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Rose Theatre, Southwark

3.31 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) (by private notice : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the future of the Rose theatre.

The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Nicholas Ridley) : Archaeological work on the site of the Rose theatre has been in progress for some five months. This work has been financed by the developers, Imry Merchant Developers plc, under guidance from English Heritage and the Museum of London. It has become clear in the light of the most recent discoveries that the remains are of greater importance than was previously thought.

As a result, the developers and their architect have been working urgently on possible ways of ensuring that the excavated remains are properly preserved and displayed to the public. I invited them to a discussion this morning, together with English Heritage, which has advised us throughout.

I am very glad to tell the House that Imry has agreed to delay work on the theatre site for up to one month. This is to enable it and its architect to work with English Heritage and with us on the various options. The roof will go back over the site immediately so that the excavated remains are fully protected while these discussions continue.

English Heritage, assisted by the Government, will be contributing financially to the cost of the delay.

Mr. Hughes : I am grateful for and welcome the Secretary of State's statement. However, I should like to ask him about additional matters that still give cause for concern.

Is the Secretary of State in a position now to schedule the site, as he has been asked to do? Has he insisted that when the developers redesign the building they should avoid pile driving on the site, through the theatre itself, so that the theatre may be preserved intact? Has he agreed with the developers that from the time the building is redesigned and built there will be public access to the site of the Rose theatre so that people will continue to be able to see it?

As of this moment, the concerns are the guarding of the site, the activity on the immediately neighbouring site--which, I ask the Secretary of State to accept, is literally within inches of the edge of the Rose theatre--and the belief that the redesigned building must be agreeable not just to English Heritage but to the archaeologists of the Museum of London. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could give those assurances.

This morning, the people and the developers reached an agreement. I hope that the people, the developers and the Government will again be able in a month's time to reach an agreement that will preserve the Rose theatre intact for all to see.

Mr. Ridley : It would be inappropriate to take the question of scheduling any further as it is a matter for English Heritage. However, in the words that the hon. Gentleman used in his Adjournment debate :

"A breathing space is needed for the planners in Southwark and English Heritage"--[ Official Report, 9 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 838.]

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That is exactly what we have provided. It would be inappropriate not to allow a period during which, we hope, a satisfactory result can be achieved.

The breathing space also applies to the hon. Gentleman's two other points about pile driving and public access to the theatre. Obviously, those will be vital matters in the pending discussions, although I cannot forecast any decisions. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman any assurances about the outcome of the discussions. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said last week, we all hope that not only will the theatre be preserved--there was never any question about its preservation--but that it will be made permanently available to the public. I cannot forecast whether that emerges from the time that the Government have bought to allow the options to be considered, although I hope that it will be the case.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point) : Although my right hon. Friend's intervention is to be warmly welcomed, is he aware that all who care for our English heritage have been gravely disturbed by what has happened in the case of the Rose theatre? Does he agree that a month is not much time in which to reach a satisfactory conclusion? During that time, will he bend his mind to devising some effective and lawful way of ensuring that when such ruins are uncovered during development work they can be properly preserved rather than hidden beneath a mountain of earth and concrete?

Mr. Ridley : My right hon. Friend is a little hard on the existing arrangements. During the past year, developers in various parts of the country have spent £14 million on facilitating archaeological investigations and the recording of what has been found. The short period that has been bought will not only save money but will concentrate minds on finding the best solution--although I cannot forecast what it may be--as quickly as possible. I am sure that it is possible for all that it is necessary to do to be done within that time.

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : Although I welcome the one month allowed for a solution to be found, does the Secretary of State recognise that what he has told the House today does not constitute a solution but is merely a buying of time? The Under-Secretary said last week that the Government's policy on conservation was to bulldoze the site and cover it with hardcore and sand, which would preserve the site for future generations. I trust that that is no longer the Government's policy and that what they now mean by "conservation" is very different.

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that people throughout the country find that the market forces of building yet another office block on the site to be wholly at odds with the preservation of a unique part of our theatrical culture, and that the two are incompatible? Will he visit the site in the company of myself and the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) so that he may see it and feel its historical importance? Is he aware that hon. Members on both sides of the House will say clearly to him that, although the delay of one month is welcome, the country expects and demands of the Government that the site be preserved, not for one month but for future generations?

Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman is labouring under some misconceptions. The backfilling was never intended

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to commit the site to below the basement ; it was intended as a means of preserving it while plant and other necessary machinery moved across it. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, because of the one-month delay, backfilling will not commence. I believe that there is dispute about it, but many archaeologists believe that the best way to preserve the site for the short and temporary period of construction is to immerse the remains in sand, which will be removed later.

The hon. Gentleman is not right to ascribe the situation to market forces. It might well be that the great prosperity that the Government have brought about has caused far more development and, therefore, far more exposure of sites ; but that is not a charge to lay against economic success. The developers have behaved with impeccable propriety. They have delayed a long time already and are prepared to delay further--at great expense to themselves. They have co-operated entirely with the archaeologists and with my suggestion this morning.

I shall certainly visit the site, but, if I may, I shall choose my time and my company.

Mr. Toby Jessel (Twickenham) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the buying of time is extremely important and should be warmly and unreservedly welcomed by everyone? Will he acknowledge the significant part that has been played behind the scenes by our hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden)? Does my right hon. Friend agree that this important ruin stands a much better chance of being well protected for posterity if it is sheltered and shielded by the umbrella of a strong building and is not exposed to the elements, as is suggested by some thoughtless people?

Mr. Ridley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I acknowledge the role that my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden) has played in this matter, and I am grateful to him. I strongly support what my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) says about the fragility of the remains and the need to protect them from rain, frost and snow. I am certain that the best answer is to have a solid roof over them for their preservation.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South) : I welcome the breathing space. What options will be considered during this time?

Mr. Ridley : That is not entirely a matter for me. It is a question for the developers and their architect. They must try different designs and different ways of treating the finished product, so to speak, so that access, marketing and presentation of the ruins can be well arranged, and work in conjuction with English Heritage, which will give the architectural advice they need. What the result of that will be, and whether it can be 100 per cent. successful, I do not know, but it may well cost more money than the present scheme. In that case, I suspect that the public may like to consider whether they want to contribute so that the scheme can be altered in such a way as to enable the site to be preserved.

I should make it clear that the Government's commitment finishes with this statement.

Mr. Michael Marshall (Arundel) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of my interest as a member of The Theatres Trust. I associate myself with the representations that he

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has received. I am sure that we all want to express our appreciation for the breathing space. The work done by my right hon. Friend, his ministerial colleagues, the Minister for the Arts and hon. Members on both sides of the House has been constructive and helped to point the way ahead. Finding an answer to an urgent national problem to preserve our heritage is a challenge to public and private sources.

Mr. Ridley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I strongly agree with what he has said. There is an opportunity here. The move was necessary because greater knowledge of the site has been obtained literally in the past two or three days. Recent discoveries make the site more important than was previously thought. It is for that special reason that, on this one occasion, it seems right that the Government should finance the delay so that the forces that are determined to preserve the site have an opportunity to do so.

Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : Let us hope that the Secretary of State is not like Oscar Wilde, who believed that where archaeology begins art ends. The right hon. Gentleman's remark that his Department will not be involved in any further financial commitment suggests that he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Mr. Ridley : I claim dissimilarity from Oscar Wilde in more than one respect. My statement pledges Government money for the delay which I have announced, but it goes no further than that.

Mr. Robert Banks (Harrogate) : The House will welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. Does he agree that over the centuries the rich history of Southwark has been lost largely because of property development and changes in the pattern of society, but latterly especially by the policies of Southwark council which have almost obliterated the history of that area, not least by its intransigent reaction to the application to build a replica Globe theatre? Is it not an important discovery, and will my right hon. Friend give earnest consideration to classifying the remains of the Rose theatre as a national monument?

