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Mr. Channon : I am grateful. I am well aware of the importance of dualling the A11 to Norwich. What we have done for the railways and roads in the King's Lynn area will make my hon. Friend's constituents feel that we are responsive to his pressures and to the need to help Norfolk.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, East) : Are we right to think that, in part, the widening of motorways is to facilitate the introduction of toll charges? On the Airedale route, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that he and his ministerial colleagues are keeping an open mind on all the route options, including the tunnel? Does the right hon. Gentleman understand that the vast majority of citizens of Bradford are waiting to hear an announcement from him that he will find the modest amount of money needed to electrify the railway line between Bradford and Leeds?
Mr. Channon : That is for another day. However, as I have told other hon. Members, we look at any investment programme that is proposed. There would be no question of tolling any motorway unless primary legislation were put before the House and passed. What I have announced today is a massive expansion of the Government's motorway and trunk road programme, which will help Yorkshire and many other parts of the country. I hope that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will feel that it will help his city, too.
Mr. Alan Amos (Hexham) : Will my right hon. Friend accept the thanks of the north-eastern region for the improvements to the A1, the A69 and the A19? Will he also accept the thanks of the north-eastern region for the fact that the construction of that massive programme will involve more raw materials and skilled labour, both of which the north-east has in abundance?
Column 495for a comprehensive review of the A1 route, including the investigation of the possibility of it having full motorway status from London to Tyneside.
Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Prescott rose --
Mr. Prescott : Will the Secretary of State tell us how many of the 2,700 miles of new and improved road will be completed and how much of the new £7 billion of expenditure will be spent in the two years before the general election?
Mr. Channon : The hon. Gentleman must contain himslf with patience, because, as I told the House--and it is said clearly in the White Paper--I shall publish the details and the timings later this year. The hon. Gentleman will look forward to receiving them.
Mr. Speaker : I can anticipate the points of order. I say to the whole House that I can fully understand the desire to ask questions about the statement, but 38 right hon. and hon. Members wish to participate in the subsequent debate. It is a very difficult balance for the Chair to strike. I am not responsible for the timing of statements. I have to say to the whole House that, of course, as is my usual practice, I shall bear in mind those hon. Members who have not been called today.
Mr. Andrew MacKay (Berkshire, East) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Naturally, I would in no way wish to challenge your decision. You have acknowledged that this is an important statement, but said that there is an important debate afterwards in which a large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to catch your eye. I would just point out that far more Conservative Members have been in attendance during questions on the statement--on a ratio of at least 3 : 1--than Labour Members, because they were not interested. I suggest that in future, when there are three times as many hon. Members present on this side of the House as on the other, you reflect that fact in those hon. Members whom you call.
Column 496State in seeking to inform hon. Members in the way he has done. I hope that that will be encouragement to other Ministers to do the same.
I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that written question 221 from the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) which the Secretary of State said he hoped would be answered, has not been answered by a Scottish Minister. I checked two minutes ago with the Library, and the written answers to questions from the Scottish Office had not arrived. As the Secretary of State will know, and I think most people will confirm, I am certainly not a Scottish nationalist and I do not play the Scottish card in any sense, but I feel that the Leader of the House, who is present, should make a statement and assure the House that the Secretary of State for Scotland will come to the House on Monday and make a statement. It is intolerable that a Minister should come to the House to make a statement on English roads and should plant a question on the Order Paper--with the funny little tree mark on it--which will allow the Secretary of State for Scotland to have a press conference in Edinburgh, but which will deny Scottish Members of Parliament the opportunity to question him directly.
Mr. Speaker : Order. I must say to hon. Members that they are doing a disservice to their colleagues by persisting in raising points of order. I anticipate that it is because hon. Members-- [Interruption.] Order. It is because hon. Members have not been called on the statement. I am sorry, and I shall bear them in mind in the future.
Ms. Joyce Quin
Mr. Harry Barnes
Mr. John McFall
That the Teachers' Superannuation (Scotland) Amendment Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 666) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Road Traffic (Carriage of Explosives) Regulations 1989 (S.I., 1989, No. 615) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Sackville.]
