of the system have dramatically grown.
There have been a number of attempts at leasehold reform by various Governments as well as by individual parliamentarians. My distinguished predecessor as Member for Kensington, the late Sir Brandon Rhys Williams, was for ever in the House introducing measures to allow residents of mansion blocks to acquire more rights under their leaseholds. I am here as one more foot soldier in that campaign.
Leaseholders might own a property for 50 or 100 years yet possess only a diminishing asset, with little control over who owns or runs their property. Under English law, it is almost impossible to own a freehold flat. That has been widely recognised as wrong, not only by reformers in this country but, more tellingly, by other nations that inherited British leasehold law as part of their colonial paraphernalia. Those countries wisely changed their laws. Shamefully, we have failed to do so. In the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, laws have been passed that seek to increase home ownership, and particularly flat ownership, in urban areas by dropping leasehold law from their statute books and replacing it with something else. It is that something else, which is called commonhold, that I seek to introduce today.
The law of commonhold varies slightly from country to country. The common thread, however, is that in every case it permits the freehold ownership of flats and allows residents to own and run their blocks. Therefore, it is vastly superior and more encouraging to home ownership and equity than our antiquated and unreformed practice. The building societies and Consumer Association are among those who have led the attempt to introduce this measure of leasehold reform into England and Wales, encouraged by a report of the Law Commission, their own careful research and the unhappy complaints of an increasing number of flat owners.
The building societies, among others, have pushed for the adoption of the Australian system of leasehold reform and freehold flat ownership, which, anglicised to our own quaint ways, is called commonhold. This system gives residents in a block of flats a freehold with standardised rights and obligations for the rest of the residential block. The individual owners have full ownership of their flats and joint ownership of a management body which owns and administers common parts such as the hall, the roof and the outside walls, and looks after the building's repair to the satisfaction of the people living in the block and not some remote and ever-changing owner of the residual freehold.
Column 342Under commonhold, the law is completely clear in contrast with the current position in England and Wales whereby flats have to be sold on long leaseholds. Often the lease is badly drafted, and frequently is incomprehensible even to lawyers. The system allows in the unscrupulous landlord and gives the flat owner a dwindling rather than a growing asset which becomes more difficult to sell and on which it is more difficult to raise a mortgage as the lease runs out.
Thousands of flats in London now have leases of less than 50 years, and that is where the danger creeps in. The Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 helped to alleviate some of the difficulties, and the Government are to be congratulated on implementing the recommendations of the 1986 Nugee report which gave flat owners a say in insurance arrangements in their blocks and forced the landlord to give them first refusal when he decides to sell the freehold. However, that did not go far enough and was merely tinkering with an essentially defective system.
Commonhold will get rid of that landlord-tenant relationship. Each flat owner would own the freehold of his unit and share in the administration and the ownership of his block. There is no lease. Under the Bill, all new blocks of flats will be sold automatically in commonhold, which most developers are keen on, as few reputable developers want to be left with a residual freehold interest and normally sell it on to less reputable people as soon as they can. Existing leaseholders would have the opportunity to buy their freeholds and convert to commonhold. I am assured that building societies would readily lend the money for such a purchase, and many of the freehold cowboys who own a residual freehold interest would willingly be bought out.
In short, commonhold would give flat owners full, first class ownership of their homes for the first time. The Law Commission is even now beavering away, on instructions from the Lord Chancellor's Department, to write the necessary legislation to bring commonhold to the statute book. According to the Lords Hansard for June 1988, that is well under way.
More recently, according to Hansard of 19 January 1989, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle), it was said that these things are under the active consideration of the Attorney-General with the idea of converting theory into law. The purpose of my Bill is to speed that action so that the system of flat ownership designed in the last century might be reformed, with luck, by the next. This reform is one that I believe is called in the Treasury a "lollipop"-- it costs nothing but it would be exceedingly popular. I commend it to the House
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Dudley Fishburn, Sir George Young, Mr. John Heddle, Mr. Gerald Bowden, Mr. Chris Butler, Mr. Hugo Summerson, Miss Ann Widdecombe and Mr. Matthew Carrington.
