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Column 412prosperous region and should, in no time, be looking to the Government and the marketplace for finance for investment in new track, rolling stock and other equipment. We have had a difficult time because some of the new rolling stock was incredibly badly designed. There were many cases of people being trapped--some inside a carriage and some outside--while in some carriages there was a danger that they might fall out. This went on for some time.
Then, last year, we heard about the terrible hazard of leaves on the track. Not just thick snow but the mildest of winters seem to be able to put vast sections of our network out of play. Southern region would be the ideal region with which to begin a privatisation programme. The private investor wouild invest in Southern region. Passenger services could be run not only with private investment but on the basis of franchises.
British Rail's standards of punctuality leave much to be desired. I know that the passengers charter says that there will be compensation for late arrival, or even late departure, but it will take a tremendous bureaucracy to check on that and thousands of commuters will be making claims practically every other day. As has been said, it will be difficult to organise all of British Rail. The Government will not be able to franchise some sections of track, but those sections cannot be ignored either. For community value reasons alone, some of these out-of-the-way, non-profit- making sections on the periphery of the railway system will still be the Government's responsibility.
Therefore, the plan is to sell off parts of British Rail. For example, the freight and parcels operation could be sold. Once again, as in the case of every other public industry that has been sold off to the private sector, we shall have to have an overseer on the lines of Oftel. There will have to be a group that ensures the highest standards in, for example, punctuality, efficiency and safety. Whenever an industry is privatised, it is claimed that safety standards will fall, but that has not happened in many parts of our vast privatisation programme--in British Airways, for a start. The British Transport Docks Board was privatised, becoming Associated British Ports. Many of these industries had an appalling safety record, but profitability includes profits of all kinds. In Southampton, we have the example of Associated British Ports, which, as everyone knows, controls 19 other ports besides Southampton. It has made tremendous progress and can justifiably say that it has put new heart into the city of Southampton. It has built private dwellings and offices and is building a container port, thereby attracting more cross-channel services, and more and more cruise ships are calling in. Since the demise of the national dock labour scheme, it is able to compete with practically every other port in the area, not only in the United Kingdom, but on the continent. That privatisation and others such as those of British Airways and the National Freight Consortium show that one does not have merely to believe ; one can see the results of privatisation. The problem is that those who will not see will never see. They will go to their graves muttering that privatisation will never work.
Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale) : The hon. Gentleman is talking about seeing. Perhaps he will tell us before he resumes his place where he sees competition in the gas, water and electricity industries, and in British Telecom, in Southampton.
Column 413Mr. Hill : British Telecom is certainly involved in competition. There is franchising, and other firms are installing telephone boxes in the street in competition with British Telecom. The process is gradual. The nation must have the confidence to take on former well-established public industries. In many instances, that requires a colossal amount of collateral. It is true that British Telecom has many rivals.
British Gas has Ofgas to control its price structure, and we have all seen how effective that control has been over the past few weeks. The same is true of practically every other denationalised industry. For example, an extremely effective body is overseeing water charges. For the first time, the water industry is making contributions to the National Rivers Authority to ensure that our rivers become unpolluted. The sea shores of the United Kingdom will become less polluted. In Southampton, the former Southern water board used to stockpile sewage during the hot summer months and then dump it in the middle of the Solent. I shall not go into the question of which Government did or did not pay to maintain water sewage and normal renewal pipelines, for example, but we have reached the stage when a desperate problem is being tackled. The NRA should be congratulated. It must be recognised that pollution can be dealt with only from within the industry, which manufactures its own profits and uses them to renew pipes, for example.
I wonder whether the debate will reach a sensible conclusion. We are dealing with one of the most political issues that have ever come before us, apart from council housing. The issue is such that the view of practically every Member is set in cement, as it were, when we come to consider it. I am certainly set on the issue of privatisation, and I am aware that other hon. Members will face an extremely difficult problem.
I have not talked about the coal industry because we do not have any coal mines in the south of England of which I know. I shall leave it to more worthy Members to tell the Government in Committee exactly why the coal mining industry should not be privatised. I recognise that following almost any privatisation there is an examination of the number of people who are working in the industry, and there is some over-staffing in practically every industry of which we can think.
When there is a change from public to private control, people are made redundant. That has happened in Southampton, where many dockers were made redundant. Fortunately, they received an extremely handsome golden handshake. It is perhaps curious that 450 of them took their redundancy payments and formed their own stevedoring company. I am pleased to say that that has made 450 capitalists. They are extremely happy to work through the day and night and have a tremendous reputation in the port of Southampton. I see the reaction of those on the Opposition Front Bench. If members of the shadow Cabinet do not believe me, I invite them to talk to the men concerned. A tremendous effort is being made in Southampton to make the private sector work extremely well, and I shall be pleased to see that extended to the Southern region of British Rail.