Mr. Ridley : The rich history of Southwark has been found rather than lost by the developers there at present. It is not right to condemn Southwark council, because I believe and hope that it will co-operate, as it will be asked, in the month's "window" that we now have to find a solution. I am sure that Southwark council will do that. The time has not yet come to consider the status of the monument or what might be done to preserve it. We must allow a scheme to be found first.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : Is the Secretary of State aware that his first answer this afternoon was the best statement I have ever heard him make in the House? [Interruption.] Well, it was a bit better than most of his statements. However, the right hon. Gentleman cannot now decide that the Government have no responsibility for the site. Surely, if the site is part of our English heritage, which obviously it is, the Secretary of State as an artist--and a very fine artist in painting-- must recognise that we have to preserve in every possible way the arts of the nation. Therefore, the preservation of a fine, original theatre is vital in the interests of the cultural development of the nation for our children. I ask the right hon.

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Gentleman to reconsider his reply about the Government's role in preserving the site and the financial aid that they must give in order to do that.

Mr. Ridley : If today's statement was the best statement the hon. Gentleman has heard me make, he cannot have been here very much. I shall make sure that the hon. Gentleman is given an oportunity to subscribe to any fund which might be set up for this purpose.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak) : We are talking about the theatre as if it were a building, and it is not ; we are talking about the site as if it were ruins, and it is not--it is footings. Is not the life of the theatre composed of actors? Is not the living theatre more important? If every time the footings of some building that experts tell us was a theatre, a brothel or anything else had to be preserved, London would still be composed of Roman ruins. Are we not concerned with the living and the living theatre? If we have £10 million or £20 million to spend, let us spend it on the living theatre and not on the footings of something that looks like a disused mine.

Mr. Ridley : This is not art, but archaeology, which is a different but equally important science. If we were to deny archaeology, we would deny Stonehenge. It is not a living theatre, but at least it is a monument which my hon. Friend would respect, although it is even older than the Rose theatre.

Mr. Clive Soley (Hammersmith) : The House will welcome the Secretary of State's late, reluctant intervention, but it will also be deeply worried that he has said that he no longer intends to be involved in this matter. The House has ways of bringing him before it to ensure that he remains involved.

What other country would be prepared to bury the heritage that we link to Shakespeare's name--a name which is famous throughout the world and throughout time? The only answer that the Secretary of State has is two of sand and one of cement.

If the Secretary of State had followed the spirit of the 1987 report of the Select Committee on the Environment, he would not have been forced to intervene as a result of the all-night activity of actors, the constituency Member for Parliament and members of the parliamentary Labour party ; he would have initiated the action himself. Will he do so in future?

Mr. Ridley : The hon. Gentleman does not seem to realise that it was only in the past few days that English Heritage advised that the quality of these remains was far greater than it originally thought. That has changed the position. It is right to respond to my advisers at English Heritage on a matter of this sort. I did not say that the Department would not be involved. The Under-Secretary of State and I will certainly remain involved. I said that the statement did not go beyond the financial commitment to the delay. That is all. I would never take on the hon. Gentleman as a builder's labourer. If he did one of cement and two of sand, he would be wasting cement on an unprecedented scale.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Speaker : Order. Today is for private Members' motions, and we must move on.

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Kurdish Refugees

3.51 pm

Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a matter which is urgent, specific and important and which should have precedence over the Orders of the Day, namely,

"the arrival yesterday at Heathrow airport of three planes containing Kurdish refugees fleeing from Turkey, and the Government's response."

Between 8 million and 10 million Kurds in Turkey are not, effectively, officially recognised. They live in a war zone. The Kurds who arrived yesterday are asking for asylum on the ground of increasing personal and political persecution which has taken place since the military coup in 1980. Since August 1984, the Turkish security services have engaged in counter-insurgency activities against the Kurdish Workers' party. In addition, vast numbers of Kurds are threatened by deforestation, damming and flooding as part of a programme against them by the Government.

The refugees who arrived yesterday, together with hundreds who have arrived in the past 10 days, have all been directed by the Home Office to the London borough of Hackney and to one address in Kingsland road. It is a bizarre operation about which the chief executive has written to Sir Clive Whitmore, permanent

under-secretary at the Home Office.

The need for an urgent debate is fivefold. First, we want to discuss how the Government intend to handle and expedite the applications for political asylum.

Secondly, we want to know why a major international crisis is being directed by the Home Office on to one borough and what resources it intends to provide local churches, community groups, the Kurdish Workers Association and Hackevi to deal with this major emergency. The council could be bankrupted within months in trying to deal with the impending homeless crisis.