Mr. Dudley Fishburn accordingly presented a Bill to reform leasehold ; And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 121.]
Investment in the Future
That this House notes the long-term failure of the British economy to meet the challenges of a competitive and technological world ; expresses its profound concern at the increasing United Kingdom trade deficit in the information technology and electronics industries ; notes the United Kingdom's gap in computer and other technological skills ; and calls upon the Government to boost investment in high tech infrastructure and civil research and development and to work with industry and the education service to create the skills base that is vital to the modern, efficient and innovative economy that the United Kingdom desperately needs, if the next decade is to overcome the missed opportunities of the 1980s.
I think that I am right in saying that this is the first major debate for some time on a trade and industry subject. It comes in an afternoon in which the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton), has answered questions on trade and industry matters, and a private Member's Bill on hacking has been introduced. Therefore, it is an important day for trade and industry and I am delighted to be able to introduce a debate of this nature.
I am glad that the Chancellor of the Duchy will be replying to the debate. He and I do not agree about many of the main planks of the Government's policy. However, he is widely respected as someone who considers and is briefed on his subject closely.
I do not want it to be believed that I and my party think that everything the Government have done has been wrong. That is not the case. In the past 10 years the Government have had some considerable achievements. The greatest achievement the Government will have to their name is the democratisation of the trade union movement. That will be their enduring memorial-- [Interruption.] I hear the Labour Members sitting in front of me disagreeing. We will wait and see the evidence of history.
One of the Government's most significant achievements is the pursuit of enterprise and self-employment. My argument with the Government on those matters is that they have not gone far enough or fast enough in the direction of the policy they have outlined. We must ask whether the propaganda we are fed by the
Government--that all that adds up to an economic miracle--stands up under examination. The old moss-covered tombstones of British industrial decline still stand after 10 years of Thatcherism. We still have the highest inflation of any major advanced industrial nation ; we still have the highest interest rates of any of our major OECD competitors ; we still have wage rises racing well ahead of inflation ; we still have net investment-- investment as a percentage of GDP--which is at best static and, according to some figures, falling ; we still have overall industrial production only just blipping above the 1979 level ; we still have a continual loss of our share of world markets as our
Column 344goods fail to meet the right standards in terms of price and, perhaps more important, quality and we still have a trading deficit of unheard of historic proportions which is now seriously undermining the strength of the British economy.
In many ways, all those symptoms are depressingly similar. Far from having an economic miracle in the 1980s we have, standing clear and evident to everybody, the old signposts of British malaise. We have an industrial system which has failed to produce effectively for world markets and has failed to win new shares of those markets. We have not made progress in what I believe to be the fundamental change that the British economy and British industrial base must achieve in the last years of the century if they are to face up to the new challenges. That fundamental change must be away from being a low-quality industrial assembler to being a high-quality industrial producer.
Perhaps a more fundamental change is needed in our industrial base away from a high-resource use, low-value-added industrial base to a low-resource use and high-value-added base. Information technologies are the key to that fundamental change. In The Times on 16 September 1986, the Alvey committee said that the
"basic economic situation dictates that we must become a net exporter of high technology and high value added goods."
That statement was right, but the committee was wrong in the prediction that followed. It said that, if things continued as it calculated when it wrote the report, by 1990 Britain would become a nation in deficit in high technology information-based trade by £1 billion a year. We have yet to reach the end of the 1980s, yet that predicted deficit is already twice as high : it is running at £2.19 billion and growing. In 1984, the figure was £1.8 billion, but it has increased to £2.19 billion. In 1979, we had a surplus in information technology trade that amounted to about 0.5 per cent. of GDP ; we are currently running a deficit of just over 0.5 per cent. of GDP. Many believe, and I am one, that the underlying weakness in our industrial base lies in information technologies. It is essential that Britain corrects that. It will involve not only inventing new technologies but manufacturing and, above all, applying them. Our failure to do so underlies our weakness.
