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Mr. David Gilroy Bevan (Birmingham, Yardley) : May I thank my right hon. Friend for the forthcoming and welcome statement that he has made and say that I wholly disagree with the comments of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) about it? It was as welcome as my right hon. Friend's recent evidence to the Select Committee on Transport. I appreciate that British Rail will invest an additional 75 per cent. in the next three years. Will my right hon. Friend now look
Column 224sympathetically and benevolently at the request to approve the electrification of the cross-city line, which I had the honour to open when I was chairman of transport in the west midlands in about 1979? At that time the stock was 20 years old and it is now that much older. May I hope that the long-awaited plans for British Rail which have at last arrived on my right hon. Friend's desk will meet with his approval, so that we can again surge ahead with this new method of motive power on that line?
Mr. Parkinson : I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I hope that he noticed in yesterday's announcement that the spine road for Birmingham Heartlands was approved. I hope that we shall be notching up a second achievement for Birmingham in the near future when we announce our decision about electrification. Over the next three years £3.7 billion will be invested. British Rail's five-year plan is for a £5 billion investment in the next five years. These are massive sums. They disappoint the Opposition, but they will delight the travelling public.
Mr. Donald Anderson (Swansea, East) : Should not this statement have been made by, preferably, a Treasury Minister? May I suggest to the Minister that he travels by French Rail and sees an example of subsidy for public purposes, such as safety, the environment, getting rid of congestion and regional development? Does not the narrowness of the statement tell us about the narrowness of Thatcherism in the past decade?
Mr. Parkinson : No. The hon. Gentleman, who normally knows better, is once again simply measuring everything by the extent of the public service obligation. That is not the only measure of a Government's commitment to the railway system. If it is, I must point out that the Provincial network will receive £345 million at the end of this three- year period, which is no mean sum. The Government and the country recognise that certain rail lines cannot pay their way and need subsidy, but that is no excuse for those that can pay their way remaining subsidised.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : Does my right hon. Friend accept that his announcemmnt will create enormous optimism and hope among the hard- pressed commuters of Kent? They will feel that they have received a Christmas present under the tree. However, they will have some doubts about whether the box has anything in it, because, first, British Rail plans to use two passenger lines for freight in this most congested area of the United Kingdom and, secondly, some construction work is thought to be required to build the Channel link through London. The assertion by a senior British Rail manager that British Rail hopes that it can do that by weekend working only has not struck complete confidence among my constituents.
Mr. Parkinson : It does not inspire me with confidence either. My hon. Friend has been the staunchest advocate of his constituents' case in resisting the proposals on the Channel tunnel rail link and I am sure that he will continue to be. Some of the alternative schemes offer a substantial threat to Kent, particularly the notion of doubling the number of lines so that freight can run parallel to the new passenger line. That would represent a major intrusion and I hope that my hon. Friend will think carefully about it as he continues to advocate it.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Does the Secretary of State realise that his statement is wholly out of touch with reality for the commuters in my constituency and the rest of Greater Manchester who, for the past seven months, have waited regularly for trains that do not turn up, turn up late or turn up with insufficient carriages? The service has been so poor that the number of passengers travelling in Greater Manchester has decreased rapidly. What will the Government do to ensure that British Rail can provide the service that is essential if people in Greater Manchester are to be attracted from the roads to good-quality public transport? It is not being provided now.
Mr. Parkinson : There have been problems in Manchester and I understand that one of the reasons has been the failure of new rolling stock. Some people, including the hon. Gentleman, always insist on our buying British. British has not always been best for the rail system-- [Interruption.] It is getting better. The hon. Gentleman will have noticed that the Government have announced a substantial grant towards Metrolink in Manchester and the provision of a £23 million proposed rail link to Manchester airport. Although there have been difficulties, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will realise that they are being tackled and that Manchester is getting its fair share of investment in the infrastructure.
