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Column 738he wants. I shall, however, refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment and if there is more information I will certainly give it to the hon. Gentleman. The Government understand and share the concern about the plight of the African elephant and we shall consider carefully any proposal to ban trade in African ivory in the light of available scientific evidence and in consultation with our European partners. Hong Kong is a party to the convention on international trade in endangered species of wild fauna and flora and prohibits the import of ivory in all its forms, except from an approved source and subject to the issue of a licence by the Hong Kong Government.
The hon. Member for Newham, North-West based much of his argument on an article that appeared in The Observer --or at least, he and The Observer obtained their information from the same source. I do not want to go into much detail because I do not want to say anything that might prejudice any inquiries that are taking place. The Government believe that the Observer article is inaccurate and misleading in several respects. Details of the case cannot be released and must be kept in confidence at present. However, the Government comply fully with the requirements of the ivory trade control procedures when considering all ivory import and export applications. The article criticises the Department of the Environment for issuing ivory permits, claiming that there are strong signs that ivory had been poached. The position is considerably more complicated than that, but I should prefer not to be drawn further on it at this stage. I hope that I can obtain the agreement of my colleagues to send my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale and the hon. Member for Newham, North-West further information. I understand the concern of my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale about dogs and the dog registration scheme. As I think he knows--I regret having to say it to him--the Government do not intend to introduce a registration scheme for dogs. It would entail expensive bureaucracy and there is no evidence that it would be more successful than the old licensing system in dealing with the problem of stray dogs. The problem is caused by irresponsible owners, who would be least likely to comply with a registration scheme. The hon. and learned Member for Fife, North-East (Mr. Campbell) raised the subject of ticket touts. I do not have much more to say than was said to him by my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office--the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten). I find the business pretty disagreeable, as does the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Minister. The activities of ticket touts are undoubtedly unpopular, but to abolish them would reduce or end the ability and readiness of reputable ticket agencies to buy unwanted tickets and make them available to those who would rather pay a premium price than miss an event. It would also restrict the freedom of individuals to sell unwanted tickets. A ban could lead to the development of an underground market selling tickets at even more highly inflated prices. The hon. and learned Gentleman made an important point about safety aspects, with particular reference to the recent tragedy. I shall see that his remarks are drawn to the attention of Lord Justice Taylor, who is considering these matters. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further.
My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) talked about South Africa. I had a feeling that I
Column 739had been there before, with the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) bouncing up and down like a jack-in-the- box while my hon. Friend was trying to make his interesting speech. My hon. Friend knows more or less the answer that I shall give. As the hon. Member for Walsall, North says, it is in some ways more supportive of the hon. Gentleman's view than of my hon. Friend's view.
The Government are fully committed to the Gleneagles agreement, which requires Commonwealth Governments to withhold support and discourage sporting contacts by their nationals with sporting organisations, teams or sportsmen from South Africa. Ministers were acting within the spirit of that policy. The agreement recognises that it is for individual Commonwealth Governments to determine in accordance with their laws how best to discharge those commitments. In the United Kingdom's perception of a free society, the Government's role is limited to giving advice and seeking to persuade--the Government have no powers to prevent individuals from visiting South Africa if they so choose.
The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) raised the constituency case of Mr. Winstanley. The Government are fully committed to providing the most effective remedies possible for those parents who suffer the agony of child abduction. The Hague convention provides a sufficient remedy for abduction to those countries that have signed and ratified it. The Government hope that many more countries will ratify the convention. In other countries, what can be done is limited, apart from taking action in their courts. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office will provide what consular support it can.