Behind the bold figures of the industrial deficit that I have given, there are even more worrying facts. Let us consider innovation. Britain is second only to the United States in Nobel prize winners, and per capita our inventions and achievements are greater than any nation. Between the 1950s and the 1970s, Britain had a truly superb record in innovative technologies. But that record is a past record. Our innovative capacity has dropped sharply. In 1963, over 26 per cent. of European applicants for new United States patents were British. By 1985, the figure had fallen by 16 per cent. We are the only major advanced OECD country whose percentage of applications for United States patents has dropped. We now apply for 2 per cent. of United States patents and are below even France as an innovative nation.
Perhaps that is not surprising, as the number of people working in research and development--scientists and engineers--has fallen over the past 10 years. Using a figure for every 10,000 of population, of all the OECD nations we have the fewest scientists and engineers working in the research sector. In 1983, 32 per cent. of engineers were working in research and development, yet now we have only 30 per cent.
Column 345Britain has opted out of many of the new technologies, such as the space programme. The Secretary of State for Energy had to go to Moscow to hitch a ride on a Soviet spacecraft sponsored by British industry for us to have any input into the space programme.
Mr. Alex Carlile (Montgomery) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the underlying problems of our poor research base is the dreadful salaries paid to brilliant research scientists? Does he accept that at the Electricity Council research centre at Capenhurst in Cheshire the best salary a brilliant 30-year-old researcher can expect is well under £30,000, which is poor compared with salaries available abroad?
Mr. Ashdown : I agree with my hon. and learned Friend's comment. But that is not the only underlying reason. I shall come on to that subject in a minute. Another reason is the lack of adequate research money to provide researchers with the facilities that they need. As I shall point out later, there has been a major flood of some of our highest and best researchers to, for example, the United States and other nations where they are paid much better.
These facts show up in our own domestic market. Britain has the fastest growing new technology market, after Japan, in the world, yet our share of our own market and our capacity to even fulfil our own market demands has now dropped massively from 50 per cent. to less than one third in the past seven or eight years. A National Economic Development Council report in June 1988 identified the reason for that clearly--lack of investment.
Investment in research and development is a contentious subject in Britain, as we already spend a higher proportion of our investment in research and development on defence-related research and development than any other nation in a way that frequently holds up the research and development we need in our industrial sector. Even in terms of non-defence research and development, whereas, between 1971 and 1985, all our major industrial competitors increased their research in non-defence research and development, we reduced our research in the non-defence sector. In Japan, it has increased from 1.8 per cent. to 2.8 per cent. of gross domestic product. In West Germany, it has increased from 2 per cent. to 2.5 per cent. It has increased in France and the United States and only the United Kingdom's share of non-defence-related research and development has dropped, from 1.8 per cent. to 1.5 per cent.
I see the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster wondering about those figures. I direct him to the "Save British Science" report which gives the figures. I have them here if he wants to look at them. I ask hon. Gentlemen who may read the Hansard report later to plot those figures on a graph and then to plot on a graph the level of industrial production in each of those nations. They will find that the two curves correlate almost exactly. Nations that have
Column 346invested more in non-defence-related research and development have seen overall industrial production rise, whereas ours has similarly declined.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a correlation between the success of both the Japanese and West German economies and the small percentage of gross national product that they spend on defence, as opposed to the large amount that we spend on defence? Most of our research and development is defence-related. Why, then, does the right hon. Gentleman support such a high level of defence expenditure?
Mr. Ashdown : The hon. Gentleman must have missed the point I made earlier. I conceded that Britain is spending 50 per cent. of its research and development on defence and I said that that was one factor holding back the proper development of civilian research and development. Other factors, such as secrecy, are involved, too. In the United States, defence-related projects in which new ideas are developed will move across into the civilian sector, but our own secrecy frequently prevents that from happening here. I could give the hon. Gentleman examples of how that happens.