Points of Order
Mr. Brown : I simply want to ask you, Mr. Speaker, whether it is fair for one Opposition hon. Member representing Humberside to be called twice when other Conservative Members representing Humberside were not called at all.
Mr. Speaker : Order. The House knows how many hon. Members wanted to participate in questions on the statement. We now have a privilege motion. That is a serious matter which rarely occurs. It is a debatable motion and I hope that business will not be delayed. Several Hon. Members rose --
Mr. Speaker : I will take the point of order from the hon. Gentleman, but I must tell the House that I am concerned--I hope that I am wrong--that this appears to be an attempt to delay getting on to an important debate.
Mr. McLoughlin : This is an attempt not to delay, but to protect Back Benchers, about whom you often speak, Mr. Speaker. Will you reflect, Mr. Speaker, on the way in which Members were called this afternoon? Are you aware that in business questions--
Mr. Cecil Franks (Barrow and Furness) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While I do not wish to challenge in any way your decision to bring the questions on the statement to an end, I ask you to bear in mind the fact that, although you called hon. Members from both sides of the House who represent many regions, you did not call one Member representing the north-west, which figures quite prominently in the statement.
Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon it is obvious that there has been a great deal more interest in the statement on the Conservative Benches than on the Opposition Benches. In future, will you bear in mind the number of people sitting on the Conservative Benches, who rise to catch your eye, when dealing with similar statements, which are of a constituency rather than a party political nature? After all, the Labour party policy document published today has but 20 lines on the subject of roads--nothing more.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) rose--
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : I wish to call attention to the complaint by Mr. Anthony Dagnan that he has received adverse treatment in his employment with Birmingham city council as a consequence of acting as the agent for a petition against the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill.
I beg to move,
That the matter of the complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges.
I think, Mr. Speaker, that people often consider that the issue of parliamentary privilege concerns the rights of Members, who are generally seen as a privileged group, and that it rarely evokes much public sympathy. This case concerns the democratic rights of an ordinary citizen. I believe that it is extremely important for Parliament to take seriously a complaint of pressure being exerted on an individual who seeks to exercise his democratic right to petition Parliament against a private Bill.
The individual concerned is Mr. Anthony Paul Dagnan, who has worked for about 18 years for the treasury department of Birmingham city council. He enjoys motor racing and was originally pleased when Birmingham city council decided to take powers to organise a road race in the centre of the city. But then, in common with many others in Birmingham, he became increasingly concerned at the way in which the road race was run. He was concerned about the costs to the city council and that many of them were not included in the road race accounts. He was also concerned at the way in which the legal requirement in the existing Bill--that it should break even in five years or the council's powers to run the race would lapse--was got around by finding £1 million and claiming that the race promotes the city so well that it is worth £1 million from the people of the city. Many of us disagree.
When the city council decided to put a further Bill to the House that would extend the road race to four days and remove many of the previous constraints which protected people to some extent from a further waste of money, Mr. Dagnan, in common with many people in Birmingham, felt that that was wrong. He therefore set out to discover what he could do about it, and he found that individuals have the right to petition the House of Commons against a private Bill.
Mr. Dagnan sought to petition as an individual, but strangely enough he was not allowed to do so as individual citizens are not allowed to petition against their city council because, necessarily, the city council represents them. I believe that that is a Jesuitical argument. Mr. Dagnan also persuaded his union branch--the Birmingham city branch of the National and Local Government Officers Association--that it should petition. He offered to represent his union. Mr. Dagnan appeared before the Committee and I am told that he was an impressive witness. In common with many of my constituents, he has no resources--
Mr. Dagnan had to pay his own fares to come to the House and take time off work. As an aside, I believe that the House should look into the costs to private individuals who seek to petition the House. Some may be represented by lawyers who are paid great fees, but other individuals have to pay their own fares to get here.