Anyone who is worried about the possible unlawful removal of a minor from the jurisdiction of the courts should contact the police, who will alert the immigration service at the ports and passport issuing offices. The more precise the information about a possible unlawful removal, the better the chances of it being prevented. There are also powers under the Family Law Act 1986 for the courts when making a custody order, to order the confiscation of a passport. That may not be of much comfort to the hon. Member for Makerfield, but it is important that those people who are worried about this problem should know what can be done to prevent abduction.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down (Mr. Kilfedder) raised two matters. He told the horrifying story of Friday night at Heathrow airport before the flight to Belfast, and the effects of the sunshine which others had been enjoying. His vivid description sounded awful. My only comfort is that there is no Government responsibility for the weather or British Airways in that sense, but I will ensure that my hon. Friend's remarks are drawn to the attention of those with responsibility in this matter.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Down referred also to pensioners in his constituency. The Government have kept pensioners' interests high on our list of priorities while maintaining the real value of the state retirement pension. We have pursued policies aimed at creating a stable economic environment so that pensioners' income from other sources increases and keeps its value longer. As a result, pensioners' average total net income increased by 23 per cent. in real terms during our first seven years in office. In addition, pensioners with no other source of income than state benefits saw their gross income increase from 33 per cent. of the average male manual worker's earnings in 1979 to 37 per cent. in 1986.
Column 740The hon. Member for Walsall, North raised an interesting subject, the issues arising from China. I do not think that he would expect me to make any detailed comment. Obviously, we are continuing to follow events closely. Martial law was declared in parts of Peking on 20 May. Army units have moved into Peking but are blocked by groups of demonstrators from reaching the centre. The situation is tense but calm. We are concerned that the Chinese authorities have found it necessary to impose martial law. We have urged all those involved to exercise moderation and restraint and we hope very much that the situation can be resolved peacefully. I very much agree with the comments on Hong Kong by the hon. Member for Walsall, North. It is natural that the people of Hong Kong are worried about developments in China and that they should wish to express their opinions, but there is no reason to think that recent events in China will effect Hong Kong's future.
The hon. Gentleman referred also to self-governing hospitals. They will remain firmly part of the National Health Service but will be well placed to give patients more choice and provide a better quality of service. Regional health authorities are still considering the many expressions of interest, but they will forward them to the Department of Health by the end of the month.
Mr. Wakeham : Further arrangements will be announced in due course. It is not for me to make them now. I am sorry, but I must keep going because I have to answer the points made by many hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who is looking at me.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) said that he had to leave the Chamber, so I will deal with him later. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe) raised the issue of gipsies and travelling people. She knows that I have similar problems in my constituency. It is a difficult problem and it is clear that more sites are urgently needed if we are to resolve the problems of unauthorised camping.
My hon. Friends the Members for Basildon and for Maidstone also referred to abortion. I cannot add to what I said during business questions on Thursday, and I have my words in front of me. Two issues come within my responsibility. I hope that there will be an opportunity before the next session for the House to reach a decision on the report of the Procedure Committee on private Members' time. There is also the wider question, which the Government are considering without any commitment, of whether the private Members' procedure is the right way to deal with the matter, or whether there is another way. I certainly have not made any commitment, but we are looking at that point.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow mentioned the Soviet expulsions. The hon. Gentleman cannot expect me to add anything to the full answer that my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs gave earlier. All the proper steps were taken. However, I can say something about the Security Commission. It is not a standing body, but is normally appointed by the Prime Minister only to investigate any lapse in British security. It would not
Column 741normally be consulted on issues such as the expulsion of diplomats and it would not normally be expected to investigate such matters. There has been a full inquiry about the events in Gibraltar. The hon. Gentleman raised some points on which I have not had the opportunity of finding detailed information. I will refer those points to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. If he considers that there is anything to add, he will write to the hon. Gentleman. If he does not, I will. The hon. Gentleman's remarks on Sir Leon Brittan seem to be a further example of his fertile and fervent imagination, and I have no comment to make.
My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone raised the subject of the safety of parachutists. Military pilots have parachute jumping areas marked on their charts for low flying and details are provided in the United Kingdom military handbook. The regulations for civil leisure flying, like parachuting, are a matter for the Civil Aviation Authority and I will pass on my hon. Friend's concerns to it. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) raised the question of the care service in his constituency. I know of his interest in that. He suggests that we should look wider than the local authority for leadership in those matters. I will refer that to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health.