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East) : While the success and improved efficiency of British Rail to which my right hon. Friend referred may have been happening, is my right hon. Friend aware that this morning I received a letter from Sir Robert Reid, chairman of British Rail, saying that the service from London to Southend has reached a wholly unacceptable level? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in view of the serious problems in some areas and the utter misery of some commuters, there is a case for a trouble-shooting squad to look at special problems? Can he give some hope to my constituents--perhaps even the pledge of coming to visit Southend to see our transport himself?
Mr. Parkinson : I will be happy to come to Southend with my hon. Friend and see transport there for myself. I recognise that, after the north Kent line, the Southend line is probably the worst line left in England. We have announced a huge programme for north Kent and I am aware, because my predecessor was not uninterested in this subject, that Southend desperately needs the same treatment. I shall press British Rail to give it priority.
Mr. Peter L. Pike (Burnley) : Will the Secretary of State not realise that the proposals for a direct service from the regions to the links with the Channel tunnel, and the proposals for King's Cross are, at best, second best for the regions? The regions, and the north-west in particular, need direct connections, bypassing London with public investment, and we need improvements to the west coast line and the electrification of the Manchester to Blackpool and the Roses' lines, and we want them now.
Mr. Parkinson : I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman will be disappointed. Although there have been criticisms of the provision from the regions to the Channel tunnel, 3 million seats will be available from the regions through London to Paris and Brussels. That is a huge increase in the availability of transport to the continent from the regions. If there is a demand for more, the service can be
Column 226increased. I do not believe that it is reasonable to say that provision for the regions is not adequate. It is a guesstimate, but it can be increased if it needs to be.
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow) : My right hon. Friend spoke of his support for British Rail's plans to improve the service to its customers. I invite him to tell the House which other nationalised industry, past or present, has shown any particular expertise in caring for the needs of the customer?
Mr. Parkinson : I think that most people would agree that privatised companies offer a higher standard of service. I am afraid that it is a great disappointment to Opposition Members, but it is a simple fact that when it was nationalised, a tiny proportion of British Telecom's public boxes worked. Now, more than 98 per cent. are regularly available for use. My hon. Friend is right ; it is more difficult for a nationalised industry to give service. Nevertheless, British Rail, under the chairmanship of Sir Robert, has made a major effort. There is an improvement, and we want to see that continue under the new chairman.
Several Hon. Members rose
Mr. Speaker : Order. There is great pressure on the next debate, and there is an opportunity to raise this matter in the debate on the Consolidated Fund, particularly for hon. Members who represent London constituencies. Therefore, I will allow three more questions from each side, and then I shall call the Front-Bench spokesmen.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield) : Is the Secretary of State aware that one of the consequences of British Rail's improved efficiency, which he referred to in the statement, is that elderly ladies are being mugged because of the removal of staff from many railway stations? An example is Kirkgates, which is one of the two major mainline railway stations in my constituency ; all the staff have been removed. As a direct consequence, passengers are afraid to use that station. Will the Secretary of State consider the issue, and press British Rail to improve the situation and make funding available so that all stations have some staffing, in the interests of passenger safety?
Mr. Parkinson : I will look into the situation at that station in Wakefield. As the hon. Member knows, although there are proposals to reduce staffing on stations, they are accompanied by a substantial increase in monitoring equipment.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : My constituency enjoys the dubious distinction of having had more railway lines under threat of closure by British Rail last year than any other constituency. I was relieved that my right hon. Friends said in his letter to the chairman of British Rail that in certain cases improved productivity may produce better results than bus substitution. While my right hon. Friend cannot give a definite commitment on the fate of those lines, will he keep British Rail up to the mark, and ensure that there is adequate publicity for lines? In recent years, we have been struck by the extent to which rural lines are run for the benefit of producers and the rolling stock, rather than the customer.
Column 227account before arriving at a decision. It is also true that we are less enthusiastic about the possibilities for bus substitution than we were two or three years ago.