Thirdly, the leaders of refugee groups have told me that the Home Office voluntary service unit is being unhelpful. They believe that Ministers are using the crisis as a prelude to introducing visa controls for people from Turkey.

Fourthly, we need to discuss the absurdity of allowing Turkey into the European Economic Community while thousands are fleeing the country for want of democracy. Ozal and Evren need to be told what democracy is about.

Fifthly, we need a wider discussion in the House on the Kurds, including the chemical warfare and genocide in Iraq, which is being turned on them by the hated dictator Saddam Hussein.

For those reasons, Mr. Speaker, I hope that you will allow this application.

Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he believes should have urgent consideration, namely, "the arrival yesterday at Heathrow airport of three planes containing Kurdish refugees fleeing from Turkey, and the Government's response."

I have listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but, as he knows, my sole duty in considering an application under Standing Order No. 20 is

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to decide whether it should be given precedence over the business already set down for this evening or tomorrow. I regret that the matter which he has raised does not meet the requirements of the Standing Order and I cannot, therefore, submit his application to the House.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I do not challenge your ruling, but I am sure that you will be aware that many of the Kurdish asylum seekers have suffered the most appalling repression at the hands of the Turkish forces and have suffered massacres of their families. They are justifiably seeking asylum. Many of them live in the constituencies of my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) and for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott), as well as in mine. Is there some way in which, later this week or next week, we can obtain an answer from the Government about the support that they are prepared to give, as humanitarian aid, to people who have suffered the most appalling privations and who are looking for help from the people of this country? Some help has already been offered to them in their present plight by ordinary people in Hackney and Islington.

Mr. Speaker : I understand the hon. Gentleman's concern about those unfortunate people. There are opportunities to raise such matters during the parliamentary week--perhaps at Prime Minister's Question Time tomorrow- -and there is always the opportunity, if the hon. Gentleman can take it, of an Adjournment debate. I do not underestimate the importance of the matter, but I have already ruled on the application made under Standing Order No. 20.

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The Observer Newspaper

3.57 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noted the leading story in The Observer yesterday alleging that seven Members of this House had signed an early-day motion attacking The Observer for publishing fabricated stories on British arms deals at the behest of the newspaper's proprietor.

As custodian of the Order Paper, Mr. Speaker, will you confirm that that leader in The Observer is a falsification and that it grossly misrepresents the proceedings of Parliament? Will you confirm that early-day motion 801, which I tabled, accuses The Observer of falsely claiming that an inquiry into bribes for Tornado had been set up by the National Audit Office? It also accuses The Observer of inventing a sequence of events leading to that so-called inquiry. It also accuses The Observer of deliberately misleading its readers by suggesting that a Privy Councillor had submitted evidence to the National Audit Office backing the newspaper's allegations. That is a blatant untruth. An anonymous letter was received by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee and was passed on to the National Audit Office. That anonymous letter made no substantiated allegations and included no evidence.

Will you confirm, Mr. Speaker, that, contrary to what the leading article says about the failure of any signatory to consult the Public Accounts Committee or the National Audit Office, several of the signatories consulted the Chairman of the Committee and the National Audit Office during a deliberative session of the Committee on Wednesday 22 April? On that occasion we were told that an inquiry had already been set up, going back as far as Sir Gordon Downey's time as Comptroller and Auditor General and before The Observer had made the allegations. That inquiry was completely unaffected by the allegations in The Observer .

I stand by early-day motion 801. It is the truth, and The Observer persists in telling lies.

Mr. Speaker : I am not privy to what goes on in the Public Accounts Committee, but I confirm that early-day motion 801 was in order or it would not have been on the Order Paper.

