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Column 92are all other city leaders and the Conservative opposition group. The reasons for that support are self- evident, having regard to the four events that have taken place so far and what they have brought to the city. They have indirectly made the city a centre of attraction. There has been wide international media coverage. Investment in the city of Birmingham is now about £1.5 billion--a substantial investment--entirely due to the city council's attitude to attracting business and investment from all over the globe. The council is to be congratulated.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker) referred to the financial arrangements of the Bill. They were not discussed in Committee. In the hon. Gentleman's opinion, that matter must be debated further. The carry-over motion will allow us to do just that next year. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be as keen as ever to introduce the necessary amendments and give us his ideas on how the Bill should be changed for the better. He will not serve the House by delaying the Bill's passage if he wants to debate its financial aspects.
Mr. Rooker : There is an excellent case for starting the Bill again and for not agreeing the carry-over motion. The questions that Opposition Members have asked about finance have been asked by senior Birmingham Tories. The hon. Gentleman owes it to his hon. Friends to raise the same doubts about financial arrangements as the Opposition have raised. Those doubts were raised also by Conservative members of the council. Labour Members opposed the Bill in the first place by a free vote. The matter is not neat and tidy. The Bill would benefit from our starting it again.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the carry-over motion. Will he explain the different paragraphs, particularly the last one, and tell us how much has been spent to get the Bill this far? As that is a necessary detail of the carry-over motion, an explanation should be put on the record.
Mr. King : I do not have the exact figures to hand, but I will try to obtain them before the end of the debate and let the hon. Gentleman know, if he is successful in catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I do not doubt that the costs are considerable, which is why the city of Birmingham would not relish starting the passage of the Bill again. The hon. Gentleman's tactics would not be warmly applauded by the ratepayers or community charge payers. The hon. Gentleman is correct to say that the Conservative group on the city of Birmingham council will not necessarily give the Labour council a blank cheque. They have their own interests in ensuring accountability and are of the opinion that the motor race must continue to develop and produce a profit for the city. The motor race has been successful in terms of investment in the city.
I do not dispute that the Conservative opposition on the council are not happy about certain financial aspects. However, they are 100 per cent. behind continuing the event and see no reason why their detailed financial concerns should cause the measure to be dropped and the motor race not allowed to continue.
Mr. Robin Corbett (Birmingham, Erdington) : The hon. Gentleman was saying that he is unaware of the allocation of fees for the passage of both Bills. I understand that the figure agreed by the city council was £100,000. There has been no subsequent discussion or decision on whether extra moneys must be allocated.
The city of Birmingham believes that it is worth continuing this event and that, as the Bill wends its way through Parliament, all aspects of the motor race will be discussed. Many worthwhile amendments have already been undertaken or promised by the local authority to make the event more relevant and more responsive to the local community.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : The hon. Gentleman listed several decisions that were made in Committee. It would have been helpful if copies of those decisions were available. Certain points arise from the council's minutes of 21 June. Obviously, changes occurred as the Committee proceeded. There is a list of 12 points, but the hon. Gentleman mentioned only 11. A change occurred later. There is no published list. We have had only a verbal presentation, and that seems to be a general problem with private Bills.
The hon. Gentleman's most important point about the Birmingham (No. 2) Bill is the possibility of a grand prix being held in Birmingham. He mentioned a four-day race ending on a Sunday. That matter was decided by a majority in Committee, whereas the other decisions were unanimous.
Mr. King : I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention. We are not debating the Committee's report. That will occur in due course if consideration of the Bill is allowed to be carried over into the next Session. The list that I read out is the list to which the city has undertaken to commit itself as a result of the Committee's deliberations. Of course, it is subject to amendment and ratification by the House. I have been trying to say that real progress has been made.
If the House agrees that consideration of the Birmingham (No. 2) Bill should be carried over to the next Session, all requirements and other items in respect of the grand prix and the Committee's decision by casting vote will be fully discussed.
Mr. Rooker : The hon. Gentleman is effectively in charge of the Bill, but he has no list of possible changes. Opposition Members have received no communication from the council about the Bill since Second Reading, other than a brief exchange of letters. There has been nothing of substance. The hon. Gentleman has said that certain matters will be debated. Would the hon. Gentleman prefer to debate changes rather than allow the Bill to pass without further debate? Is the hon. Gentleman prepared to say that he would rather do that? The hon. Gentleman knows, as does everyone else, that the only way in which the changes can be debated is for us to object procedurally each time the Bill comes before the House so that we can create space in the parliamentary programme. However, whenever my hon. Friends and I do that, we are pilloried by prejudiced and spiteful media and by senior Tory councillors in Birmingham for simply carrying out our parliamentary duties.