Mr. Roy Beggs (Antrim, East) : Does the Secretary of State accept that people in Northern Ireland would like to share the benefits that will arise from 1992 and the Channel tunnel? Does he agree that improved rail and passenger facilities at Stranraer, on the west coast of Scotland, would help the economy of the south-west of Scotland and of Northern Ireland? We could all benefit from improved rail facilities.
Mr. Graham Riddick (Colne Valley) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the service provided by British Rail in my constituency is not what it might be, if the level of complaints is anything to go by? Does he agree that, as long as the railways are in the public sector, the levels of service and investment will always be inadequate? Does he agree that it is about time that we got that great industry where it belongs--in the private sector? We should break it up, along the lines of the pre-war railway companies, and get it away from the dead hand of state control.
Mr. Parkinson : I am sure that my hon. Friend speaks for an increasing number of people when he argues that privatisation could play a part in improving the performance of the railways. That is being considered as a separate matter.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : Is it not the truth of the matter that the Secretary of State came to the House last week and provided more than £1,000 million in public money to the road lobby, including his former employer, Tarmac? This week, he had a chance to provide money for British railways and he has refused. The truth is that he and his Government are better characterised by selling second-hand car number plates than running a national public railway.
Mr. Parkinson : One can always tell when the hon. Gentleman is on weak ground--his vehemence exceeds his ignorance. In the three-year programme that we announced the other day, we plan to spend £5.7 billion on the national road programme. We plan to spend £6 billion on public transport, so the hon. Gentleman is, as usual, talking offensive nonsense.
Mr. Gerald Bowden (Dulwich) : When reappraising British Rail's objectives, and to optimise the opportunities that the Channel tunnel offers, will my right hon. Friend urge British Rail to reconsider its present plans, and the alternatives that are being discussed for a direct, fast and cost-effective link for passengers and freight from the whole of the United Kingdom to continental Europe?
Mr. Parkinson : As my hon. Friend knows, the range of possibilities were considered by British Rail before it took its decision to link up with Eurorail, pursue the line to Swanley and find an alternative route through to King's Cross and Waterloo. I have had a cursory look at some of the alternatives, and I am sure that my hon. Friend would be the first to admit that they are not without substantial
Column 228problems. The plain fact is that British Rail feels that it must focus on coming forward with firm plans for its chosen routes, and it is concentrating on that.
Mr. Peter Snape (West Bromwich, East) : Will the £3.7 billion forecast spending on British Rail have to be funded entirely from British Rail's own resources, or will the Secretary of State seek additional assistance from the Treasury for that long-awaited and much-needed investment? Has he discussed the plans with his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment? What will be the impact on passenger carryings of increasing fares, in real terms, in Network SouthEast? Does the Secretary of State consider that it makes sense, environmentally, to transfer passengers from an overcrowded railway system to an already congested road system and does he agree that that will be the impact of his proposals? Does he agree that bulk freight's rate of return on assets is to be raised from 2.7 to 8 per cent.? Will that not reduce even further rail's share of the freight market, and lead to more heavy goods vehicles on Britain's already congested roads?
May I ask the Secretary of State about passenger transport executives, which he has not so far mentioned? [ Hon. Members :-- "No--too long."] Conservative Members should listen as their seats are at risk as a direct result of these plans. Does the Secretary of State intend that ratepayers in Birmingham, Manchester, Merseyside and Tyne and Wear, for example, must meet the full cost of rail services in and around those cities? What is the likely impact on the environment of such proposals?
The Secretary of State has had a fairly unenthusiastic response from his Back Benchers today because, in their hearts, they know that he is on a kamikaze mission, putting up rail fares in the south, and they are the accompanying passengers, whether willing or not.
