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Mr. Steve Norris (Epping Forest) : Does the Secretary of State accept that what he has announced today is extremely welcome, but that there is still concern in my constituency about the ludicrous journeys that many of my constituents undertake to get into London from the east-- journeys which frequently average just above walking pace? I understand why the Department has chosen to reject, for example, the major widening of the A10 and the new road across Hackney marshes down the Lea valley, but at the very least one of the pilot projects for the new red routes should be either Commercial road or East India Dock road where congestion is at its worst.
Mr. Parkinson : We have not yet settled which will be the trial stretch. We have been considering the A1, the A21 and the south circular, but I will add my hon. Friend's suggestion to the list. As I am sure that he and other hon. Members know, the Department controls about 220 of the 300 miles, but the other 80 miles are under control of the boroughs. We hope for co-operation from the boroughs so that we can speedily implement the announcement that I have made today.
Mr. Brian Sedgemore (Hackney, South and Shoreditch) : The proposals contained in the remaining two options of the east London assessment study for a tube line from Chelsea to Hackney and the extension of the east London line to Dalston will be welcomed by Hackney's residents, and they would be even more welcome if they were combined with proposals for more public transport? Am I right in thinking on road traffic proposals that words designed to smooth and massage will be more environmentally damaging than the document admits? I shall reserve my constructive criticisms until I have consulted my local residents, beginning on Sunday.
Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) : Does my right hon. Friend agree that commuters to London from my constituency in Kent face some of the worst journeys in the morning rush hour and in the evening? Will he accept that to halve the width of many of the inadequate routes from the south- east by the use of bus lanes makes no sense whatever, that to clamp wheels on those strategic routes is nonsense, and that the ripping out of parking meters in central London, which will merely add to the churning effect of traffic desperately looking for somewhere to park legally, is not at all helpful?
Column 1182announced and approved the orders for £257 million worth of new rolling stock, the improvement and lengthening of 63 stations and a new signalling system on the north Kent line. We shall be looking carefully at the use of clamps on red routes, but I think that towing away would be a much more appropriate sanction.
Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : The Secretary of State will be aware that thousands of people in Hackney will be pleased and grateful that at least some of the major road schemes which threatened to plough through my borough have been turned down and I am sure that he will want to join me in congratulating the thousands of assiduous campaigners without whose energetic and imaginative lobbying of hon. Members on both sides of the House the roads would not have been turned down. Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that one of the problems identified by the surveys is that there is still no tube station in Hackney, the only London borough without a tube station? When the right hon. Gentleman considers proposals for a Chelsea to Hackney line, will he bear in mind that any Secretary of State who succeeded in bringing a tube station to Hackney would live for ever in the hearts and minds of the people of Hackney?
Mr. Parkinson : Who could resist such an invitation? I agree that the public have made their views known in an effective way and I hope that the hon. Lady will accept that the Government have responded to the arguments put forward. I look forward to the in-depth studies on a Chelsea to Hackney line, which has many things going for it. It could be linked with Chingford and relieve some of the pressures to which other hon. Members have referred this afternoon. I note what the hon. Lady said and I thank her for the way she said it.
Sir William Clark : The very fact that my right hon. Friend has now ended the 18 months uncertainty and removed 85 per cent. of the blight on property, is welcome. I have received more than 3,000 letters against the south London assessment. It seems that somebody in the Department simply took a map of Croydon and started drawing lines on it with a felt pen, blighting a great deal of property. I welcome the fact that some of that uncertainty has disappeared, but if the options that have been cancelled had been considered carefully before the original document was produced it would have been clear that they were impractical. Option 9, through Sanderstead, affected my constituency and that is why I had so many letters from my constituents. Will my right hon. Friend give me a categorical assurance that option 9 is not now to be pursued and that, consequently, all those property owners in Sanderstead, the sellers and the rest, will now be free to sell the rest of their properties, something that they have not been able to do for the past 18 months?
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : Was the reference in the Minister's statement to the environment and green sites a token afterthought? Has he not already given prior private assurances to some Conservative Back Benchers that some of the roads will be in tunnels? How does that compare with the rejection and sabotaging of tunnelling in Labour areas such as Leyton, despite the fact that it was to be
Column 1183financed privately? Is there not a phrase for that
approach--political corruption? Will the Minister now scrap the environmentally scarring M11 link road?