Mr. Dagnan took time off work and paid his fares to get to the House because he believes that the Bill is wrong, that it is bad for the citizens of Birmingham and bad for the interests of council workers. I stress that he has no personal interest in the case. He is acting against the Bill as a citizen because he believes that that is the right thing to do. As a result of his actions, however, he has been called in and told that he cannot continue the job that he has performed and enjoyed for so many years. He has been offered alternative employment which he does not consider acceptable. I must make it clear that it is not alleged that he has in any way abused his position or used any information that came to him as part of his job. He used only information that is publicly available in Birmingham. As a result of his difficulties, Mr. Dagnan wrote to me asking me to raise the issue as a matter of privilege and I am pleased to do so.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) has misled the Birmingham press by suggesting that this is simply a ploy to delay the progress of the road race Bill. I understand, however, that referring this matter to the Committee of Privileges will in no way delay that Bill. This is not a ploy--it concerns the rights of citizens to petition the House of Commons. That is a serious matter for Mr. Dagnan and for others who may wish to exercise their right. The hon. Member for Northfield had the cheek to say that there are no other arguments against the Bill, but he spent an hour promoting that Bill and thus prevented me from speaking. That race affects my constituents because it takes place in my constituency.
I believe that we should all be proud of people such as Paul Dagnan, an ordinary citizen determined to exercise his democratic right for what he considers to be fair and not out of any self interest. We need more people like Mr. Dagnan. Too many people feel absolutely powerless in this so- called democracy to exert their rights and stand up for what they believe is right.
I have already said that there is no ulterior motive in respect of the road race Bill, which we shall debate on another occasion. This is very much a matter of the little man, the ordinary citizen, against the system. I have sought to bring Mr. Dagnan's views before the House of Commons. He has been pressurised to leave a job that he enjoys and is good at because he has exercised his democratic right. That is a serious matter. I hope, therefore, that the House will agree that Mr. Dagnan's complaint should be referred to the Committee of Privileges both to protect Mr. Dagnan, who ought not to be punished for having done this, and to protect others coming after him who ought to have a similar right.
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : I first heard of your statement yesterday afternoon, Mr. Speaker, from a third-hand source. I was not present in the Chamber, so I was not too clear about what was said at that time. Together with a few city officials, I expressed my
Column 501indignation about what was taking place. I may have misunderstood what happened in the Chamber. I was reported as saying that this was a time-wasting ploy by opponents of the Bill.
I have attended the Committee stage of the Bill on a number of occasions. The petitioners' presentation of their case against the Bill has been extremely good. They have argued their case effectively, and I have no doubt that the Committee will bear that in mind. My comment was directed at what I thought was an attempt to delay the Bill. Having looked at Hansard, I now understand that you, Mr. Speaker, made a statement as a result of which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has moved her motion, as she is perfectly entitled to do. I apologise if anyone has misunderstood the motives behind my statement.
Mr. Dagnan has been employed by Birmingham city council for 18 years as an auditor clerk. He is now employed as an auditor. At the moment he has been granted unpaid leave of absence to act as an agent for petitioners against the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill. Until this morning, when the Committee stage of the Bill was completed, he could be seen actively pursuing that interest, speaking on behalf of his union--NALGO--of which he is an official.
Mr. King : Exactly, Mr. Speaker. My information is that Birmingham city council has allowed Mr. Dagnan time to appear before the Committee. I stand to be corrected if that is not the case. The problems that the hon. Member for Ladywood has mentioned are far more complicated and extend over a greater period of time than she suggested. It is not just a question of concerning ourselves with any pressure that council officials and political leaders of the city of Birmingham have placed on any party seeking to object to the Bill. The matter that has concerned the council over a fairly long period is the right of a city official, in his capacity as an auditor within the treasurer's department, to challenge the city accounts with the benefit of obviously sensitive information. There is no evidence that Mr. Dagnan has used information in that way, but it has placed him under some strain in his dealings with various departments of the city council--the engineer's department, in particular, where the co-operation to which he is entitled as an auditor has been less than forthcoming due to the fear that information given to him might be transferred to other people. I stress that it is a fear, but it is a real concern.