Mr. Parkinson : I congratulate the hon. Member on taking about one third of the time of his leader and on being about twice as effective. Two thirds of these funds will come from the external financing limit, which is entirely guaranteed by the Government. The hon. Gentleman keeps predicting that, fares increases will drive people off the railways, but the evidence in Network SouthEast is that, as the subsidy has gone down, the number of passengers has gone up. The subsidy has fallen and there has been about a 25 per cent. increase in the number of passengers. To a slightly lesser extent, the same movement is mirrored in the Provincial system.
The Government and British Rail are following a Monopolies and Mergers Commission finding that too little of the true charge was being passed to the passenger transport executives and that the matter should be reconsidered. We, the taxpayers, are still paying an overwhelming proportion of the costs of Provincial. About 65 per cent. of the costs of Provincial are met by the taxpayer, and about one third is met by the customer.
We believe that there are substantial possibilities for attracting freight to the network. We believe that an increased return can come from a growth in traffic. That is why we are investing to ensure that that becomes possible.
Following is the letter :
New objectives for British Rail
Your current objectives were set by the Government in
Column 229October 1986 and cover the period up to the end of March 1990. They built on the success of the British Railways Board in meeting the objectives set in October 1983 on your appointment as Chairman. I am now writing to set out the Board's objectives for a third 3- year period from April 1990 to March 1993. These objectives will supersede the current objectives from next April. They supplement the statutory and financial duties of the Board and cover safety, quality and finance. They are aimed at producing a safe, efficient and high quality railway which is responsive to the needs of its customers. Your progress over the last six years shows that a growing investment programme can go hand in hand with lower subsidies. Investment has broadly doubled in real terms since 1983 and is planned to increase further by some 75 per cent. over the next 3 years. InterCity has exceeded the targets set for it in 1986 by eliminating its losses and earning a positive rate of return. Excellent progress is being made with the electrification of the East Coast Main Line. Railfreight is being re-shaped into a business better able to respond to the changing needs of its customers, and is investing to improve the quality and reliability of its services. Parcels is undergoing major restructuring to meet the challenges it faces in a very competitive market. Network SouthEast is now beginning to keep pace with the growth in traffic. The Provincial Sector has improved efficiency and covers a higher proportion of its costs from revenue. The grant target for NSE and Provincial was achieved one year early. The grant that is needed is now nearly 60 per cent. lower in real terms than in 1983.
The objectives for the next 3 years need to consolidate and build on these achievements. You and I have agreed that we want to see further progress on safety, on quality (particularly punctuality, reliability and overcrowding) and on productivity.
Under the Transport Act 1962 it is the Board's duty to have regard to efficiency, economy and safety of operation. Providing a very high standard of safety must remain the Board's top priority. I know you are committed to acting positively and quickly on the report of Sir Anthony Hidden's Inquiry into the tragic accident near Clapham Junction in December 1988. We have agreed that the Board should complete, in conjunction with the Department, a review of its investment appraisal and funding arrangements for safety- related projects as soon as possible. Non-commercial projects intended specifically to improve safety are not expected to earn a direct financial return. I have made clear that in implementing the Hidden Report recommendations, finance will not be an impediment. The financial targets set out below take account of the additional safety expenditure you have already incorporated in your plans in anticipation of the Hidden Report. I want you to let me know within the next 2 months what further measures you judge necessary and what additional expenditure may be involved, so that appropriate provision can be made.
You have also begun work in consultation with the Railway Industry Advisory Committee of the Health and Safety Executive and with the Railway Inspectorate on a Safety Plan. I would like this Plan to be submitted to me by October 1990. The Board should update this annually and report on progress.
The Asset Base
We have agreed that the asset base of all sectors should be revised to include infrastructure (stations, track and signalling). This will require further work by the Board. When that work is complete, all investment will be capitalised. Meanwhile I have taken account of preliminary estimates of the full asset base in settling the equivalent CCA rate of return targets (before interest) for the commercial sectors given below.