Mr. King : I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's last point. The press can look after themselves, but the comments and criticisms made by the Conservatives on Birmingham city council have been most discreet. They
Column 94could have been much more vociferous if they had had a mind. The supporters of the Bill are ever mindful that, even at this late stage, we could all move together, as Birmingham Members of Parliament. We are mindful of the changes that the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) introduced to ensure that the Bill received a long stint of examination in the Select Committee. Indeed, the Bill is all the better for that. The recommendations that have been made were put forward after a lengthy period of deliberation and if there are any further changes that the hon. Gentleman would like to introduce, I am sure that he will have the opportunity of making his views known.
Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will remember that he has made that statement once before. When the previous Bill passed through the House and ultimately became an Act of Parliament, the hon. Gentleman said that it had been much improved as a result of the opposition of my hon. Friends and myself. He said that the amendment that was introduced by Sir Reginald Eyre, on behalf of the city council, which stated that the race would stop if it had not made a cumulative profit after five years, much improved the Bill, yet he has connived at sidestepping that Act.
Mr. King : I do not accept that. I know that we have faced a contradiction or a difficulty in the meeting of minds about the financial structure of the motor race. The hon. Gentleman voiced his grave concern about that on Second Reading, and the city has obviously taken note of the points that he made. No doubt if the House is agreeable to the carry-over motion, he will have the opportunity at a later stage to continue to voice his points of view and to seek to make changes wherever and whenever he can. I understand and fully appreciate his right so to do.
My point is that the city has tried to reach accommodation with all the people who have petitioned for change, and we may wait and see--
Mr. Terry Davis : Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, will he tell the House that the amendments pressed on the Bill are to be welcomed because they improve it? The hon. Gentleman made the same sort of statement four years ago and is now party to sidestepping that provision. Indeed, "sidestepping" is the word used by the city solicitor.
Mr. King : The hon. Gentleman knows why this No. 2 Bill is before the House this evening. When the original Bill was approved by the House, we were not aware of the change in the rules that the international motor racing body, FISA, was to introduce into the form of motor racing staged by the city. I refer to the necessity of having two days for practice and one day for the actual race when, at the moment, all that we can have is one day of practice and one day for the race. It is for that reason and that reason alone that this Bill has come before the House.
At the same time, we are taking the opportunity of reviewing the circuit and making some alterations to it. It is also a good opportunity for petitioners and for those who have experienced problems with the motor race to come forward and to ask the city council to agree to a number of amendments. Indeed, the city has accepted such amendments. That is the way in which the Bill has been improved. As a result, it is a better Bill and more responsive to the citizens of Birmingham as a whole.
Mr. Denis Howell : On the narrow point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Rooker), which is effectively the only business before the House tonight, we are considering whether the Bill, which has now had its Second Reading and Committee stages should-- because of the difficulties of the parliamentary timetable--be carried over. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that if the Bill were carried over, the rights of hon. Members to move amendments and to make objections would properly continue, so that all that hon. Members are doing by objecting to the Bill this evening is frustrating the normal parliamentary procedures of democracy? They are stopping the Bill from being argued on its merits, although I accept that that is what my hon. Friends say that they wish to do, but the end of that process will be to cost the city of Birmingham and its ratepayers another £100,000 if we start again--and that is both parliamentary and economic nonsense.
Mr. King : The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) is perfectly right. One difficulty that I face at the moment is asking for a carry-over motion when we are only halfway through the Bill's progress. Of course, there are questions still to be asked and points still to be raised--I do not doubt that for one moment--and that is precisely why we need the carry-over motion. It will mean that those points can be debated during our remaining sittings on the Bill--
Mr. Terry Davis rose --
Mr. Davis : Yes, again, because this is an important matter. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) is making one of his rare appearances in the Chamber, but I want to press his hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), who has been here throughout our debates. The hon. Member for Northfield has said that he is proposing the carry-over motion to allow my hon. Friends and me to put forward our amendments and objections to the Bill. If the hon. Gentleman is so anxious for the Bill to be thoroughly debated, why did he move the closure motion to prevent my hon. Friends from taking part in the last debate?
Mr. King : Obviously, those financial aspects caused concern to some hon. Members. During that debate we had an element of disruption because of the number of questions asked although I was happy to seek to address those questions because the Bill is contentious and Opposition Members had every right to intervene to ask their many and varied questions during my description of the Bill--
Ms. Short rose --
Ms. Short : The hon. Gentleman is well aware that I waited in the Chamber throughout the whole of his hour-long speech and that I was the only hon. Member seeking to speak through whose constituency the race
Column 96runs. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that my constituents have strong feelings about this. Yet he was a party to preventing me from speaking and to preventing the House from hearing what my constituents had to say.
Mr. King : The record will show that there were about 24 interventions in my speech when I presented the No. 2 Bill. The hon. Lady made several interventions on a variety of matters and I was delighted to assist her in every way that I could. It is not for me to comment on the Chair and who is called, but other hon. Members were called on that occasion. Personally, I am sorry that the hon. Lady was not called, but it is not within my power to seek to have her called. Nevertheless, if the opportunity presents itself, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I very much hope that the hon. Lady will catch your eye later this evening.
The measure having come all this way, the best course that anyone could adopt would be to allow the No. 2 Bill to be carried over into the next Session so that the many points still at issue will receive due and careful consideration. To abandon the Bill now would be disappointing for the city of Birmingham and its citizens, who in the last four events of the super prix have seen the benefits that it can bring. One accepts that this matter is not without controversy, but I believe that the measures taken by the city and those already laid down in the Bill--which, of course, need to be ratified and confirmed--show that the city wants to stage the event with the willing support and agreement of its citizens.
Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood) : It is my strong view that the House should not give permission for the Bill to be carried over into the next Session, because it is deeply flawed. The power already exists for a two-day road race to be held in Birmingham, but that power requires the road race to break even in five years. I shall describe later how that requirement of the House has been disregarded. The flawed Bill before us gives the power necessary to hold a four-day road race, with no requirement to break even. That is a disgrace, and it is one major reason why the Bill should not be carried over.
My first objection to the carry-over motion, however, relates to the way in which the Bill has been handled in the House. It was introduced by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King). He spoke for more than an hour, and I sat through his speech waiting to make my own. It is not good enough for that hon. Gentleman to talk about the number of interventions in his speech--in fact there were far more interventions in the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell), who spoke for a shorter time.
Mr. Denis Howell : I counted the number of interventions that my hon. Friend made in my speech. In my 30 years in the House, I have never had so many interventions in such a short speech. I am glad, however, that my hon. Friend has had the opportunity to speak tonight.
Ms. Short : My right hon. Friend is obviously not listening. I said that there were far more interventions in his speech--I agree that I made many of them--than in the speech of the hon. Member for Northfield.
The hon. Member for Northfield spoke at enormous length, and a large part of his speech was irrelevant to the Bill. He went on and on about the convention centre and
Column 97the failed olympic bid--I do not want to trample on the feelings of my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath- -and said how everything was hunky-dory in Birmingham. That was before the publication of the document on poverty in Birmingham, which shows that half the people in that city live in serious poverty. The hon. Gentleman, however, went on and on with his glorious picture of Birmingham, which was absolutely irrelevant to the road race. The hon. Gentleman took up too much time in that debate, and he was largely responsible for the views of my constituents not being put to the House before the Bill went into Committee.
In that debate, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) spoke about the finances behind the Bill, which are an important part of our objection to it. After my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill spoke, my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath and the Minister made brief speeches. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) then got up and was just getting into his stride when who came into the Chamber but the Government Chief Whip. He walked up to the hon. Member for Yardley, whose speech came to an abrupt halt. The hon. Gentleman nearly fell on the floor the instant the Chief Whip went up to him. The hon. Gentleman was obviously instructed to bring his speech to a rapid conclusion, which he did with total obedience--
Ms. Short : I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman intended to make a long speech, but when the Chief Whip appeared and started to walk up the steps towards him he brought his remarks to a close instantly. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perr Barr (Mr. Rooker) then stood up to speak, but he did not get much of a chance to do so before the closure was moved.
I do not wish to embarrass the Chair in any way, but it had been intimated- -if I may put it like that--that, because the hon. Member for Northfield had spoken at such length and because the views of the people who live in the area where the road race takes place had not been put before the House, it was unlikely that the closure would be granted. The Chief Whip then arrived, however, went up to the hon. Member for Yardley and then appeared to have words with the people who make decisions about whether a closure can be given. Shortly afterwards, that closure was given.
The procedural way in which the Bill has been handled has been unacceptable. It is obvious that the Government Chief Whip organised the votes for the closure to get the Bill through the Chamber. The husband of the Prime Minister has a financial interest in Halfords, which is a major sponsor of the road race. He has been to Birmingham to show his support for the road race, and he enjoyed the hospitality, of which there is plenty, given to prestigious visitors to the road race. I believe that there has been improper interference with the procedures of this House. There has not been proper consideration of the interests of the people of Birmingham, who are opposed to the passage of the Bill.
Ms. Short : No, I am not. I was just saying that the Prime Minister's husband has a financial interest in the company that sponsors the road race. It is obvious from the proceedings in the previous debate that the Chief Whip organised to abbreviate the debate to ensure that there was a closure, which was overwhelmingly carried by Conservative Members.
Mr. Corbett : I appreciate the complaints that my hon. Friend makes about the way in which the House handles such matters. My hon. Friend should go back a step, however, to recall that the Bill was approved on a free vote by the majority of elected councillors of the city of Birmingham. Is my hon. Friend saying that those councillors, irrespective of party, totally ignored the wishes of the people they represent?
Ms. Short : No, I am not. I do not know how much detailed information some councillors had when they voted in favour of the Bill. I doubt that they have had as much detailed information about the finances and about some of the undertakings given in the House when the first Bill was passed as is available to hon. Members because of procedures relating to the passage of the Bill.
Mr. Rooker : Through my hon. Friend, perhaps I can ask my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett), who is my Member of Parliament if he has forgotten, that he voted against the closure on Second Reading.
Mr. Barnes : Will my hon. Friend confirm that it is not Birmingham city council that decides whether to have a Bill, but the House, and only after a discussion of the representations made to it? Hon. Members discuss the ins and outs and they make their decision.
Ms. Short : My hon. Friend is right. If it was in the power of Birmingham city council to run a road race, it could do so and it would be accountable to its voters. We have the power to vote for or against the Bill, and therefore we have a duty to do our best by the people of Birmingham. We must protect their interests to ensure that some of the truth is told, as opposed to the hype and the fibs about the profitability deriving from the Bill. I consider that it is my duty to use my platform in the Chamber to put the truth on record because so many misleading statements have been made.
Mr. Corbett rose --
Mr. Beaumont-Dark rose --
Ms. Short : As I recollect, my hon. Friend thought it was important that I should have the opportunity to speak. Whether I spoke was not important : what was important was that I was the only person who had been in touch with people living on the circuit of that race. They feel passionately about the Bill, but there was no chance to put
Column 99their views on record. My hon. Friend voted against the closure, because he agreed that their views should be known.
Mr. Beaumont-Dark : I am always fascinated to hear Socialists talking about Socialists. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Mr. Corbett) has spelt out the majority held by the Labour party on Birmingham city council. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) has used such words as "untruths" and "lies" and has said, "If only the truth could be told." Does she think that the Labour leadership of our great city has told untruths? We have said so more than once, but she has always said that we were wrong. Why should she be believed on this one issue?
Ms. Short : Perhaps there is no opposition to it on the Conservative Benches. We all know how craven they are in the face of their Chief Whip. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that Conservative councillors from Selly Oak voted against the Bill at the area sub-committee meeting shortly before the debate in April--
Ms. Short : The hon. Gentleman is not listening as seriously as he might to what I am saying. The Bill is not about Conservative or Labour support--it has cross-party support. From reading press reports, however, it seems to me that the support of senior Conservative councillors in Birmingham for the Bill and the race is eroding. They are making more and more qualified statements about how worried they are about money and whether the race should go on as it is because they recognise that it is becoming increasingly unpopular. We must deal with what is best for the people of Birmingham, rather than cheap points misleading people about where the support comes from. There is support and opposition from both Labour and Conservative councillors.
It is important that, when we discuss these matters with the eyes of our city upon us, we are absolutely accurate in what we say. I have received a number of letters from my constituents who are also on the route. I have been impressed with the way that every complaint that I have received, whether it concerns access, noise or drunkenness on the day of the race, has been properly investigated and all my constituents have been seen. If there were to be the erosion of support about which the hon. Lady speaks, we would all have received letters. I have had no such letters suggesting any erosion of support.
