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Mr. Snape : I apologise for interrupting my hon. Friend yet again. I know that he is not aware of what I am about to say because he was unable to obtain the relevant document. I can tell him that the figure given in the document for fare evasion in May 1986 was £19.5 million. Remarkably, by February 1989, when the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) first moved the Second Reading, the figure had grown to £26 million. Are not those figures remarkably accurate when, by the very nature of fare evasion, the figures can only be guessed at?

Mr. Cryer : My hon. Friend is right. It is a remarkable chance that the figures have risen, as he said, from the 1986 figure of £19.5 million to the latest figure of £26 million.

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People may be driven to the conclusion that those guesses--which is all that they are--have been inflated to justify the Bill, which must be one of the worst bases on which to propose legislation. The working party guessed the scale of evasion and as it was attempting to justify the imposition of the new machinery and the removal of people, it had to produce rather high figures. When this legislation was introduced, instead of providing a complete rationale with considerable information and copies of the report, it decided that it would produce yet another inflated figure. It probably decided to increase the figure by the level of inflation. That was no justification for the figure.

Dr. Marek : My hon. Friend is on to an important point. A failing of our system of government is that the Minister will say that the level of evasion is £26 million and we shall have to take his word for it. I am not blaming him, because that would be true of whoever was the Minister. In a better system of government, the Minister would have asked whether we would like to come round to his office and would have ensured that London Regional Transport would have its expert there and that all the figures would be available for us or our assistants to peruse. He would have said that there was nothing to hide. In this place, we never have such offers and my hon. Friend is right.

Mr. Cryer : I agree with what my hon. Friend has said. I would be interested to learn whether there are any detailed calculations relating to the £19.5 million in the document, which was not provided in the Vote Office tonight, or whether it was merely a bald figure. I suspect the latter, because if the working party had produced detailed statistical justification, it would be subject to more challenge. The less detail one provides, the more difficult it is to challenge. We must say that we reject the figure because it has been plucked from the air. Perhaps the Treasury gave advice on that, because the Treasury is rather fond of plucking figures from the air. The figure is fallacious and until the promoters produce information based on the calculations produced by the 1986 working party report, I fear that we shall have to reject the figure.

However, the hon. Member for Ilford, South does not seem very interested. He is busy trying to fix things with the Government Whip and since this is essentially a Government Bill, that is understandable. I am pleading for the promoter to provide us with the detailed figures on which the alleged loss of fares revenue is based. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South will have time to reply to the debate. I do not wish to take too long because I know that my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich, East wishes to participate.

Dr. Marek rose --

Mr. Cryer : I give way to my hon. Friend with pleasure, although this will have to be the last time.

Dr. Marek : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who has once again made an important point. We must decide whether the Bill is the right way to stop fare evasion, which we are all against. Perhaps my hon. Friend will couple his plea for the provision of figures about evasion in the London system with a plea for the figures on evasion in the Tyne and Wear Metro system, which is an open system. If we could compare the evasion in the two different systems, we would be in a better position to judge the merits of this Bill.

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Mr. Cryer : I am sure that the sponsor, who has been plotting with the Government Whip, has been taking an interest in our affairs. I hope that he can provide the information that I require.

Mr. Thorne : The hon. Gentleman has asked me many questions and I am looking forward to having the time to answer them.

Mr. Cryer : I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman and should like to ask him another question because I am not sure whether his attention was firmly fixed on the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek). My hon. Friend referred to comparisons with the Tyne and Wear Metro. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is a recently constructed, virtually new metropolitan railway system, which has proved extremely successful. It would be interesting to know the comparative levels of fare evasion. I have now said enough to express my views and my strong reservations about the proposed legislation. I hope that the promoter can answer some if not all of the points that I have raised. In view of the welter of questions, the preferable option would be to withdraw the Bill for more mature consideration.

Mr. Portillo : I had the opportunity of speaking at an earlier stage of the Bill's progress to express the Government's view. Therefore, I need not take up much of the House's time tonight, except to say that the Government support the Bill.