The Commercial Businesses
InterCity earned current cost profits of £26 million in 1988-89 equivalent to some 1.3 per cent. on estimated asset values. I want to see further improvement towards the full 8 per cent. return needed on assets. As a further step towards
Column 230this aim, I am setting an objective for InterCity to earn a profit of £95 million in 1992-93, broadly equivalent to 4 per cent. on estimated asset values. I want you to continue to report achievement on punctuality.
Railfreight is facing keen competition. A return of 8 per cent. is the right objective for this commercial business to earn and should be the basis for decisions on new investment. I recognise however that some parts of the business will not be able to achieve a full 8 per cent. return over the next three years. I am therefore setting an overall objective for Railfreight of earning a profit of £50 million in 1992-93, broadly equivalent to 4.5 per cent. on estimated asset values. I welcome your intention to prepare plans for bulk freight to earn at least an overall 8 per cent. return on its assets by 1994-95. I shall want to see those plans by July 1990. I also look forward to seeing by then the Board's plans to improve the financial performance of Railfreight Distribution, to maximise the involvement of the private sector, and to reshape the business to seize the new opportunities presented by the Channel Tunnel.
Parcels should continue to maximise returns from its increasingly successful Red Star business, and I welcome the £9 million profit target which the Board have set for the sector as a whole. Channel Tunnel Services
The Board should prepare and undertake investment to make maximum use of the commercial opportunities presented by the opening of the Channel Tunnel in 1993. I welcome your plans for a Joint Venture with Eurorail.
Regional and Local Passenger Services
Investment : The Government's response to the Transport Select Committee Report on the Financing of Rail Services (Third Report, Session 1986-87) clarified the criteria for investment in the regional and local passenger railways. I expect the Board to take full account of this in preparing investment plans and considering priorities. Both Network SouthEast and Provincial currently face growth in demand for their services. I expect the Board to increase services to meet this growth whenever the incremental investment can be shown to earn the required rate of return (currently 8 per cent.). Where exceptionally investment which increases the asset base cannot meet the 8 per cent. test, I shall want a cost benefit evaluation to be carried out in conjunction with the Department to enable me to decide whether capital grants would be justified on wider social and economic grounds (e.g. through the benefits of lower road congestion).
Fares : Over the last few years, progress has been made in relating fares more closely to costs and improvements in service quality. I expect this process to continue, but I want the Board to do further market research on the relationship between price and quality. I shall be looking to the Board to do as much as possible to improve productivity and make the most efficient use of resources so as to minimise the direct pressures of costs on fares. I want the Board to report annually on unit cost trends so that I can see whether satisfactory progress is being made.
Network SouthEast On the Board's forecasts, continuing revenue growth and falling unit costs will enable Network SouthEast to break even by 1992-93. The large and growing investment programme will make a major contribution to this by enabling the Board to save energy and maintenance costs and by providing increased capacity and higher quality which lead to increases in revenue. The Board has already set an objective of reducing NSE's grant requirement to zero in 1992-93, which I welcome. I want the Board to prepare plans for NSE to achieve significant progress towards earning a commercial rate of return on its assets by 1995-96 ; I should like to see the Board's proposals by December 1990.
Quality : My predecessor set new quality targets for NSE in June 1987 and, following the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) into NSE services, he agreed with you that those targets should apply route by route. I want the Board to regard the targets as applying not only over the day as a whole but also to the morning and evening peaks (taken together) and to report on performance accordingly. You and I have now agreed that the overall punctuality target
Column 231should be raised from 90 per cent. within 5 minutes to 92 per cent. by 1992. We have also agreed that there should be a separate target of 88 per cent. for the morning and evening peaks. You have agreed to arrange for me to be informed whether there are any routes and any time of day on which any of the quality standards will not be achieved by March 1993 and when the Board expects to achieve them. The present quality standards are based on market research carried out by the Board into the importance attached by the travelling public to different aspects of rail travel. Incomes and expectations are growing in the South East and I want the Board to complete its programme of market research to see whether changes in the quality targets would be justified taking account of passengers' willingness to pay for them. I shall want to consider in 1991 whether the quality targets should be changed in the light of this further work. Provincial
Over the last 6 years the Provincial sector has been able to reduce costs, increase traffic, improve quality and charge more for it. Revenue has therefore increased in real terms. Subsidy including PTE payments has fallen from 75 per cent. of costs in 1983 to 65 per cent. in 1988-89. On the Board's own forecasts it should fall further to 57 per cent. by 1992- 93. It will still be much higher on some service groups and it is clear that very large subsidies will be needed for the foreseeable future.
