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Column 190One family in five in my constituency depends either directly or indirectly on the agricultural industry. We must face the challenge posed by the CAP cuts head on, and we must cut the cloth to suit our needs. Only then can we be assured of a healthy and prosperous future for the constituency. It is no use sitting here and complaining : the answer is to take a full part in the European deliberations. The Secretary of State for Wales, as the Government Member responsible for agriculture in Wales, should have done so at an early date. I am hopeful that he will shoulder his responsibilities as he should and, even at the eleventh hour, take on the challenge for our communities.
On 11 May, the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) said that Plaid Cymru
"did incredibly well to win four seats in Wales",
although he confessed that he did not know what the message was. He also invited my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Dafis) to
"explain to the House where he thinks Wales is going."--[ Official Report , 11 May 1992 ; Vol. 207, c. 427.]
My hon. Friend is well able to answer any questions put to him, as he displayed in his masterly maiden speech, but I shall reply to the hon. Member for Christchurch.
Wales is on its way to self-government. The electorate of Wales will see Plaid Cymru as the only radical party in Welsh politics. They see Plaid Cymru as being in the main stream of European politics and they see in support for Plaid Cymru the way forward to solving its problems, some of which I have but briefly highlighted. I pledge to work tirelessly and ceaselessly for the benefit of my constituents and the people of Wales. Thank you, Sir, for your indulgence.
Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) : I rise with trepidation to make my maiden speech. Earlier today, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister referred to the making of a maiden speech as an occasion that no hon. Member would ever forget. I am sure that that is as true of me as of every hon. Member.
My trepidation has been increased by the series of eloquent speeches from other new Members, including the hon. Members for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones), for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) and my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen). I particularly enjoyed the speech by the hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne). I once visited Rochdale to watch a rugby league match, and I agree with the hon. Lady that it is a most interesting and agreeable place--and underrated--but I regret to tell her that on that occasion Rochdale Hornets lost by a wide margin.
I rise to make my maiden speech today to draw the attention of the House to a serious problem that has arisen in Hertsmere, but before doing that I should like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Cecil Parkinson, not just as a matter of custom but because everyone in Hertsmere would want me to. Besides occupying the highest offices of state, he was always held in the highest esteem and affection by his constituents, as a tireless servant of their interests. I know that he has many friends in this place and many others in the constituency.
Cecil Parkinson represented Hertsmere for more than 20 years. He first entered the House in a by-election in 1970, following the tragic death of Iain Macleod, then the
Column 191Member for Enfield, West. One of the many pleasures of representing Hertsmere is that of meeting many people in Potters Bar and other parts of the constituency which used to be in Enfield, West who remember Iain Macleod to this day, who cherish his memory and who are proud of the influence that he exerted on the public life of this country. They are proud of his legacy and of the one-nation ideal which is still very much alive today. Their association with the late Iain Macleod is a matter of great pride to my constituents. Besides Potters Bar, Hertsmere consists of a number of other communities in the southernmost parts of Hertfordshire, each fiercely independent and proud of its identity, but linked by a common thread of interest. Hertsmere has some of the loveliest countryside in close proximity to London. In the past week or so, we have heard many maiden speeches praising the beauties of the countryside of various constituencies, and I would add Hertsmere to that list--with the distinction that there can be few other places so close to London with such beautiful countryside. I know that both my predecessors were keen to preserve the quality of life in that countryside against the inevitable encroachment consequent on its proximity to London. My constituents would also like me to mention the rail links between Hertsmere and London. It seems to be almost a convention that maiden speakers should complain about the state of the railway services to their constituencies, and we have heard a long list of such complaints--to which I should like to add a word of praise. Over the past 13 years, there have been great improvements in the rail services in my constituency, especially with the introduction of Thameslink, which has been supported by a considerable programme of investment in the railways. That in turn has greatly improved the rail services between my constituency and London.
Unfortunately, given the almost infinite capacity of British Rail to give with one hand and take away with the other, the improvement in daily services has been accompanied by a threat to Sunday services in the constituency, particularly to the communities of Radlett, Borehamwood and Elstree. In other parts of the constituency too, Sunday services leave something to be desired and my constituents want them improved.
My constituents are also interested in housing. A few moments ago, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) mentioned complaints about housing. My constituents are pleased with the developments in housing in the past 13 years--especially the 3,600 of them who had the chance to purchase their own homes through the council house purchase-of-property scheme. Thousands of others became home owners over the same period.
In the current economic climate, my constituents greatly appreciate the suspension of stamp duty on house purchases which continues in effect until August--and they would be pleased if the scheme were extended.
One other matter gravely concerns a large number of my constituents. They all find it disagreeable, but for some of them it causes a great deal of hurt. I refer to a series of systematic attacks on the Jewish community in my
Column 192constituency. In the past three months, Jewish people have been subjected to organised attacks on themselves, their religious institutions and their leaders.
In March, one of the synagogues in my constituency was visited twice by criminals, who attacked the premises and daubed them with slogans of the basest kind, thereby causing great pain to constituents who attended the synagogue. That was followed in April by two incidents when, at a different synagogue, congregants attending services were verbally harassed in an unpleasant way by people who were clearly acting in concert.
On top of all this, the private home of a rabbi was recently visited by people who one can only conclude were the same miscreants who had perpetrated the earlier offences. Once again, appallingly hurtful slogans were daubed, this time on the rabbi's private home ; not only was his privacy invaded, but the entire Jewish community in the constituency were greatly affronted.
All right-thinking people in my constituency--my constituents are right- thinking people--are filled with the greatest disgust by these actions. Among the Jewish community, they re-awaken old fears and create potent new ones--and they cause the greatest possible hurt. I raise this matter on the Adjournment because it is important, and I do so in the full knowledge that the Government have had an exemplary record of taking action against just this sort of activity. We know that the resources of the police have been greatly increased in the past few years, and legal machinery has been put in place to deal with such activities.
The Public Order Act 1986 created the new offence of incitement to racial hatred--a fact which I am sure is of considerable solace to my constituents at this time. They will be pleased to know that anyone engaging in this type of activity can now receive a sentence of two years' imprisonment. I hope that, when the courts deal with this sort of offence, they will take a robust view of sentencing and will sentence not only according to the immediate physical consequences of an act but according to the wider hurt and fear that it may create. I urge the Government to take every opportunity, as I know they will, to stamp out this sort of activity. I am absolutely confident that it represents the antithesis of what the Government and the Prime Minister stand for and of the sort of society that he wants to create--indeed, this sort of activity should have no place in any decent society.
Although they can create a great deal of hurt, the people who perpetrate these crimes are probably very few in number. Nevertheless, my constituents are also concerned about the fact that, in recent times, extreme political parties have apparently enjoyed so much success in countries not far from our own. In those countries, sentiments espoused by political extremists in this country are expressed clandestinely, or even openly.
In the light of that, I urge the Government to continue to defend our constitution and our electoral system. I believe that that constitution and electoral system have served this country well, at times when other countries' constitutions and electoral systems have served them much less well. It would be a very sad day when the forces of extremism that we now see in other countries gained even a foothold in our own.
I have made my maiden speech with a great deal of pride. I am proud of being a Member of the House of Commons, and I am proud of its history ; I am also proud
Column 193because I know that, in every party represented here, there is no place for the extremist activities that I have described. I hope that that will long continue, and that I never see the day when extremists occupy our Benches.
I have the honour to have been elected to represent Ipswich in the Labour interest, and in the interests of the people of that town. Before I go any further, I must mention my predecessor, Michael Irvine, who was an assiduous attender of the House and also a very pleasant man. He fought hard and defended the Government's position with courage, and I was therefore delighted to scrape home with a majority of 265.
Let me also mention Mr. Irvine's predecessor, who will still be well known to many hon. Members. Ken Weetch was the Labour Member from 1974 until 1987, and he is still very popular in both the constituency and the House.
Ipswich is just up the River Orwell from the port of Felixstowe, and was founded in the 5th century as an Anglo-Saxon village called Gyppeswic. It was burnt down four times by the Vikings, but we are still in favour of Europe--just. This year, its football team won the second division championship. It is now going into the premier league, and it is a matter of some sorrow to me that I shall not be able to watch the away matches because the rights have all been sold to BSkyB, or whatever it is called now. The team also won the 1978 FA cup against Arsenal, I am pleased to say. At that time, everyone in the town was incensed by the football commentators' description of Ipswich as a "sleepy little market town". We are not that ; we are an industrial-relations town at root.
Ipswich still has many manufacturing industries, producing grass-cutting machinery, compressors, car components, lift motors, valves, pipes, castings and so forth. It has, however, broadened its range, and is now a large commercial centre specialising particularly in insurance firms. It is also the fifth largest container port in Britain. We in Ipswich have many facilities, and we live in a beautiful area in which we take a great deal of civic pride. We consider ourselves the regional capital of East Anglia ; colleagues in Cambridge and Norwich dispute that, but of course they are wrong. We have our problems, of course, but I wish to mention only one of them today. A large concern in the constituency, Ransome and Rapier, recently went bust ; not only did it go bust, but, unfortunately, it went bust a few months after it had been bought by Robert Maxwell, and its pension fund is one of those that have been looted by him. The House will not be surprised to learn that I am one of the hundred or so Members of Parliament who are trying, on an all-party basis, to get something done about that. It is all very well for us to adjourn for our holidays next week, but some of my constituents do not know whether they will receive their pension cheques at the end of the month. Already a pension fund has closed down, affecting some people in Suffolk.
I believe--along with all the other members of the action group--that it is right, proper and desirable for the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement. We should like that statement to say that the Government undertake to drip-feed and underwrite any pension funds
Column 194that may be in danger of closing absolutely, so that they may be kept going until investigations have apportioned blame. In particular, we should like the right hon. Gentleman to assure us that he intends to help to force the banks to release the £217 milion of pension fund money that they are holding. It is not their money ; it was lodged with them as security, but it belongs to the pension fund, and we should like the Government to help us to get it back. We also believe that the right hon. Gentleman should take on board the 30 suggestions made by the Select Committee on Social Services, so that we can ensure that such a thing never happens again.
That is the only problem affecting Ipswich to which I shall refer today, because it is the most urgent. Ipswich has other problems, however, and I promise that on future occasions I shall bring them to the notice of the House.
Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Cardiff, Central) : I have been privileged to sit here this afternoon and hear the many contributions made by other hon. Members, particularly the maiden speeches. However, the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin) made me feel even more daunted by the challenge.
In making my maiden speech, I find little difficulty in following one convention--that of referring kindly to the previous Member of Parliament for my constituency. Mr. Ian Grist is an old-fashioned gentleman of courage and integrity, and I have met no hon. Member on either side of the House who thought ill of him. He was very well regarded by his fellow Welsh Tory Members, who showed particular and unusual loyalty to him when he was sacked last year as a junior Welsh Office Minister.
It was said at the time that Ian Grist paid the price for backing the wrong horse in the Tory leadership election. I hope that it will now be of some comfort to him to learn that his friend and colleague, the hon. Member for the neighbouring constituency of Cardiff, North (Mr. Jones), has succeeded him in his former post. Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my fellow Cardiff Member on his promotion : I am sure that, like Mr. Grist before him, he will seek consultation and consensus before controversy and conflict. One result of the general election for which we can thank my hon. Friend the new Member for Pembroke (Mr. Ainger) is the reversal of a "Major" change in the Welsh Office : again, there are three Heseltinians working in harness there.
Reading the maiden speech that Mr. Grist made 18 years ago, I was struck by his reference to the changing structure of employment in the constituency. He noticed the decline in traditional industries that was taking place then, and the fact that the service sector was becoming dangerously dominant. Over the past two decades, little has changed in that regard. If anything, the trend has accelerated : with the notable exception of Panasonic and Allied Steel and Wire, it is the service industries that now dominate Cardiff to an excessive degree.
The service sector provides over 80,000 jobs in a city that has a population of less than one third of a million, and during the past decade there has been a further 9 per cent. reduction in the activity of productive industries. Jobs in metal goods and vehicles have declined over that period from 10,000 to 8,500. Other manufacturing has seen a decline in employment from 8,500 to 7,000. The figures confirm a long-term loss of Cardiff's productive
Column 195sector and the manual employment that it provided, and it is no longer an industrial city. Indeed, Bournemouth manufactures more than Cardiff. The Government generally and the Welsh Office especially must help local authorities and industry to redress the employment imbalance.
This month's employment statistics show that, in Cardiff, Central, 4,765 people are officially registered as unemployed. It is the second highest level of unemployment in Wales--higher than the levels of unemployment in the valley constituencies. That is the unemployment that is to be found in the centre of the Principality's capital.
The constituency contains pockets of dangerously high levels of male unemployment. It is 27 per cent. in the Adamstown ward and 20 per cent. in Cathays and Plasnewydd. These inner-city wards need work desper-ately. In some parts of the city, as many as one in every two young men are out of work. The stresses and strains that this places on our society can be seen, perhaps, in Coventry and Los Angeles. They were evidenced in Ely, another Cardiff ward, last year. My research has shown that, before Mr. Grist, the Member who represented my constituency was my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Mr. Rowlands). My hon. Friend won the seat in 1966 and held it for the next eight years. When he made his maiden speech as the hon. Member for Cardiff, Central, he referred to the building of the Severn bridge, and that presents an opportunity that I can hardly resist. During his eight years as the Member for my constituency the toll on the bridge decreased from half a crown to 12p in 1974, which was a 41 per cent. decrease in real terms. The toll increased to £1 during the 18 years of Mr. Grist's representation of the constituency. In real terms, that was perhaps a modest increase of 35 per cent., about 2 per cent. per annum above the rate of inflation. I have represented the constituency for only one month, and the toll has already increased by 40 per cent. for cars--the charge is now £2.80--and 180 per cent. for light vans, for which the charge is now £5.60. In only a month, the tolls have increased by much greater amounts than the sum total of previous increases over the previous 26 years.
It is worth comparing the figures with the tolls that are levied on the Dartford bridge, which are currently 80p each way for cars and light commercial vehicles. It is a valid comparison, as the Dartford bridge, which was opened in October, was built to relieve bottlenecks between Essex and Kent. Could the difference in treatment relate to the number of Conservative-held constituencies in Essex and Kent, bearing in mind that there are only two Conservative-represented constituencies in Gwent and Glamorgan?
If, as we are told, high tolls are needed to finance the second crossing of the Severn, why are there no tolls on the new M40, which was built at considerable cost to relieve the M1 and the M6? Over the next few years, it is estimated that £1 billion will be collected on the Severn bridge, and much of that money would have been spent in south Wales. As we have no overall tolling policy in the United Kingdom, unlike some other countries, we have what amounts to a selective tax on the economic region of south Wales.
Column 196Two hundred years ago, small farmers and traders in west Wales became so enraged at the unfair tolls exacted on the goods they took to market that they burned down the toll gates, but I am not advocating burning down the Severn bridge. The farmers disguised themselves as women, and the uprising became known as the Rebecca riots. My wife has an ancestor who, as a Rebecca rioter, was deported to Australia. Press reports suggest that business men and women who are running small businesses in Avon and Gwent will demonstrate on the Severn bridge during the bank holiday, thus producing even more traffic chaos than normal.
I ask the Government seriously to reconsider the tolls and to note the protest. The tolls are unjust and have caused otherwise law-abiding citizens to consider taking action that even threatens to drive the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) into the arms of the daughters of Rebecca. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman for Wales, to use all his influence to change the unjust tolls.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : First, Madam Deputy Speaker, I congratualte you on your appointment. As you know, I have long been one of the your greatest admirers in the House. I look forward to a long and happy relationship with you. It is one that has started most auspiciously this evening.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) on his maiden speech. He made it with wit and with a succinctness that I shall try to follow. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, wishes to respond to the debate at about 7 o'clock, which gives me only two minutes. I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central that it takes some courage to refer to early cross-dressing in Wales in a maiden speech. I look forward to hearing more of his speeches.
There is a lesson for all newly elected Members, and it was the first lesson that my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) taught me. I think that it is a lesson that he teaches everyone. It is important to know that, if we are to take advantage of this place, we must be present. Being here is the important thing. There have been two wonderful examples today of the advantage of being here. The first example was provided by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover, who took advantage of the opportunity that our proceedings offered to have a debate on a matter of principle. That was followed by a somewhat controversial vote, but it was an interesting manoeuvre.
We then heard my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). He provided an object lesson for all newly elected Members and experienced Members. He demonstrated how useful this place can be for an assiduous Member who wants to pursue the cause of justice, as my hon. Friend has done so well and so often.
In the short time that is available to me, I suggest that the House should debate the disposal of county hall before we move off for the spring adjournment. I should explain for new Members who do not know London that county hall is the wonderful building almost opposite the House that used to be the headquarters of the Greater London council. It is a grade 2 listed building. It was paid for by London ratepayers, and it was there to be the home of
Column 197Londonwide local government. Had my party won the election, it would have been restored to that position. It would have been the home of the new greater London authority. Unfortunately, an ungrateful electorate did not give the Labour party the majority that it merited, which means that we shall not have to return to this issue on a later date.
The House should surely have some time to consider the various options that are now being proposed for county hall. The GLC was abolished in 1986, as an act of political spite by the Government. It was inspired and initiated by that vicious old loony who is now on her way to the other place. That viciousness was subsequently compounded by a decision not to allow county hall to be used for public purposes.
It was suggested that it should be used for offices for Members of Parliament, and that would have been welcomed on both sides of the House. There was also a proposal that it should be used by a Government Department, and we would have been prepared to accept that if we could not have it for a new Greater London authority. If officials of the Department of the Environment are to move, perhaps they should move into county hall rather than being moved down river to Canary Wharf to save Olympia and York.
Currently, there are two proposals for county hall--one from the London School of Economics and the other from a Japanese hotel organisation called the Shirayama group, which is a privately owned company with a staff of seven and a turnover last year of only £10 million. The LSE has put forward a more than adequate proposal for the use of county hall, so it is absurd that a proposal from a fly-by-night cowboy concern should be looked on with apparent favour by the Government, and certainly with favour by the London residuary body.
It is scandalous that an international academic institution such as the LSE should be bounced in favour of a cowboy Japanese hotel group. If county hall were to be turned into a luxury hotel and luxury flats, patronised by Japanese tourists, it would be an obscene and absurd use of that wonderful building. I hope that, when the Government consider the proposals from those two very different organisations, they will favour a British educational institution over a Japanese hotel group.
Mr. Bruce Grocott (The Wrekin) : I congratulate you on your appointment, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Broadcasting Select Committee's loss is the Chair's gain. I am sure that you will enjoy your position ; we shall certainly enjoy your presence in the Chair. It has fallen to me to respond to a large number of Adjournment debates over the past five years, and I must confess that there have been occasions on which my attention has wandered while I have sat through three hours of speeches. However, I appear to have done the job so well that I am asked back time and again.
My attention has wandered much less today than in the past, because of the interesting maiden speeches that we have heard. It always sounds patronising to say that maiden speeches are outstanding, but I truly thought that they were today. Most of us tend to put more sweat into a maiden speech than into subsequent speeches, so perhaps the amount of work put into their preparation is reflected in their quality. The quality was certainly high today.
Column 198Although, there were 10 maiden speeches, and it would take me more than the 10 minutes available to respond to them all properly--but I shall try.
The hon. Member for Rochdale (Miss Lynne) spoke with great fluency about the discriminisation experienced by people with disabilities. I am sure that she will want to speak about that on future occasions and that the House will want to hear her.
I am sure that the House will understand when I say that the two maiden speeches that gave me the most pleasure were by Members for west midlands constituencies. We did our bit in the west midlands, with seven net gains for the Labour party. That will increase the west midlands regional group-- already a splendid group--by 25 per cent. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Ms. Jones) made a highly knowledgeable and serious speech about the west midlands serious crime squad--one that certainly demands a response from the Minister when he replies to the debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) produced the most startling statistic--that the lowest access to car usage by families in any south Birmingham ward is in the Longbridge ward. It is a statistic that in future I shall quote as though it were my own.
It is appropriate also to refer to a speech that was not a maiden, but which in many ways related to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Selly Oak. I refer, of course, to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South (Mr. Mullin). I do not need to patronise him, but I thought that it was a masterly speech, given his tremendous record on exposing miscarriages of justice. The Government should understand the sense of outrage that people feel about those who have received sentences-- which in the past undoubtedly would have been capital sentences--and who are now known to have been innocent. My hon. Friend controls his outrage in a most remarkable way. His comments certainly need a response from the Minister. Other hon. Members also made their maiden speeches on law and order, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South said, they were of a slightly different flavour from his. The hon. Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) spoke about law and order, and we do not like to disagree with comments made so early in someone's parliamentary career. However, he also said something with which I strongly agree, and that was about the plight of the Maxwell pensioners. That issue was also raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann), who also made a splendid maiden speech. Again, the Government must respond to those speeches. I am sure that many other hon. Members would also have raised that matter had they had the opportunity to do so.
I was impressed by the phrases used in the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire). I liked the phrase she used about parts of her constituency, where "work and welcome" are characteristics. Again, that is a phrase that I shall use as though it were mine. The substance of my hon. Friend's speech was about the low-paid, a subject to which I hope she will return again and again. Labour Members make no apologies for the campaign we fought during the general election on the basis of a strong belief in a national basic minimum wage.
The hon. Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) was most generous in his remarks about his
Column 199predecessor, my friend John Smith, who was a splendid Member for Parliament for that constituency. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke with pride about the area that he represents, and he too paid tribute to his predecessor. The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke fluently and without notes in his maiden speech. He showed quite remarkable confidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) made an extremely witty speech. It is difficult to jest in this place, but he managed to do so while also making serious points. I hope that he does not incite his constituents to riot. He certainly made a powerful case about toll charges on the Severn bridge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich raised another issue about which I want to speak before my coat is pulled ; I am rapidly running out of time. As my hon. Friend said, due to the operation of the free market, his constituents, like those of other hon. Members, will have less and less choice in the amount of sport that they can see on television. I raise that matter in what is perhaps a populist manner, but it is extremely serious and important. The new Leader of the House is the fourth in five years, and one of his key
responsibilities will be as a member of the Broadcasting Select Committee-- where I hope to join him.
That was one of the few achievements of the last Parliament and one of the few about which I feel pleased. Most of the others I opposed. However, we massively extended our democratic system by allowing television pictures from this House to reach millions of our constituents. That has been an unqualified success. I hope that the televising of Parliament will be extended and developed. I hope, too, that there will be television coverage of more Select Committees and Standing Committees and that there will be more regional coverage by the regional television companies. In addition, I hope that more educational use will be made of the signal from this Chamber. The Leader of the House must, however, have a few words with some of his right hon. Friends. There is not the slightest point in transmitting spectacularly good pictures of what goes on in this Chamber, or anywhere else, if there is no national system of broadcasting. I used sport as a very important example. We were unable to watch World Cup cricket and we will be unable to see many Football League matches, because the so-called market forces have ensured that a small company with a lot of money behind it has denied most of my constituents, who do not have satellite dishes, the right to watch all these events.
If that is an extension of freedom of choice, it is a new definition. It is not even, in any sensible way, the operation of market forces. If market forces had operated in relation to satellite broadcasting, the companies involved would have gone bankrupt a long time ago, but, they were bailed out by other related companies with plenty of money to spare.
Having referred to the sports side of the question, I return to the television coverage of the proceedings of this House. It is not just that national television is being threatened as a result of the loss of the coverage of sporting events that previously all people could watch. There are now serious threats to the news and current affairs
Column 200coverage that is provided by our national television networks. Tremendous damage was done to the system by the Broadcasting Act 1990. Now we hear that programmes such as "World in Action" are likely to lose their prime time slots. "This Week" and other current affairs programmes are also threatened. We hear that some companies think that programmes such as "News at Ten" are taking up prime time slots and that "News at Ten" should be changed to "News at 3 am" so that a game show can be transmitted at 10 pm.
The effectiveness of the way in which politics and current affairs are covered in this country, including the way in which the signal from this House is used by the broadcasters, depends upon serious programmes being transmitted at times when viewers are able to watch them. The BBC and ITV national networks must be defended and sustained. No good will be done by unedited transmission of the proceedings in this House to a few people with satellite dishes. People are informed about national issues by news and current affairs bulletins that are made available to everybody and transmitted at a time when they are up and awake and able to take advantage of them. I do not believe that I am putting in too grandiose a way when I say that, if anybody says anything about the coverage of the general election campaign, they will have to acknowledge, in fairness, that, if the people of this country had had to rely on newspapers alone for their information, any remote notion that the election was fought on a level playing field would have been ludicrous. The only conceivable argument that it was or began to be a level playing field would be that there was national broadcasting on radio and television that followed the guidelines laid down by the House.
If, during the next five years, the national broadcasting system is undermined--we see it already in sport and we may see it in current affairs --and it becomes more like the newspapers, with dozens of editions available but no content of substance and no requirement that there should be fairness and impartiality, the next election will be fought on a grotesquely unfair basis, because people will not be provided with proper, balanced information about news and current affairs.
The responsibility of the Leader of the House to this House is different from that of any Member of the Cabinet. He will be judged not by the extent to which he is a hatchet man for the Government but by the extent to which he sees that he has a responsibility to the whole of the House, which includes ensuring that the affairs of this House are properly transmitted by television signals and other means to the public at large, upon which they can make a balanced judgment on how we go about our affairs and debate the great issues of the day. It is his duty and responsibility to do that in as non-partisan a way as he can. If he does that, he will certainly have our support.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I hope that the hon. Member for The Wrekin (Mr. Grocott) will forgive me if, during the short time available to me, I do not refer to all the points that he has made. The spirit in which I shall approach my duties as Leader of the House was fairly
Column 201well set out in the speech that I made at the conclusion of the debate last week on the Gracious Speech, which I hope did not qualify me for his terminology as a hatchet man.
I do not suggest that I used to have fantasies about being Leader of the House, but I have always had a hankering to be in the position, at the end of this particular debate, of being able to look the House in the eye and say to all those Members who had made speeches that they had been so persuasive that I had decided that we should not have the recess. However, I have decided that discretion is the better part of valour.
Therefore, on this slightly strange occasion, when the Leader of the House is supposed to be one of the world's most formidable polymaths, capable of replying to all the points that have been made in profusion during the debate, I shall do what is expected of me. If I am unable to communicate as much information as the House would like to hear, I have to admit that I have learnt a great deal, including the names of an almost infinite number of towns and villages. At one point I thought that I was going to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) the name of every squirrel in Brampton wood.
Let me attempt to comment, in the time available to me, on some of the speeches, including a formidable number of very good maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Rochdale (Ms. Lynne) paid what we all regarded as a pleasing tribute to her predecessor, Sir Cyril Smith, who was certainly one of the characters of the House in the time that I have been here. She showed that she will be a worthy successor because of the vigour with which she spoke about community care. That did her great credit. I hope that she will understand that, were I making a longer and different speech, I should wish to comment on the way in which the Government's plans for improving the delivery of community care are moving forward at this very moment, in the way she knows. However, she was right to place great emphasis on the importance of the subject.
We also heard a pleasing maiden speech from the hon. Member for Dunfermline, West (Ms. Squire), who is not currently in her place. [ Hon. Members :-- "She is."] I apologise unreservedly.
The hon. Member for Dunfermline, West brilliantly described her predecessor, Dick Douglas, as a man of independence of mind, a description with which all of us would agree, and went on to make a plea on behalf of Dunfermline abbey as the Westminster abbey north of the border. That drew a surprising degree of assent--given that there must be a number of other competitors--from some of her Scottish colleagues on the Opposition Benches.
The hon. Lady spoke more controversially, although not unacceptably so, about the problems of low pay. On that front, I would merely observe that only two Community member states--France and Spain--have a statutory minimum wage of the kind that she appears to advocate. France is experiencing record levels of unemployment and Spain has the highest unemployment
Column 202of any country in the Community, so those two countries are not an especially good advertisement for what the hon. Lady proposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Stephen) spoke of his predecessor, Sir Richard Luce--a man held in high regard by all of us--and then went through a formidable list of demands which, to my great pleasure, appeared to bear a considerable resemblance to the Conservative party manifesto, thus presenting me with a rather less difficult task than some Opposition Members did. My hon. Friend spoke persuasively, and his was an impressive maiden speech.
I think that I am right this time : the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) is not in her place. [Hon. Members :-- "She is."] In that case, she has moved. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will probably agree that it is useful if hon. Members sit in the same place most of the time because we then have some chance of knowing whether they are here. At any rate, I am glad to remedy that error, too, and say how pleased all of us on the Conservative Benches were with the hon. Lady's comments not only about her Labour predecessor, Tom Litterick, but about her immediate predecessor, Anthony Beaumont-Dark, whom we remember even better and with a good deal of affection and respect.
The hon. Lady commented mainly on the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions in respect of the investigations of the West Midlands serious crime squad. She will probably understand--as her hon. Friends certainly will--that the only comment that it is proper for me to make is that the decision whether to prosecute is entirely for the DPP. It was a fluent and impressive maiden speech, none the less.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) recognised not only his own interest in the motor industry but the formidable interest of his predecessor, Roger King, both in the motor industry in general and in the sport of motor racing in particular. Reference was made to Roger King's victory over the House of Lords--which the absent hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) would no doubt regard, approvingly, as some kind of symbol-- in a rally some time ago. The hon. Gentleman's speech will have struck a chord with many of his Scottish colleagues. He referred not only to the problems of inner cities, which we all seek to address, but to a problem that is more familiar to Scotland--the outer-ring estates around cities-- and drew a parallel with Birmingham. The Government are well aware of the sort of problems of which the hon. Gentleman spoke, although we might not all agree on what is the right solution. I shall certainly ensure that the hon. Gentleman's interesting remarks are drawn to my right hon. Friend's attention.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Sweeney) spoke in a way that will have impressed hon. Members on both sides of the House about his immediate and short-lived predecessor, who won the seat in the by- election. My hon. Friend properly paid tribute to John Smith, who, as he said, nearly pulled off the very difficult task of retaining the seat at the general election. Conservative Members are pleased that my hon. Friend managed to pull it off himself, and I am sure that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary will look closely at his remarks about crime in the area.
I have some difficulty in competing with the remarks of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr.
Column 203Llwyd), the name of whose constituency I have some difficulty in pronouncing. He clearly shares with us a high regard for his predecessor, Dafydd Elis Thomas. We were sad to see Dr. Thomas go, but it is clear from the hon. Gentleman's remarks that he will be a worthy successor in speaking for the Welsh interest in the House. In view of his reference to Welsh as the first language of his constituency, I hope that he was pleased to see that a Welsh language Bill was included in the Queen's Speech.
As the hon. Member for The Wrekin said, my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) spoke with tremendous fluency and without notes, and in a way that will have commanded support across the party divide about the disgraceful attacks on synagogues in his area. He will have drawn the support of us all for his remarks on that, and I assure him that the Government and all my right hon. and hon. Friends will be concerned to do anything that they can to help him and the police and other authorities in his constituency to try to stamp out that entirely unacceptable behaviour.
I fear that I must apologise to those who spoke in the debate who did not make maiden speeches, as I may not be able to comment on what they said in the two minutes left to me. Instead I come to the last two maiden speeches. The hon. Member for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Owen Jones) paid tribute to a long-standing friend of mine, Ian Grist, with whom I used to be in the Conservative party organisation years ago, and made some remarks while I was briefly out of the Chamber which I had recorded for me. The hon. Gentleman apparently referred to the burning of toll gates in Wales during the 18th century and appears to have referred to--although I hope not made- -a threat of similar demonstrations in the vicinity on a bank holiday in the near future.
Lastly, I come to my nearest neighbour in my Essex constituency of Braintree, the new hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Cann). I much appreciated his remarks about his predecessor, Michael Irvine, who brought a number of Maxwell pensioners to see me when I was Secretary of State for Social Security. I know Ipswich rather well. I was a boy in Harwich, and I used to watch Ipswich play football in the days when there was still something called third division south and nobody had heard of Ipswich. One thing that he and I have in common, across the political divide, is our great pleasure at the success of his town in football over the past few years.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House, at its rising on Friday 22nd May, do adjourn until Tuesday 2nd June.