Both London Regional Transport and British Rail lose considerable amounts of money from people travelling on their services without having paid the correct fare or any fare at all. That simply increases the costs of travel for the honest passenger. Penalty fare arrangements are widely used abroad and we believe that LRT and BR should be allowed the opportunity of introducing similar systems in this country.

Although a penalty fares scheme based on existing legislation operates on the docklands light railway, it is true to say that penalty fares will be largely unfamiliar to the British travelling public. It is therefore right that the Committees of both Houses should have spent some time discussing the details of the Bill. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will seek to respond to the specific points that have been raised tonight. However, I stress that it will not be possible for LRT to introduce a penalty fares scheme on any of its services unless an activating order is issued by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport. Before an activating order is issued we will need to be convinced that the system proposed by LRT is completely fair to passengers and that it is likely to work effectively. In order for penalty fares to work, a passenger must have a reasonable opportunity to buy the correct ticket for the journey and it follows that the operator must provide adequate opportunities for the passenger to buy a ticket at the start of his journey. That is the crux of any penalty fares scheme and we shall be paying particular attention to that in considering any request for an activating order that is put to us by London Regional Transport.

Mr. Snape : The Minister's contribution was illuminating and on this occasion he certainly did not detain the House for too long. I do not know whether the absence of

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his advisers from their usual place had anything to do with the brevity of his contribution, but he made no attempt to tackle any of the points or questions raised this evening. I hope that the hon. Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) will spend considerably longer replying to these important matters than did the Minister. My hon. Friends, who have been the main contributors to the debate, have rightly subjected the Bill to considerable scrutiny. My immediate criticism of it is that it represents yet another worsening of conditions for the travelling public.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), who is not at present in the Chamber, asked about the compensation of the working party from whose recommendations the Bill flows. Before informing the House of the composition of that working party, it might be helpful if I informed my hon. Friends, and, indeed, the sponsor of the Bill, of some background to its introduction. The Opposition remember that the penalty fares provisions first appeared in the London Regional Transport Act 1984. That was a not inappropriate year for that legislation, because prior to the abolition of the Greater London council, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), who was at that time Secretary of State for Transport, was determined to strip the GLC of its principal function, which was that of responsibility for transport matters in London. The right hon. Gentleman was asked during the Committee stage of the Bill about those penalty fares provisions and how they would work. Being the broad-brush man that he is--and the water-colour expert that he is to prove it--he predictably urged us to wait until the outline was filled in. He promised us--truthfully as it turned out--that legislation would eventually appear.

In 1986 Ministers set up the working party to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South referred. I should have thought that that was indicative of their desire to see machines issue tickets and collect them at the end of the journey. It has been a consistent thread of the Government's policy that demanning, especially in public sector industries, is what government is about, and that any standard or concept of service for the travelling public is very much a back number--if it is considered at all.

I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that there were no permanent secretary's in the working party--they being far too grand to serve on working parties investigating matters affecting the travelling public. However, the Department of Transport was represented by three members of the public transport, London division, and a legal adviser ; the Home Office by someone from CI division ; the Lord Chancellor's Department by a gentleman from the private and international law division and London Regional Transport by two representatives, a solicitor and the group planning manager. It is difficult to imagine that members of that working party had much experience of the problems of rush hour travel or, indeed, any other sort of travel on London Underground. The Home Office representative was the only woman member of the team, but we do not know whether she was qualified in the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South starkly outlined, in that she had experienced some of the difficulties faced by

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women travelling on London Underground. Appendix 1 of the working party report makes no mention of her grade or circumstances. An indication of the thinking behind the report can be readily gleaned from the preamble, which states :

"This report has been prepared by an inter-Departmental Working Group on Penalty Fares set up by Ministers in May 1986."

Its terms of reference and membership are set out in appendix I, which I have already mentioned.