I have described above the Government's general policies on investment and fares for Provincial and NSE. What follows is of specific application to Provincial. You have now carried out a review of the scope for bus substitution on certain rural lines. Where bus substitution can provide customers with an acceptable alternative and is a more cost-effective solution, the Board will want to bring forward proposals. In some areas, measures to improve productivity and reduce costs may produce a better financial result than bus substitution. The Board will want to take this into account in drawing up proposals for these lines.
In preparing its full response to the MMC report on Provincial the Board will want to look closely at marketing and fares. Rail often provides a better service than buses running over parallel routes and it is right that BR should charge for the higher quality. There are also opportunities to exploit the attractions of scenic lines to tourists. I want BR to co- operate with others, including the private sector, to ensure that net revenue is maximised for these lines. The Board has already set an objective of reducing the Provincial sector's grant requirement to £345 million by
Column 2321992-93, which I welcome. I would like you to examine ways of achieving further improvement of the order of £20 million by that year.
My predecessor set quality standards for Provincial services supported by the PSO on 28 July this year. Annex A summarises the quality standards for all the passenger businesses.
The MMC report recommended that the Board should discuss with the PTEs and the DTp the charging to the PTEs of the full measure of costs attributable to the operation of PTE services. We have agreed that BR should bring forward proposals for carrying forward this recommendation, in consultation with my officials and the PTEs. When the report has been considered it may be necessary to adjust the grant target.
Private Sector Involvement
I welcome the progress which the Board has made in broadening the participation of the private sector in the provision of services to the railway. The sales of BREL and Travellers Fare have been successfully completed, and the private sector is increasingly involved in providing ancillary services. I would like the Board to increase further the contribution of the private sector where this enables more cost-effective and competitive services to be provided, and to continue to report progress each year.
I would like the Board to report performance and progress in achieving these objectives in its Report and Accounts each year. This should include :
(a) the quality of service achieved against the agreed standards ; (b) progress towards the grant targets for NSE and Provincial ; (c) the current cost operating profit before interest and CCA rate of return on assets for InterCity, Railfreight (both overall and separately for bulk freight and Railfreight Distribution) and Parcels ;
(d) progress on increasing the contribution of the private sector. Yours ever, Cecil Cecil Parkinson
Quality of service objectives Annex A |InterCity |Network SouthEast |Provincial ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Punctuality |90 per cent. right time and |92 per cent. right time and |Express Longer Rural | up to 10 minutes late. | up to 5 minutes late all |90 per cent. right time and | day. | up to 10 minutes late. |88 per cent. in morning |Urban Shorter Rural | evening peaks. |90 per cent. right time and | up to 5 minutes late. Reliability |At least 99.5 per cent. |At least 99 per cent. |Express Longer Rural (Percentage of services |At least 99.5 per cent. to run) |Urban Shorter Rural |At least 99 per cent. Train Enquiry Bureaux 95 per cent. of calls to be answered within 30 seconds. Ticket Offices Maximum queuing time of 3 minutes off peak and 5 minutes peak. Carriage Cleaning Interior daily clean |100 per cent. |100 per cent. |100 per cent. Exterior wash |95 per cent.(daily) |100 per cent. (daily) |100 per cent. (every 2 days). Heavy interior clean |95 per cent. |100 per cent. |- (per 28 days) Load Factors |- |No more than 135 per cent. |Express Longer Rural | for sliding door stock or |- | 110 per cent. for slam |Urban Shorter Rural | door stock. No standing |No more than 135 per cent. | over 20 minutes except by | for sliding door or 110 per | choice. | cent. for slam door stock. | No standing over 20 minutes except by choice.
