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Column 712in South Africa that is affiliated to the South African Rugby Board could any hon. Member find any discrimination in selection, the way in which the club is run or the spectators who go to the grounds, unlike the position with those that are affiliated to the South African Council on Sport.
Such enormous strides have been made that Dr. Danie Craven visited Lusaka to meet members of the African National Congress to discuss a basis for the fulfilment of South Africa's desire to return to international sport. The silence from the Opposition was deafening ; they said not a word against that initiative. Indeed, words were said by Conservative Members because of the apparent naivety of Dr. Craven. However, that meeting established that even the ANC is prepared to consider whether there should be a place within the international fold for people of whatever sport, and of all colours, who are prepared to promote their sport, despite Government laws of the day, on the basis of no discrimination.
The other major sport where enormous progress has been made is cricket. The South African Cricket Union enjoyed its centenary only a few weeks ago and many notable British cricketers visited South Africa, including myself. No doubt that will prompt the hon. Member for Walsall, North to recite his usual catalogue from the Register of Members' Interests.
Mr. Winnick : How many trips has the hon. Gentleman made to South Africa? Were they paid for by the South African authorities? If, as the hon. Gentleman has previously admitted, that is the case, would it not be better for his reputation if he prefaced his remarks with a declaration to the House?
Mr. Carlisle : If you, Madam Deputy Speaker, had felt such a declaration to be necessary, I am sure that you would have asked me to make one. The hon. Member for Walsall, North has made similar interventions so many times--in fact, almost every time that I speak--that he is probably more up to date with the register than I am. He knows full well that the majority, although not all, of my visits to South Africa have been financed by various authorities within that country, be they sporting bodies, Government, Round Table or Rotary. I have been to that country many times, and always travelled first class and stayed in first-class hotels-- information that I am sure the hon. Gentleman wants to have.
I can claim, which the hon. Gentleman cannot, to have some personal knowledge of events in South Africa. His criticism, both inside and outside the House, is always made from afar, as is that of Sam Ramsamy and Sonny Rampha. The hon. Gentleman knows that I am not suggesting that we cannot criticise a country--we have done so in respect of Romania and other countries--without some sense of authority. However, as I and some of my hon. Friends have been to South Africa in various guises, we have a knowledge that the hon. Gentleman, who sits there in his white coat, does not have. I suggest that he accepts the various offers to travel to that side of the free world in the way that his hon. Friends accept offers to travel to the other side.
Column 713"The registering of interests is additional to, and in no way a replacement of, the requirement on Members to declare their interests when they speak in debate"?
That requirement is not a convention, but a rule of the House. The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) should have declared his free visits to South Africa at the commencement of his speech.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : I confirm that the words quoted by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) are correct. If hon. Members have interests to declare, it is the custom that they do so at the outset of their speeches.
Mr. Carlisle : I hope, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you will take my original words on the basis that, had I declared an interest that is well known to the House--and I apologise for not doing so--the number of interventions from the hon. Member for Walsall, North would have been pre- empted because he would have had to think of something else to say--which, in his case, is somewhat difficult.
The progress made in cricket is, perhaps, the crux of what is happening in South Africa. Within the past two years, 60,000 black children, who have never even held a cricket bat because they thought cricket a white man's sport, have been coached by players from Britain and South Africa and have enjoyed a game that many hon. Members enjoy. That initiative has, on the whole, been financed by South African companies. The crucial part of that programme has been the arrival of British coaches who often spend the majority of their time in the black townships. Despite that, in January the International Cricket Conference passed regulations that will discourage and possibly even prevent many English coaches who have aspirations to represent their country from going to those black townships to help those children.
The House--like, indeed, the International Cricket Conference--should ask itself whether it is fair or moral for those children to be denied coaching by players from this country and elsewhere simply because the ICC thinks that that will preserve international cricket. If the only way to preserve an international sport is through blackmail and hypocrisy, there is something wrong with sport. Children in, for example, Alexandria will not now receive coaching from some of the lesser players on the English cricket circuit. Do hon. Members really believe that that helps those children? I believe it to be a barrier to one of the greatest sporting challenges of the past few years.