The hon. Members for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle) and for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) raised the subject of poverty. Considerations of definitions of poverty are a proper subject for debate, as is the question of whether the definition should be changed with changing circumstances in our society. No one denies that there are those who do not receive a reasonable share of material resouces for one reason or another. Our proper task is to ensure that our definition is appropriate and that the massive increase in resources is directed in the right direction. The total resources are now about £50 billion per year--
It being three hours after the commencement of proceedings on the motion, Madam Deputy Speaker-- put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 22 (Periodic adjournments).
Question agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 26th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 6th June.
National Maritime Museum Bill [Lords]
Not amended, in the Standing Committee, considered.
Order for Third Reading read.
It is fair to say that the Bill has received general support as it has passed through its various stages in this House and in another place. We had an interesting and lively Second Reading debate on a number of matters relating to the national maritime museum. However, there were no significant differences of opinion on the proposals of the Bill itself.
I will briefly remind the House of the purpose of this short Bill. It is to equip the board of trustees of the national maritime museum with similar powers to hold land and property to those already enjoyed by the other national museums and galleries. The Bill repeals a provision in the National Maritime Museum Act 1934, which vested the main property occupied by the museum at Greenwich in the Secretary of State for the Environment. The Bill proposes to vest the property with the museum's own board of trustees. There are a number of important safeguards about the use of the property which are repeated and updated in the present Bill.
The provisions have been welcomed by the museum and will allow the trustees and the director to use the magnificent buildings at Greenwich to even better effect than they have done previously. Since the Second Reading debate I have paid a visit to the museum and I am full of admiration for the imaginative leadership provided by the chairman, Lord Lewin, and the director, Richard Ormond and for the commitment of the staff, many of whom I had the chance to meet. I am happy to commend the Bill to the House.
Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : As the Minister has said, we debated this matter on Second Reading and, in so far as the Bill gives new powers to the national maritime museum, the Opposition welcome it. But that museum and others will want to know about the funding, powers and responsibilities they are inheriting from the Government and today's debate gives another opportunity for the Minister to explain Government policy briefly and for the House to look in a little more detail at the inheritance of this museum and others.
The Minister explained that the Bill will transfer property from the Property Services Agency. Few hon. Members of any party have any brief for the PSA and I welcome the fact that the museum's property will be transferred from the PSA. However, the transfer makes sense only if it is properly financed, and on that point, the Minister appears to be self- satisfied. On Second Reading, he said : "the National Maritime museum is heading for success the museum is an outstanding success story."--[ Official Report, Second Reading Committee, 28 February 1989 ; c. 10.]
Column 743We agree with that in so far as the museum is well managed and we join the Minister is paying tribute to Mr. Richard Ormond. However, that success has been in spite of, rather than as a result of, Government policy.
There is a problem about the buildings that the Bill will give to the museum. The Government gave the museum £3.5 million this year for repairs and maintenance, but that sum will decline to £2.7 million next year, although the museum estimates that it needs £19 million over the next five years. By any estimate, there is a shortfall of at least £2 million. The repairs include such basics as new heating and wiring, roof repairs and floor strengthening. Does the Minister agree that, when he visited the museum, it was explained to him that the inheritance of the buildings is sour and difficult? If he agrees, what will he do about it? What does he advise the national maritime museum to do?
The Minister is giving new powers and responsibilities to the museum. Will he tell the museum that it should try to obtain more sponsorship? Prince Charles said last week that it is very much more difficult for the unglamorous side of a museum's world, such as repairs and maintenance, to appeal to sponsors. Will the Minister advise the museum to lengthen its five-year plan to 10 years and, effectively, put off dealing with the repairs and maintenance that are part of the backlog it will inherit from the PSA? That is the state of repairs and the extent of the problem that the Bill will give to the museum. It is a reflection of the degree of care and concern that the Government have shown for the national maritime museum and for other museums, which are being treated in the same way.
When seen in that context, the transfer of power and
responsibilities to the museum, far from being an imaginative move, will look to many hon. Members and to the public not like a transfer of responsibility, but a way of passing the buck for repairs to the museum and of saying to the museum, "You get on with it. We have failed to do our job and have left you with a building with inadequate heating and wiring, leaking roofs and a floor that is not strong enough for many of your artefacts. Now you take over, although we won't fund you any more."
