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Ms. Short : Unfortunately, I do not have-- [Laughter.] I have an enormous pile of papers and if the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Bevan) waited for the answer, he might be able to laugh. Surely it is only polite to wait. I have a stack of papers in the Library including that particular set of questions and answers, which I looked at half an hour ago. However, I cannot, without that piece of paper, tell the hon. Gentleman the exact
Column 102words of the question. When I looked at them, I thought again what I had thought when I first looked at them, which was that the question was inviting a certain answer. The question was something like : given that this road race is so good for Birmingham, do you not agree that it should be extended to three days? It is not quite that, but that sort of question.
I am anxious to proceed--
"If Birmingham were to be offered a different sort of event, a Grand Prix, we should like the flexibility to move the dates if necessary, i.e. not on a bank holiday. Would you object to a change in the date?"
There were 33 per cent. in support of the suggestion and 67 per cent. against.
I do not have time to read all the letters in the pile in front of me, but they include representations from Volvo--a major employer and a major firm on the circuit of the race--which writes about how deeply disruptive the race is to its business and states that it does not want it extended. A local vicar from Balsall Heath church centre wrote asking that we should oppose the four-day event. The church lies in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Sparkbrook (Mr. Hattersley), who also opposed the Bill on Second Reading. His constituent and my constituents are disrupted by the race.
The letter states :
"Beside the general disruption for weeks before and after the race, as this residential area is turned into a motor-racing track, the worst experience for the residents is the exceedingly high level of noise. For many the two day event is only just bearable : four days will be intolerable. Some people in the area work nights, even over the Bank Holiday period, and need to sleep in the day. Many are elderly and infirm. There are mothers with babies who cannot begin to understand what all the noise is about. There are many people on tranquillisers. People have complained to me about suffering from headaches for weeks afterwards because of the noise. I am sure a four-day event will considerably increase discomfort and ill-health in the area. Most of the people of this area are poor. They cannot afford to go away on holiday to avoid the noise and disruption in the life of their neighbourhood. They need the protection of their elected representatives. I urge you, with other Birmingham MPs"-- the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) may wish to hear this--
"to oppose any Parliamentary Bill to extend the times allowed for the Birmingham super-prix."
I have received other letters from Express Polythene, Frank Starkey Ltd., an old-age pensioner who cannot sleep at night, Smith Francis Tools Ltd., Alfred J. Parker Ltd., several other old-age pensioners, another firm, Aston and Taylor (News) Ltd., Birmingham Fellowship of Handicapped and many other employers. I have also heard from the Federation of Fruit and Potato Trades Ltd. because the race disrupts access to the markets in Birmingham. All the letters claim that these people can just about cope with two days, although the disruption is terrible, but four days would be unbearable for us as human beings and for our businesses.
Mr. Rooker : I know that we are time-limited, and I am keen to listen to other hon. Members, and even participate myself. However, I hope that my hon. Friend will not gloss over the employers which she has just mentioned. There is
Column 103obviously a difference of balance between those employers who provide income to the city and support the city and want the race, and those who do not want it. There is evidence of enormous numbers of traditional employers, and consequently employees, who are badly affected by the Bill. On the plus side, all we are given is a couple of hotels, a few pubs and a night club. That is not even as straightforward as one might suppose, according to the
representations which I have received. Therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend will not gloss over this matter, because she possesses something which no other hon. Member has : experience as the constituency Member of Parliament who represents employers on and inside the circuit whose businesses are badly affected.
Ms. Short : There is no doubt that many major businesses and employers are affected. Volvo on Bristol road, which employs about 100 people and has a massive turnover, is totally opposed. Some misleading propaganda has been put out by the press department of the city council. There is absolutely no doubt that major employers think that it is disruptive for the city and businesses. Two days is disruptive, four days is massively worse.