We shall no doubt return to this subject, which has bedevilled the sporting world for some years and will continue to do so until, perhaps, just men and women of true call, "Foul ; enough is enough." It is time that we were fair to those whom we are trying to benefit. It is extraordinary to say that, because we do not like the colour of a Government or the way in which they run their country, we should deny their sportsmen and women the opportunity to improve their status and their standard of life. That is why I regret certain moves made by Ministers. I hope that the Government will be sensible and remember that freedom of choice should be not only at the heart of Conservative policy but a basic right of mankind.
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Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : It is unfortunate that I find myself following the hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle), whose speech has shown the degree to which he has been bought and sold by the South African Government.
I intend to raise a matter that has ramifications for the Lord Chancellor, the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House from time to time find themselves involved in cases where children have been abducted following matrimonial proceedings. The particular case that I wish to raise relates to my constituent, a Mr. Winstanley. Following a long and fraught divorce battle in the courts and court reporting on the after care and custody of his two children, the High Court in Greater Manchester decided that he should have custody and that they should remain in the United Kingdom until the age of 18. Mr. Winstanley's former wife is a Bulgarian national. In February, without the consent of the court or reference to the family, the children were abducted and taken to Bulgaria. It took from February until 8 May, with the full assistance of the Foreign Office, to establish first, where the children were ; secondly, whether they were with their mother ; and thirdly, whether they were being properly cared for.
Current law does not provide sufficient protection in abduction cases, irrespective of the decision about whether the children should remain with their father or their mother. It is usual for the courts to take the children's views into account before making a decision. We require a change in the law to ensure that a child is protected from the activities of a parent or people acting on his or her behalf. For example, at this moment it is quite possible for a child to be removed from the United Kingdom without immigration authorities knowing that the child is a ward of a county court or the High Court. It is possible also for a child to be removed when he or she is still under the care of a social services department. When the High Court determines that a child should remain in the custody of the mother or the father, the parents' passports should be clearly marked to show that the child is in the custody of a parent. That would ensure that immigration officers would be alerted to the fact that a child may be in the process of being abducted by a parent or his or her paid representative. Unless the law is changed, such tugs-of-love will continue.
There are emotional difficulties on both sides. My constituent went through the due processes of the law, and the court determined that it was in the best interests of the children that they remain with the father. Those children, who expressed that wish to the court, were abducted and taken to a country far away from their father, with no opportunity to say that was not what they desired. With the assistance of the Foreign Office, we have been able to ascertain that the children are living with their mother in Bulgaria. However, the Foreign Office is unable to act. Its activities are limited to stating that the children are in good health and that there are opportunities for the father to visit them if the Bulgarian authorities will allow him to do so. It is important for the Home Office to consider reciprocal arrangements with other countries. Unfortunately, my constituent is one of hundreds of people who will find themselves in a similar position this year, either because of one parent removing children or
Column 715people being paid to act as agents to abduct children from the United Kingdom. When a custody decision is handed down by a United Kingdom court, it is important to protect not the parents but the children. However, a court order was blatantly broken by a parent disregarding the order or an agent being paid to remove the child. When a child is removed, it is not the British court's responsibility to seek redress in the court of the country in which a child winds up. The parent is responsible for trying to make his or her way through the legal proceedings of a foreign country and to find the financial resources to do so. That is unacceptable. Many parents are unable to pay for legal proceedings in another country.
I appeal to the Bulgarian Government to take urgent steps to ensure that my constituent is allowed to go to Bulgaria and that all facilities will be available to him in term of access to the children and to legal proceedings so that he can determine whether the children wish to remain with their mother or make the journey back to the United Kingdom and present themselves to the court of confirm or vary the custody order that was made earlier this year.
It is important also to amend the Child Abduction Act 1984. It is virtually ineffective. It is effective only if parents or children have prior knowledge of a possible abduction. They can seek a High Court restraining order. It is a major flaw in the law that, unless there is prior knowledge of an abduction, one cannot use the Act to prevent a criminal offence or try to put pressure on the Foreign Office to ensure that children are brought back to the jurisdiction of United Kingdom courts. It is part and parcel of reciprocal arrangements that there should be legal aid in the country in which further court proceedings will be held. When a child is abducted from the United Kingdom and court proceedings must take place in the country in which they are residing, it is important that the parents are given full rights within the law, limited as they may be in some countries, and the financial resources to ensure that their rights and those of their children are exercised.