The House must understand that that is what will happen if it passes the Bill. The Bill is passing on the responsibility for a museum that has been inadequately financed in the past. It will pass on to the museum a £19 million bill for repairs and maintenance. The national maritime museum is not the only museum that is suffering. The trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum and the Tate gallery have refused to accept the new powers in this Bill until the position on repairs and maintenance has been worked out. Legislation is not needed in those cases. The Victoria and Albert museum needs £125 million over the next 10 years and it will inherit a backlog of £50 million in repairs and maintenance from the PSA. Its grant from the Government is £7.6 million this year. It is no wonder that Sir Clifford Chetwood, a museum trustee, said recently : "Our buildings have suffered from years of neglect while they were maintained by the Government. We will not take over responsibility for them unless the Treasury is prepared to finance this backlog of work."
Lord Armstrong, the chairman of the trustees of the Victoria and Albert museum has said that he agrees that the museum has "been underfunded over many years."
That is the backlog that the V and A has inherited and which the Bill passes on to the national maritime museum.
Column 744As I have said, the Tate gallery is in the same position, needing £27 million-worth of repairs and maintenance. It has buckets in its galleries ; its roofs are being distorted by the sun, and the wiring is 50 years old. Three galleries had to be closed last year. Antiquated air conditioning causes high humidity and a temperature that affects many of the exhibits.
That is what is happening in many of our museums. However, on Second Reading and again this afternoon, the Government have shown that they do not seem to understand the crisis that is building up because of the past 10 years of neglect. In the Bill, the Government seek to pass on the legacy of neglect and underfunding to this museum and to others, telling them to get on with it. That is not good enough and the museum world knows that it is not good enough. Hon. Members must understand what they will be doing if the Bill is enacted. We must ask ourselves whether we trust the Government and whether they should be handing over museums in such a state. The problems relate to security and insurance as well as to repairs and maintenance. The national maritime museum has no alarm system when it is open. It relies entirely on the eyes, diligence and alertness of its wardens. Once the doors are opened in the morning, there is no alarm system. Not only are the exhibits not alarmed, but there is no insurance whatsoever and the Tate is about to inherit severe fire protection problems from the PSA.
The Government have said that everything is wonderful and that they are spending so much money but in reality by 1991 the building programme budget, of which the Minister is so proud, will be £55 million per year. The director of the Museums Association, Dr. Patrick Boylon, has said that an extra £200 million is needed to undertake repairs. However, in 1989-90 the Government are increasing that budget by only 2.1 per cent., and in 1991 it will go up to the magic figure of 2.5 per cent. With inflation at 8 per cent., those museums are running backwards, even without allowing for the fact that, in the south of England, inflation in the cost of building repairs is estimated to be running at 20 per cent. The House must understand the inheritance that it will be passing on to the national maritime museum.
Does the Minister agree with the figures that I have given? If not, what are his figures? Why does he refuse yet again to face up to reality and conduct a national audit so that he, the museum world and the public can see how serious the position is? He may well say that the Opposition are doom-mongering and taking selective figures but let us have the facts and a national audit so that we can see whether the figures given to me by the Victoria and Albert museum, the Tate gallery and the national maritime museum are wrong. If they are wrong, the Government ought to say exactly where they are wrong and conduct a national audit to make the facts clear.
The fist element of what we are doing in the Bill is handing over underfunded buildings. The second element relates to the powers of the trustees. As the Minister has already said, the present trustees of the national maritime museum are very good and have real expertise in nautical affairs. They include Lord Lewin ; Mr. Wright, a nautical architect ; Mr. Corlett, a ship architect ; Mr. Tidbury, who is involved with the Mary Rose trust, and Dame Naomi James, who is a sailor. That is not the case with the Victoria and Albert which has no specialist museum, librarian or other appropriate academic on its board. This legislation would hand over responsibility without making
Column 745sure that the board, unlike the board of trustees of the British museum, is composed of people with relevant expertise in the running of museums.
As we said on Second Reading, the Government ought to do something about that. We are expecting the trustees to take on responsibilities that they are not in a position to fulfil. Last year's report by the Museums and Galleries Commission said that it was unreasonable, "to make trustees responsible for raising money to meet museums' basic needs".