I have mentioned two reasons why this motion should not be carried : the way in which the Bill has been wrongly handled in procedural terms, and the overwhelming and passionate feeling of my constituents, local residents and businesses that four days is intolerable. The third reason for my opposition to the Bill is a matter touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill on Second Reading. It relates to the deeply dishonourable behaviour of the city council in relation to the Bill which has already been passed.
When the Bill to grant the two-day road race was first proposed, I faced a dilemma. I think that racing should be done on purpose-built tracks. I am not against racing, but it is dangerous, disruptive and noisy. People who want it should go to purpose-built tracks to enjoy road racing because that makes it safer and less disruptive for other people. In my original speech, as my hon. Friends may remember, I said that I faced a dilemma because although I was against the Bill I did not feel that I had the right to overturn the view of Birmingham city council which put the proposal before the House.
When Birmingham city council put it before us, it gave us lots of documents suggesting that the race would make masses of money for the people of Birmingham and create lots of jobs. I have one of the road race fact packs which we were given. It states :
"The race will make money for the City Council, so the ratepayer will not lose out. We will not be taking decisions on whether to repair leaking roofs or support the road race. The road race will bring more cash into the authority's kitty."
I was deeply sceptical about whether the road race would make money. I was deeply worried that, instead, money which the ratepayers had paid and which was desperately needed to fix up some of the tower blocks and maisonettes which surround the circuit and are riddled with black mould would be used for the road race.
A proper insulation programme could massively improve the quality of life for the people who live in those homes. I feared that money would be used for the road race which could be spent on giving decent housing to those families. As hon. Members probably know, black
Column 104mould is not just uncomfortable and smelly, but seriously damages children's lungs. A large number of children in my constituency who live in those black mould infested flats are in and out of hospital with serious asthma and bronchitis problems.
Mr. Bevan : How on earth can the hon. Lady say that the HIP allowance for housing and the specific allowances for housing within the block grant are adversely affected by the finances of the motor race?
Ms. Short : Obviously, the hon. Gentleman was not listening. I do not know what goes on in this Chamber. I have read out some of the propaganda which the city council issued for the first road race in which it gives an assurance that it will not have to choose between the road race and leaking roofs because the race will bring money into the city. [An hon. Member: "It does."]. The hon. Gentleman seems not to be listening. The city council said that the race would be profitable and money would not have to be spent on it which would otherwise be used for repairing houses.
I doubted that the race would make money, but I thought that the best thing we could do would be to amend the Bill to hold the city council to its promise. It was promising that it would not cost the ratepayers anything and that a choice would not have to be made between the quality of other public services and the road roace. Therefore, my hon. Friends the Members for Perry Barr and Hodge Hill and I moved an amendment suggesting the following framework : that the power to run the road race should cease if it could not cover its costs in five years.
We did not state that it would have to meet its cost in the first year because we understand that it might have to build up its finances, and might take a little time to do so.
Mr. Terry Davis : My hon. Friend understates the case. We were told that the race would make a profit in three years. We suggested that the city council should be allowed five years so that there would be no possibility of it just missing the target in the third year. We were generous enough to give it an extra two years. Now we feel that we have been taken for a ride.
Ms. Short : My hon. Friend is right. We gave more than was asked. We thought that things could go wrong, it could rain--it certainly rained horrendously in the first year. We did not ask for the race to make a profit, but to break even in five years. We negotiated with the leader of the city council and it was agreed that this was a useful and helpful suggestion for the people of Birmingham and would be incorporated in the Bill. Sir Reginald Eyre, the then Member for Hall Green, sponsored the Bill on behalf of the city council. He said that our amendment proposal was wholly acceptable and that the city council would not want to run the race if it cost the ratepayers money. We were pleased and thought that, with this reasonable compromise, we had protected the interests of the people of Birmingham, and the leadership of the city council was happy with our amendment. Our proposal meant that the race could not cost money which should be spent on children's books, leaking roofs, black mould in flats, and so on.