When the matter was originally discussed in February this year, it was made abundantly clear to Mr. Dagnan that the problem, as the city thought, was that if he persisted in challenging the city's accounts and wished to take part in petitioning against the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill he would be in a privileged position in having access to sensitive financial information and it would be very difficult for the council to make that
Column 502information available to other petitioners. During the discussions which took place over a certain period it was suggested that in view of Mr. Dagnan's desire to take part in petitioning against the Bill he might agree to move to another part of the treasurer's department on the same salary scale.
City officials have said that on only one occasion did the subject of the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill arise during discussions with Mr. Dagnan. He has not been placed under any pressure whatever. The council strongly refutes all the allegations made by the hon. Member for Ladywood. However, the council feels that the best course of action, if it is the wish of the House, is that the matter should be discussed and that evidence should be presented to the Committee of Privileges so that the truth will come out. There are no skeletons in the cupboard. The council believes that it has a very strong case. It has sought at no stage to victimise Mr. Dagnan. It has sought only to point out to him the sensitivity of his present position and his present actions and the need to protect the city and its ratepayers. The city will not oppose the hon. Lady's motion, if it is the wish of the House that the matter should be referred to the Committee of Privileges. We look forward to a very thorough investigation and to the eventual upholding of the city's views.
Mr. Henry Bellingham (Norfolk, North-West) : As one of the members of the Committee considering the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill, I should like to put on record the fact that Mr. Paul Dagnan conducted himself in an exemplary fashion throughout his evidence. Although he had the opportunity to prolong the case, had he so wished, he was extremely brief and eloquent and--regardless of the merits of his argument, which is a matter for the Committee to decide later--made a major impression on the members of the Commitee. 5.7 pm
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : We have heard a very serious allegationby the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) on behalf of one of her constituents, and I consider that you, Mr. Speaker, were wholly right to give this debate precedence over the business of the House set down today. However, with an eye to the important debate that is to follow and mindful of the time already taken up in discussing next week's business and the Government's plans to improve the road system, I will be brief.
The privileges of this House are its defensive ramparts, which enable it to go about its business free from external threat, internal disorder and such other pressures irrelevant to the merits of the case. As "Erskine May" puts it, they are
"rights which are absolutely necessary for the due execution of its powers".
In recognition of the importance to the House of information provided by witnesses and petitioners, that protection may be extended in certain cases to those other than Members and Officers. Again "Erskine May" makes it clear that
"Petitioners are considered as under the protection of the High Court of Parliament and conduct calculated to deter them from preferring or presenting petitions may be treated as a breach of privilege".
Column 503I have to say that I have found some difficulty in identifying a relevant precedent for this motion, at least in this century. Perhaps the most likely contender is the case of Mr. W. A. Grimshaw, who complained to the Select Committee on Nationalised Industries in 1975 that he had been made redundant by the National Coal Board after giving evidence to the Committee critical of his employers. Although not a precise parallel, this case has relevance in that in both cases there is an allegation of victimisation by an employer arising from the actions of an individual in relation to the business of this House. What that case-- which, incidentally, resulted in a finding by the Committee of Privileges that no breach of privilege had, in fact, occurred--demonstrates is that the Committee, if set up as a result of this debate, will have to determine three things : whether the individual concerned was moved by his employers because he had petitioned against the Bill ; whether that move was to his detriment ; and, if so, whether those events amounted to a breach of privilege. The Committee will therefore need to inquire closely into the events which have taken place, and then act in a quasi-judicial capacity to recommend to the House whether a breach has in fact taken place and, if so, what action the House should take.
We have had a useful, short debate and I am left in no doubt that if the hon. Lady considers it right to press her motion the House should support her in resolving to constitute a Committee of Privileges to carry out whatever inquiries seem to be needed and to make recommendations to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
That the matter of the complaint be referred to the Committee of Privileges.