Column 414appointment and new position. I suspect that, like most new Members, I look upon the making of my maiden speech as something of an ordeal. The ordeal has been made much less daunting by the many hon. Members who are now in the Chamber. Perhaps that is a reflection on my personal popularity.
I understand that it is traditional to pay tribute to one's predecessor, and I am happy to do so. Michael Knowles became the Member for Nottingham, East in 1983 and surprised everyone, including himself. In 1987, he surprised himself again by holding the seat. I am relieved to say that I was able to spare Michael a third surprise. Last weekend, I read, for the first time, his maiden speech, which was made in 1983. That speech alone is enough for Michael to deserve tribute. It must have required great courage to make a maiden speech in defence of local government. It made him no friends in the Government of the day and it flew in the face of party dogma. I would have been proud to make that speech, and I shall refer to it later. I pay tribute also to Bill Whitlock, whose old constituency of Nottingham, North forms most of the area which I now represent. I thank him for his hard work in the constituency and for his personal help.
I understand that someone who is making a maiden speech is given a great deal of leeway, and I do not propose to abuse that tradition. I shall confine myself to three main concerns. First, I am an ex-railwayman, a member of a rail union, a supporter and advocate of public transport and a user of public transport, so the House will not be surprised to learn that my first concern is the privatisation of British Rail, in whatever form. At the entrance to the Chamber there is a statue of Winston Churchill. I am told that as Conservative Members enter the Chamber they touch Winston Churchill's foot so that some of his talent and skill might rub off on them. It is ironic that a party that so reveres that man and the work that he did should now try to undo some of that work.
It was Winston Churchill who put country before politics and nationalised the railways. He did so not in the name of party dogma but for the public interest. How sad and tragic it will be to see dogma triumph over common sense.
If common sense is applied, what will privatisation mean to the railways? Will it improve efficiency? I think not. Will it improve effectiveness? I think not. Will it make trains run on time? I think not. Will it make the travelling public--the passenger--better off? I think not. Nye Bevan said, in effect, that we do not need a crystal ball to see what the Tories are going to do. It is all there in the record books. We do not need a crystal ball to tell us what privatisation will do. That is all in the record books too. Public monopolies are now private monopolies and underpriced shares have cost the country billions of pounds. Higher profits have been followed by job losses. Investment in research and development have been slashed. The price of privatisation is a worse service. Who benefits from privatisation? Is the consumer a beneficiary? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told us today that the consumer does benefit. Is that true? No matter what the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says, water charges have risen above inflation while water company profits have continued to rise. The benefits are enjoyed by the shareholders. Gas prices have risen above inflation, yet the profits of British Gas continue to rise. The benefits go to the shareholders. Telephone charges have risen above inflation, yet the profits of British Telecom
Column 415continue to rise. The benefits go to the shareholders. Electricity prices, despite the drop in the price of coal, have risen above inflation, yet the profits of regional electricity companies continue to rise. The benefits go to the shareholders.
The picture is clear--it was heightened yesterday by remarks by the Archbishop of Canterbury--and it is that the consumer is suffering at the expense of the shareholder. What price the citizens charter now? There is nothing in privatisation for the consumer, but there is plenty in it for the managers and shareholders.
My second concern is just as important, but more frightening. Last weekend the Conservatives celebrated--and presumably are still celebrating--the local election results. They have a right to celebrate because they achieved a good result. However, we must not forget that they are still only second in local government--the Labour party is still number one. Nevertheless, the Conservative party made significant advances, almost as good as the advances made by the Labour party in the general election. It deserves its right to celebrate and I would not want to pour cold water over that. I have a worry, however, that concerns not just the Labour party but all who support democracy at both local and parliamentary level. It was evident to me, as I am sure it was to other hon. Members, that there was apathy during the local elections. The turnout was dreadfully low. That shows a picture of despair. A large number of people throughout the country are beginning to believe that their votes mean nothing and that they can change nothing. That is dangerous for us all.
We need only to look at the recent events in America, where traditionally there are low turnouts in elections, to see the dangers that that presents. The riots in Los Angeles did not result from one jury giving a ludicrous verdict ; they did not result from a few policemen showing evident brutality to somone in their custody ; they were not simply race riots-- they happened because America has long accepted an underclass. In a land of plenty, there are those who have nothing. There are those who have no stake in the American dream, those who are homeless, those who are unemployed, those who exist by begging, by benefits and by worse, and those without hope who have lost their faith in the ballot box. That was the reason for the Los Angeles riots and we should not complacently believe that that could not happen here.
It was in my constituency that William Booth launched his crusade against poverty in the early 19th century, yet still in my constituency there are 8,500 unemployed, families living in poverty and people living on the streets. As a nation, that is something that we cannot--and, I hope, will not--tolerate.
Michael Knowles, when referring during his maiden speech in 1983 to the injustice of the rate support grant, said that he did not believe that there was an imminent danger of the people of Nottingham burning down the castle as the Luddites did in protest at the indignities and injustices of their time. I am happy to tell the House that that is still the case. However, we cannot be complacent about the social problems that we must overcome if we expect that to remain the case. Poverty must be tackled by Members on both sides of the House. My third concern is that if we are to ensure that people feel that they have a part to play, if we are to improve the environment for our citizens and if we are to help people
Column 416to recognise that they have a voice, we cannot do it from the House. It must be done in the community, nearer the people. The best vehicle to deliver that is local government.
In my short time as a Member of Parliament I have been amazed by the antipathy and antagonism that many hon. Members, on both sides of the House, display towards local government. That is also, I believe, a threat to democracy and to our way of life. My predecessor saw it in exactly the same way. He spoke of despair in local government, of a feeling of already having been judged guilty, of the Government tightening the noose and of the end of 1,000 years of local government. All my experience shows me that he was right then, and he is right now. Why cannot we, at a national level, trust the people? Why do we interfere with the very democracy that we profess to support?
In my constituency, Nottingham city council has raised £42 million from the sale of council houses. Why is it not allowed to spend that money to help the homeless, if that is what it has democratically decided to do? Why cannot Nottingham county council use its money--I stress that it is its own money--to build new classrooms for a school that is overcrowded, if that is what it has democratically decided to do? Why cannot we trust the men and women, from all parties, who give so much in public service, whose careers suffer and who do not enjoy the salary of a Member of Parliament? They often live on a pittance as their reward for their commitment and concern. Why cannot we let them get on with the decisions that are properly local decisions, and stop interfering? They are accountable to the people in the same way that we are accountable to the people. Why is not that enough? I agree with what my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) has said--there are only two ways in which councils should be accountable, at the polling station and at the police station. There is no justification for any other controls. We need to free local government, to free the country and to free the people from central control. It is not just the Scots and the Welsh who want devolution--every council chamber in the country is shouting for that independence.
Part of my role in the House will be to do all that I can to protect local government, of whatever political persuasion, from the excesses of central Government, again of whatever political persuasion. If I can be successful in that task alone, the time that I spend in the House will not be in vain.
Mr. Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) : There are so many congratulations to be offered that it is difficult to know where to begin, but I shall do so by congratulating you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, on your appointment.
I also congratulate the hon. Member for Nottingham, East (Mr. Heppell). Among a number of hon. Members making their maiden speeches today, he showed tremendous fluency. We appreciated his speech, and in particular his generous tribute to his predecessor Michael Knowles. I say that with some feeling because Michael was a close friend of mine. From the hon. Gentleman's accent, I guess that he, too, came as a stranger to Nottingham. Michael Knowles served Nottingham, East very well during his time in the House, and we thank the hon.
Column 417Gentleman for his acknowledgement of that. We trust that he will also have a successful time in this House, and we look forward to listening to him again.
I pay tribute to others who made their maiden speeches this afternoon, and particularly to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Spring). It was nice to hear a maiden speech from a Member of Parliament from East Anglia, and especially my hon. Friend's excellent contribution. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway). It is very good to see him back on these Benches.
I gained the impression from the speech of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott) that he was not so much contributing to a debate as electioneering for the Labour party post that he seeks. That impression was heightened by the absence of any of his opponents to lend support to his speech. The greatest cheers came when the hon. Gentleman was recycling out-of-date socialist concepts. They did not receive many votes in the general election, and the hon. Gentleman ought to keep a sense of proportion. My own approach is one of caution, because I do not believe that privatisation was one of the principal reasons for the re-election of a Conservative Government--though I acknowledge the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) that those who became shareholders from privatisations weighed that in mind before casting their votes.
Had I been ordering priorities in 1979, at the start of a Conservative Government, I doubt that I would have placed privatisation at the top of them ; but I have warmed to privatisation as a consequence of my observations of the industries affected and of my conversations with those who work in them.
It is important to free public sector companies from Treasury control so that they are at liberty to obtain resources in other ways. Privatisation has also boosted management, provided incentives to employees, and demonstrated degrees of increased competition. We are beginning to establish a regulatory system to protect public and consumer interest. We are still on a learning curve in our use of different methods, and in awarding different powers to various regulators, but we now have evidence that they are cracking the whip quite hard. I welcome therefore the references in the Gracious Speech to moves towards the privatisation of coal and the railways. Although I was born in a south Yorkshire mining village, I shall not say anything on the subject of coal--not least because many other hon. Members want to contribute to this debate. I will confine my remarks to the railways.
I suppose that we might all consider ourselves experts on the railway system, because we travel either occasionally or regularly on different parts of the network. We could probably all claim that we have, at various times, suffered at the hands of British Rail. Any rail company will inevitably have its bad days, but sometimes the public suspects that British Rail has more bad days than it should. We all take an active interest in improving the system for our sakes and those of our constituents, whose letters about the inadequacies of British Rail account for a fair proportion of our postbags. Politicians get the blame for whatever happens.
Column 418It is not good enough to do nothing about the present arrangements. It is right that we should ease the grip of Treasury control, which would give the railways a chance to obtain revenue from other sources. The Treasury has been too closely involved in the railways' detailed work.
I draw the attention of the House to type 321 rolling stock, which is among some of the newest on British Rail. My constituents were pleased when I was able to tell them that the Cambridge line was at last to be provided with new rolling stock for the first time in living memory. Unfortunately, my efforts ceased when the principle of new rolling stock was accepted, and I did not go on to take any detailed interest in its design.
When the new trains arrived, they were a serious let-down. They were clearly influenced by Treasury concepts, and designed to accommodate as many passengers as possible. I believe that "pack 'em in and pack 'em tight" is the principle upon which the Treasury works. It produced the most ghastly rolling stock, and it is a great shame that that was the determining factor. The sooner that it gets away from that approach to running a railway, the better. When I am told by Ministers that I should not get carried away with the idea that officials become too involved in such detailed considerations, it has all the believability that flies are not attracted to rotten meat. I have no doubt that the sticky hands of officials are all too evident on the plans affecting almost every detail of improvements to our rail system--and that must stop. In general, I do not believe that British Rail's management is as good as it should be, and it must be improved. It has been proved time and again in the public sector that, if managers' plans are countermanded by officials and politicians, they will despair and move into the private sector. Managers, if they are worthy of the title, want to be the real bosses.
British Rail also has a communications problem. The public are frustrated that its management has failed to get through to the operatives the importance of conveying passenger information and that it is better to explain why a train was late. All kinds of modern communication techniques are available, yet they are not regularly and reliably used. That also is a management fault. Employee morale could also be improved. If British Rail employees are given an opportunity to invest in the network, they will bring greater commitment to it.
What should be our objectives? We must want greater investment, improved efficiency, better reliability, and greater comfort. Should not comfort come into it when determining the type of trains that run on the system? Why should passengers have to rub knees with those sitting opposite them? They may or may not find that an enjoyable experience, but it ought to be possible to design carriages that do not make that necessary.
How can those objectives be achieved? Perhaps the simplest concept is a track authority separate from those responsible for running services on the track. That concept is easy to understand, but it leaves great questions to be answered.
Column 419authority should not impose too great a burden of cost on those who operate the system--and it is easy to see that it might do so. We must also ask how it would ever be possible to finance new track. Many hon. Members want rail track to be opened up : I am one, in that I want more track to be provided to enable a service to Stansted airport to run without conflicting with the needs of my constituents who are regular commuters on the line. I also want to know how we are to put more money into the system. It may be possible through the franchising of stations, or through the sale of of land, to enrich the sources of money for a track authority. We shall need to pursue such questions.
Mr. Adley : Would not the Government be wise to recognise that the railways are part of the nation's transport infrastructure and not just another industry? Having recognised that, should they not look less to the privatised industries that have emerged in the past few years than to the lessons that could be learnt from other countries--especially our European competitors--which have tried to find answers to the questions that my hon. Friend and the rest of us are posing and to which none of us has found the answers?
Mr. Haselhurst : Indeed, we shall have to ask a great many questions. Although I consider it right to move in this direction, I agree that we do not have all the answers yet and that we must find as much evidence as possible from as many different places as possible. I do not think, however, that we should begin by being defeatist.
Obviously, it is possible to improve access to the system. We already have such access through freight : Foster Yeoman, for example, is already running its own wagons on the British Rail system. It is more difficult, however, to see how open access can apply in the case of passenger traffic- -not impossible, but more difficult. There is restricted scope for head-to- head competition ; there are not many routes in the country where there are alternatives. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) laughs, but there is certainly more than one way to go to Scotland, and it is possible to envisage competition between the east-coast and west-coast routes. Similarly, there are two ways of going to Cambridge, and competition is possible there. Unfortunately, there are not two ways of getting to Birmingham now, as there used to be. The possibilities are very restricted, and a different sort of competition is possible only where different services on, say, InterCity routes could be run by different companies.
I am prepared to contemplate that, because I think that it might lead to a ratcheting-up of standards as new ideas are introduced to the running of our railway system. Great care will have to be exercised, however, with the interchangeability of tickets and the integration of the timetable. Perhaps the most sensible method is to franchise routes as a whole, or to franchise present sectors of British Rail as a whole. It might be possible, for instance, to franchise the west Anglian line, the Great Northern line and the Great Eastern line so that they are run according to certain standards. That might improve the reliability and quality of those lines. I think that the idea is worth pursuing, and I shall watch with great interest as the Government's plans unfold.
Let me return to my starting point. There must be a better way of running our railways. The Government are right to be uncomfortable with the status quo ; certainly,
Column 420many of our constituents are uncomfortable with it. I therefore view the Gracious Speech and its new approach with an open and welcoming mind, and I believe that a good deal of gratitude can be earned if we manage to get things right during the current Parliament.
I speak with some humility in this, my first maiden speech--indeed, my only maiden speech. That is not just because of the traditions of the House ; it is also because, as the new Member of Parliament for Sheffield, Hillsborough, I am very much aware that my predecessor spent many years in the House, made a magnificent contribution to its debates and will be a hard act to follow.
I first knew Martin Flannery and his wife Blanche in 1973, when I went to live in the part of Sheffield in which I live now--my present constituency, which, as the constituency of Penistone, was represented then by Jack Mendelson. After his death, it was represented by Allen McKay.
One of the things on which Jack Mendelson and his colleague Martin Flannery worked tirelessly in 1973 was the exposure of the iniquitous military coup in Chile--financed by the CIA--which caused the death of Salvador Allende, then leader of the Government, and led to the death, imprisonment and torture of many thousands of Chileans. I worked with my predecessors then to open the way for students, trade unionists and many other brave men and women from Chile to find a refuge in this country. I know that Martin Flannery, like me, is very concerned about the reference in the Queen's Speech to the reintroduction of the Asylum Bill ; that will make it much more difficult for people who have suffered torture to find refuge here. I suppose, however, that Martin Flannery's main concern was education. He brought to the enormous amount of political work that he did in the House a deep practical knowledge, arising from his own experience as a head teacher and his understanding of the profession of teaching children. When I was canvassing during the recent general election, I found that virtually one person in every street in one area of Sheffield had either been taught by Martin Flannery or been to school with one of his relatives. His deep practical knowledge of education was invaluable, and I am sure that the House will wish to join me in congratulating him on the honour conferred on him by the National Union of Teachers, which made him an honorary member at Easter.
Martin Flannery was deeply troubled by the damage done by the Conservative party to the morale of schools and colleges over the past 13 years. I read with great concern the weasel words "extend choice and diversity" in the Queen's Speech. What does that mean in education? How many parents whose children passed the 11-plus--in those bad old days of the 11-plus and meritocracy--chose, because they had the choice, to send their children to secondary modern schools? How many parents of children who did not pass the 11-plus, and who therefore did not have the choice--unless they had the money to opt out of the public system and send their children to private schools--were able to do the same?
Column 421Extending choice for the rich and fortunate in public services always reduces the standards for the many. We shall need to return to those arguments later in our debate on the Queen's Speech. Let me now turn to the subject of today's debate. If privatisation is an ugly word in terms of education, deregulation is an even uglier word in terms of south Yorkshire's transport system. One of the best things about the area of Sheffield in which I live, when our children were growing up there, was the cheapness of public transport. In their half-term holidays, if they wanted to go for a swim in Rotherham, visit the market in Chapeltown or go to the shops at Hillsborough corner, it cost them 2p. To me, that represents real choice and diversity.
The results of deregulation are now clear to everyone living in south Yorkshire--and, indeed, are accepted universally, with one or two exceptions ; there are still a few backwoods Tories around. The fares went up ; the number of passengers went down ; the number of private car users went up ; the buses became older and dirtier ; there was no overall planning. It is impossible to obtain a timetable for south Yorkshire buses any more. Ridiculous congestion is caused by competition for routes in the centre of Sheffield. Thousands of jobs have been lost and the very good training centre run by the bus company has been closed. There is no one to complain to when things go wrong ; one is just shunted from one place to another. If that experience of how to dismantle a good public transport system is transferred to the railways, there will be disaster. Under this Government, trains and rolling stock are old and dirty. Are they going to get older? Are we going to go back to the days of steam? Since 1979, under this Government, fares have risen 30 per cent. more than inflation. Fares in London are more expensive than in any other capital city. Financial planning, co-ordination and looking to the future have already suffered while British Rail has been preparing for privatisation by breaking up the system into different elements. Manufacturing jobs have suffered as a result of under-investment. By 1991 we had spent less capital on the rail infrastracture than any other EC country, apart from Greece and Ireland.
Perhaps we should ask whether that really matters. Of course it matters. It matters for a range of reasons, but fundamentally because of the number of private cars and lorries on the roads. We are told in "Road Facts 1992" that by the year 2000 car traffic will increase by 36 per cent. and lorry traffic by 27 per cent. Something must be done about that. One fifth of all carbon dioxide pollution in Britain is caused by road transport. The only way to address that problem is sharply to increase investment in public transport, both on the roads and on the railways. If we are to create a healthy future both for ourselves and for our children we must slow down the use of private transport. I support wholeheartedly the measures that were so forcefully put before the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, East (Mr. Prescott).
I shall be raising other issues on behalf of my constituents. In my constituency there are 200 ex-employees of Newton Chambers Engineering. When that firm went into liquidation the financiers got hold of it. It was sold, and then sold again. Eventually the pension money of ex-employees ended up in the hands of those
Column 422who administered the Maxwell pension funds. They now have to wait month by month to see whether their cheque comes through. I shall also be raising health issues, in particular health and safety standards in the steel industry on behalf of the many people who work at Stocksbridge Engineering Steels. I shall press for the acceptance of lung disease as a recognised normal industrial hazard within the steel industry. I shall raise issues concerning community care. An increasing number of elderly people in my constituency do not enjoy the necessary day and community care services that would enable them to end their lives with dignity, instead of being subjected to exploitation by some of the most obscene forms of privatisation--the mushrooming number of private homes for the elderly.
I regret the fact that the Queen's Speech offers little hope to my constituents that their aspirations to jobs, prosperity and a better quality of life will be realised in the near future.
I congratulate the new hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Ms. Jackson). We have known each other for a number of years. We served together on Sheffield city council and we live only a few miles apart. I was particularly interested, therefore, to hear her most informative speech and the points that she made about Sheffield. I must confess, however, that I was not aware that her constituents are interested in Chile.
It is a privilege to be a Member of the House and, in the established tradition, I wish to pay tribute to my predecessor, Peter Rost. He represented Erewash and the former Derbyshire, South-East constituency for 20 years. He was highly respected throughout the area for all the work that he undertook on behalf of his constituents. He was a member of the Select Committee on Science and Technology in this place and a founder member of the Select Committee on Energy. It was there that his particular interest lay. All those who knew him will, I am sure, agree that he was one of the most knowledgeable Members of Parliament on energy matters. Now that he has retired, that interest and expertise will not be lost. I now have the honour of representing the Erewash constituency. It is a diverse area in Derbyshire. It contains beautiful countryside and villages and also the principal towns of Ilkeston and Long Eaton. It has lower than average unemployment and a high proportion of the work force is employed in manufacturing industry. Textiles and light engineering are two of the principal industries in that area. Textiles, including lace, are an important part of the local economy. There is a widely held but incorrect belief that lace is, somehow, a cottage industry that employs a few people working by hand in back rooms. The truth is very different. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer visited a modern, computerised lace mill in my constituency during the general election. I am grateful to him for his visit to Birkins, as are those who work there. One machine in that factory produces 70 miles of lace a week. There are 80 machines in that lace mill alone. It is a vibrant and automated industry that has been able to invest substantially in new equipment and plant throughout the 1980s. It now looks forward with confidence to the future.
Column 423Lace is both a tradition and a necessity. Many women wear a bit of lace close to their heart, most of the time. That fashion is unlikely to change. It is also a good export for this country. However, despite good investment and productivity, the trade restrictions of other countries can present trading difficulties for companies in my constituency. I look forward to the speedy conclusion of the talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade, as set out in the Gracious Speech.
Light engineering is one of the other principal industries in the area. I worked for 15 years in the engineering industry. I saw the decline in investment during the 1970s and took part in the revival in investment in manufacturing throughout the 1980s. However, I am still saddened to hear some politicians talking down British industry. The reality of the last 13 years is that investment has increased, that exports have grown and that productivity has immensely improved. Just before the election, a survey was undertaken of businesses in the east midlands. That survey, published last week, shows that over three quarters of Derbyshire businesses could see that recovery was coming strongly. With the outcome of the general election now known, confidence has improved further. The privatisation programme has been fundamental to the transformation of the performance of British industry.
Nationalised industry was a byword for inefficiency and low productivity. Nationalised companies lost taxpayers money and competed with other demands on the public purse for capital investment. Management did not have the freedom to manage. It ultimately had to meet political requirements. It could not therefore make the business decisions that were necessary, and there was no incentive for enterprise. Those of us who worked in industry knew it because we saw it. Following privatisation, those former loss- leaders of industry have become profitable companies. They pay taxes into the Exchequer rather than take money from it.
In the few days that I have been a Member, I have heard Opposition Members say that all that should be done is to keep as much industry as possible nationalised and change the rules so that they can have access to additional private finance by one route or another. Indeed, I heard that this afternoon. Their proposals for nationalised industry borrowing would still affect public expenditure plans and therefore would be limited by political constraints rather than by business requirements. The freedom to manage would be lost, yet that freedom has brought success to privatised companies.
The massive investment that is now being made in the water industry to improve purity of water is resulting in extensive new pipework being laid by the water companies. Many of those pipes are made in my constituency. Stanton Ironworks is in Erewash. It is now a large, viable privatised ironworks that had formally been languishing in the public sector. It is a principal supplier to the water industry, which now has the ability for massive investment. None of this was possible when both were nationalised concerns.
I look forward to the other improvements that will flow from the programme for industry outlined in the Gracious Speech. Through Erewash runs the midland main line railway. Connected to that line, and lying within my constituency and that of the neighbouring constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Lester), is a large and under-used railway siding, which would be an excellent rail head for the channel tunnel. It would
Column 424generate more employment for the area and increase local prosperity. I look forward to it being developed as a road- rail freight haulage centre. It will bring opportunity for my constituents and for the east midlands, but that opportunity will come only with the proposals for the liberalisation of British Rail and freight that have been outlined.
There is a wider aspect of the public ownership debate. From the five years that I have spent in local government, I can tell the House that I am a passionate believer in local government. But just as I am a passionate supporter of it, I equally passionately dislike seeing local government run badly. The introduction of competitive tendering has been essential in ensuring that local government seeks ways of administering the services of the area more effectively, at a lower cost and at a benefit to those who live there. One of the pluses of competitive tendering has been the highlighting of inefficiency and waste, so long hidden in a fog of bureaucracy. As a councillor in opposition on Sheffield city council, I saw the expression "local democracy" used as an excuse to grasp as much control as possible for the town hall and then to do what a group of councillors wanted rather than what the people needed. Too many times, I have witnessed a council flouting the desires of parents and schoolchildren even when there was no financial reason for doing so. That is not true local democracy, nor is it public accountability as it should be.
I know that there have been debates in past months in the House on the affairs of Derbyshire county council, and I suspect that there will be more. Erewash education is administered by Derbyshire county council. It is making budgetary decisions that are against the wishes of parents, governors and schools throughout the county. My constituents object, as they know that their children will be adversely affected, and unnecessarily so. Indeed, I believe that the Labour party was lucky that there were no county council elections last week. If there had been, Derbyshire could easily have done a Basildon.
I do not make the erroneous assumption that, because some local authorities ignore the wishes of the electorate, all of them do. But, undoubtedly, the Government's Education Acts have empowered school governing bodies to make decisions, after listening to parents' wishes, in a way that local authorities would find difficult. That has truly empowered the people.
The proposals in the Gracious Speech for further progress to allow parents choice, to give children greater opportunities and to continue to raise standards in education and allow more schools powers of control over their own affairs are particularly important to my constituents. Local councillors do not have to run everything. Councillors are elected not to run a rubbish collection business but to ensure that that service is provided. Equally, Members of Parliament are elected not to run a steel works, a telephone company or a water board but to ensure that industry has the right climate in which to operate and that those processes and procedures are regulated and that standards are set.
True public ownership is about individuals owning shares in companies, including those for which they work. They then have a real stake in their industrial future. In local government, public ownership is about parents being involved in the running of their schools, and schools having independence of action within the state system.
Column 425Under the citizens charter, every citizen is entitled to expect high standards of openness, information, choice and redress with the public services. I look forward to playing my part in the legislative programme that has been outlined in the Gracious Speech, as it will bring real benefits to my constituents.
Several Hon. Members rose--
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris) : Order. The debate is now subject to the 10-minute rule. It may assist hon. Members if I point out that the colon between the hour and the minutes on the clocks will flash after nine and a half minutes have elapsed.
There is real concern and anxiety in Ceredigion and Pembroke, North about the Government's intention to privatise parts of the rail services. There is some sense of relief that BR will retain control of the track--for the time being anyway--and that the intention to sell off InterCity or to create private regional companies has been shelved.
My constituency is served by two railway lines of much importance--to Fishguard, with its harbour and ferry service, and to Aberystwyth, a prestigious centre for higher education and research, which needs an efficient railway service. My constituents and I will be looking for guarantees that those services will be
maintained--enhanced, rather. Indeed, I think that there is an opportunity for new track and new routes in whatever changes occur. I am glad to read that the Government are committed to increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs, but my constituents are looking for action, not words. There can be no avoiding the need for substantial public funds to provide a satisfactory railway infrastructure. It is difficult to understand how privatisation would facilitate the development of an integrated system of rail, road and telecommunications which is one of the crying needs of Wales and, indeed, of Britain as a whole. Increased emphasis on rail transport is important not only for the economic prosperity of west Wales and, of course, of my constituency but for the benefit of the environment. It is a well-established fact that rail transport is infinitely less damaging to the environment than road transport. I am told that a train carrying only 100 passengers can achieve 250 passenger-miles per gallon equivalent compared with 30 passenger-miles per gallon equivalent achieved by a car carrying one person. A similar picture emerges if one considers freight transport. Clearly, that has significant implications in terms of the levels of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere by the two forms of transport.
The very mention of the words "environment" or "CO emissions" cannot, I hope, fail to remind hon. Members of what has been called the most important meeting in the history of the world--the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development to be held in Rio in a few weeks. The prospects of success at that conference should above all else be exercising all our minds at this time. Its
Column 426title reminds us that development and the environment must henceforth be inseparable concepts. We know of the crying need for economic development among the poor peoples of the world, but all development must henceforth be sustainable in terms of the natural systems that make life possible or, at the very least, tolerable on planet earth. At present, the signs are that the measures likely to be taken by that conference in Rio will fall far short of what is necessary to save our planet. I do not think that I am using overly dramatic language when I use words such as "to save our planet". On climate change, the likely failure is in large part the result of the thoroughly irresponsible behaviour of the United States of America which, with 5 per cent. of the world's population, is responsible for 25 per cent. of the world's CO emissions. The United States were, at least until recently, predicting an increase of 40 per cent. in the use of coal in order to meet a 46 per cent. increase in electricity demand by the year 2010. It is the United States' objections which have blocked an international agreement to stabilise CO emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000.
The terrible thing is, of course, that even an agreement to stabilise CO emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000 would be woefully inadequate. Present levels are, in all probability, unsustainable and may very well be causing deadly damage now. Reference has already been made to conditions in Africa and there is a possibility of a link between the terrible drought in southern Africa and the phenomenon of global warming. Present levels of CO emissions may be causing deadly damage now and could possibly lead to catastrophic climate change.
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has called for a reduction of 60 per cent. in global CO emissions. One can only hope that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for the Environment are aware of the deadly seriousness of the matters at issue and that, if necessary, they will go to Rio with a commitment to reduce unilaterally and significantly CO emissions in Britain. Of course, to meet such a commitment would require a strategy involving several elements. One of the those elements would be an integrated transport system and a shift of emphasis from road to rail transport.
I mention only one other element of such a strategy. As 36 per cent. of Britain's carbon dioxide emissions come from the burning of fossil fuels for the generation of electricity, there is enormous scope and a crying need for an ambitious programme of conversion to non-polluting renewable sources such as wind, tide, wave and hydro. It so happens that my constituency and western Wales in general have enormous potential for such sources. I hope that hon. Members will know that with an economy facing a crisis resulting from serious difficulties in agriculture and the threatened run-down in defence establishments, west Wales requires a strategy for economic renewal. The development of such a strategy within the existing political framework lies, of course, with the Secretary of State for Wales, his fellow Ministers at the Welsh Office and the Welsh Office itself. That is where the responsibility lies. I believe that such a strategy must include substantial public investment not only in the infrastructural development, including the railway, but, to a significant extent, in roads.
There must be changes in energy policy on a British, European and global level. I am very disappointed that today's debate on energy and transport has not mentioned the global context in which they must operate. In view of
Column 427the fact that those changes must come, renewable energy generation could play a significant role in a development strategy for west Wales. However, my anxiety is that such renewable resources will be exploited--as has so often been the case in Wales where water and opencast coal mining are just two cases in point--for the financial benefit of powerful external forces but with minimal benefit for the communities in which the resources are found. I fear that that will happen again with renewables.
A development strategy for west Wales must ensure that renewable energy generation provides the maximum benefit for the area, which implies the retention of a substantial proportion of the profits so that they can circulate within the local economy. That would be best achieved at least partly by developing a degree of co-operative ownership, which is not quite the same as state ownership. It is my conviction that the establishment of a democratic Parliament for Wales is the only satisfactory way to provide the right economic and social development for our country, and that is a point that I must emphasise. It is also a point with which my predecessor, Mr. Geraint Howells, who was regarded with great affection and respect in the House and in his constituency, would agree entirely. In the next few years, the Secretary of State for Wales and the British Government in general have the opportunity to prove me wrong.
Mr. Robert Adley (Christchurch) : First, let me congratulate you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and say what a pleasure it is not only for Conservative Members but for hon. Members of all parties to see you looking so cherubic in your post. We congratulate you and wish you a long and happy tenure of the Chair. It is good to see you there. May I also congratulate the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis). His party did incredibly well to win four seats in Wales although I do not know what the message is. I recall that following the Scotland and Wales Bill the referendum in Wales produced a stunningly large majority against any form of devolution, yet Plaid Cymru now has more seats than the Scottish National party. One day, no doubt, the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North will explain to the House where he thinks Wales is going. May I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Mrs. Knight) on a spiffing speech. It was fluent and constructive and showed that she is politically and commercially experienced. It was a pleasure to hear and a privilege to be present. We do not have much time so I shall deal immediately with the Loyal Address.
It is the first time in more than 20 years that I have spoken on the Loyal Address and I am minded to do so because of the two sentences on page 3 of the Queen's Speech which state :
"My Government are committed to increasing the role of the railways in meeting the country's transport needs. Legislation will be introduced to enable the private sector to operate rail services." The supposition is that sentence two will enact sentence one. That is not yet proven, but I certainly hope that that will be the case. Otherwise, we will all be in a great deal of trouble.
I do not doubt the Government's motives. I had considerable doubt about the transport policy of the Conservative Government under my former right hon.