The road race did less well than expected, and the accounts looked bad. The council was worried that the
Column 105power to run the race would lapse because it could not cover its costs, so it took legal advice from Price Waterhouse and went back more than once on that advice.
I have questioned the legality of all this with Price Waterhouse, and the company informs me that legal advice was taken on several occasions before what follows was done. It was decided that the running of the road race was worth £500,000 a year in advertising to the city of Birmingham, in terms of tourism promotion. It was further decided that that amount could be attributed to the value of the race in the accounts, thus converting a loss-making race into one that covered its costs.
This might be legal, but it is dishonourable, representing as it did a breach of the agreement that we had reached and of the words of Sir Reginald Eyre, who had said that the city council did not want to run the race if it cost the ratepayers money.
Mr. Denis Howell : Does my hon. Friend recognise that the form of accountancy in which the city is called upon by auditors, Price Waterhouse, to put in the accounts the amount by which the city is estimated to have benefited was imposed on the city and the Bill by my hon. Friends, who were thus hoist with their own petard? As a result, the council had to call in outside experts, specialists in international propaganda, who told it that the value of the race to Birmingham was £600,000. Price Waterhouse then had to insist that the city paid the £600,000 into the account to cover the requirement imposed by my hon. Friend.
May I further tell my hon. Friend--
Mr. Howell : It is important that she gets the facts right. The race made an operational loss of £173,000 in 1986, an operational profit of £76,500 in 1987, and last year, 1988, an operational profit of £536,000--more than half a million pounds. That must be good business for Birmingham.
The figures that my right hon. Friend quoted take into account the notional value of £600,000 for promoting Birmingham. That is a false profit, derived from promoting what is, in the eyes of the world, a potty little road race in Birmingham, at the expense of my constituents--and still the race cannot cover its costs.
My right hon. Friend's first point was also 100 per cent. wrong. We put it to the city council that the road race should be required to recover its costs, and that if it could not, the power to run it would lapse after five years. The council went away to its legal advisers and asked our co- operation in framing the amendment in the way that the council wanted.
We know that the accounting procedures for the road race are different from normal local authority accounting, but let us not allow that technical point to get in the way of what I consider the city council's deeply dishonourable behaviour in misleading the people of Birmingham. The council promised that the power to run the road race would cease if it cost the ratepayers money ; it was then found that the race could not cover its costs ; legal advice was taken and a way around the provision was found.
Column 106It is dishonourable to pretend that the race is worth £500,000 in promotion, but that was done to square the books and return the legal power to run the race. That still makes me angry when I think about it, and most people in Birmingham are unaware of how badly they have been misled by the sort of figures given my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Small Heath--
Mr. Terry Davis : Does my hon. Friend remember that the subsidy from the rates was charged to a promotion of tourism account that was already in deficit, so that the true effect of what the council did was to reclassify a loss?
Ms. Short : My hon. Friend is an expert in these matters. An attempt was made to mislead people about the road race covering its costs--it cannot. If a race that causes all this disruption cannot cover its costs, it is a waste of time
Ms. Short : I did not think that the hon. Gentleman believed in public services. I do ; priorities are caring for people and spending money on those who are in great need. The hon. Gentleman believes in subsidising an unprofitable road race out of the rates--and out of what is to be the poll tax--for the pleasure of his racing friends. They should pay for their own pleasures.
Mr. King : Has public money been taken out of the housing, education or social services budgets in the city accounts to subsidise this race? I do not think that the hon. Lady can find a penny piece that has been.
More importantly, the accusation that the hon. Lady has just levelled at the city is astounding. She has called city officers dishonest--and, by implication, the city leader and the leader of the council--
Ms. Short : I have heard that men of a certain age acquire hearing problems. Three or four instances of that seem to be present this evening. Whenever I say something, an hon. Gentleman gets up and appears not to have heard it. I said that I believed that getting around the provisions of the Act in which it was agreed that the race should break even or be discontinued after five years was deeply dishonourable. That is what I said and that is what I meant.