It also said that if we carried on like that, suitable people would not be willing to serve as trustees. However, that is precisely what the Government are doing and that is the state of affairs that they are perpetuating with the Bill.
In the past, Governments of both parties accepted that they were responsible for the nation's heritage and for funding museums. All that has changed. The Government now have a policy of saying, "We will give you so much and no more. You find the rest." Trustees work part-time ; they are not executives and cannot operate like the board of a public company. They are not there to raise money, so it is a totally unreasonable and misconceived policy to expect them to finance the museums and to raise money for them when those museums are the responsibility of the whole community and society. That is a responsibility that the Government have neglected. They will not accept it, and in the Bill they are legislating for the passing on of such responsibilities.
The truth is that the Government have no museums strategy. In recent weeks there has been an interesting conference entitled "Museums 2000" which was organised by the Museums Association. Museum experts came from 12 or 14 countries and all paid tribute to the high degree of professionalism and the technical expertise to be found in British museums. They agreed that we continue to lead the world in conservation, curatorial skills, exhibition and professional skills. However, they also said that in terms of policy and in the thinking about the role of museums in our culture, we were way behind the rest of the world.
Because of the Government, museums are not clear about what is expected of them. They are not sure how they fit into a cultural policy because the Government do not have a cultural policy. They are not sure how they fit into an educational policy. They are not sure what weight that they should give to the tourist and leisure role. They are not sure of the responsibilities of local authorities. Those basic questions about the role of museums in our society have not been answered by the Government and they are certainly not addressed in the Bill.
In this legislation we are handing over to the national maritime museum-- and to others--new responsibilities in a strategy and policy vacuum. What are we preserving? For whom, why and how? What is our attitude towards our heritage? Because the Government have never addressed such questions, they do not have any answers. If one asked the Government, "If these museums did not exist, what sort of museums would you be setting up, for what purpose, where and in what sort of business location, with what relation to broadcasting and to modern means of communication?", one would realise that the Government had no answer. They have never produced anything on paper and apparently they have never done any thinking about policy or strategy or about the role played by museums in our culture.
Column 746That is especially true
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I must ask the hon. Gentleman to speak specifically to the Bill. Although I have been interested in what he has been saying, he is going wide of the Bill now.
Mr. Fisher : It is particularly true of the national maritime museum. We accept that our nautical heritage is even less protected than our heritage on land. When the Minister visited the museum last week he will no doubt have been given its new publication, "Heritage at Sea" which lays out exactly the problems. The legislation--the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 and the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973--is inadequate. There is no equivalent to English Heritage for nautical sites.
We are in a catch-22 situation in that the Merchant Shipping Act encourages and almost demands that all artefacts are sold to pay the fee of 7.5 per cent. that is required from salvors and the Department of Transport. That added cost means that museums cannot afford to buy, and when wrecks and sites are discovered they are broken up rather than held together. The Mary Rose is a notable exception, but it is indeed an exception. Our nautical heritage is being destroyed by the very legislation that was meant to protect it. The document recently published by the national maritime museum shows that we need new legislation, a national inventory of sites and a maritime heritage protection agency.
Why are the Government not addressing those problems? Why are the Government devolving powers and responsibilities to the national maritime museum in this Bill without addressing what the museum is about and without taking on board the important "Heritage at Sea" document that was published by the staff of the national maritime museum? Why do they not incorporate all those points and give the money to the national maritime museum? Indeed, why do they not also give it the legislative context in which it can get on with the job that we should be giving it in the Bill?
I fear that the reason the Bill transfers responsibilities to the national maritime museum without providing the money to carry out those responsibilities is that the Government believe in the free market for museums. They are prepared, reluctantly and grudgingly, to maintain the present level of funding, but no more. They say that others, whether independent museums or sponsors, should get on with the job because they will not give them any further help. New thinking and new money from the Government is desperately needed. The Minister should follow the French example, where the Government, with all-party support, have just voted a 12.5 per cent. increase for the arts and museums budget. If the Minister announced a 12.5 per cent. increase in funding for the national maritime museum, he would have all-party support.