In many cases we are concerned about parents' anxieties, but young children who were born and bred in the United Kingdom and are abducted to a foreign country cannot speak the foreign language, are completely disorientated and are unable to see the other parent or air their views on whether they wish to remain in that country or return to the United Kingdom. It must be a traumatic experience for them. From my interviews with him I understand that it is traumatic for my constituent and his family. Far too often, such trauma cannot be eased. Because of the lack of reciprocal arrangements the Government are unable to take international action. Unless they are given notice, immigration officers, police and social services departments are unable to know whether a child is being illegally removed. There are many measures to ensure that people enter this country legally, so surely we can take some steps to ensure that children are not illegally removed.
This is the second such case that has been brought to my attention. About 18 months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Mr. Stott) and I were involved in a case in which, against their express wishes and those of the social services department, two young girls were removed to Iran. The mother was also removed. Because the authorities had no jurisdiction or prior knowledge of the abduction, the father went to the port of Hull, got on to a ferry to Holland, went across Europe, and then got on a plane to Iran. To this day, the mother does not know
Column 716whether her children are alive or are being cared for. The British courts and the Government are unable to assist parents in such cases.
Mr. Winstanley's case shows the need for the Government to examine possible reciprocal arrangements and ensure that, whenever a custody order is made, both parents' passports are marked accordingly so that authorities at ports of embarkation can be aware of possible abductions. As I said, there should be reciprocal agreements so that parents have full legal rights and financial resources to take their cases to the court of a foreign country.
I hope that the Leader of the House will respond positively. If he cannot respond specifically, will he at least give a commitment that the three Departments involved will follow up discussions with myself and other hon. Members who regularly face these cases? The lives of many of our constituents are shattered because of the inability to protect children who are abducted by a parent or his or her paid agent.
Mr. James Kilfedder (North Down) : I give my full support to the passionate plea that the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) has made, through my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, to the Foreign Office and to the Government of Bulgaria. I believe that it is well established in British law that the welfare of the child is paramount. In the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described, legal aid or financial assistance should be provided so that the wronged parent can pursue the children in the country to which the mother had taken them.
I wish to refer to two matters in this short debate. First, I want to make a vehement protest about the way in which British Airways treated its passengers at London airport while waiting for the 6.30 pm flight to Belfast on Friday. Those passengers were eventually told that they had to wait for the back-up flight to be made available. I had gone from Westminster to London airport to catch that flight and I know what the other passengers had to endure.
More than 100 passengers were made to stand for an intolerable time-- between 40 and 45 minutes--on the ramp leading down to the departure lounge for the Belfast flight. One side of that ramp is glass and through it the full afternoon and evening sun shines. On Friday, the heat was intense and the temperature hovered at about 100 deg F. One can imagine the debilitating effect that that would have on the fittest and youngest, but among the weary passengers standing on that ramp--many of whom had travelled from abroad or within the United Kingdom--were elderly people, children and at least one pregnant woman. It is scandalous that no attempt was made by British Airways staff to find out whether the passengers were in a condition to stand in that heat for so long. No one offered chairs, no one offered any advice and no one said when the back-up plane might be made available. No one seemed to care about the passengers. The well-advertised back-up aircraft was not available and no one was able to say when it would be. I trust that British Airways will abandon its advertising of such back- up services. I remember one advertisement showing a British Airways aircraft carrying a solitary passenger immediately after the regular flight, which was full, had taken off. That advertisement belongs to the realms of
Column 717fantasy as I have never seen that happen in reality. The 6.30 regular flight was an hour late leaving for Belfast because, according to British Airways staff, the airline had run out of kerosene. It is incomprehensible that no fuel was available for that flight.
It is possible that there are an insufficient number of staff available and British British Airways must ensure that such staff are available in the future, but that does not stop me condemning the way in which British Airways staff treat passengers for Northern Ireland. The incident on Friday was not unique. I have always thought that the way in which passengers are treated is similar to the way in which cattle are treated. The excuse that is always given is that the staff cannot cope with so many passengers and that the numbers take them by surprise. British Airways seems to be taken by surprise regularly every summer and every winter due to holidays or whatever. It never seems to learn or to care. It is high time that the chairman of British Airways, Lord King, resigned, because, if the buck stops anywhere, it must stop with him. I give notice that in the future the people of Northern Ireland will not accept such intolerable treatment from the staff of British Airways at London airport.
The second matter that I wish to raise concerns elderly people. In the previous general election, my principal opponent --whose campaign was largely run by those now regarded as the organisers of the North Down Conservative group--stated that I was elected, no doubt for the last time, on a dying vote. That is an insulting way to refer to the retired people who voted for me because of my concern for their well-being. Such arrogance and indifference towards pensioners ignores the fact that everyone who lives long enough will become old, and many of those who become old do not have enough money to take care of themselves.
The House should not rise until it is made aware of the plight of many elderly people. I refer particularly to those living in my constituency, but my remarks apply right across the country. A percentage of pensioners in my constituency were in receipt of what used to be known as supplementary benefit but is now called income support. Recently, when the old-age pension was increased by a relatively small amount, those pensioners were no longer eligible for income support and the slight increase in pension was thus cancelled out by the loss of the supplementary sum. They have also lost other benefits because their incomes are no longer regarded as being below a particular financial limit. In other words, those pensioners are worse off, although the cost of living has increased with inflation at more than 8 per cent. and continuing to rise.
I have visited the homes of many pensioners in my constituency and I have seen how they have to think carefully about how they spend their pittance, budgeting carefully to decide what they can afford and what they must do without. I appeal to the Government to reconsider this grievous situation. There is an undeniable case for doing justice to our senior citizens who have worked hard throughout their long years. In my view, what is required is an immediate and substantial increase in the old age pension.
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Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : I fully support what the hon. Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) said about pensioners. Pensioners are being treated with contempt by the Government. My advice to the hon. Gentleman is to support the Labour party in every way he can, although I appreciate that he cannot actually do so in Northern Ireland.
The hon. Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) again sought to defend the indefensible. As I understand it, part of his argument is that he has the advantage of going on trips to South Africa. He was forced to declare his interest as a result of an intervention from the Opposition.
Mr. John Carlisle indicated dissent.
Mr. Winnick : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that he did not declare his interest and that he was forced to do so by the Chair. He should at least agree with me on this, as the events took place just half an hour ago.
Although the hon. Member for Luton, North has the advantage, if it may be so described, of visiting South Africa, he has always done so at the expense of the South African authorities or South African organisations. I believe that he once claimed in the Chamber never to have paid for such a trip. I have never been to South Africa, but I do not have to prove my point, which has been proved on so many occasions--that South Africa is isolated and will remain so until the apartheid regime is ended. I do not believe that there can be the slightest doubt about that.
I had the honour of being a Member of this place in the mid-1960s, and during that period I protested with other Labour Members constantly about the tortures taking place in Greece. Some hon. Members went on trips to Greece--we know all about those trips--and when they returned they painted a rather different picture of what I knew was taking place in Greece. In 1974, when the colonels' regime came to an end, all that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I had been saying about the torture and other terrible happenings was proved right. We knew that we were right when the colonels were in power. We do not have to go on sponsored trips to find out what is happening, any more than our predecessors needed to go to Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia or Mussolini's Italy to find out what was going on in those countries.
Mr. John Carlisle : If hon. Members go on trips, sponsored or otherwise, it does not mean that they return with the opinions of the bodies that organise them. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), who is not in his place, and my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), the Minister of State, Home Office, and others have been to South Africa, but have returned with views entirely different from my own. Individuals can travel to other countries and return with different opinions, and sometimes their opinions are at odds with the organisations that sponsor their trips.
Mr. Winnick : In the main, those hon. Members who go on sponsored trips tend to return with the views of the organisations or countries which invited them to make the trips. The hon. Gentleman's illustrations are very much the exception. He demonstrates all too well the point that I am making. When he speaks in the House, he says that he speaks on behalf of South Africa. I would claim that he does not even speak on behalf of all the whites of South
Column 719Africa, but on behalf of a regime and its supporters which have been ostracised and are isolated from the rest of the world. The view that I have expressed is echoed by the Government. Ministers tend to say what I say and not what the hon. Gentleman says. He is an isolated figure in the House.
Before taking up a domestic issue, I wish to say a few words about the happenings in China. It would be unfortunate if the House ignored what is going on in that country. The students in China are to be congratulated on the way in which they have organised and sustained such a massive demonstration under a dictatorship. Ironically, those who follow events in China are aware that limited reforms have undoubtedly taken place in that country, especially since the death of Mao Tse-tung in 1976. Had the reforms of the past 13 years not taken place, it would have been virtually impossible for the current demonstrations to occur. Demonstrations cannot take place very well in conditions of terror. I accept, therefore, that there have been changes--the changes have been welcome and they have been recognised by the House in debates and at Question Time--but the fact remains that they have not been anywhere near sufficient to satisfy those who have been protesting.
I have been taken by surprise, however, although I have followed the demonstrations that have taken place in China in the past and I know what usually happens to demonstrators in that country. I know of those who have been imprisoned. For example, a dissident who is well known in international circles is currently in prison, having been sentenced to 15 years.
We do not know what will happen this week, let alone in the weeks and months to come. I only hope that the basic demand of the students will be met. Hundreds of thousands of students have been demonstrating day and night, and I salute their tremendous courage. It is not so easy sometimes to demonstrate in a democracy, and it is that much more difficult to do so in the conditions that prevail in countries such as China. The students have been joined by workers and many others and I believe that their demands should be met. They are saying that there should be a dialogue between the leadership of China and the representatives of those who have been demonstrating. We are aware, of course, of the changes and reforms that have occurred in the Soviet Union, especially in the past three or four years, and it is understandable that many people in China want to see the same sort of progress. They do not argue necessarily for parliamentary democracy on the western model--perhaps it is not possible to have that form of democracy at this stage in China, or for some time to come--but many Chinese people want further and substantial changes. They see a neighbouring Communist party ruling the Soviet Union which has brought about many significant changes, including in some instances genuine contests at election time. Many Chinese demonstrating now are also concerned about corruption and favouritism in very high places.
Perhaps the position of Hong Kong has a more direct bearing on the United Kingdom than the events taking place in China. I was not opposed to the agreement made by the British Government with China for the future of Hong Kong. I believe that it was the right agreement in all the circumstances, and I am sure that it would have been made by a Labour Government. The best guarantee for stability in Hong Kong, however, is for the people there to
Column 720see substantial steps being taken towards democratic change in China, and it is understandable that there were demonstrations in Hong Kong in support of the students. Whatever may be written on paper, and whatever agreement may have been reached with China, the fact is that China remains very much an authoritarian type of dictatorship, if not now a totalitarian state.
If changes can occur in China on the same lines as those taking place in the Soviet Union, I believe that there will be some confidence among the people of Hong Kong, which will perhaps make them more willing to accept that there is a future there for themselves, their children and their grandchildren.
The domestic matter to which I wish to refer is causing a great deal of concern in the borough within my constituency. The Walsall health authority has submitted an expression of interest--that is the phrase used in the White Paper--in two hospitals opting out of the existing National Health Service management structure. One of the hospitals designated for opting- out is the main hospital in the borough. Only two weeks ago I attended the official opening of a large extension to it. I refer to the Manor hospital. There is no support for opting out within the borough, and certainly none within my constituency, and I have received many letters from constituents expressing their disquiet. They have asked me to do what I can to support the efforts being made to ensure that the two hospitals remain in the existing NHS management structure, and I have responded in a way that would be expected of a Labour Member.
Opting out, as many of my constituents who have written to me have rightly observed, is a half-way house privatisation. It is all part of the Government's attempt to erode and destabilise the NHS. That is not the view of the Labour party alone. The Joint Consultants Committee has stated :
"These proposals inevitably change the prime aim of the management of these hospitals, from the provision of adequate care to the community as a whole to the financial success of the hospital. The considerable experience of such hospitals in the USA shows clearly that there will be pressure to encourage admission of patients with conditions that can be treated with financial benefit to the hospital rather than to admit those patients-- often the chronic sick--whose treatment is likely to lead to little or no such financial benefit." I imagine that most of the members of the Joint Consultants Committee do not vote for the Labour party, but I accept entirely what they have said. I have said repeatedly in my constituency, and I have written to this effect to the Secretary of State, that the Government talk constantly about participation and insist that voting is essential.
Before any decision is made for the two hospitals in my constituency to become what is described as NHS hospital trusts--that is, before any decision is made by the Secretary of State--there should be a ballot. Surely that is not asking too much. Is not that part and parcel of democracy? I have argued that in every ward and polling district within the borough the residents should have an opportunity to decide whether they want those hospitals to opt out. I am quite willing to abide by the decision reached. If it goes against my views, so be it, although I do not think that that is likely. There should be a ballot for the people to decide.
The Secretary of State for Health is not in the Chamber, but I should like to know whether he would be willing to abide by such a decision. If he says that no ballot is needed,
Column 721the inevitable response from Labour Members will be, "Why not?" Is he afraid of the outcome? Does he accept my view that the overwhelming majority of people in my borough, which covers three parliamentary constituencies, are completely opposed to the hospitals opting out of the existing National Health Service management structure? Many of the people who express that view were not Labour voters, or at least not at the last general election. When the Leader of the House responds, I hope that he will pass on what I have said in the usual way to his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
There will be a meeting in the borough on Friday at which those who oppose the decision to opt out will make their views clear. I am certain that there will be many more meetings. The point that I shall make at the meeting is that it would be undemocratic and incompatible with any concept of democracy for the hospitals concerned to be withdrawn from the existing NHS management structure without any ballot of the residents. Nor has there been any suggestion that the medical and non-medical staff at the hospitals should be balloted. They have not been asked for their views either. I therefore thought it only right and proper that that issue, which is of great concern in my borough, should be aired at the first opportunity on the Floor of the House.
My first point concerns Basildon district council, which has increased its rates this year by 57.9 per cent. I can understand my hon. Friends being aghast at that, because that is the largest rate increase in the country. That increase has nothing to do with the provision of essential services, but everything to do with the enhancement of leisure facilities.
During the past year in Basildon, we have experienced what could be described as a hung council. It was a hung council by virtue of a Liberal councillor who described himself as an independent--
Mr. Amess : As my hon. Friend asks, where are they now? On every conceivable opportunity, that Liberal councillor voted with the Labour party and--surprise, surprise--after the county elections this year this so -called Liberal-cum-independent officially joined the Labour party.
One of the many aspects that we must consider in dealing with this very damaging rate increase in Basildon is that of the direct labour organisation report. I have a copy of a note from the Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State for the Environment which states : "Basildon's DLO report for 1987-88, sent to the Department, does indeed confirm a current loss of £634,000 on building maintenance work. Since this represents 58 per cent. of the turnover in this category, it is a serious financial failure. The deficit was charged in the first instance to the DLO reserve fund with the balance charged to the general rate fund as required by the DLO legislation The Secretary of State is empowered ultimately to order closure of a DLO if it
Column 722fails to achieve the financial target of a 5 per cent. rate of return on capital employed and the authority are unable to provide a statutory explanation."
My constituents will rightly ask how on earth we have managed to lose £634,000.
However, it gets worse. We built a theatre at a cost of £8.5 million. I applaud any local authority which wishes to build theatres for us all to enjoy. Unfortunately, in Basildon we did not have a penny to finance the theatre's costs. Through creative accountancy, a company was set up and the theatre has been so organised that if every seat was occupied 365 days of the year, it would still lose a considerable amount of money.
The people I represent in Basildon welcome the community charge. We believe that Socialists are afraid of the community charge because the ratepayers will see clearly the result of irresponsible financial expenditure like that which occured in Basildon.
My second point relates to the plight of travelling people, which is hardly a new subject for us to consider. I fully recognise the enormous difference between gipsies and travelling people. Recently I drove through Maldon, which is in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, and I noted that a number of travelling people had arrived in his area.
We have an organised site in Basildon which travelling people are welcome to use. However, a ridiculous state of affairs arose two weeks ago, when travelling people arrived at a municipal car park next to a leisure area and set up home. That has caused serious disruption locally involving enormous financial consequences in the amount of money required to clear up their mess. Although I know that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House is well aware of this, I remind him that travelling people can cause disruption to local schools.