Ms. Short : I have no wish to be impolite to the hon. Lady, but I have had meetings with the residents associations which have come together over the Bill. They have complained about the number of requests they have made to meet the hon. Lady and her refusal to meet them.
My first objection to the Bill going any further concerns the way that it has been handled. Before it went into Committee, the people of Ladywood and those living around the circuit did not have a chance to have their views put before the House. Procedurally, that was wrong. For that reason alone, we should start again and do things properly.
Secondly, there has been improper pressure from the Conservative Chief Whip to get the Bill through. That is an improper interference in the fair- minded consideration of the Bill and the interests of the people of Birmingham. For those two procedural reasons it is my strong view that the Bill should not be carried over and that we should, if necessary, and if it is not possible to persuade the city council to think again, start properly in the next Session and consider the Bill in a better way with less party political interference for reasons which might be improper.
The people of Ladywood feel strongly about the Bill, and I shall attempt to put some of their views on record. That is difficult, as I have with me a large number of letters--just some of the many I have received. My judgment is that about 50 per cent. are opposed to the whole road race. The majority of people say that it could be better run and that they are worried about money. They do not say that the two-day road race should be abolished. However, there is no doubt that the overwhelming opinion of people living near the circuit is that the Bill dealing with the four-day road race should not be passed.
I will not read out all the letters, as that would detain the House for too long, but I shall read a letter from a headmaster at a local school. I will not name him.
Ms. Short : I do not know whether to name him or not. I am afraid that a matter of privilege has been put before the House because of the treatment by the city council of one individual who was brave enough to try to put information before the House about the operation of the Bill. The overwhelming and disproportionate support for the Bill among senior figures in the city council means that they might use their powers to damage the interests of individuals who dare to tell the truth about the Bill.
The headmaster wrote to me saying that he wanted to enlist my support against any extension of the road race. He said :
"This disruption of our school environment is without precedent in the United Kingdom. It would never get any sort of acceptance in Edgbaston, Solihull, Sutton Coldfield or around the streets of Dulwich. It is a grotesque example of how people who lack political clout are treated with contempt and are walked over for the sake of commercial interest and/or vainglory. It has very little to do with genuine civic pride. For a city whose educational provision is £10 per pupil below the national average and also whose teacher-pupil ratios are amongst the worst in England, there are clearly more important ways for the city to raise its self-esteem.
On behalf of the parents and Governors of this school, I urge you to speak most strongly against the Bill coming soon before Parliament."
Column 101That was in April, and I attempted to do as he asked.
The letter went on to say that that school and others in the area are currently
"fighting for our survival as inner-city secondary schools. The main problem causing the demise of falling rolls is the perception parents have of this inner-city environment ie, it is one to be moved away from as soon as possible. Is it any wonder that so many parents believe they must seek a better' social-educational environment for their 11-plus age children.".
Mr. Roger King rose --
It goes on :
"The superprix and/or its extension only reinforces the perception that local parents have of this area--it is one on which they are treated with contempt--even that which they have is taken away ie, the right to some peace and quiet and not to be exploited by others.".
Mr. King : The hon. Lady explained in that letter exactly what the motor race is all about. She says that people cannot wait to leave the rundown inner city, because nothing happens. The city is trying to develop something that is exciting for the inner city, which involves the local community and which identifies the area as one having attractions. Some of the commitments--the repair of underpasses, the landscaping of areas and the improvement of the housing stock in the environment of the motor race circuit--are exactly the things about which the headmaster is complaining. The city is doing those things thanks to the Birmingham City Council (No. 2) Bill.
Ms. Short : The hon. Gentleman is welcome to have the race in Northfield. He can say as much as he likes about the purposes behind the Bill, but I know better and meet more frequently the people who live there. They do not see it as he does. The hon. Gentleman can make his own speech, but I can tell him, the House and the Government that, if there is any chance of moving the road race to Northfield, the people of Ladywood will vote for it overwhelmingly. [Interruption.] Does my right hon. Friend the Member for Small Heath wish to intervene?
Ms. Short : If my right hon. Friend checked more carefully, he would see that the city council claims that only just half those living in the locality support the extension to four days. If one looks at the way the question was asked, one will see it was asked misleadingly. Anyone who knows anything about opinion polling--I presume everyone in the House takes some interest in it--will know that, if a question is asked in a distorted way, one can receive different answers.