I am upset and surprised that the city council of Birmingham, with the agreement of all parties and of its senior officers, is willing to behave so dishonourably
Ms. Short : It would be charitable to call it that. It is a legal breach of an agreement. The council found a technical and legal way to break its word and the spirit of an amendment to a Bill that was passed in this House.
Other parts of the legislation and other agreements have also been breached. We felt strongly that, if the people of Birmingham were to subsidise the race even for five years, they should have better access to it than others. We thought it fair and right that the people of Birmingham should have access to cheaper tickets than people from other parts of the country. That was accepted and it was on the face of the Bill, but it has been breached and ignored. I do not know why the House bothers to pass legislation for Birmingham, because Birmingham does not seem to take any notice. The council looked at our suggestion about tickets and thought that it was inconvenient and difficult to provide them for the people of Birmingham, so instead they provided cheaper tickets for those who bought them in advance of the race, and that is a breach of the law. If some people who did not get cheap tickets were richer, they would probably take legal action on the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis) spoke about cigarette advertising. I know that undertakings were given. Were they incorporated in the Bill?
Mr. Terry Davis : I have looked into the matter and I think that the verbal undertakings have been kept to the letter. Tobacco is advertised on a car that takes part in the race, but I would not accuse the city council of having broken that undertaking. The undertaking was worded in such a way that the council has kept it.
Ms. Short : That is interesting. It is a matter that interests my hon. Friend rather than me, but I thought that there was an agreement that there would be no promotion of South African people or of cigarettes. I went to the road race last time. I did not go to the stands, nor did I partake of the hospitality. I visited the houses and gardens of some of my constituents. There is an unbearable noise when the cars pass and I saw a car advertising, I think, Marlboro cigarettes. I seem to remember an undertaking about not advertising cigarettes. When we met senior figures in the council in the early stages of the Bill, the undertaking that cigarettes would not be advertised was repeated.
Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend's recollection is correct. I sought undertakings from the city council on two matters : that there should not be sponsorship by any company well known as being involved in South Africa, and that the race should not advertise tobacco and particularly cigarettes. I have checked the file and the letter that I subsequently received from the city council. I think that the city council has honoured that undertaking. I believe in approaching the Bill and the whole question of the road race objectively. We should not accuse anyone of bad faith in respect of those two undertakings.
Ms. Short : I am pleased to hear that, because it restores my faith a little. I have never taken a major interest in that point, but I was shocked when I saw the Marlboro car go rushing by. The legislation lays down strict times about when the barriers can be erected and taken down. Those rules are unquestionably breached and anyone who lives in any of the streets will say they are erected earlier and taken down later, sometimes in the middle of the night when there is supposed to be no noise.
Ms. Short : I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Selly Oak is shocked. This year, when I went to the road race, tenant after tenant in houses next to the circuit complained about the unbearable noise. It is an incredible noise, which hurts one's ears. I met the leader of the city council, and he said, "What do you think?" I said that I did not like it very much. He said "It is terribly noisy--unbearable isn't it?" He said that as he left the circuit after the major race of the day. The noise is uncomfortable, especially for elderly people and children. If readings were taken of the noise levels I am sure that they would be found to be above the danger to health level. I see that the council has undertaken to monitor future noise levels. I understand that the council monitored the levels this year but will not publish the results. Last year or in previous years it handed out free ear plugs.
Ms. Short : Not to everybody. I was there, and as I walked up and down people said to me, "We got free ear plugs last year but we have not all got them this year." I know that the people in the hospitality tent gave them out. As I was leaving, the leader of the city council gave me his, and I still have them on my desk in Birmingham. However, they were not given to all the people who live in the area and who need them more than the visitors, because they are in the area all the time.
Leaving aside the matter of tobacco--I accept the correction of my hon. Friend the Member for Hodge Hill on that--there are other serious breaches of the agreement. The big one is the breach of the undertaking to break even in five years or stop. There are also breaches about the times of erecting the barriers and cheaper tickets for the people of Birmingham, an agreement that was on the face of the Bill and which has been breached.
The hon. Member for Northfield recited a list of undertakings about what the city council will do. Second time around, I am afraid that I do not believe that. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman gave the undertakings in good faith. However, I am sure that, when Sir Reginald Eyre said that it would not be the wish of any hon. Member or of anyone on the city council to run the race if it cost the ratepayers money, he did so with an absolute commitment. However, we have seen breaches of the undertakings.
Undertakings are welcome as far as they go, but they are not necessarily honoured. They are only undertakings, and were not even on the face of the Bill. Leaving aside the continuing argument about money, the undertaking about cheap tickets for the people of Birmingham has been ignored. It was also said that religious worship would be respected. People in the churches on the circuit cannot hear themselves praying when a race is on, and to say that they will be able to continue with religious worship is a
Column 109joke. They will not, because it will be impossible. I am afraid that I do not believe the undertakings given by the hon. Member for Northfield.
There is another matter relating to accounts. People in Ladywood are sceptical about what is included and what is excluded in the accounts. Some extraordinary things are going on. This is a neglected area with terrible problems of black mould in the houses. People come along just before the race and paint the houses fronting the circuit. Houses round the corner do not get painted. Curtains are put up in empty flats so that, when television cameras pan the area, viewers will not see empty windows.
People who live in the area and whose real needs and those of their children and local schools are neglected get very angry and cynical about such behaviour. I do not believe for one minute that the accounts reflect the real cost of the race, because we know that they take account only of staff who are almost wholly employed in organising the race. All the people who clean up the area, put out the flowers, do the painting and so on are not included in the accounts.
The people who live there are extremely cynical. I have had many letters and complaints, some of which I have sent on. People say, "Just because I live off the circuit, my house has not been painted. Houses round the corner that are on the circuit have been painted twice, but mine has not been touched because the television camera will not pan across it." Those that are painted are painted only in the front and not at the back.
One of the undertakings given today was that double glazing would be fitted to houses near the circuit. Imagine the cost of that.
Ms. Short : If people are to be subjected to horrendous noise, they should have double glazing, but it would be much better to put the race on a purpose-built circuit so that they are not subjected to such noise.
Mr. Terry Davis : I have some experience of this, and I know that secondary glazing should be provided, not double glazing. Secondary glazing to cut down noise is well known in my constituency because of the nuisance from Birmingham airport. The problem with secondary glazing is that it is effective only if one keeps the windows closed. This race takes place on August bank holiday--the very time when people like to have their windows open.
Ms. Short : I take my hon. Friend's point, and I know that his constituency suffers because of the noise from the airport. However, the airport is a different problem. Races should be put on a track, so that the noise does not affect people so much. Instead of the money being spent on double glazing, it should be used to tackle the black mould. I feel strongly about that, because it is a serious problem that can be dealt with, and the money has not been found to do so.
The Bill should not be carried over, because of the sheer intolerable disruption that it causes to people's lives. When the race was on this year, I visited a number of my constituents whose houses are on the circuit and I heard the noise, which is unbearable. It is fine if one goes to a road race because one chooses to go, is excited to go and is happy to subject one's ears to this unbearable noise. However, if one lives on the circuit,
Column 110one is subjected to it whether or not one wants to be. When people complain, they are told to go away, but when they go away, their houses are broken into and their gardens are used as urinals. People feel that they need to stay in their houses to look after them when crowds are coming to the area.
There is also enormous disruption to traffic in the period leading up to the race, caused by the erection of barriers. I imagine that the hon. Members for Northfield and for Selly Oak know about that. Taxi drivers and others complain about it.
Furthermore, once the barriers are up, buses are diverted. This is a poorer area with relatively low car ownership and people who have to use buses to go into town to do their shopping cannot get on them. They object to that.
I do not know whether hon. Members know, but when the armco kerb is erected, mothers with children and pensioners cannot get out of their houses properly, so little ramps are built to help such people. Unfortunately, a number of elderly people fell off the ramp over the armco kerb so that they could get out of their houses to do their shopping. This is all for a two-day race.
I have a letter here from one of my constituents, Mr. O'Donnell, of 21, Hodnet grove, who sent for a doctor because he was ill. The doctor came at 11.30 am, was not allowed in, went away and did not come back till 5 pm, although the organisers said that they would provide access. Happily, although he was in pain, my constituent did not suffer from a worse illness because of this lack of treatment. Church services are enormously disrupted, and that is greatly objected to.
I made it clear at the beginning of my speech, and I make it clear again, that the city of Birmingham already has legal powers to run a two-day road race. It should concentrate on running it efficiently, covering costs and not disrupting the lives of local people. A four-day race will be unbearable, because of the disruption and costs. Contradictory things are said about this four-day race. Sometimes we are told that it will become a grand prix, which will mean that there will be four days of racing, which will be unbearable for local people. Sometimes, we are told that it will be only a three-day race, but in that case why does the Bill take powers for four days?
The Bill has been wrongly handled. It would be better to start again. It is intolerable to suggest that powers should be granted for a four-day race with no constraint on expenditure. For that reason alone, it would be better to lose the Bill and start again next Session. It is in the interests of the people of Birmingham that this road race ceases. I think that if hon. Members met and knew my constituents, they would agree with me, and would not vote for a four-day race. It has been ridiculously hyped up. Screaming noisy cars should not go round where people live.
When I saw the race, I was interviewed by a man, whose name I have forgotten, who produces a motor racing programme. He said that it was a rotten track and that at hardly any point could one see what was going on. It may be exciting to have a race where people live, but it is a bad track. It is not a good shape for road racing. It is rubbish on every level. I appeal to the House not to carry the Bill over to the next Session.
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The Minister for Roads and Traffic (Mr. Robert Atkins) : I shall intervene only briefly--the motion is strictly procedural--to advise the House of the Government's view. My hon. Friends may rest assured that I am not the Government Chief Whip. They need have no fear that my words will in any sense cause them to worry.
The House knows that traditionally the Government stand neutral on private Bills, and this Bill is no exception to that rule. It was made clear to the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who was then the Minister responsible, intervened on Second Reading that the issues raised by the Bill are essentially of local concern. Accordingly, there is no reason for the Government to intervene. It would be consistent with that approach for the Government to support the carry-over motion.
Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley) : I have been referred to in the debate, it having been said that on a previous occasion my speech was short. I acknowledge that. I spoke for only a short time because I wished to allow another two Labour Members to contribute to the debate. I regret that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) did not speak on that occasion, but she certainly had her fill this evening. We listened to 55 minutes of innuendo, accusations and distortions of quotations. That did little honour to Birmingham, to the level of the debate and to the great majority of the people of Birmingham, who want the debate and want the car race. That being so, they want the carry-over motion to be agreed to.
There has been talk in the Chamber of 6 : 1 being in favour of the Bill and the car race-- [Interruption.] I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Ladywood is leaving the Chamber after the accusations that she made. In Birmingham, however, there was a clear majority in favour of the Bill. There was no bias in the question that was put to the people of Birmingham--that was made clear when it was read out to us--and there has been no dishonour.
Birmingham and the midlands are benefiting from tourism by about £1,000 million a year, and it is imperative that the city is associated with the motor car. The motor car is one of its earliest manufactures and it is something for which the city is historically well known. The car race offers a showroom window to the world.
The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Beaumont-Dark) were, like me, members of Birmingham city council for a long time before coming to this place. My hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak and I were members of the council for far longer than we have been members of the House. I served on the council for 21 years and I know that my hon. Friend served on it for longer than that. The right hon. Member for Small Heath served between 1946 and 1954.