Points of Order
Mr. Speaker : I shall take points of order, but I ask the House to bear in mind the fact that we have a heavy day ahead of us. We have a three -hour debate, opposed private business and an order after that.
Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that your predecessors have ruled that right hon. and hon. Members, when making speeches, should not read them but may make use of copious notes, I understand that to be the ruling for speeches in debates. This afternoon, we have had two interventions from the Opposition Front Bench, one of which consisted of about seven pages of closely written foolscap being read out. I hope that you will give a considered opinion about whether in such circumstances it might be appropriate for you to intervene.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Have you heard of any wish for a statement to be made by the Foreign Secretary on the mass killings in Romania? It appears that there have been further killings. I know that there is to be a brief Consolidated Fund Bill debate in the middle of the night on Wednesday, but I understand that that debate is on the whole of central and eastern Europe. May the House be given an opportunity to express its revulsion at the killings being carried out by the Romanian Government? The House has often expressed horror at atrocities and crimes committed by various Governments, and I hope that we may be provided with just such an opportunity before the House rises for Christmas.
Mr. Paul Flynn : (Newport, West) : Further to the point of order, Mr. Speaker. There are practical steps that Britain can take to curb the excesses of Nicolae Ceausescu such as intensifying our activities
Mr. Speaker : Order. It would be far more appropriate for the hon. Member to make those practical suggestions in the Consolidated Fund Bill debate. There will be an opportunity in the debate on developments in central and eastern Europe.
Mr. Michael Stern (Bristol, North-West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have noticed, in what is becoming virtually a weekly occurrence, that the business as announced at c. 1173 in Hansard last Thursday was once again amended within 24 hours by an order which was pushed through late on a thin Friday. Once again, private business, which many of us are not interested in, is being pushed later and later into the night and, as a result, Back Benchers on both sides of the House who believe that they are here to discuss Government business find that they have to be here longer and longer. Is there no way in which you can protect us from these extensions of the timetable?
Mr. Speaker : Order. I hope that the hon. Member is not suggesting that Friday is not a parliamentary day. The motion was on the Order Paper and the hon. Member could have objected to it on Friday if he had wished to do so.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order concerns the statement about the ordering of frigates. Is it in order for the Minister to stroll into the Chamber, able to tell us the names of the three frigates that have been ordered but unable to say how many will be ordered in the next round or when he expects --
Mr. Speaker : Order. I am sorry that I was unable to call the hon. Lady to ask a question on the statement. It is perfectly in order for a Minister to name frigates if that is what he wants to do. It is not within my power to dictate that he should or should not announce what will happen in the future.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Member for Dagenham (Mr. Gould), the golden boy of the Labour party, has again put forward an interesting blueprint about preventing people from owning second homes. The impact on marriage, the flow of funds from the country and the squeals of frustrated foreigners taking the matter to the European Court is not a matter for you, but what is a matter for you--
Column 235Mr. Marlow : I, my colleagues and Opposition Members are concerned about the Register of Members' interests. There may be some truth in the assertion that the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has two homes and that members of the Opposition Front Bench have two homes--
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My point of order arises out of Prime Minister's questions. A strong suspicion, which I share, of political rigging during Prime Minister's questions, was expressed by right hon. and hon. Members on these Benches. Question No. 2 was not called until after 3.27 pm, when there were less than three minutes to go because questions Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8 were tabled by Labour Members. Only two--
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Member should not pursue that line. In invite him to look at Hansard tomorrow and to see how many opportunities were given to Members on Opposition Benches to ask the Prime Minister a question as compared with those Members on the Government side.