In paragraph B of the report, £19.5 million is given as the amount lost due to fare evasion on the London Underground. It also refers to a further £9 million lost due to fare evasion on the buses and states that the trend is rising. That is the sort of unquantifiable statement so beloved by interdepartmental working parties anxious to justify the inevitable conclusions and anxious to please their political masters. I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South that no detailed figures or explanation was given as to how the original figure was arrived at.

9.45 pm

Perhaps I could add to the ever-increasing burden of the hon. Member for Ilford, South by asking him to tell the House how that £19.5 million has grown to £26 million and whether the promoters have provided him with any detailed figures to justify that second and higher figure.

In paragraph B(4) reference is made to the

"substantial reduction in operating costs"

We should insert in brackets "that means manpower costs". The report states that London Underground is investing £135 million in a new, highly automated ticket system. Bearing in mind the impact that inflation has had on the supposed figure lost through fare evasion, does the hon. Member for Ilford, South have any information as to the impact of inflation on the £135 million investment laid out in the 1986 report?

A suggestion of the report's lack of credibility can be found in the preamble where reference is made to

"the need for a penalty fares scheme on the buses is much less pressing since it is more difficult to travel on a bus without buying or showing a ticket"

It goes on to point out that on one-person-operated buses the ticket is purchased from the driver, but from conductors in other circumstances. That was written before the Chinese and others were lucky enough to benefit from the virtual gift of Routemaster buses from London Buses Ltd., or whatever fancy name it calls itself these days.

Those of us who travel regularly on public transport will be aware that there is widespread fare evasion on buses, particularly on OPO buses where the top deck is a no-go area for the driver. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South is right that the top deck is, all too often, a no-go area at night for women or anyone else who does not fancy a broken nose. Among certain regular bus users it is customary to pay the minimum fare and then to retire to the top deck knowing full well that the driver has too much to do to ascertain whether people have gone beyond the stage for which they paid. The possibility of an inspector boarding a bus to check whether the correct fare has been paid is, particularly late at night, almost

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non-existent. Such is the credibility that the working party must bridge, but it appears from a couple of hours' reading of its report that it has singularly failed to do that.

In paragraph G of the report the working party outlines the major issues of principle and asks :

"Should lack of reasonable opportunity to buy a ticket be the sole valid excuse for not having one?"

What is a valid excuse for not having a ticket? Most of us travel on public transport, except, of course, Ministers who never have to worry about that. Reference has already been made to the new ticket machines, part of the £135 million plus inflation investment designed to strip London Underground of any human presence.

We are all aware that in their new and pristine condition these machines do everything except play pop records on Radio 2 or Capital Gold. The theory is that someone puts his money into a slot and, depending on the type of machine, chooses his destination or ticket price and receives not only a ticket, but change. As my hon. Friends have indicated, all too often the machine's light emitting diode display shows that it will accept only the correct change. In what should be a showpiece station, Westminster--of course, in London Underground's opinion it is not, because its showcase station is St. James's park where the top brass work--many, sometimes most of the fairly newly-installed machines display the legend, "correct change only".

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South graphically illustrated the dilemma of a woman with two small children, perhaps in a fractious mood, with a pram, trolley or shopping basket. Under the general statement of principles, could such a passenger claim lack of reasonable opportunity because of the deficiency of these machines and the fact that a proportion, perhaps the majority, of them will accept only the correct change? Perhaps the hon. Member for Ilford, South could answer that question.

All of us can envisage the scenario, whether at Westminster or any other well-used tube station, in which the ticket window is surrounded by a considerable number of people. The window is supposed to be manned until at least 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening, although I can record a number of occasions in recent years when the supposed showpiece station next door was not manned at all after 7, 8 or 9 o'clock in the evening, which is an indictment of the incompetence and general lack of interest of London Underground management. In a city which prides itself in attracting tourists, it is likely that language and currency difficulties would be experienced at the station ticket window. The patience of those standing in the queue would be rapidly exhausted by the sort of exchanges which we can imagine taking place between the passengers and the ticket clerk. Given that combination of by no means unlikely circumstances, the passenger may decide to take her fractious children, shopping basket and trolley to a London Underground train without buying a ticket. She would have to do so single-handed, because the demanning of stations means that she would have to lever her children, shopping basket and trolley on to the train herself. Guards and assistance for people in those circumstances are an old- fashioned concept of the past. If she decided to travel without a ticket, would the hon. Member for Ilford, South consider that she had had a reasonable opportunity to buy a ticket? If not, would she, under the terms of the Bill, be liable for a penalty fare?