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3.58 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : I beg to move,

That this House congratulates the Government on the increase in spending on roads by 57 per cent. in real terms since 1979 and on rail by over 75 per cent. over the last five years ; notes the substantial and continuing pressure by the public for further measures to be taken up to and after 1992 to relieve road congestion ; further notes that additional significant increases in public spending of 25 per cent. on roads and nearly 50 per cent. on rail are planned up to 1992 ; applauds the encouragement being given to the private sector to develop a role in our roads programme ; believes that the privatization of British Rail would improve the service for the customer in the years beyond 1992 ; notes the improvement in the quality and quantity of bus services following de-regulation, and the privatisation of the National Bus Company ; believes that there is a need to take further in the years up to 1992 and beyond the steps already taken by the Secretary of State for Transport in liberalising air fares and routes in the interests of the travelling public ; congratulates the Secretary of State for Transport on the steps he personally has taken to promote public discussion of radical as well as conventional solutions to these problems ; and urges the Government to continue its efforts to identify ways of mitigating and resolving these challenges in the years up to 1992 and beyond, the cost of which can now be supported because of the success of this Government's economic policies.

I must observe in passing that millions of our fellow citizens have been subjected to appalling inconvenience and disruption by today's strike action. Although that is not the subject of the debate, it is perhaps appropriate that it should be taking place today. In moving the motion, I am supported by a number of my hon. Friends who hope to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and who will develop a number of themes that my motion seeks to highlight.

I am grateful, too, for the opportunity that winning this place in the ballot provides to draw attention to a matter of great concern to my constituents. The motion seeks to draw attention to the Government's many successes in this important area of activity since 1979, in terms of deregulation, privatisation, investment and the removal of red tape. That record is there for everyone to see but in addition, my motion draws attention to the formidable challenges that we face, on which our constituents expect decisive action and a clear policy.

The solutions remain primarily with the public sector. The excellent state of our public finances, as a result of the success of the Government's economic policy, means that the necessary funds do not elude us. We should be clear that, while the Government have, in part, established a reputation for eliminating wasteful, unnecessary and imprudent public expenditure, the converse is equally the case where good schemes require public funding and provision. The Government have been more responsive and supportive with taxpayers' money than any previous Government.

The challenge does not lie--as it has so often under previous Governments-- in how to find the money that we require. It lies in the use of the funds that are available to the maximum advantage in meeting our transport infrastructure requirements. Our geographical position on the edge of the EC makes that all the more important in the run-up to 1992, to which my motion draws attention.

I would also underline what I believe to be the personal contribution that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made in identifying ways of resolving the difficulties and moving transport infrastructure issues up

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the political agenda. He has given specific encouragement to the private sector to come forward with ideas and proposals. He has promoted an important debate about the future shape of British Rail, and the liberalisation package of late-1987 on air transport and related matters clearly emanated from him. He has done much to focus public attention on the things that need to be done.

Let me deal briefly with the current position of British Rail and the challenges that it faces for the future. It is right to note that under Sir Robert Reid British Rail has made substantial progress in recent years. In the past year, 20,600 million passenger miles have been travelled--the highest figure for 27 years--and £1.7 billion of passenger income has been received by British Rail. At the same time, there has been a 27 per cent. diminution in the support required from the taxpayer to run British Rail. Those are significant figures and accompany the significant investment that has been made in renewing and improving the rail network. No less than £2.5 billion has been spent since 1983 on 30 major investment programmes and many minor ones.

It is precisely because British Rail has made such progress that its return to the private sector can now be discussed as a serious option.

Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Suppose that British Rail had not been so successful in generating internal investment. Would such a lack of success have meant that management was so bad that British Rail would have to be privatised anyway?

Mr. Mitchell : The hon. Gentleman misses the point about privatisation entirely. If a business can stand on its own feet and thrive and flourish in the private sector, it should do so. I am merely pointing out that British Rail fulfils those important criteria. The case for, and objective of, privatisation can only be the extent to which it will assist and enhance British Rail's service to customer and improve its efficiency.

The case for rail has never been stronger. We must respond to rapidly growing passenger demand. British Rail must woo freight off the roads. It is in a unique position to respond to a number of environmental concerns. Above all, it must continue to improve the quality and standard of its service. I believe that British Rail is most likely to achieve those objectives if its long-term future rests in the private sector. I shall not discuss what method of privatisation might be the most appropriate although some of my hon. Friends will wish to refer to that.

Let me mention one local matter of immense concern to my constituents--the future of the midland main line. British Rail, and many hon. Members, have recently received the midland main line strategy study, a document commissioned by a number of the counties affected. It is a positive and helpful document. The approach that British Rail is taking towards the midland main line is a good one. Many improvements are to be made later this year. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel in the cab of a train and to see for myself some of the improvements that need to be made, which are now to be made as a result of representations from a large number of people. The importance of upgrading the line to provide for greater speeds and of straightening out the bends is well known and the more sympathetic timetabling that BR has produced for my constituents' benefit is welcome.