Although we are not prepared to vote against the Bill because we support its general thrust, we feel that the Government are handing over to the national maritime museum problems that can be dealt with only by additional funding.
Column 747underline the need for more general debate on this issue. The massive deterioration of so many of our treasures will cause the most appalling problems. Many buildings are aging, and such mundane matters as wiring, lead piping and so on are putting enormous strains on our heritage.
I want to ask the Minister a gentle question. Is it the Government's policy that funds should be given as a priority to those areas of our maritime heritage where deterioration has already begun--in fact, the equivalent of rescue archaeology? I suspect that the Government are aware that public interest in our heritage is escalating ; it is not simply a question of Huggin hill or Roman remains. The House should take that into account.
Mr. Luce : I shall first respond to the short speech by the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) before dealing with the points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Fisher). The hon. Member for Linlithgow rightly referred to the increasing public interest in heritage and, by implication, more widely in the arts. Indeed, there is a relentless upsurge of interest. In the financial year 1988-89 there were 80 million attendances at museums, including local authority museums, private sector museums and national institutions. It is Museums Year, during which it is estimated that there will be 100 million attendances at museums. That is a story not of collapse but of a dramatic expansion of interest. New museums are opening at a rate of one every fortnight. I accept that the Government have a special obligation to our national institutions, museums and galleries, which is why we give more than £150 million of taxpayers' money to them.
During the past three or four years, I have received
representations about the amount of money available--or not available--for the maintenance of our great institutions. I understand the point that it is not easy to find sponsorship for rewiring or for mending roofs. That is why, when I launched the three-year funding policy in November 1987, I said that we would shift greater emphasis and more resources to building and maintenance. Some of the institutions have been operating for a long time, and their maintenance problems have become more acute. As the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central said, inflation costs are especially acute for building and maintenance. However, I wish that the hon. Gentleman would sometimes acknowledge that I have responded to the problem and shifted additional resources to deal with it--for example, £48 million this year, a 50 per cent. increase in real terms since 1979-80. Over the period to 1991-92, the figure will be £55 million a year. The hon. Gentleman threw out a great many figures. We are discussing the National Maritime Museum Bill. The hon. Gentleman understandably asked about the amount of money for the building programme. This year it will be just under £3.5 million, and I have earmarked £2,770,000 for next year and £3,200,000 for the following year. However, that is only a partial allocation, because for the second and third years I prefer to wait until closer to the time to gauge the real building and maintenance problems. I am holding back a certain sum of money that I can then allocate. In fact, therefore, the total sum for the next three years will be a great deal larger than that shown in the chart.
Mr. Fisher : Does the Minister accept the national maritime museum's estimate that its five-year plan to deal with the backlog of repairs and maintenance will cost £19 million? The current grants announced will fall about £2 million short of that figure.
Mr. Luce : The museum has submitted fresh figures as a result of the corporate strategy that I asked each institution to supply each year, and we are examining those figures. The museum has a five-year strategy, whereas the funding covers a three-year strategy. A considerable sum of money has been allocated for the next three years, and I shall take into account the figures that the museum has submitted, looking five years ahead. I want to ensure that the building is maintained at a decent standard.
The hon. Gentleman gave the impression that he had never visited the museum, but I cannot believe that. I am glad to see him shaking his head-- of course he has visited it. Nevertheless, when listening to parts of his speech I wondered whether we were living in slightly different worlds. I do not suggest that everything is perfect with our national institutions ; I accept that there are pressures on building and maintenance, especially for the older institutions where the pressures of inflation are more acute. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would wish to be truthful and acknowledge that what the museum is achieving is a remarkable story. The 700,000 attendances last year show the general support for the museum and the growing number of people who want to visit it.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for referring to the high calibre of the trustees and the cross-section of interests that they represent. They do a marvellous job. I strongly believe in the concept of devolving responsibility to the museums and galleries. Of course, that means more responsibilities for the chairman, trustees and director, and I acknowledge that the policy must be carried out with care. It is right to have less central control--a proposition that the Labour party does not support.