Mr. Parkinson : The hon. Gentleman is working himself up to a fine but totally spurious state of anger. If he will examine the proposals as they affect the area that he assiduously represents, he will find that there are substantial public transport options designed to help. There is no question of the consultants, in considering the alternatives that they-- not the Department--put forward, being told to look after one area at the expense of another. The consultants were asked to examine solutions for London, and their recommendations are the result.
Sir George Young (Ealing, Acton) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that most Londoners will consider the proposals a realistic and balanced response to the growing pressure on London's transport network due to the capital's booming economy? Far from being a road-dominated solution, as suggested by Opposition Members, the exciting feature of the documents published today is the fresh ideas that they contain for new investment, after many decades, in British Rail and London Regional Transport.
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the enormous pressure on the Central, District and Piccadilly lines in west London, and on the wave of support for the proposals in the documents for a new tube line from Queen's Park to Ealing Broadway and from Shepherd's Bush, through Turnham Green, to Richmond?
Last year saw the highest level of investment in British rail for 25 years, and this year's expenditure also represents a substantial increase. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) that the documents contain several interesting and novel ideas for extending the Underground and for light transit systems in different parts of London.
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) : Is the Secretary of State aware that many Islington people will be extremely angry at the road- building plans envisaged in the consultative documents in respect of the east London assessment study? They will be angry that the threat of destruction still hangs over the Parkland walk and over part of the Holloway road. They will be angry also at the so-called major junction improvements envisaged for Highbury corner and for the junction of Hornsea road with Holloway road. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the last thing that the people of Islington want is more roads and traffic? Instead, they want more money invested in better public transport to reduce the level of commuter motoring and the number of heavy goods vehicles flowing through the borough.
Mr. Parkinson : On a point of detail, the Parkland walk proposals have been abandoned, so there is no threat to Parkland walk. We welcome comments and consultation. If the hon. Gentleman will examine the documents, he will discover that the part of London that he represents is the subject of public transport as well as road proposals. Many people
Column 1184believe that it is time for the Government to grasp the nettle and deal with the problems around Archway and Holloway road. Many people also resent the fact that the planning process has been deliberately disrupted on a number of occasions to prevent important decisions from being taken.
Mr. Matthew Carrington (Fulham) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of how welcome is his strong commitment to investment in London Underground --and in particular in my constituency, in respect of the proposal to undertake a proper study of the Chelsea--Hackney line, which would greatly improve the Underground service to south-west London.
I regret that the western environmental improvement route is still included in the assessment studies, but that proposal is made more acceptable by the inclusion of a proposed new river crossing. Is my right hon. Friend aware that it is also vital that if the new road goes ahead there should be a strong and purposeful commitment on the part of the Department to encourage environmental improvements along its route, to minimise the effects of traffic noise, fumes and vibrations on the local residents?
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend. As he knows, there are opposing points of view to his own in respect of the new river crossing. People on the Wandsworth side of the river are not so enthusiastic about the prospect--in fact, they are very unenthusiastic about it and think that the road should link up with Wandsworth bridge. Nevertheless, I thank my hon. Friend for recognising that the studies represent a combination of road and public transport, and that the two together can make a real contribution to solving the present problem.
Mr. Chris Smith (Islington, Finsbury) : While welcoming the abandonment of some of the initial major road-building proposals in the original east London assessment study, I wonder whether the Secretary of State accepts that there remain proposals in his own consultation exercise that will possibly involve road widening, bigger roads and the creation of new roads in my constituency, with associated destruction of constituents' homes? Is not the fundamental flaw in the Secretary of State's statement his imposition of an absolute limit on the ability of public transport of itself to solve London's traffic problems? Does he accept that my constituents want a real investment of resources in public transport, not new or bigger roads destroying their homes?
Mr. Parkinson : We have retained road-building schemes only where we believe that the benefits exceed the costs--the costs being human as well as financial. We expect those proposals to be hotly contested, and we want to hear the public's view of them before arriving at a decision. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents to let us have their views ahead of 28 February so that we can arrive at a sensible decision based on the views expressed. There is no possibility of public transport solving the whole of London's traffic problems. Many of the journeys made in London are not from the periphery to the centre but across London, and it is not possible for London Transport to carry that traffic. The Government accept, and my statement recognises, that the majority of
Column 1185London's travellers will use public transport, but we must acknowledge that that job cannot be done without a better road system.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : As three of the assessment studies converge on Battersea, may I, on behalf of its residents, give a triple welcome to my right hon. Friend's very sensible dismissal of the vast majority of the schemes that would have affected my constituents' houses? I note that his preference is for public transport backed up by sensible improvements to existing roads. Will he at least consider sympathetically the idea of disposing of the remaining road schemes, including the weir scheme, and putting them not into a filing cabinet from which they can be produced again, but into a dustbin from which they cannot? If the scheme is to go ahead at all, it should be put in a tunnel and left there.
My constituents greatly welcome the red routing scheme but look forward also to schemes for traffic calming, so that people can not only travel but co-exist with others who do.
As to the remaining road schemes, I realise that the proposal for cut and cover under Clapham common will provoke a substantial amount of comment. We look forward to seeing how the public react to those proposals--which would at the same time restore vast areas of the side of Clapham common to pedestrian ways. Therefore, those proposals could bring benefits as well as problems. We look forward to hearing the considered views of my hon. Friend and of others.
Mr. Richard Tracey (Surbiton) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on grasping the problem so soon after coming to his present office. I hope that his announcement will dispel much of the misleading speculation about the routing of new roads, which was a cause for concern to many old people across the whole of London. I believe that the Department should produce a stategy for London, rather than a mark 2 GLC or something of the kind. I hope that while undertaking his consultations, my right hon. Friend will not forget that the Government must act to prevent the unco-ordinated digging of holes in the roads, which so often causes traffic jams.
Mr. Parkinson : As my hon. Friend knows, we have proposals for legislation which we hope to bring forward next year. That legislation will not only bring about better co-ordination between the utilities, but produce income from them for use of the lanes. We believe that the financial incentive for the job to be done promptly and quickly represents one of the best ways of removing the problem to which my hon. Friend refers.
Mr. James Arbuthnot (Wanstead and Woodford) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the M11 link road will considerably reduce traffic congestion in my constituency, although I share the regret expressed by the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) that more of it is not in tunnels?. Does my right hon. Friend realise that the building of this road has been delayed for 25 years--since I was in short trousers? Will my right hon. Friend also comment on the level of compensation involved? Does he agree that if the level is
Column 1186too low it may represent a false economy, whereas a higher level will prompt my constituents to clamour for the development to be speeded up?
Mr. Parkinson : I am not sure that the Treasury would ever allow any Secretary of State to have so much money that people clamoured to be allowed to sell their houses to him. I recognise, however, that the building of the link road has been delayed for a long time, and I want the consultation process to be completed as quickly as possible so that we can get on with the appropriate plans.
Sir William Shelton (Streatham) : Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on his statement? Will he also accept that the arrival-- after so many years--of an underground line to Streatham, and the reinforcement of the underground line to Balham, will come as the best Christmas present that my constituents could possibly have? They will be very grateful.
I shall wait to hear my constituents' views on the proposed relief road around St. Leonard's, and the proposals for Clapham at the junction of Cavendish road. I fear, however, that the Clapham scheme will not be acceptable, because the problem could be easily dealt with by means of a roundabout--as I have said time and again in the past two years.
I believe that the pedestrianisation of Streatham high road is a plus, but that the loss of houses is a minus. I hope that my right hon. Friend will listen to what is said by my constituents when I have their answer.
Mr. Parkinson : Of course I will. My hon. Friend has been very active in promoting his and his constituents' views on our proposals, and I have no doubt that he will continue to do so during the consultation period. We look forward to hearing what he has to say. I should make one thing clear. I am not giving anyone any Christmas presents. These are proposals, and they have some way to go before they become schemes-- although I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that they constitute a major step in the right direction.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his eminently sensible approach to London's traffic problems. How soon does he expect the bulk of the red route schemes to be operative, and will the London boroughs now be able to keep the fines that will be levied?
Mr. Parkinson : As the House knows, my hon. Friend was the arch mover of the red route scheme, on which I congratulate him. It was the Adjournment debate that he initiated which first interested me in the subject.
We expect the trial stretch to be in action by next summer, for a period of about six months. The pace at which we can move after that will depend on the extent to which the boroughs co-operate, as they own about 80 of the 300 miles involved. We believe that they will be co-operative, and we shall start working with them tomorrow to make the scheme a reality. I cannot give my hon. Friend a more definite date, however.
Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst) : As one who has been particularly critical over the past 12 months of the way in which my right hon. Friend and his colleagues prolonged the uncertainty about the proposals, may I take this opportunity to thank him for the trouble to which he and his office have gone to ensure that all of us who will be
Column 1187affected have been supplied with the reports, as quickly as possible? Clearly they will require a good deal of digestion, and, more to the point, our constituents will want to digest them too. To remove any possible doubt, however, will my right hon. Friend confirm that option 5--the additional motorway south of the south circular road--is also a dead duck?
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. Getting the studies published, and doing the work necessary to eliminate proposals that were unacceptable, has been an enormous task for the Department and our officials have worked tremendous hours to get the information out as quickly as possible to enable us to proceed with consultation.
I would not wish to be specific, but I am pretty certain that the answer to my hon. Friend's question is yes.
Mr. Nigel Forman (Carshalton and Wallington) : I welcome my right hon. Friend's judicious approach to these difficult issues. May I ask him to bear in mind that, in residential areas of Greater London, it is better to concentrate on improving existing roads and enforcing existing traffic regulations? Is he aware that at any one time only 400 traffic wardens are available for the whole of Greater London? If we are to enforce the regulations, is it not time we rectified that omission?
Mr. Parkinson : One of the objectives of our proposals is to relieve traffic wardens of some of their present duties, and to allow the boroughs to perform them. I apologise to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) for not answering his earlier question. The boroughs will be able to keep the fees from parking meters that they install and monitor.
Our aim is to extend the duties of traffic wardens to give them more authority ; they will be allowed to authorise removals and clamping. We believe that those added responsibilities will lead to more job satisfaction and hence--we hope--to better recruitment.
Mr. Jeremy Hanley (Richmond and Barnes) : I thank my right hon. Friend for his careful and considered approach. May I also mention the refreshingly candid and helpful attitude of the Minister for Roads and Traffic, my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Atkins)? It makes a nice change.
Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the road options are options, not proposals? I hope that he did not intend to say the opposite earlier. This bears out the observation by my hon. Friend the Member for Ravensbourne (Sir J. Hunt) that options are treated as proposals by the general public until a denial is issued. The term "option" causes a good many difficulties, and we must stress that these are not proposals as yet.
I welcome the extensions to the tube lines and light railway. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to put as many as possible of the lines underground, especially in environmentally sensitive areas? May I also point out that any widening of the south circular road on the scale that
Column 1188may have been envisaged would be entirely unacceptable to my constituents, as it would take place right in the middle of my constituency?
My constituents would countenance a tunnel from Wandsworth to Chiswick only if it were fully underground, and did not come up in one of the green open spaces in the centre of my constituency. They would, however, welcome some of the proposals, so long as all of the tunnel is underground and the south circular road is de-trunked, as well as major environmental benefits being observed.
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend. If I used the word "proposal" I apologise--I meant "option". These are options which are being placed before the public, and we look forward to hearing my hon. Friend's comments.
I note what my hon. Friend said about public transport. I know his views about the possibility of the tunnel's emerging at Rocks lane and linking up with it, and I have taken that point into account. I am sure that it will be made to us again in the course of the consultations.
Mr. John Maples (Lewisham, West) : We in Lewisham welcome the end of the uncertainty that has surrounded the proposal for so long. The recommended option, however, involves the destruction of some 300 houses in the borough, and a considerable increase in the volume of traffic. We shall, of course, want to study the proposals in detail, but such a move is unlikely to prove acceptable to people living along or near the route. Will my right hon. Friend assure us that the process of public consultation will be genuine, and that he will take local views into account when making his final decisions?
Mr. Parkinson : I can give my hon. Friend a categorical assurance on that point. I recognise that his constituency has the substantial problem that many houses are threatened there, although the number has been limited substantially by our proposals. The consultation will be genuine and we shall listen carefully to what my hon. Friend and his constituents say.
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : My right hon. Friend will be aware of the anxiety expressed by my constituents in Dulwich, especially those who live along the south circular road by Dulwich common and of their fear that the volume of traffic and danger that exist at present would be increased if there were any road widening scheme. I urge my right hon. Friend to take note of the "do minimum" option, which would receive widespread support from my constituents and from myself.
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The option that involves a tunnel under Dulwich common would have as a by-product the turning of part of what is now the south circular into a local road, thus relieving many residents of traffic, which is an enormous problem for them now. We shall listen to what my hon. Friend and his constituents say.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : Will my right hon. Friend consider the employment of community traffic wardens where the police and the existing traffic warden service cannot cope in keeping residential areas clear of cars in no-parking areas, which is the suggestion of one of my constituents? Will my right hon. Friend accept that although new measures to enforce proper parking will be welcomed, there is a tremendous shortage of parking
Column 1189places in my constituency, especially during the day when many people who come to work in the area park their cars in residential areas, thus making it impossible for residents to park anywhere near their own homes? Can we have some proposals for an increase in parking places?
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. The document proposes that the boroughs would take over the management of parking areas and would employ the wardens or contract out the service. They would do the job in the way that they chose. Part of the proposed duties of the new traffic director will be to promote a code of conduct for parking and we shall issue notes of guidance on parking provision. The new traffic director will, as part of his job, encourage the boroughs to adopt more uniform standards.
Mr. Hugo Summerson (Walthamstow) : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on rejecting the idea of driving a road down the Lea valley which would destroy Walthamstow marshes, an area of age-old marshland which is much loved by the people of Walthamstow. If the Chelsea-Hackney line is built with a branch for Chingford, I ask that Walthamstow marshes should not be used as an engineering depot or as a dumping ground for those works.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : Further to the points that were made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott), will the Secretary of State confirm that the options in the studies were tested against a fixed base and that in that base there was an assumption that the fares on public transport would increase by 46 per cent. in real terms by the year 2001, whereas motoring costs were assumed to increase by only 10 per cent. in real terms over the same period? Will he, therefore, retract his statement that road and rail were compared on an equal basis?
Is the Secretary of State aware that a recent Gallup survey of Londoners in five boroughs showed that 82 per cent. of respondents were in favour of a reduction in the use of cars in London because of their adverse effects on the environment? Will he, therefore, acknowledge that Londoners are likely to reject the road-building options in favour of public transport options and traffic restraint? Will he be prepared both to accept such a public judgment and to provide public money to support the public transport proposals? Is the Secretary of State aware that the road-based options that are still recommended by his consultants have already been rejected by the London boroughs that would be affected, including the Tory-controlled borough of Wandsworth which recommends a 15 per cent. reduction of road traffic, a greater commitment to traffic-calming measures and a major investment in public transport?
Mr. Parkinson : I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and I shall write to her. I have been assured that the studies were conducted on what my officials told me this morning was a "comparable basis". I asked that specific question because it has been alleged that the assessment is always tilted in favour of roads and I wanted to be sure that the studies had been carried out on a comparable basis. The Gallup survey detected a wish for a reduction in the number of cars by the electors in five boroughs. It was interesting that when a question was put about road pricing at the same time and when Londoners were asked whether they would be prepared to pay to see a reduction in the use of cars, the answer was a pretty firm no. People do not want cars, but they have no plans to get rid of their own. They want other people to stop using the roads.
I have already made it clear that all the proposals will have to earn their place in the public expenditure programme. We had a good outcome this year which is why we shall be spending £6 billion on public transport projects and £5.7 billion on the national road programme. We do not overestimate the attitude to roads and the part that roads may play in solving London's problems, but we do not underestimate the need to improve our road provision. We see an improvement in rail, underground, local transit systems, buses, which have not been mentioned today, and cars, with all of them playing their part in relieving London's congestion.
Consolidated Fund Bill
Mr. Speaker : I have a short statement to make about arrangements for the debate on the motion for the Adjournment which will follow the passing of the Consolidated Fund Bill on Wednesday 20 December. Hon. Members should submit their subjects to my Office not later than 10 pm on Monday 18 December. A list showing the subjects and times will be published later that day. Normally, the time allotted will not exceed one and a half hours, but I propose to exercise a discretion to allow one or two debates to continue for rather longer, up to a maximum of three hours.
Where identical or similar subjects have been entered by different hon. Members whose names are drawn in the ballot, only the first name will be shown on the list. As some debates may not last the full time allotted to them, it is the responsibility of hon. Members to keep in touch with developments if they are not to miss their turn. Moreover, I remind hon. Members that on the motion for the Adjournment of the House on Thursday 21 December, up to 10 hon. Members may raise, with Ministers, subjects of their own choice. Applications should reach my office by 10 pm on Monday next. A ballot will be held on Tuesday morning and the results made known as soon as possible thereafter.
Several Hon. Members rose
Mr. Richard Holt (Langbaurgh) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. May I take you back to column 1005 in yesterday's Hansard ? The House and the country are used to the hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould) making wild statements and having them corrected by the Leader of the Opposition, and I do not want to be accused this afternoon of being a stooge for him. However, I must draw to your attention, Mr. Speaker, the wild and unsubstantiated statements of the hon. Member for Dagenham. He stated that he took "the first opportunity" to notify me that he intended to raise a point of order yesterday. That was a piece of paper placed on the Members' Board at 2.49 pm. I had left the House of Commons at 8.30 in the morning with my colleagues on the Select Committee on the Environment to visit a sewage works in Brighton and we were not able to return to the House until after 6 o'clock. The hon. Member for Dagenham took little, if any, opportunity to contact me. He did not ring my office and he showed no courtesy whatever. The hon. Gentleman
Mr. Holt : The hon. Gentleman said that I had withdrawn my question. You know, Mr. Speaker, because you have now checked, that I did not withdraw my question. I have the answer here, so I could not have withdrawn my question.
Further, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Small Heath (Mr. Howell) also misled the House. I do not believe that he did it on purpose. He suggested that local authorities do not
"collect information on the basis of the colour or the ethnic origin of citizens."--[ Official Report, 13 December 1989 ; Vol. 163, c. 1006.]
If they did not do so, they would not be able to tell central Government how to allocate money for the rate support grant. They load it in favour of authorities with a large number of ethnic people. As my constituency does not do so, we lose millions of pounds as a consequence. I hope, Mr. Speaker, that you will now rule that my question was in order.
Mr. Speaker : I certainly will deal with the hon. Member's point of order. I promised yesterday that I would reflect further upon this matter. I remain of the view that the Table Office was correct in accepting the question tabled by the hon. Member for Langbaurgh (Mr. Holt). As he has said, in the calculation of the present rate support grant and the forthcoming revenue support grant, among other things, account is taken of the social index based on people or households the heads of which are first -generation immigrants from the new Commonwealth or from Pakistan. I can confirm therefore that there was a correct basis for his question.
Column 1192Holt), one thing is certain, and that is that yesterday he was down in the political gutter, but we did not know that he came out covered in sludge. [H on. Members :-- "Cheap."] His question was cheap. It was offensive to many people.
Mr. Skinner : I did not say it was not. Obviously some people like it. I cannot say that I do. [Interruption.] My point of order is about something entirely different. That was just in passing--en passant.
Earlier, during business questions, several Labour Members were not called. I am not talking about myself--I can carry it--but some of my hon. Friends were not able to be here. I can be here, and I can represent them as a shop steward or whatever. Those hon. Members were not called at business questions. I want to get one or two things straight. We--
Mr. Speaker : Order. Getting one or two things straight is taking time from an important debate. The trouble with acting as shop steward on behalf of hon. Members is that it takes time from other hon. Members who have a legitimate interest in two important debates. The hon. Member must put his question briefly to me, and if it is a matter of order for me I will endeavour to deal with it.
Mr. Skinner : Well, the point is that, invariably at business questions, if you decide to cut questions short because of a statement or for any other reason, the chances are that it will almost certainly be Labour people who are kept out. However, today there was a statement to follow, which took an hour. About 20 or 30 Tories and a few Labour people stood up. You adopted a different practice. You allowed every Tory Member to be called. When you get more Tory MPs standing up, there is a tendency for them to be called. When you get more Labour people standing up at business questions--
Mr. Speaker : Order. We have had enough of this. The hon. Gentleman has been the chairman of a different body. He knows the obligation to be even-handed in the chair. The whole House knows that I am very reluctant to curtail business questions because I am well aware that it is the one opportunity in a week for hon. Members who may not previously have been called to put a question to the Leader of the House. However, I must have regard, as the hon. Gentleman in his other capacity must equally have regard, for other business before the House. Since on Wednesday there will be an opportunity on the Christmas Adjournment motion to raise these matters, I thought it fair today to have regard for other hon. Members who have indicated their wish to take part in the important fisheries debate and the debate on the other items on the Order Paper.
Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will recall that, during Prime Minister's Question Time, I asked a question which, upon reflection, you decided was not in order. I fully accept that you have difficult decisions to take on questions that fall into that grey area. You and your predecessors have had to say to an hon. Member that his question might not be in order. Although the last word or two of my question might be construed by one or two hon.
Column 1193Members to be party political, the bulk of my question was directed to the Prime Minister to elicit her view on democracy gaining ground in eastern Europe. I should have thought that the country and the House would have wanted to hear her views on that development. I recognise that you have a duty to protect--
Mr. Speaker : Order. If the hon. Gentleman had left it at that, he would have been perfectly in order, but he went on to ask for the Prime Minister's views about what was going on in the constituency of Birkenhead.