Mr. McCartney : I live next to a gipsy caravan site and had no objection to supporting the application for it to be built. One of the problems with the overspill of travelling people or gipsy families involves the irresponsibility of some
Conservative-controlled local authorities which refuse to be designated under the Caravan Sites Act 1968 and utilise resources which I congratulate the Department of the Environment on providing to local authorities. The Department sometimes provides grants of nearly 100 per cent. to provide facilities to prevent overspills. If the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) is concerned about local government expenditure, he should have a go at
Conservative-controlled authorities which turn a blind eye to those problems.
Mr. Amess : The hon. Gentleman will not satisfy my constituents. I know how closely he has been following my speech, during which I said that we have a Socialist council in Basildon--which I know he would applaud--and we have a site which the travelling people are not using. The irresponsible way in which Socialists, whether they be Members of Parliament or district councillors, can applaud those travelling people is very unfair.
My final point relates to abortion. I had understood that all Members of Parliament regarded life as the most precious gift of all. We all fight to get to the House because we want to participate in the legislative process, and I had understood that legislation was all about organising people's lives. The 649 other hon. Members in this place
Column 723must regard life as the most important thing for us all. Why then do we always fail to have a vote to determine the stage at which an abortion can be obtained?
It is extraordinary that hon. Members who all have hospitals in their constituencies are very concerned about what goes on in the special baby units where pre-term babies are being kept alive 24 hours a day after being born at 22, 23 and 24 weeks when in those same hospitals it is possible for someone to obtain an abortion at up to 28 weeks.
Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West) : Does my hon. Friend find it strange that on many occasions we have found time to debate capital punishment but rarely have time to reach conclusions on this country's unsatisfactory abortion laws?
There is great unrest throughout the country, with people failing to understand why it is that an abortion Bill could come before the House last year, but that for procedural reason we were unable to continue voting on it. What are right hon. and hon. Members frightened of?
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : My hon. Friend speaks with passion of his concern about abortion law, but what is he doing to help the 5,600 disabled children who are in institutional care because their families cannot cope with them? What is he doing to help find families for those children? Does he not think that handicapped children are in even greater need of love and care than normal children? What is he doing to help them?
Mr. Amess : My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that subject. If he will consult my constituents, they can give him chapter and verse on how I am involved in helping disabled people locally. However, that has nothing to do with the subject of my contribution. I refuse to compromise. As far as I am concerned, life begins at conception.
Mr. Amess : However, I recognise that politics is the art of the possible. If I vote for termination at 18, 19 or 20 weeks, of course I am compromising myself--but I welcome any measure that will reduce the period of time during which an abortion can be obtained if that saves even one life.
I hope that before the next general election the House will be allowed to reach a conclusion on abortion reform. When that happens, I hope that no right hon. or hon. Member will deny to others that which they would not deny themselves, but will join me and other right hon. and hon. Members in protecting the unborn child. 6.42 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I want to raise the subject of the need to tell the truth to the House of Commons. For 20 years, I believed more or less automatically anything said by Ministers of whatever party at the Dispatch Box. If I now seem unduly
Column 724suspicious, it is a matter of being once bitten, twice shy. I wish to raise one subject briefly, and one other at far greater length. The first concerns this afternoon's statement about the expulsion of Russian diplomats. I have a question for the Lord President of the Council that he can send to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to answer. It is the same question that I put to the Foreign Secretary this afternoon which he did not answer. My question concerns the "incontrovertible evidence" that gave rise to the expulsions. Was it in any way raised with Lord Griffiths and his fellow members of the Security Commission? If not, what is the purpose of the Security Commission? Some right hon. and hon. Members would like a second opinion of that "incontrovertible evidence". I am not asking to see that evidence myself. I am not even suggesting that those of my right hon. Friends who are Privy Councillors should see it. But after all that has happened, a judge of the Court of Appeal should have agreed that the evidence was incontrovertible.
We have been through Zircon, Westland and GCHQ. There has been a whole series of economies with the truth. It is in that context that I ask whether Lord Griffiths and his colleagues were consulted about that decision.
The second issue I want to raise relates to the unpopular subject of what happened in Gibraltar. Right hon. and hon. Members will see from a letter to me from the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office that he has placed in the Library copies of a statement made by a Spanish police officer concerning the surveillance of three IRA personnel--Mairead Farrell, Daniel McCann and Sean Savage--in the period prior to their deaths at the hands of the SAS in Gibraltar on 6 March last year.
That statement, which maintains that the Spanish police "lost" the three IRA members on 4 March, two days before the shootings, was presented to the Gibraltar coroner during the inquest. The coroner refused to answer my letter to him. I do not complain, but I received a very courteous reply to my letter asking certain questions of the coroner, which he declined to answer. Nevertheless, following the Gibraltar coroner's rules, he declined to accept that statement as evidence because there was no witness to testify under oath. The statement then surfaced in The Sunday Times and I understand that it was passed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to Lord Windlesham during his inquiry into the Thames Television programme "Death on the Rock". I say in parenthesis that Lord Windlesham did an honest job and that the response to his inquiry by Lord Trefgarne in another place was among the most odious and unacceptable statements made from a Front Bench that there has ever been during my 27 years in the House.
The apparent purpose of disclosing that statement was to discredit the programme's claim that the IRA personnel had been under Spanish surveillance up to the time of their arrival in Gibraltar. I see from the Minister's letter that the Spanish police officer's statement was given at Malaga police station to the Gibraltar coroner's officer, Chief Inspector Correa. According both to the Minister's letter and to the chief inspector's sworn evidence to the inquest, no Spanish judge was present when the statement was given. In his evidence, Chief Inspector Correa said that no Spanish judge was available that day.
That assertion raises a central question in the Gibraltar controversy, for it is a matter of record that the Spanish Interior Minister, Mr. Jose Luis Corcuera, told his
Column 725country's senate on 11 April this year that the Spanish police officer concerned made his statement about surveillance before a judge in Malaga. Last week, I visited Spain officially as a member of an all-party group, and had informal conversations in the Cortes. Considerable concern was expressed about the matter, because at issue is the truthfulness or otherwise of a Spanish Minister in making a statement to the Spanish Parliament. "This," said Mr. Corcuera, "is the way in which it should always be done"--that is, the hearing before a judge.
Only last week, on 19 May, the spokesman for the Spanish police in Madrid, Mr. Manuel Jimenez Cuevas, announced publicly that the statement had been made on 8 August 1988, in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga. Thus a contradiction has arisen. If the statement placed in the Library of the House of Commons by the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office is the genuine account of events by the Spanish police, the Interior Minister of Spain has misinformed his country's Senate about the circumstances in which the statement was taken, and the Spanish police themselves appear to be under a serious misapprehension.
If, on the other hand, the Spanish Interior Minister was telling the truth in his country's Senate, that raises a still more serious question : is the statement placed in the Library of the House by the Minister of State the only Spanish account of what took place between 4 and 6 March, or are there two separate statements--one taken in peculiar circumstances by the Gibraltar coroner's officer, Chief Inspector Correa, and the other made in accordance with normal Spanish practice in front of an examining magistrate?
May I ask the Lord President whether he can obtain clarification from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on whether it has in its possession a second Spanish statement on surveillance made on 8 August last year in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga? If it received such a statement, will the Foreign and Commonwealth Office explain why it apparently made no attempt to introduce it at the coroner's inquest in Gibraltar last year, and will it now place a copy of that second statement- -made in front of an examining magistrate in Malaga--in the Library of the House of Commons?
I have four questions. First, was the statement made by a Spanish police officer on 8 August 1988 in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga ever received by the British authorities? Secondly, on what date was the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga received by the British authorities, and on what date was that same statement passed to the coroner in Gibraltar? Thirdly, where is the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga now held? Fourthly, will the Government place the statement made by a Spanish police officer in front of the examining magistrate of court No. 6 in Malaga in the Library of the House of Commons? The two statements are in the Library's possession, and, indeed, in mine.
I believe that this is an important matter of truthfulness to the House of Commons or otherwise, which should be cleared up somehow before we go into recess.