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It is essential for the region that British Rail accepts unquivocally the long-term case for electrification. I do not accept the argument that it is too far off to comment. Investment opportunities and inward investment in Nottinghamshire require investors to know that the region will have a first-class service linked to the Channel tunnel and the European rail network in the 21st century. That is why it is so important for British Rail's management to state publicly that it is committed to enhancing and improving the midland main line. On electrification, the issue is not "if" but "when". Anything that the Minister has to say on that will be reviewed and acknowledged with great interest when the Nottinghamshire authorities and my constituents have examined his comments.

Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) : I hope that the hon. Gentleman realises that many hon. Members sympathise with and support his view about electrification. I hope that we shall sustain the cross-party nature of the campaign, as electrification is vital for our region. Does not the hon. Gentleman feel, however, that a chance was missed in the debate on the King's Cross Railways Bill last week, when a number of hon. Members refused to allow evidence to be taken in Committee, which would have opened up the debate? For example, it would have allowed the very good study to which the hon. Gentleman referred to be considered, along with other items. Does he agree that that was a missed chance?

Mr. Mitchell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. He and I have made similar comments publicly in Nottinghamshire. I do not want to take up his comments about King's Cross, because that Bill is not strictly relevant to the debate. The second subject covered by my motion-- air travel--is also of great concern to our constituents. Their concerns are specific and refer to costs and delays. The agreement in Europe, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State did so much to promote at the beginning of last year, has made a considerable difference. Fares to major European capitals have been cut, more routes have been opened up and new services made available to the public. There has also been steady progress in bilateral agreements.

Having said that, far more needs to be done. It is not right that some airlines should receive state subsidy while others, such as British Airways, do not. There should be access for competitors on routes and destinations. The travelling public, and not cosy cartels reinforced by Government intervention, should determine the nature and quantity of air services. It is the Government's job to arrange safety and regulation ; it is not their job to interfere unnecessarily in the market process.

In particular, we should have three specific measures : all EC air routes should be open to free competition ; there should be major controls on Government subsidies to airlines ; and there must be clear and precise rules for route licensing.

Our regional airports, too, have started to take much of the strain in terms of delays. There has been a huge increase in traffic--nowhere more so than at East Midlands airport which was the fastest growing regional

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airport in the country. Over the weekend, we heard dire and, I hope, alarmist warnings about holiday air traffic. One commentator said that this year it would be

"finely balanced between muddling through and total melt-down." I sincerely hope that that will not be the case this year. I believe that regional airports have a major role to play in helping to solve some of the problems.

Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is absolutely deplorable that an increase in the number of transatlantic flights landing at Manchester--an important regional airport--has been blocked because of the failure to negotiate an international agreement on that?

Mr. Mitchell : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his supportive comments on some of the themes of Government policy, which have attempted to liberalise the arrangements and make life a great deal easier for the travelling public by offering them much more choice.

Since buses and coaches have been deregulated the public have seen more services, more operators and tremendous innovation. Minibuses now operate in 400 areas, often where traditional buses cannot penetrate, competition is flourishing in more than 100 areas, but operating costs have been reduced by more than 30 per cent. and tendering for services has saved local authorities £40 million. Have we seen any of the dire effects prophesied by Opposition Members? I am delighted by the presence today of my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. Brandon-Bravo). Everything that he told the people of Nottingham before the previous election has come true. The service that suffered 50 years of decline and decay, accompanied by mounting subsidies from the taxpayer and diminishing satisfaction to the consumer has been transformed. It now thrives and flourishes, it is competitive and it is responsive to the consumer.

Mr. Snape rose --

Mr. Mitchell : I am happy to give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Snape : It was pretty rich, even for the hon. Gentleman, to dismiss the latest report which refers to a drop in bus mileage since deregulation ; in fact, the hon. Gentleman did not refer to it at all. He also dismissed the disastrous impact of deregulation on the bus industry in one nonsensical paragraph from a prepared written speech.

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