Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow) : I have never heard a money resolution being allowed to be debated as widely as this. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) has not once been brought to order or brought back to the resolution. If the Government's intention is to try to waste time tonight, we could have saved them the effort because we could have been voting from 7 o'clock on every amendment on the private Bill. We shall consider doing that the next time the Government wheel in Back-Bench Tories to waste time.
Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : We are discussing a money resolution, which happens to be wide. The hon. Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) obviously has expertise in the matter before us and it is therefore more important for him than for other hon. Members, to speak directly to the resolution.
Mr. Steen : I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for the way in which you put that. I am also grateful to the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) for explaining his discomfort. I do not wish to detain the House because I have made many points which have been well received by Conservative Members.
I do not wish to abuse the good will of the House. I have mentioned the points about which I am concerned. We are talking about £500 million and I want to ensure that the money will not create just more space in the sky but with no room to land. I do not want the CAA to use the words "safety and security" to obtain millions of extra pounds.
I hope that the Minister will be circumspect in ensuring that the money is put to the best possible use in line with Government policy. The Government's policy is to encourage competition. If the Civil Aviation Authority uses the money to provide more opportunities for competition, that will fulfil the Government's commitment. I hope that the Minister will be able to assure us tonight that the money will be used for the direct purpose of opening up the skies to real competition rather than giving the block cartels more opportunities, which in turn will prevent airlines from competing equally and which are against consumers' interests.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I wish to speak on a subject on which I have given notice to the Minister and on which I checked that I would be in order. I shall refer to the letters from Mr. Karel Van Miert to Mr. Roland Dumas--page 3 on the first letter on infrastructure facilities and page 7 of the second letter on the legal framework. I should like, I hope concisely, to raise one particular issue.
During the Consolidated Fund debate which started at 5.52 am just before Christmas, I was fortunate enough to raise the general issue of rain forest trade in animals. The debate could have been referred to any one of 10 Government Departments because the subject straddles Whitehall Departments. During the debate I raised the matter of the International Air Transport Association and it is that on which I wish to concentrate tonight.
I brought the debate recorded in Hansard, column 564 on 20 December, to the attention of the Department of Transport. My contribution should not be interpreted as any criticism of the Department because we are dealing with difficult matters which, to my knowledge, have not been solved by any country. Of the millions of pounds that we are discussing tonight, my plea is that more money should be given to guarantee facilities at our big airports, particularly Heathrow. That is relevant to the resolution. At 6 am on 20 December I said that I was
"indebted to Tony Juniper and Christoph Imboden of the International Council for Bird Preservation, which is primarily concerned with the conservation of species."
If my information seems to come from specialist sources, I think that the Minister would agree that there is widespread concern in this country about the conditions of the import of birds, fish, animals and reptiles.
On 20 December I continued :
"It is therefore of great concern that they have learnt that the number of birds dying in each consignment entering Britain continually averages between 13 and 20 per cent. In answer, I think that the Minister gave a figure of 13.7 per cent. The recent consignment of birds from Tanzania en route through Heathrow to Miami is a good example of the scale of the problem."
Column 367We are concerned not only with the importation but with the transit facilities which may be at the root of the problem. On 20 December, I said that one recent consignment
"totalled over 8,700 birds, but over 1,200 individuals died. That is within the percentage loss that appears to be generally accepted by the authorities and importers not only in Britain but world-wide. In the United States, the figures for deaths range from 14 to 24 per cent."
Current public feeling is considerable.
"If it were dogs, cats or horses in trade, such figures would be totally unacceptable. Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food figures"--
Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. As usual, the hon. Gentleman has been most courteous in giving notice to the Minister of the points which he wishes to raise. The money resolution concerns not IATA but the Civil Aviation Authority and it would be helpful to the Chair if the hon. Gentleman would show how the CAA makes the rules in this case, how they are used and how finance comes into it. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is trying to make, but it would be enormously helpful if he would speak more directly to the money resolution.
Mr. Dalyell : I think that the Minister would agree that the Civil Aviation Authority has the closest relations with IATA. Is not the chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority, Christopher Tugendhat, a member of the IATA governing body--so there is the closest relationship between the two?