Government-funded civil research has dropped similarly. Between 1981 and 1989, it dropped from 0.73 per cent. to about 0.5 per cent. In terms of money, that means that £800 million less is going into Government- funded civil research. Even allowing for the extra £100 million that was put aside in last year's Autumn Statement, it means a £700 million drop. It means that as a percentage of gross domestic product, Government- funded civil research will be lower in 1990 than it was in 1981.
But we are not talking merely about a lack of investment in physical goods, research or technologies. We are talking as well about the other component, which is lack of investment in people. In Britain today, the largest and most significant factor holding back production is the skill gap that afflicts our industries. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Carlile) referred to the brain drain. Indeed, at the top level, we are seeing a major brain drain. I visited silicon valley a little while ago ; it is a fact of life that the greatest expatriate population of silicon valley, not even excluding Hispanics, comprises expatriates of Britain who emigrated to pursue new technology.
In November 1988, the New York Times made an extraordinary statement about the influx of our intellectual capital into the United States, stating that it composed
"The largest single influx into this country"--
that is, the United States--
"from a single source since the Jewish professors were forced to leave Germany and Austria in the 1930s."
Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood) : The right hon. Gentleman has failed to identify when those expatriates went to silicon valley. Is it not the case that the head of Bell-Labs, the head of Hewlett-Packard's research department and the head of Rolm are all expatriates of this country, but that they emigrated in the 60s and 70s? Is it not also the case that there is now substantial evidence of reverse migration among many of the people who emigrated 20 years ago?
Mr. Ashdown : I can tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what he wants to know, because, as I recall, I visited silicon valley in 1985 when the present Government had been in power for six years. Every person to whom I spoke--they were all either high in the research structures of firms or running firms themselves--had emigrated from Britain since this Government came to power. If there is evidence of a reverse trend, I shall be interested to know it, but I will bet the hon. Gentleman any money that he cares to lay that over the 10-year period since 1979, Britain has lost massively more researchers and scientists abroad than have come to this country.
I turn now to the skill gap as it affects industry. I refer to the National Computing Centre-- [Interruption.] Conservative Members may find this strange and amusing, but I do not and nor, I believe, do the people of Britain. In 1988 the National Computing Centre estimated that we now have 6,000 fewer programmers and analysts than industry needs.
On 27 February this year, The Independent published an article stating that British industry is now short of about 30,000 experienced information technology staff. It predicted that unless there is a change of Government policy, by 1993 Britain will be short of about 100,000 experienced industrial information technology staff.
We know that a report published earlier this year by the Confederation of British Industry identified that the skill gap in Britain posed a major barrier for many of our firms. Even in Merseyside, which has high unemployment, 30 per cent. of firms are being held back because they cannot find people with the appropriate skills.
Meanwhile, the number of those applying for information technology-related degrees in our universities is dropping fast. Those figures underlie our industrial weakness and will ensure our continuing decline in information technologies.
However, the picture given by the bald statistics is not the whole picture, because it misses out the central fact which, more than anything else, is a contributory cause of the deplorable position that Britain is now in. I refer to the Government's attitude towards information technology and new industries. I do not pretend for a moment that the Government found themselves in an easy position because they did not.
No one can doubt that Britain was facing a major problem when the Government came to power in 1979, but the Government's inability and unwillingness to tackle that problem effectively now holds them to be indicted. Time and again they have shown that they do not care about British invention and technical skill. Indeed, time and again they have shown that they do not even recognise it ; and time and again they have refused to support British invention, so that time and again something is invented in this country, but others then produce it, and we end up adding to our balance of payments deficit by buying it back from them.
I want to give the House three simple examples of how this has happened in the past.
Let me take, first of all, the transputer, invented in INMOS, which was established by Labour's National