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The second issue of principle in this section of the Bill

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : The Minister was deep in conversation during some of the important points made by my hon. Friend. Of course, we know that he is reluctant to use public transport ; otherwise, he would not have been late for the Pavarotti concert the Sunday before last when he tried to get there by car and arrived after the concert had begun, which must have been disconcerting both for him and for Mr. Pavarotti. The lady with the children would have been warned by the Labour Member from her constituency not only to have the right change, but against travelling on the tube in the first place because so many passengers passing through the new turnstiles have had their tickets munched up by the ticket machines. The ticket would never come out the other side. If she was waiting for a British Rail train at the other end, she might force her way through and get on the train with no ticket, through no fault of her own. If she were a constituent of mine, she might miss her train to Huddersfield if she did not. She would never have got the pushchair through the barrier in the first place, though.

Mr. Snape : I am torn between considering Pavarotti halting in mid- note to greet the exalted personage who, alas, is no longer with us, and my hon. Friend's constituent going all the way to Huddersfield on London Underground. Neither scenario is particularly likely, but my hon. Friend painted a graphic picture which must have placed yet another question mark in the mind of the hon. Member for Ilford, South, who is responsible for piloting this shabby piece of legislation through the House.

I was referring to the major issues of principle laid down in the report which generated this piece of legislation. The second principle is as follows :

"To what extent should inspectors retain the discretion to waive penalty fares or to institute prosecution procedures as an alternative to levying a penalty fare?"

I have never had the dubious pleasure of working for London Underground in the days of a Conservative Government, but I am probably the only Member who has been a guard on the railway and travelled on extremely crowded trains. My heart goes out to the inspectors charged with collecting the penalty fares. Twenty-one years ago--

Mr. Thorne : Does the hon. Gentleman want me to answer his questions? If so, he is giving me very little time in which to do so.

Mr. Snape : I do not want to appear to be lecturing the hon. Gentleman on procedure, but I am sure that provision will be made through the usual channels, which

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I note are conferring even now, for him to reply at some unspecified future time. Once we have discussed the many amendments that appear on the Paper, we look forward to hearing from the hon. Gentleman.

I hope I may be permitted a little trip down memory lane as I ask the House to come back with me to 1968, the era of flower power and San Francisco, when the hon. Member who now represents West Bromwich, East was a passenger guard at Manchester's Victoria station. One of the trains on which I sometimes worked then was the 23.30 from Manchester to Rochdale via Oldham, which called at all stations. Sometimes on a Saturday night some of the passengers on that train were a little boisterous. Since coming here I have learnt that the phrase is, "They had dined well," but I should not have thought--

Mr. Speaker : Order. The whole House is fascinated by this, but does the Underground go up there?

Mr. Snape : It does not, but the same principle applies, Mr. Speaker. I sense a certain frisson among those charged with the heavy responsibility of advising you from time to time on these matters--

Mr. Thorne : I beg to move, That the Question be now put--

Mr. Cryer : The hon. Member for Ilford, South has not replied yet.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must have an opportunity to reply before I grant the closure.

Mr. Snape : I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

I conclude my reminiscences by pointing out that the dilemma faced by the inspector on the Underground when collecting penalty fares would be as great--

Dr. Marek rose --

Mr. Snape : Let me finish my reminiscences ; I can scarcely bring myself to stop again. Already I feel a wave of nostalgia sweeping over me. My point is that the inspector charged with these onerous responsibilities would face enormous difficulties if he had to tackle a similar crowd of people to those with whom I had the problem of dealing in 1968. My last word about 1968 is that it was an era of flower power when no one ever resorted to physical violence. That was the theory. Things are very different in brutal Britain in 1989. I fear that an inspector charged with collecting penalty fares on a Saturday night on London Underground would need at least some protection before he embarked on the journey

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed tomorrow.

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Services Discipline

10 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Armed Forces (Mr. Michael Neubert) : I beg to move

That the draft Army, Air Force and Naval Discipline Acts (Continuation) Order 1989, which was laid before this House on 12th June, be approved.

The purpose of this order is to continue in force for a further year the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955 and the Naval Discipline Act 1957, which together provide the statutory basis for discipline in the three services.

Annual parliamentary approval for the special legal status of the service man or woman whereby he or she is subject to the constraints of military discipline as well the rule of civil law is a long-established constitutional concept. The Select Committee examining the last Armed Forces Bill in 1986 recommended that the current system for a five-yearly Armed Forces Act and annual extension of the service discipline Acts by Order in Council be continued.

We shall, of course, be giving further consideration to some of the areas highlighted by the 1986 Select Committee in considering proposals for the next quinquennial Bill. The House will, I am sure, understand that I am not able to anticipate the provisions of the Bill. However, I think that this may be an appropriate time to review some of the further progress we have made in response to the Select Committee. My hon. Friend the then Under- Secretary of State, the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), gave our response to the recommendations of the Select Committee in July 1987. Since then, and in particular, enabling provisions have been made in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 for standing civilian courts and courts martial to suspend sentences of imprisonment imposed on civilians subject to the service discipline Acts. Although the number of cases likely to be involved is very small, it is a sensible and useful provision. We also, of course, continue to keep the provisions of civilian legislation generally under review so that they are mirrored in service legislation to the extent that it is practical and sensible. This review is part of the balance we seek to maintain between the rights of service men and women as citizens on the one hand and the extra constraints necessarily imposed on them by service discipline on the other.

Making service personnel aware of their rights and responsibilities is therefore of great importance. In line with the Select Committee's recommendation, all the three service leaflets given to those charged with offences under the service discipline Acts have been reviewed and revised and updated where appropriate. I am also pleased to be able to tell the House that the general leaflet on rights and responsibilities which was introduced last year for all new recruits is being updated and expanded.

I am conscious, too, that a fair and equitable system of discipline is essential to the maintenance of good morale and effectiveness in the armed forces. The conditions of service we offer will be ever more important in recruiting and retaining the personnel we need to sustain the nation's defences.

Inevitably, perhaps, one hears about breaches of discipline which occur and this can distract from a recognition of the overwhelming adherence that there is to it. Service men and women recognise that service discipline

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is a critical protection for themselves in the fast-moving, highly skilled and sometimes dangerous job that they do. Anybody who chooses to breach that discipline can be a liability not only to himself but to his colleagues and even civilians. We therefore owe it to those who serve in the armed forces with such professionalism, skill and dedication, and to whom I pay wholehearted tribute tonight, to ensure that the system of discipline is upheld. Accordingly, I invite the House to approve the order.

10.4 pm

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda) : On behalf of the Opposition, I also pay tribute to our service men and women, who as the Minister said, in their dedication and discipline give such great service to the country.

The Minister referred to the pamphlet on rights and

responsibilities that is given to new recruits. Last year, my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South (Mr. Hughes), who cannot be with us because of illness--I am sure that the House would like to send him our best wishes --suggested that the pamphlet should be distributed to all members of the forces. I should have thought that the Minister could take that idea on board.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, South also referred last year to the problem of bullying, both informal and formalised, in often brutal initiation ceremonies. Unfortunately, what we see in the media and what has been reported to us shows that the problem has not diminished. Even today, people accused of these outlawed offences are being prosecuted. I appreciate that the Minister is doing his best, but unfortunately his best is not good enough. Will he once again emphasise to senior officers that this sadistic behaviour is not to be tolerated in our armed services? Will he tell them that the prevalence of this behaviour in the units under their command shows their inability to command? Will he consider taking action against such senior officers, because that would go a long way to solving the problem and stamping out these sadistic practices?

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) : The hon. Gentleman, who knows a lot about armed forces establishments, used the word "prevalence". Will he agree that that was not the right word to use, because only a small minority go in for this awful practice of bullying? Furthermore, senior officers in all the forces are determined to see that it is stopped, just as we all are.

Mr. Rogers : I agree. I used the word "prevalence" in its literal sense rather than in any quantifiable sense. Perhaps the word "occurrence" might be better, as I was not intending to show any specific numbers or to suggest that there were large numbers of offences.

We should remember that the cases of bullying and initiation ceremonies that come to the fore are but the tip of the iceberg. As the hon. and learned Gentleman will acknowledge, those of us who have served in armed forces know that this sort of thing used to be much more widespread, but, because of the efforts of various Ministers and senior officers, it has been cut substantially. I still do not like the idea that it exists in our armed services. It is difficult enough for people to train in what is, by necessity, a tough and disciplined profession. Bullying has no place in training tough soldiers, sailors and airmen.

We welcome the report on the ethnic origins of applicants for entry into the regular forces, which is part

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of the Defence Estimates this year. I am still trying to wade through the statistical morass of this report, but I accept the broad conclusion of the substantial under-representation of the ethnic minorities in our armed forces. The Royal Air Force, because of different recruiting techniques, appears to be more successful than the other services in dealing with that problem. Will the Minister urge all services to consider methods used in other branches and then adopt a universal approach based on the best practice?

Until we can integrate our ethnic minorities into all institutions of public life, whether the armed services, the police or whatever, there will not be a truly integrated society. A career in the armed services is a good opportunity for ethnic minorities to become fully integrated.

The subject of AIDS was mentioned in both the 1987 and 1988 continuation order debates. Last year the Ministry of Defence said that it had recognised the seriousness of the problem and had played a full part in the AIDS education campaign. How successful does the Minister believe the campaign to have been? Has his Department kept central records of the number of personnel tested HIV-positive? If so, what are the results of those records? The Independent reported on 19 June that the rate of HIV infection in the US Army, while lower than in the civilian population, was higher than expected on previous estimates. Can the Minister assure the House that all reasonable steps are being taken to monitor the British position?

Another matter raised in previous debates was the increasing use of private contractors for services such as cleaning and catering. Concern was expressed about the use of service personnel to complete work that the contractors had left unfinished. Has that practice now ended?

We are concerned about the MOD's management of its housing stock. It has been criticised by the Public Accounts Committee, which noted that the MOD had said that it recognised the need to do much better in its management of married quarters. The question is whether better management is, in itself, sufficient. The 18th report of the Review Body on Armed Forces Pay, Cmnd. 579, referred to the poor quality of much service accommodation and said that better management arrangements would not, in themselves, make more money available. There has been considerable criticism from hon. Members on both sides of the House of the Government's overall policy towards service accommodation. In the Army debate on 8 June the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who I am sure will participate in this debate, devoted considerable time to detailing the terrible problems of Army personnel when attempting to become owner-occupiers. It was clear that he had considerable support from many of his hon. Friends. The provision of appropriate housing for service personnel is one of the main determinants of morale, but it is evident that the Government are failing to deal with the problem.

A scheme must be evolved to ensure that service families have homes on leaving the service. That has been discussed for many years, but we have not yet achieved a resolution of that peculiar and difficult problem. Even for those who can afford it, house purchase during armed service and its consequent absentee landlordism does not work, especially for those who now face seven-year tours of duty in Germany. Every garrison has its crop of horror

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stories about experiences of letting houses in Britain. The families have to carry a double burden of mortgage and rent, usually on a single income. They cannot bear those risks for long. I am sure that Conservative Members wish to contribute to the debate, as they have in previous defence debates, so I shall not speak at length. However, the problem is serious and must be resolved. I understand that the hon. Member for Canterbury tabled an amendment to the Finance Bill. I do not know whether it was accepted or rejected because I have not followed that Bill in all its gory detail.