A seminar on nautical sites was held recently following a report on underwater archaeology. I am interested in the recommendations of the report and I am aware of the concern about the preservation of the sites and the work that is needed on them. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I do not have direct responsibility in that area, but it is something that I think the Government should take seriously. A number of Departments have responsibility, including the Department of Transport.
Without going outside the terms of reference of the Bill, I hope that I have responded to the main points raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on- Trent, Central. I hope also that the House will agree that the national maritime museum is doing a remarkable job, that it is not surprising that attendance is increasing at a remarkable rate, and that the strategy of joint funding between the public and private sectors is the right basis for a successful future. I am happy to commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
Column 749Civil Aviation (Air Navigation Charges) Bill [Lords]
Not amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.
As amended, in the Standing Committee, considered.
Order for Third Reading read.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy (Mr. Michael Spicer) : I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time We have debated this short Bill on Second Reading and in two sittings of the Standing Committee. Therefore, I will keep my opening remarks short. If the House wishes me to do so, I will respond to the points made in the debate.
One purpose of the Bill is to raise the financial limit imposed on British Nuclear Fuels from its present level of £1.5 billion to £2 billion. That will allow the company to complete its current massive investment programme, in particular in the thermal oxide reprocessing plant, THORP. The House will know that the company has already secured over £4 billion of contracts associated with this plant, £2.8 billion of which are for overseas customers. It will make BNFL, for instance, the largest single yen earner in the country. Investment is also required to the tune of £500 million to reduce the radioactive liquid discharges over the next four years from their present negligible levels virtually to zero. Recent expenditure has reduced those discharges to less than 5 per cent. of the already low levels in 1979.
The Bill also enables the Health and Safety Executive to recover the costs of nuclear safety research from nuclear site licensees and from applicants for licences. Finally, clause 5 makes necessary changes to the law to enable the United Kingdom to ratify the national convention on assistance in the case of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency. Those changes in particular are welcomed by all hon. Members.
The Opposition, although not voting against this Bill, have tended to speak to it with clothes pegs clasped firmly over their noses. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) in particular has clearly found the nuclear industry distasteful. He is in line with his party. As we now know, through its policy review, if it were elected to office, the Labour party would ensure that the nuclear industry is brought to a standstill. The relevant paragraph of that document states :
"In these circumstances, we will not therefore invest in new nuclear stations, nor will we compensate for that by running existing stations beyond their normal life. In practice, this will mean that a majority of existing stations will be decommissioned by the end of the century, and our dependence on nuclear power will therefore progressively diminish".
In the context of a Bill related to the nuclear industry, Conservative Members are bound to ask how a party which will rely for its electricity production almost exclusively on coal can possibly be serious about addressing the problem of carbon dioxide pollution of the atmosphere. What is more, what would happen to electricity consumers if Mr. Scargill's influence were ever reincarnated and had the damaging effect on coal that it had in the past, or if oil prices ever went through the roof again? Perhaps that subject is for another day.
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Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley) : The Minister goes from strength to strength, bringing into an energy debate-- whether it be atomic energy or electricity--the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, and seeking to avoid questions about Government legislation by referring to the aforesaid gentleman. I am grateful to the Minister for reading the recent Labour party policy review, although it is not a matter for debate today. Perhaps in the future we can debate in greater detail what the Labour party will do in office--I am pleased to say that the time is not too far away-- rather than the present Government's plans. Meanwhile, perhaps the Minister will tell us the Government's plans for the nuclear industry. Although it was considered in only two sittings of the Committee, the Bill has given us an opportunity to debate the future of BNFL and the nuclear power industry as a whole. We have certainly been able to highlight the ever-escalating costs of the nuclear fuel cycle, especially those of decommissioning. Decommissioning costs rose sharply in the recent past and, as the Minister has agreed, they are bound to be unpredictable because we have not been through the process yet and some of it is a long way off. The only prediction that he has been able to make is that decommissioning costs are likely to rise in the future. In Committee I asked the Minister to give a detailed breakdown of the £4.6 million held by BNFL for decommissioning its plant. He said that he could not respond immediately but would see whether he could obtain more information. Has he done that? BNFL has only two reactors--the remainder consists of ponds and chemical plants.