I shall be concise. On 20 December I said :
"While detailed figures are available on this trade in other countries, there are no comparable figures available in this country. For example, in the United States in 1985 over 18,000 grey parrots were imported and almost 2,700 died
Obviously a total ban on the trade in animals for commercial trade is ideal, but the present climate would never accept such a measure. However, limiting the trade to those individuals which are captive bred will certainly reduce the trade and the mortality figures. Interim measures which could be easily implemented include a stronger resolve by Governments to get to grips with this problem and to implement the CITES checklist scheme.
The problem experienced by the International Air Transport Association is very important. It is vital that the dialogue between the CITES secretariat, through the standing committee, and the live animals board of the Intenational Air Transport Association, the Animal Air Transport Association and the International Office of Epizootics be continued ; that applicants for export permits or re-export certificates should be notified that, as a condition of issuance, they are required to prepare and ship live specimens in accordance with IATA live animals regulations for the transport of live specimens by air and the CITES guidelines for transport of live specimens for marine or terrestrial shipments ; that to assist enforcement officers, CITES export permits or re-export certificates should be accompanied by a crating checklist to be signed immediately prior to shipment by a person designated by a CITES management authority, the person so designated being familiar with the live animals regulations ;"--[ Official Report, 20 December 1989 ; Vol. 164, c. 564-65.]
This will all cost money and require facilities. That is why I am particularly grateful that the Minister said that he would do his best to comment on this contribution.
I admit that being a party to the convention and providing animal holding facilities can be extremely expensive. Facilities should be open to inspection, with the concurrence of the transport company--in this case the airlines--by CITES-designated enforcement personnel or
Column 368designated observers ; and any documented information should be made available to the appropriate authorities and to the transport companies.
This is a complex matter to which there is no easy answer ; it requires money and an understanding that other countries are involved in the trade, and that it is no good exporting or re-exporting animals from this country and finding that a significant percentage of them die on the way to their final destination.
One of the advantages of the Consolidated Fund debate is that one can quietly put a case to the House. That is what I should like to do on this, similar, occasion, in the expectation that the Department of Transport is doing its best and will tell us what it is doing about an appalling problem. It is, of course, true that humans are more important than animals, but the civilised world can do a great deal about the problem.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : I have the honour to have been selected to serve on the Standing Committee scrutinising this Bill and I am extremely worried about much of the way in which the money is to be spent.
The key to the Bill and this resolution is the overcrowded skies of the south-east, a problem which has arisen time and again. Experts have been consistently wrong, and I should like to be reassured that the money will be spent in ways that will reduce the burden on air traffic controllers. As far as I can tell, that is not what will happen.
Some of the money will be spent on buying a new green field site of about 30 acres in Fareham to move the air traffic centre from West Drayton. I cannot say that I am enthusiastic about that. I understand also that some of the extra borrowed money will go to a national radar network. Anyone who has studied the radar system--especially the defence system--of this country will know that it has been a shambles since the late 1940s. I hope that some of the money will be spent integrating the military and civil systems.
Similarly, a great deal could be achieved by spending the money sensibly to remove the pressure on the south-east. When this issue reached crisis proportions last year, serious consideration was given to opening up two major international airports, not in the south-east but serving the major catchment area of the west midlands and the south-west.
We have two huge airports that are hardly used. One is Greenham Common which was, but is no longer, a cruise missile site. It is conveniently close to the M4. Brize Norton is a major international airport used only by the military. No civilian personnel pass through it, but Customs and immigration officials are there. For my constituents in the south-west it would be extremely useful not to have to trek the whole way to the M25 and around it to Gatwick to make their connections. It would greatly help them if they could go up the M5, on to the M4 and pop into Brize Norton or Greenham Common, both of which are greatly underused. If these two sites were developed there would be no necessity to move from West Drayton and despoil a green field site in Fareham, and that is the core of my proposition.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen) described the resolution as concentrating on safety and security ; I cannot say that I share his view. Safety is
Column 369extremely important, but I understand from the Civil Aviation Authority that much of the money will be spent on training an additional number of air traffic controllers, which is to be welcomed if they are really needed. The irony is that study of the figures shows that the trainees are being streamlined--Civil Service jargon for saving money and reducing the time spent on training. The time from the moment someone is recruited to the time he is popped into the control centre will be 18 months. I am a little concerned about that and about the time that will be spent in on-site training in a control tower--
Mr. Steen : I want to correct a misapprehension on the part of my hon. Friend. I said that the amount of money that could be spent on security or safety was limitless. Merely mentioning them necessitates an open cheque, so using any of the £500 million for security or safety does not necessarily mean that procedures would be any more secure or safe.
Mr. Allason : My hon. Friend is absolutely correct as usual. His knowledge of the subject is considerable, and it is a great disappointment that he was not called in the debate on airport security. It is astonishing that the most modern airport in Europe, terminal 4 at Gatwick, is probably illegal, in the sense that it is the only airport with no segregation of incoming and outgoing passengers. That should be against the law ; it is likely to be against European law in the not-too-distant future.
This most modern of terminals was obviously built and designed by people who had never had to walk through an airport building. When the Queen went to open terminal 4 she was horrified by what she saw and remarked that she could not understand--
Mr. Allason : I beg your forgiveness, Madam Deputy Speaker, for my brief lapse. All I can say is that a personage who opened terminal 4 asked how her subjects would be able to push their trolleys from the point of luggage collection at the carousel to the railway station, a journey which would necessitate no fewer than four on-and-offloadings of the trolleys, because the geniuses who invented the little shuttle train that moves between the terminal buildings designed it not to be able to carry luggage carts.
Mr. Allason : While I agree that the railways inspector is directly responsible for banning the luggage carts on the Gatwick shuttle, the CAA has overall responsibility to police such matters. The CAA plans for expenditure clearly show that little is to be spent to improve security. It is curious that in Canada, the security and intelligence service spends the majority of its vetting time dealing with applicants and candidates from airports. Every airside member of staff has to be positively vetted in Canada. In this country the Security Service is regarded as far too secret to have to dirty its hands protecting the public.
Column 370I am not convinced that this increase in the borrowing powers of the CAA from £200 million to £500 million in ecu, dollars or pounds will be sensibly spent. I look forward to the Minister giving us a detailed analysis of exactly what will be spent, and I hope that he will assure us that the site in Fareham will not be a complete white elephant.
The Minister for Aviation and Shipping (Mr. Patrick McLoughlin) : The Bill is essentially simple, although the debate may have raised it above that level. It is an important measure to increase the borrowing limit of the CAA. It also makes clear the existing power of the CAA to borrow in foreign currencies and also to borrow in units of account such as ecu. I shall try to cover as many as possible of the points that were raised in debate. I hope that the hon. Member for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) will accept that I shall try to cover concisely matters raised not only by my hon. Friends but by Opposition Members.
I can tell the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) that any extension over the £500 million would require an affirmative order and would be subject to the possibility of another debate. The hon. Gentleman slightly confused me when he talked about the need for regional airports. I was not sure whether he meant that they ought to develop or whether he wanted to see some restriction on the opening hours at Leeds-Bradford airport.
Mr. Cryer : I suggested that the Minister's explanation in Committee was an illustration of increasing air traffic capacity through investment of the money that would be subject to the money resolution. If that is the case, it would obviously increase the capacity of airports such as Leeds- Bradford which are not congested in the same way as Heathrow. That might lead to the conclusion that it would not be necessary to extend the opening hours at Leeds-Bradford airport, and that would satisfy many people who live under the flight path.
Mr. McLoughlin : I follow the hon. Gentleman's argument. One of the great dilemmas when talking about the necessity to increase airport capacity is balancing environmental questions against the convenience of people in the Leeds-Bradford area travelling from their own airport and not having to travel long distances to other airports. The Government place great emphasis on the role of regional airports in serving their localities. It seems nonsense that people have to travel from Leeds, Bradford or Derbyshire to London to get the flight that they require. The Government would like to see regional airports take up as many opportunities as possible. There are many flourishing regional airports such as Birmingham, Manchester, East Midlands and to some extent Leeds- Bradford, which I have not yet visited but hope to visit in the near future.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South asked why the CAA should be allowed to borrow in units of account such as ecu. The CAA already has power to borrow in foreign currencies with the approval of the Secretary of State. The legislation merely extends that power, including the consent provision. The Secretary of State and the Treasury have to be satisfied that each tranche is required. As units of account are not currencies in every sense of the word,
Column 371the Bill merely explains that the term "currency other than Sterling", in section 10 of the 1982 Act, includes units of account defined by reference to more than one currency.
It is wise to allow the CAA to borrow in units of account, because charges collected from airlines by Eurocontrol for air navigation services provided by the CAA from 1 January this year will be paid to the CAA in European currency units and not United States dollars. That provision has been introduced to provide greater flexibility. The money is required for not only the £30 million tunnel in the sky concept that I mentioned earlier but the new en route system, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason) referred, and to which I shall return.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Hams (Mr. Steen), who has a great knowledge of aviation, made a number of serious points. I was sorry that he was unable to catch the eye of Mr. Speaker during our debates on the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill. On Monday he made an important point concerning slot allocations and the
necessity--although this may go wider than the issue of the CAA's borrowing powers--to ensure that fair competition is allowed, the consumer has a right of choice, and smaller airlines are not stifled and put out of business.
My hon. Friend asked about the possibility of splitting national air traffic control services. That interesting idea was also contained in a recommendation of the Select Committee on Transport, which we are currently considering. We shall respond in due course, and I trust that my hon. Friend will not expect me to comment further now.
My hon. Friend asked also about a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission. That is not the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport but for the Director-General of Fair Trading. Any public body must be open to detailed scrutiny of the kind that the Monopolies and Mergers Commission can undertake, and I hope that the CAA comes out of its investigation very well. However, I cannot comment on the likely outcome of the MMC's report.
My hon. Friend gave me some of the answers to his own questions concerning mixed mode operations at Heathrow. That aspect is new to me, but it is also a question of getting the balance right between noise and maximising the capabilities of our airports, which is of fundamental importance.
Mr. Steen : Objections to noise are too often made without being counteracted by the argument that there is virtually no unemployment in the vicinity of airports. The people who work at airports want to live near them, so complaints about noise are often a red herring.
Mr. McLouglin : My hon. Friend is welcome to make that point, but it is not one which right hon. and hon. Members representing areas close to airports would promote. I have to take very seriously the views of local residents. I repeat that it is a matter of achieving a balance between providing the required service and the environmental impact in a particular area. That balance is not easy to achieve, but we must aim at striking it as often as we can.
I thank the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) for his usual courtesy in notifying my office that he would
Column 372be raising certain points. I understand that his remarks were in order because the CAA is responsible for safety matters. Most of the responsibility for regulating the carriage of livestock is primarily with Departments other than my own. Shortly before tonight's debate, the hon. Member informed me that his contribution to the Consolidated Fund Bill just before the Christmas Recess could have brought responses from 10 different Departments.
Responsibility for livestock lies mainly with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of the Environment. For carriage by air, the air operators themselves have drawn up, through the International Air Transport Association, regulations with which all United Kingdom operators should comply. In licensing a United Kingdom operator wishing to carry cargo, including livestock, the Civil Aviation Authority will satisfy itself that an operator is competent to comply with the association's rules. The policing of such carriage lies principally with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and with local authorities in which the point of entry or departure is located. However, the CAA flight operations inspectors also run checks on air operators to ensure that they comply with the association's regulations in the holding and transit of livestock.
The hon. Gentleman drew attention to serious incidents. I assure him that I shall draw attention to the chairman of the CAA. If I can go further, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman later. Indeed, we gave him an undertaking when he managed to get in at the end of the debate on the Aviation and Maritime Security Bill.
Mr. Dalyell : The Department of Transport can make sure that the checks are carried out systematically. The difficulty is that MAFF says that it is the responsibility of the Department of Transport. It is not as simple as buck-passing all the way round. The difficulty in the British system is that anything that straddles more than two Government Departments, let alone 10, becomes the responsibility of someone else if it is awkward. That is why I suggested in the Adjournment debate that there should be an overall committee representing all Departments to consider an issue that concerns a great many people who are horrified, particularly at the pictures of gross cruelty to animals and often gross and needless incompetence.
Mr. McLoughlin : We have had a warning. If there is one thing for which the hon. Gentleman is known, it is his persistence. If the problem is not sorted out, we can expect to hear more from him on it. I undertake that we shall try to produce clear guidelines to cover some of the important points that the hon. Gentleman has made. My hon. Friend the Member for Torbay wondered whether the money was necessary. There is no doubt that some of the new equipment that the CAA needs is very expensive. We do not want to hold the CAA back. The argument is sometimes put that there has been under-investment. We want to make sure that adequate investment is available to the CAA. It is not a matter of trying to create more slots. Some would argue that Heathrow and Gatwick are almost at capacity. We are awaiting advice from the CAA on that. It should be published nearer the summer.
The Bill is important and deserves the approval of the House ; I hope that it will get that approval.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Civil Aviation (Borrowing Powers) Bill, it is expedient to authorise any increase in the sums payable out of or into the National Loans Fund or charged on and issued out of or payable into the Consolidated Fund under the Civil Aviation Act 1982 which is attributable to provisions of the new Act--
(a) increasing the Authority's borrowing limit to £500 million with power to make further increases up to £750 million by order ; (
(b) enabling the Authority to borrow sums in units of account defined by reference to more than one currency.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 102(5) (Standing Committees on European Community documents) .
That this House takes note of European Community Documents Nos. 8520/89 relating to the application of the competition rules to air transport, and 8521/89 relating to the development of civil aviation in the Community ; and endorses the Government's objectives in the first case of improving procedural certainty in aviation operations, and in the second of providing the fullest degree of liberalisation within the Community subject to suitable safeguards against anti-competitive behaviour.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : I did not think that I would be called, because of all the shenanigans on the Conservative side. However, I am on my feet and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise again the issue of telephone premium services. I fear that I am in danger of being politically typecast, so I shall have to be careful. Telephone premium services were introduced in January 1986. They caused immediate controversy. There were large bills and children were being corrupted. In one case, three young children in the London area were abducted through a liaison made with an older person who was keying in to the telephone services and having conversations with young people.
Those embarrassing events led the industry to respond in what I regard to be a timid way. In August 1986, it created an organisation called the independent committee for the supervision of standards of telephone information services--ICSTIS. It was funded--and still is--by British Telecom, the main recipient of the profits from those services. Various trade organisations were set up and various codes of practice were published. Throughout 1986 and 1987, the embarrassing and controversial cases still appeared in the newspapers and on television. There was a great response, throughout the country to the interest that I took in the matter.
The Director General of Oftel, whose remit from the House under the Telecommunications Act 1984 is to represent the consumer interest, was very much involved. I shall later discuss the various cases in greater detail.
The Director General of Oftel, under considerable pressure and clearly within the remit given by the House, finally made a reference to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission in July 1988, and its report was published in January 1989. There then followed considerable consultations with interested parties, but the interests of the consumer and those who have fallen victim to the services during the preceding three and a half years were not sufficiently taken into account. I gave evidence to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission, had several meetings with the Director General of Oftel and had considerable correspondence, but not one of my recommendations was adopted. I do not take that as a personal insult.
I am sure that the Minister will agree that all the matters that we discussed recently in a television debate were conceived by the industry. The cornerstone of the new licence amendment is a code of practice that will be supervised by the ICSTIS. It is a new code but, in effect, it is only the old code in a new wrapping. The first code has gone by the board. There have been three codes in three years and we are told that this one will solve all the problems. It seeks to provide monitoring of the multiline chatlines, when up to a dozen people engage in what is mostly banal conversation, but which can be dangerous. It envisages age control, where young people below a certain age will be barred from using the service. It also envisages compensation for high bills.
I shall first deal with monitoring. In 1987 there was a chatline called Talkabout, which was owned by British Telecom. It was taken out of service after a great deal of
Column 375controversy and after much heartache for many families. When the controversy was at its height, the Liverpool city council trading standards office made a fetish of monitoring--almost 24 hours a day. British Telecom was persuaded to carry out an almost one-to- one monitoring exercise. It is nonsense to suggest that monitoring can solve the problems about which I am speaking. I shall show how many people have become involved in monitoring. It will then become clear that it is nonsense to suggest that monitoring can solve the problem.
It is suggested that age control will help. How in goodness can a telephone monitor judge that a girl is younger than 14, 15, 16 or 17? Publicans cannot do it. Sophisticated as some youngsters are, it will be virtually impossible to do it on the telephone. In other words, age control is another nonsense which has been dreamt up by the industry to protect its profits.
The most ludicrous proposal is the so-called compensation scheme. That idea came from the industry when families were driven into debt with telephone bills of £4,000, £5,000 and a record £7,000 because youngsters had used the telephone without consent. If a compensation scheme could overcome that, I would be the first to say that it should be given a try.
If a product or service, before being delivered into the market place, needs a compensation scheme to underpin it or to make it legitimate, the service or goods in question cannot be worth a candle. Again, the industry creating protection for itself dreamed that idea up and it was taken on board by the Director General of Oftel.
The market about which I am speaking is so defective that it must be addressed not by the Director General of Oftel but by Parliament. It is defective to the extent that the market can survive only if people steal calls on the telephone at home or at their workplace. My next remarks will interest the Minister because I have with me a cutting from a newspaper which this morning said that a business in the Minister's constituency had been landed with a telephone bill for £19,000 because of an employee's obsession with chatlines. About two years ago I began to appreciate, as households were being driven into debt, how small businesses could find themselves faced with huge charges as young employees, ill-supervised-- particularly where it was not possible for small firms to provide call- barring equipment--ran up huge telephone bills.
I have done a great deal of research into the whole issue. I would not care to think how much it has cost me in telephone calls to funny and seedy chatlines in recent years. Indeed, economy has had to be introduced into my parliamentary office and we have had to do less telephoning.
So concerned was I about the possible plight of small businesses that I wrote to about 600 chambers of commerce, one of which was in the Minister's constituency, where the company to which I referred has been saddled with a telephone bill for £19,000, a reasonable irony for tonight's debate.
Why am I so bitterly opposed to telephone message services, and why have I put so much time into the
Column 376argument, and run the risk of being typecast? It is because of the experiences that I have outlined tonight, and the research that I have carried out.
Multiline chatlines are one of the specific problems that I have come across. I know of a case where three children aged 13, 14 and 15, tried to commit suicide when huge bills of between £3,000 and £5,000 dropped on to the doormat. I know from correspondence from people throughout Britain that families are still struggling with the debts that have been run up in such a way.
I anticipated the possibility of fraud, and I alerted the Director General of Oftel a long time ago to the fact that unscrupulous chatline companies, once they get a line from British Telecom, are divorced from scrutiny and supervision. I thought that people might be encouraged to break into other people's homes and businesses, use the chatline, leave the phone hanging there for hours on end, and the chatline proprietor would split the difference with the perpetrator of the crime.
I am sad to say that that has happened on a number of occasions. Several cases are now going through the courts, and two court cases have been concluded in the past three weeks. We should not clutter up the courts with a new crime--telephone chatline stealing.
The other game that I detest and find despicable is the so-called interactive game in which the caller can be kept on the line for a long time, sent from one part of the game to another. The games are designed to keep the caller on the line and the caller is usually not the person who has to pay the bill.
Tape messages are another problem. One usually sees offensive adverts for them. Out of respect for you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and because it would probably be an affront to the House, I shall not read out the offensive adverts that appear in The Sport today--they need to be seen to be believed, they are so bad.
The worst problem is with one-to-one calls--usually a girl talking to a man. One finds them in the poorest parts of city centres throughout Britain, but Manchester seems to be the capital. A young woman is employed to speak, typically to a male caller, at all hours of the day or night and the conversation has to be about sex. I have brought to the attention of the House on a number of occasions the different problems associated with such lines. They are corruptive of women and, in my view, there is a correlation between the institution of those lines during the past four years and the number of crimes that are perpetrated against women on the streets. Some people think that they are useful and they argue that they are a safety valve. They say that sexual inadequates use the lines to blow off steam and that they are no problem to anyone else.
Interviews that I have conducted in my office with young women who have worked on chatlines suggest that the opposite is the case : those women feel corrupted and dirty, and a number have said that they felt like "verbal prostitutes". No doubt someone will now say, "They do not have to do it."