Mr. Julian Brazier (Canterbury) : My amendment was firmly rejected by members of both Front Benches. However, constructive discussions with my right hon. and hon. Friends continue. I hope that the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers) will extend the constructive views that he has expressed over the past minute or so to members of the shadow Treasury team.

Mr. Rogers : Yes, and I understand the problems of right hon. and hon. Members on both Front Benches. I feel sure that they wish to consider sympathetically other proposals, which could include direct assistance from the Ministry of Defence, which currently feels that fiscal relief within the Finance Bill is not the answer, and that such an arrangement would create all sorts of problems in respect of tax relief extended to purchasers in other peculiar situations. There can be no doubt that at present there are instances of premature voluntary retirement among skilled NCOs, for example, who are encouraged by their wives to leave early as they seek security for their family when a suitable house and job becomes available. I know that the Ministry of Defence is sympathetic and recognises that problem, and if it cannot be resolved in the Finance Bill perhaps it can be sorted out within the Ministry. We shall do all that we can to help the Minister to resolve that problem.

10.16 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I am grateful for an opportunity to participate in the debate, because I am also very concerned about incidents of bullying. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of extremely serious allegations of bullying of one of my constituents, who ended up in hospital with a split kidney. I cannot go into any detail on those allegations, or even name my constituent or his regiment, as I understand that the matter is now sub judice and that a court martial is proceeding. Nevertheless, one or two aspects surrounding that case, but not directly connected with it, are of particular concern.

In case there may be any doubt, I should say at the start that the case to which I refer does not involve my local regiment, the 36th Engineers, which has an extremely proud record on that score and about which I have never heard even the slightest whisper of any bullying.

My concern is that recruiting policies are at fault, and that people are being recruited who are liable to engage in a sustained campaign of bullying. Whether or not it is proved that there was such a campaign in the case of my constituent, cases have been proven at courts martial over the 12 months since our previous debate. In other words, one is not dealing always with an NCO who momentarily lost his temper and hit a subordinate. No matter how

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deplorable such an incident may be, it is at least an impulsive action and not part of a campaign of sustained and cruel bullying, which is a sign of a deeply flawed character.

I ask myself how people capable of such behaviour manage to get through the recruiting process. It seems that there is a need for it to be tightened up. We must ask also why such bullying is more prevalent in the Army--and I use the word "prevalent" in exactly the same sense as it was used by the hon. Member for Rhondda (Mr. Rogers)--than in the other two services.

I am concerned also about the remedy available to young soldiers who are the victims of bullying. The case to which I referred involves a 17-year- old recruit who had only just joined up and who was away from home for the first time. What measures has the Army taken to ensure that young recruits can report what they are having to endure without fear of reprisal? The questions that I asked that recruit included why he did not go to his commanding officer or telephone home. The answer was that there was direct intimidation against doing so.

Surely the Army can devise a foolproof means of dealing with the matter, similar to the recognised grievance procedure used by any employee in a civilian occupation. When a recruit alleges bullying and his allegation appears to stand up, he should be protected immediately from whatever intimidation has been threatened, and his allegations should be considered seriously from the start in the recruit's base. In the case that I encountered, the parent had to go to the barracks before any justice was won.

I am also concerned about the role played by NCOs. It is now generally acknowledged that many NCOs have to spend so much time on paperwork-- indeed, they are taken on specifically for the purpose--that they are no longer spending as much time as they used to on training their men and, above all, looking after their welfare. That is a negation of the role that we expect them to be drafted and promoted to carry out.

For those three reasons--particularly my concern about recruits' recourse on base once the bullying has started, and the role of NCOs--I would welcome a response from the Minister. When my constituent's case has been decided by a court martial and any appeals have been dealt with, I hope to raise the matter in much more detail, because I believe that it has many worrying implications. 10.21 pm

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