Again in Committee, during the discussion on new clause 1, I referred to the moneys set aside by the Central Electricity Generating Board and the South of Scotland electricity board for decommissioning nuclear plant. We are led to believe that the CEGB and the SSEB have about £4.2 billion for that, but according to a parliamentary answer to a question by the hon. Member for Rochford (Dr. Clark) the CEGB has only £568 billion for decommissioning costs. How much is held by the SSEB for decommissioning costs? Is the balance the cost of reprocessing and the cost of nuclear waste management disposal? It is a substantial amount.
The Minister said that a Labour Government would operate schedule 12 of the Electricity Bill if the time scale for decommissioning nuclear reactors is reduced in future. The Minister knows that schedule 12 covers more than decommissioning. It allows for grants for the storage and reprocessing of nuclear fuel and for the treatment, storage or disposal of radioactive waste. To provide grants for those functions would effectively be to take over the business of BNFL when the Government are allowing the industry to renegotiate its cost-plus contracts. That would be underwriting from the public purse if anything went wrong.
The industry does not have a good record in estimating costs. The Minister has said that costs are bound to be unpredictable. It would be wrong to commit a future Labour Government to such expenditure. Whoever invests in national nuclear power and the Scottish nuclear industry should accept its financial liabilities. We believe that the Government intend to float the nuclear industry. The liabilities should be accepted by those who are to pay.
Column 752We should make it clear that we will not bale out the privatised nuclear power industry should it want money in future for its day-to-day business.
The Minister spoke about what the Labour party would do in government, but what are the Government's current plans? They appear to be running headlong towards a new nuclear power programme. On 4 May in committee I asked the Minister whether we were to have a larger family of PWRs than originally intended. He failed to reply to that question, and I assume that it slipped his mind. What is the thinking in Government circles? Is it in favour of a massive increase in the PWR programme on the basis that that will mitigte against the greenhouse effect? The Government seem to be out of touch with reality regarding nuclear fuel. An example of that was the Minister's description of the nuclear waste reprocessing industry as an "environmentally pure" industry. I have never heard anyone who works full- time in that industry use such a phrase.
Greenhouse gases are a new event for the Government and they are using them as an excuse to wield their prejudice against the British coal mining industry. They are not, however, prejudiced against coal mining elsewhere in the world, as I understand that they are encouraging our ever-increasing imports of coal. To describe the reprocessing industry as "environmentally pure" is a giant leap away from the opinion that has been held by most people and by that very industry.
At the Prime Minister's seminar on 26 April, Mr. Currie of the energy technology support unit presented a paper in which he used the quaint phrase
"for the purposes of this presentation",
and then went on to make assumptions about the future based on the use of nuclear power to provide 50 per cent. of baseload electricity. To generate that amount, 24 PWRs would have to be constructed by the year 2020. The Minister concluded by quoting what the Labour party policy review says about the nuclear industry, but I challenge him to answer the question that I posed in Committee. What is the Government's position in relation to the nuclear industry in the future? Does he accept what the civil servants said at the Prime Minister's seminar--that to generate 50 per cent. of baseload electricity would require the construction of 24 PWRs by the year 2020? What do the Conservatives think about the future of the nuclear industry? The Minister knows full well what the Labour party thinks. It is extraordinary that even the Government could contemplate such a massive increase in nuclear capacity, even if it were possible. As I said in Committee, the nuclear industry is under siege, with its economic and environmental excesses being exposed to a nation which increasingly does not share the Government's complacency about our nuclear future. The astronomic and rising costs of the nuclear fuel cycle have been put on record--from the massive capital cost through to the cost of reprocessing and the unknown but undoubtedly enormous cost of decommissioning and waste disposal.
The nuclear industry recognises that it cannot build on greenfield sites. Its application for four new PWRs are on existing nuclear reactor sites. It now plans to dispose of its waste products in deep disposal sites at Sellafield and Dounreay--existing nuclear sites. Since we have discussed this in Committee, I have heard that those at Dounreay are sceptical of taking on the liability of deep disposal. It may be that the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive