Home Page

Column 145

ABB Transportation Ltd. (Redundancies)

3.31 pm

Mr. Hugh Bayley (York) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"the 896 redundancies announced yesterday by ABB Transportation Ltd."


Madam Speaker : Order. I would appreciate it if hon. Members leaving would do so quietly so that we might continue our business. I hope that hon. Members will show courtesy to the hon. Gentleman who now has the Floor.

Mr. Bayley : The redundancies were at the company's York, Derby and Crewe works.

Those shocking redundancies are the direct result of an explosive mixture of two Government policies--the cut in rail investment to the lowest level in real terms since 1948 and the hiatus caused by rail privatisation.

The redundancies are not an unlucky accident ; they have not come out of the blue. I have been warning about them for many months, as have my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) and my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich (Mrs. Dunwoody).

The Railway Industry Association told the Transport Select Committee :

"We are staring annihilation in the face."

In its report, the Select Committee said :

"We call upon the Government to address as a matter of extreme urgency the problem of the hiatus in railway investment to ensure that sufficient manufacturing capacity survives."

The House should be debating urgently whether the Government wish this country to retain the ability to manufacture trains, or whether they simply intend to buy them in from abroad, putting yet greater strain on the country's balance of payments.

ABB has done all it can to make itself competitive and attract orders. It has invested £20 million in the York works and made it the most modern railway factory in Europe. The work force have done all they can to improve the quality and competitiveness of the work. They have created a world- beating facility, and ABB is the last true British train manufacturer. Other companies compete against it, but they do not build the whole train ; they buy in the body shells from abroad and assemble components to them.

Column 146

If we want to retain the ability to build trains, the country must retain ABB. In the autumn statement last year, the Chancellor promised £150 million of leasing finance to save the rail industry. In March, I met the Minister for Public Transport--whom I see in his place--and he promised a decision by Easter, but that decision has not come. It could, however, have saved these jobs. At the Conservative party conference, the President of the Board of Trade said that he would intervene before breakfast and before lunch. Which meal will he skip to intervene now?

The House urgently needs a debate so that the Secretary of State for Transport can make a speedy announcement about who will get the orders from the £150 million, thus saving jobs in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friend the Member for Crewe and Nantwich and my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South.

Madam Speaker : I have listened carefully to what the hon. Member has said and I have to give my decision without stating any reasons. I am afraid that I do not consider that the matter which he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 20. I therefore cannot submit his application to the House.

Statutory Instruments, &c.

Madam Speaker : With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to statutory instruments.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(3) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.).

Fishing Vessels (Safety)

That the Fishing Vessels (Safety Improvements) (Grants) Scheme 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 1325) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Shellfish Poisoning

That the Food Protection (Emergency Prohibitions) (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) Order 1993 (S.I., 1993, No. 1338) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Civil Defence

That the draft Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) (Scotland) Regulations 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

Channel Tunnel

That the draft Channel Tunnel (International Arrangements) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]

Question agreed to.

Column 147

Points of Order

3.36 pm

Mr. Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, Central) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received today any request by the President of the Board of Trade to make a statement on the way in which British Coal is handling the redundancies arising out of the closure of pits last week, particularly the way in which it is handling the cases of men who are on the brink of qualifying for early retirement? There are men among those who are redundant who, having working for 35 years or more--all their working lives--are in some cases one, two or three weeks away from qualifying, at the age of 55, for early retirement, and British Coal is not allowing them to work out those few days in order to qualify. That is in marked contrast to the very constructive way in which British Steel at Shelton Bar and elsewhere in the 1970s tried to co-operate with the men, and allowed them to work out their time. I hope that the President of the Board of Trade has asked you for permission to make a statement to the House on this important matter.

Madam Speaker : I responded to the hon. Gentleman yesterday. A Minister does not seek my permission to make a statement, and I must make that constantly clear to the House. However, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that no Minister has told me today that he is seeking to make a statement.

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : Further to that point, Madam Speaker. May I bear out what my hon. Friend has just said and tell the House that, from Stoke-on-Trent, we have written to the President of the Board of Trade and asked him to take a personal interest in the way in which British Coal is not operating a proper industrial relations policy. Can you advise me how it is possible to bring this matter to his attention when we receive no replies to the letters that we have sent?

Madam Speaker : From what the hon. Lady has told me,

representations appear to have been made already direct to the President of the Board of Trade. It is not a point of order for the Speaker of the House.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you not think that it is a very odd state of affairs that the House of Commons is supposed to reflect the issues that occur in Britain day by day, yet we have a President of the Board of Trade who spends more time consulting about Asil Nadir and how to get him off the hook and does not care tuppence about closing pits and the consequences for the thousands of miners who are thrown out of work? Why is he not brought to the Dispatch Box?

Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is not a point of order.

Mr. Derek Enright (Hemsworth) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. If the President of the Board of Trade has not indicated to you that he is coming along to make a statement, has he apologised for his gross incompetence?

Madam Speaker : That is hardly a point of order for me.

Column 148

Infertility Services

3.38 pm

Ms Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to place a duty on district heath authorities to secure the provision of infertility services within the National Health Service ; and for connected purposes. The causes of infertility may be complex and in some cases cannot be explained. Whatever the cause, however, the emotional and psychological impact of the failure to conceive should not be underestimated.

There are many, often highly successful, treatments available for infertility. However, on a national basis the level of service provision and availability of infertility treatment has never been established. Recent changes in the structure and funding of the national health service have resulted in increased competition for resources and highlighted the emphasis placed on value for money for individual treatments.

Given that infertility treatment has often been seen as outside the main stream of national health service care, owing in part to poor understanding of the condition and of the treatment available, it is possible in the current climate that levels of provision may remain static or, unfortunately, decrease.

When we talk of infertility, we talk of thousands and thousands of men and women living in our constituencies. Let me give an example of the type of problem that is faced by couples.

Mary is 37 years old. She has been to see her GP with her husband Jack, who is in the Navy. They have been married for 14 years and have never managed to have a child. In the early 1980s, they put it down to the fact that Jack was always away. It has always been difficult to sort out the problem-- [Interruption.] --this is a serious point--because they have never lived anywhere for any length of time. Four years ago, they saw a gynaecologist, who diagnosed polycystic ovary disease in Mary and oligospermia in Jack. The typical features of the syndrome for women include disturbance of the menstrual pattern and infertility. Fortunately, many women can be treated for this syndrome. Men like Jack, if they are unable to be treated for infertility, will end up with a choice of agreeing to artificial insemination of his own sperm or that of a donor.

In this country, there are 12 million women of childbearing age. Some couples will choose not to have children, but the vast majority will do otherwise ; 600,000 men and 600,000 women will want, but be unable, to have children. For them, infertility can be an absolute tragedy. Each of us, as a Member of Parliament, will have an average of 1,000 couples in our constituency who are unable to conceive, and require help. Some of this help is very simple : for instance, advice on the fertile time of the month, and general health advice about smoking and diet. Men who smoke produce fewer sperm and have more damaged sperm, and those who drink heavily also experience difficulties.

This advice can come from primary health care teams. The GP can do many of the investigations for infertility, and egg-stimulation treatment can be given in a partnership between the GP and local infertility units. A

Column 149

course of egg-stimulation treatment, including ultrasound monitoring of egg production, can cost as little as £200 or £300 to solve the problem of infertility.

Some will need more complex treatment, of course, such as in vitro fertilisation or GIFT--gamete intra-fallopian transfer--often known as test tube babies. Only 6,004 women had this treatment, which has been successful, between 1985 and 1990. Twenty times that number of women are waiting for the treatment but cannot get it.

For some, no treatment or help will be available, and adoption is paraded as the option. But there is often a long waiting list, and some areas may be reluctant to allow couples over the age of 35 to adopt babies.

Some people argue that infertility is not a health problem. That is to argue that the national health service should be re-titled the national sickness service. The "Health of the Nation" initiative has recognised a broad concept of health based on quality of life. For many infertile couples on whose lives infertility has such a profound effect, it is important to have access to treatment. For many couples, infertility is comparable to bereavement and major loss. This Bill is not about test tube babies. I have given an example of the numerous forms of simple treatment which are available and which can be undertaken but which, in many parts of the country, are not available free through the national health service. The Bill will place a duty on health authorities to ensure that all areas of the country provide a comprehensive service. After all, the national health service is supposed to be based on the principle of need and not of ability to pay.

What sort of infertility services do we want the NHS to provide? The Independent College of Health has just surveyed 174 purchasing authorities in Britain. Its survey reveals that only one in four pay for advanced treatment. Two thirds of infertility treatments sought by women have to be paid for in the private sector because they are simply not available under the national health service.

Column 150

We must develop a rational universal service with equality of access. Too often in the NHS, we veer from boom to bust. A proper planned service with the benefit of the intervention of organisations such as the Audit Commission is essential to ensure a comprehensive and efficient service. A clear first step would be the definition by the Department of Health of the clinical services required to be provided by local and central specialist units.

My Bill is not just about infertility. It goes to the heart of the fundamental principle of the national health service--that it treats people on the basis of their need. We want an NHS that asks not, "How can I help you?" but, "What can I do for you? What is it that you want?" Too often in recent years, the champions in our society have been the takers, not the givers. The strong have become stronger and the weak weaker.

The 600,000 men and women suffering from infertility problems have very real needs. Health care should be provided on the basis of an understanding of the facts. Health care policy should be developed for the benefit of many, not based on knee-jerk reactions to unusual cases.

I hope that the House will allow the Bill to proceed this afternoon so that we can make a clear statement to infertile couples in this country that we care about their needs and will fight for their rights.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Ms Dawn Primarolo, Ms Jean Corston, Mr. Malcolm Chisholm, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Ian McCartney, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Terry Rooney, Mr. Mike Watson and Mrs. Audrey Wise.

Infertility Services

Ms Dawn Primarolo accordingly presented a Bill to place a duty on district health authorities to secure the provision of infertility services within the National Health Service ; and for connected purposes : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 2 July, and to be printed. [Bill 206.]

Column 151

Northern Ireland (Prevention of Terrrorism)

3.47 pm

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : I beg to move,

That the draft Northern Ireland (Emergency and Prevention of Terrorism Provisions) (Continuance) Order 1993, which was laid before this House on 20th May, be approved.

This House is the guarantor and guardian of all our liberties. When circumstances have so demanded, it has acted to qualify or curtail those liberties, but it has done so only when that was necessary to preserve our greater freedom. Even then, it has always acted jealously.

So it has been in recent years in the case of Northern Ireland. That is why the temporary provisions of the Northern Ireland (Emergency Provisions) Act 1991 lapse unless continued at the end of each successive year. No one, I am sure, would wish the Act to be permanent. Equally, however, our fellow citizens in Northern Ireland must not be denied protection from terrorism by reason of some disproportionate reluctance on Parliament's part to recognise their special needs and circumstances. Therefore, it is necessary once again this year for us to examine the balance, as we customarily do when debating the continuation of these temporary provisions. We have again --but, at his own request, for the last time--the benefit of a review by Lord Colville of Culross, QC. His experience in this work stretches back to 1987. He has addressed it with great industry, skill and clarity. His penetrating mind has been of invaluable service to successive Secretaries of State, by whom his forthright exposition and willingness to change his mind on occasion in the light of further experience, have been greatly appreciated. I record my sincere thanks for this work, including for his last report published on 26 May.

Before I turn to a consideration of the Act, and of Lord Colville's recommendations, I wish to remind the House of the Government's published aims. They are : to maintain the rule of law ; to ensure that all the people of Northern Ireland are free to express their political opinions without inhibition or fear of discrimination or reprisal ; to defend the democratically expressed wishes of the people of Northern Ireland against those who try to promote political objectives, including a change in the status of Northern Ireland, by violence or the threat of violence ; and to create in Northern Ireland the conditions for a just, peaceful and prosperous society in which local people can exercise greater control over their own affairs.

So that those aims can be achieved, it is the first priority of the Government in Northern Ireland to eradicate terrorism from whichever section of the community it may come. There is no acceptable level of violence and, for so long as violence continues, it will be met with a firm and resolute response.

Those are our aims, and the responsibility for achieving them rests with me. Under the constitutional arrangements which apply in Northern Ireland, as in England, the Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, who is my principal adviser, has operational independence. His annual report was published on 27 May and it is important that I let the House know of his words concerning the support that the RUC receives from the Government.

Launching his new report, the Chief Constable said :

Column 152

"When a terrorist outrage occurs, there is often a reaction suggesting that the handcuffs should be taken off the Police and the Army : that our hands should be untied from behind our backs. There are no restraints on the security forces, save those imposed by law and by the very nature of our democratic society. There is no political restraint stopping us from doing our duty or doing our best."

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) : Will the Secretary of State give way?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I should like to make a little progress first, if I may.

The House will be reassured by the words of the Chief Constable. Just as importantly, so will the members of the RUC to whose Police Federation conference I quoted them this morning in Belfast, and so will the people of Northern Ireland. They are true words, and they needed to be said.

I hope that we shall read and hear no more, from people who should have known better, of that oft-repeated and deeply discouraging falsehood which the Chief Constable has so authoritatively exposed. The truth is that all lawful options remain open and available to the RUC to deal with a situation in which, to cite Lord Colville's words.

"terrorists of all persuasions have perpetrated brutal and calculated murders and injuries."

Mr. Trimble : Will the Secretary of State give way now?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : If the hon. Gentleman feels that the cap fits, I will give way to him.

Mr. Trimble : I thank the Secretary of State for giving way. He has referred to the release of the Chief Constable's report, to the Chief Constable's press conference and to the comments that he made in the report in which he has said that the Government have been supportive of his position.

At the press conference, the Chief Constable put forward several changes in the law which he considered to be necessary and desirable. I understand that those changes have been with the Northern Ireland Office for some time and are being blocked there. Will the Secretary of State please comment on that, and say whether he will be prepared to support the clauses which I tabled today to the Criminal Justice Bill [Lords] , which give effect to some of the changes that the Chief Constable wants? Will he support them?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : Nothing that the Chief Constable or anyone else proposes for amending the law in Northern Ireland is blocked. All proposals are considered carefully. it does not follow from that that each or even any proposal is accepted, but they are sensibly and carefully considered. The hon. Gentleman will have to bide his time to see what response the Government make to his proposals. One option that remains available to me under the Act is the power to reintroduce internment. That power is dormant at present. To exercise that option would, of course, be a step of grave significance. None the less, its retention on the statute book--although it is not affected at all by this order--is essential. In the light of that, the Government readily endorse Lord Colville's prime recommendation that the temporary provisions of the Act should be renewed for a further year.

Among other things, the Act provides modifications to the criminal justice system, including the establishment of single-judge courts for trying terrorist-type offences ; arrest, search and seizure powers for the RUC and the

Column 153

Army, together with the power to close roads ; certain specific offences such as belonging to a proscribed organisation ; and valuable powers directed against terrorist finances. It also contains significant safeguards for those who may be affected by the special provisions.

We are sure that the continuation of the temporary provisions is necessary to give the security forces and the criminal justice system the necessary powers to bring terrorists from all sides to justice. They are also needed to send to the Provisional IRA, the UDA, the UVF and all other such groups the clear message that the Government are determined to eliminate terrorism. Since the last debate, I have used section 28 to proscribe the UDA. Once those who seek to subvert democracy by taking life and destroying property have been defeated--but only then--the provisions of the Act will no longer be necessary and can thankfully be allowed to lapse.

Until that time comes, the powers that the Act contains will, under a Conservative Administration, continue to be available for use, resolutely and appropriately, for the benefit of all the long-suffering people of Northern Ireland. They impose heavy responsibilities on the security forces. I continue to be greatly impressed by the discipline, courage and self-control of the security forces in what are often very trying circumstances.

It is no doubt inevitable that there will be occasional lapses, and I strongly endorse, as do the Chief Constable and the GOC, Lord Colville's perception of the damage that is done to community relationships whenever conduct fall short of the high standards demanded. I am therefore particularly pleased to note Lord Colville's view that, in general, the sensitivity of the RUC and the Army has been greater than ever in 1992. I have no doubt at all that the security forces in Northern Ireland deserve the warm congratulations and gratitude of the entire House.

Mr. Peter Bottomley (Eltham) : I think that the whole House agrees with the final comment made by my right hon. and learned Friend. Is it possible for him to assure us that the expertise and experience of the RUC is shared with special branch and detectives in Great Britain? Obviously, it is difficult to establish a person's innocence, and it is certainly wrong to try to show someone's guilt, on the Floor of the House.

Perhaps my right hon. and learned Friend could arrange for one of his colleagues to respond to the inquiries by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mr. Hume) the hon. Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) and myself, as well as Amnesty International, in the case of John Matthews. I will not ask for a detailed response now, but I ask him to arrange for the appropriate person to respond to the inquiries that have been made.

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I am aware that my hon. Friend, from his experience in Northern Ireland, will know that there is close liaison between the two forces, and that undoubtedly extends to the case to which he referred. I take heed of the point that he made on that person's behalf.

Lord Colville reports that the Act does not impinge on the majority of the law-abiding public to any great extent. Of course, that is not to say that it can be renewed by the

Column 154

House merely as a matter of course. In last year's debate, the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) vouchsafed that the Labour party recognised

"that some emergency legislation may be necessary".--[ Official Report, 10 June 1992 ; Vol. 209, c. 377.]

Unfortunately, he did not condescend to give the House any particulars. We hope that he will fill that gap today. Last year, he opposed the order and voted against the continuation of the temporary provisions because the Act contains the power to order detention or internment. So whatever emergency provisions Labour Members recognised might be necessary, they voted to discontinue everything covered by the order because they did not like detention. The trouble with that specious cover for embarrassment was that the order did not touch detention--nor does it do so today. A separate order would be needed before the detention provisions could be activated. So we hope to hear today that the Labour party will support this continuance order for legislation necessitated by the continuing emergency.

It is customary at this stage to review the tragic landmarks of violence which make the Act necessary. Last year, there were 75 murders by republican and so-called loyalist terrorists. There have been 32 murders already this year to 3 June. They continue to illustrate how callous, barbaric and brutal terrorism can be. The House will remember that, on 14 November last year, three men--one an ex-RAF pilot--were harmlessly spending an afternoon in a bookmaker's in Belfast when they were shot dead. On 19 November, Lance-Corporal Ian Warnock was waiting with his young child in his car for his wife to come out of a factory in Portadown when he was shot and killed. On 3 January this year, Dermott and Patrick Shields were murdered in their family grocery store in County Tyrone. The murder led to Julie Statham, Dermott's fiancee, tragically taking her own life. On 17 January, Sharon McKenna, visiting the flat of a pensioner who had just come out of hospital, was murdered. Those are examples of deaths. There were also numerous attempted murders and examples of intimidation and extortion. Between 20 and 23 May, the Provisional IRA carried out four bomb attacks, two in Belfast, one in Portadown and one in Magherafelt, causing an estimated £22 million of damage, and damaging schools--one for the mentally handicapped--and hundreds of private dwellings. The existence of terrorists prepared to perpetrate such crimes explains why the Act is still needed. It has, indeed, already contributed to the arrest and charging of one of those alleged to have been responsible for the attack on Magherafelt.

The examples that I have given paint a grim but authentic picture. But the work of the security forces has had much success. Far from them operating at will and with impunity--as is sometimes untruthfully and damagingly pretended--terrorists have continued to be caught and brought to justice. In 1992, 405 people were charged with terrorist-related offences, including 101 with murder or attempted murder--a figure which represents a three-year high. As at 23 May this year, 148 people had been charged with such offences. Last year, 194 firearms and 49 rockets and mortar launchers were recovered by the RUC and the Army.

As at 1 June this year, 100 firearms and 24 rocket and mortar launchers had been found. In addition, since the middle of March, four bombs containing some 300 kg of

Column 155

explosives have been intercepted in transit. There have also been substantial finds of fertiliser, which is a component of home-made explosive, and both republican and loyalist gunmen have been captured en route to carry out their disgusting crimes. Here I pay tribute to the co-operation between the RUC and the Garda Siochana in the Republic, which has never been higher.

e recalls the statistics for 1981 to 1985. The number of terrorist-related killings fell from 101 to 54--a decrease of 45 per cent.--the number of terrorist shootings fell from 1,142 to 237--a decrease of 80 per cent.--and the tonnage of terrorist bombs fell from 529 to 215--a decrease of 60 per cent.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman will also be aware that, in the past seven years, the number of terrorist-related killings has risen by 50 per cent., the number of terrorist shootings has risen by 125 per cent. and the volume of terrorist bombs has risen by 70 per cent. How does he explain that increase since the end of 1985? Does it suggest any tremendous co- operation with the Irish Republic since that time?

Sir Patrick Mayhew : I have already paid tribute to the co-operation between the two police forces, which is extremely important. There are others to whom the hon. Gentleman should address the question of why increased terrorist crimes have been committed. What matters--this is not the only thing that matters, far from it--are the successes of the RUC, most notably in bringing people to justice and in intercepting people bent upon these revolting crimes and preventing them from carrying them out. That is the context in which I introduced the figures. I know of the hon. Gentleman's opposition to the Anglo-Irish agreement. He is perfectly entitled to make whatever point he wishes in the context of varying statistics, and no doubt he will find an opportunity to do that during the debate, if he catches your eye, Madam Speaker.

I now turn to the specific recommendations in Lord Colville's report, and will deal first with remand times. Lord Colville rightly draws attention once more to the problem of delays on remand. He says that the matter is one for real concern, and I agree. He also makes clear the difficulties entailed in tackling the problem. Nevertheless, I am determined that we should make continued and substantial efforts to reduce remand delays wherever possible.

In the debate on last year's continuance order, I announced the introduction of a scheme aimed at reducing and monitoring the time defendants spend in custody before they are tried on indictment for scheduled offences--the cases in which delays have been longest. We set demanding targets of 38 weeks from first remand to committal, and 14 weeks from committal to arraignment.

The scheme began on 1 July 1992. The agencies involved in the prosecution process have embarked on its operation with great vigour, establishing the new machinery in which they work together to track the progress of cases, and give particular attention to those where targets are in danger of being overrun.

It is too early to reach firm conclusions on the results, but the first cases entering the scheme have only recently

Next Section

  Home Page