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M25 (Widening)

3.30 pm

Ms Joan Walley (Stoke-on-Trent, North) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you received any application from the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement about the future proposals for the widening of the M25? It seems that a decision may have been made in Cabinet based on information that the Conservative party may lose local election seats. It is time that we had a statement--

Madam Speaker : Order. I have heard the hon. Lady's point of order. If a statement was to have been made today, it would have been on the annunciator for us all to see.

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.) .

British Nationality (Hong Kong)

That the draft British Nationality (Hong Kong) (Selection Scheme) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

That the draft Hong Kong (British Nationality) (Amendment) Order 1993 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Conway.]

Question agreed to .

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Deregulation (No. 2)

3.32 pm

Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams) : I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to control the activities of self-financing regulatory authorities. Last month I sought leave to introduce a Bill to repeal unnecessary rules and regulations which restrict the competitiveness of British industry. Not surprisingly, the Labour party--the guardian angels of red tape--voted me down. Although driven by the same distaste for regulations, this time I seek leave to introduce a Bill to strike a blow at a far more sinister development which not only chokes profitability, but will lead ultimately to economic paralysis.

I am referring, of course, to the emergence of SEFRAs self-financing regulatory agencies--the most prominent of which are the National Rivers Authority and Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution. They make the quangos of the 1980s look like cuddly toys and have created an entirely new and additional layer of bureaucracy. For instance, the National Rivers Authority employs 7,500 staff--officials paid out of the public purse.

Let me explain what SEFRAs are and how they work. They were created with the best possible intention by the Government to improve the standards of health, safety, hygiene and pollution. Their detrimental impact cannot, for once, be blamed on Europe so much as on the over-zealousness of our officials in interpreting far beyond what Brussels intended. [Interruption.] I am having great difficulty, Madam Speaker, in hearing myself, so I do not know how my hon. Friends are managing.

Madam Speaker : I am terribly sorry. I can hear the hon. Gentleman very clearly and I am most interested in what he has to say. The rest of the House must come to order so that we may all hear.

Mr. Steen : I am delighted, Madam Speaker, that you are so interested in what I am saying.

The detrimental impact cannot, for once, be blamed on Europe so much as on the over-zealousness of our own officials in interpreting far beyond what Brussels ever intended. It makes one think that we may have a kind of bureaucratic fifth column in the heart of Westminster and Whitehall.

Most SEFRAs are rather modest and small to start with, often set up to carry out what local authorities used to do. But, once established, they grow fast, with a life force of their own. Many of the 2,945 statutory instruments passed in 1991 increased the powers of SEFRAs and their ability to issue licences, serve notices and demand compliance. Today they set targets, issue codes of practice and have become bodies which alone can grant legitimacy.

To do this, they employ armies of officials to make inspections, and only when satisfied will they grant licences. In fact, the modus vivendi of SEFRAs is to create rules and regulations, then employ officials to enforce them, charging the unfortunate victims for inspection and the issue of licences.

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Some of the rules have helped us to clean up our act ; others are simply an additional form of taxation, authorising individuals to do what they have done previously without charge. I will give some examples.

The National Rivers Authority insists on charging a householder in the Lake district a fee because she collects the water that runs down the side of a mountain. She puts the water in a tank and uses it in her house. She has never been charged before, but she is now charged for collecting the water, because the National Rivers Authority says that the water that she takes for her own use could be used by somebody else if she were not using it.

Then there is a case in Birmingham where a company has a building with a large corrugated roof on which water falls. The water runs off the roof, into a down pipe and into a stream. The National Rivers Authority charges the company for that because, it says, the water will erode the banks of the stream.

There is another example in my own constituency. The Harborn garage has a forecourt into which rain occasionally falls. The water goes down a little conduit under the road into a stream. Never before were the garage owners charged, but now they are charged £60 a year in case any of the water that falls on the forecourt should pollute the stream. It is shameful to charge a small garage in this way. If individuals do not pay the charges that are heaped on them, they are pursued into the courts. Thousands of lives have been made miserable by the contagious nature of SEFRA-isation. Without licences, all organisations are trapped. They cannot trade, and they are branded as defaulters.

SEFRAs generate their own life force. They produce codes of practice, they enforce. Lifting standards is all very well if the organisations targeted have the resources to pay. During the recession most businesses have contracted, whereas SEFRAs have grown and grown, with more publicly paid staff, more rules, more regulations and more red tape.

The scrap metal industry is worth £3 billion a year and is pursuing environmental objectives, whereby it recycles 99 per cent. of the material that it handles, with 1 per cent. going to landfill. Its problem emanates from an emerging SEFRA--the waste regulation authority--which, in interpreting the Environmental Protection Act 1990, has muddled disposal of waste with recycling and forced on the scrap metal industry a raft of new regulations. Scrapyards have to pay £3,000 for a licence and £8,000 for an inspection. If they want to go out of business and surrender their licence, they have to pay another £3,000. Operators are quitting the business in droves. The result is that there will be more material to landfill and less will be recycled, resulting in additional pollution.

Apart from the ordinary household waste, all other waste is classified as controlled waste. To carry controlled waste, one must have a waste management licence : cost £95. To receive controlled waste, one needs another licence, a waste management licence, which costs £1,800. A

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brewery that for years has been sending barley mash, a by-product of the brewing process, to a local farm for pig fodder has been told that it is recycling waste. Under the new regulations, the brewer must pay £95 to transport the stuff to the farm whereas the farmer with his pigs is viewed as a receiver of waste and has to pay £1,800 to receive it. The House can guess the result : the pigs go hungry. Instead of the waste being put to good use, it goes down the drain and, no doubt, helps to pollute the local river.

The most vivid example of creeping SEFRA-isation is encapsulated in the Spanish coffins saga. Unfortunately, 200 to 300 Britons die in Spain each year. Naturally, they are shipped home in Spanish coffins. However, due to European environmental directive 84/360, coffins can be burnt in a crematorium in this country only if they do not contain certain banned substances, such as certain glues. Although Spain is a signatory to the directive, surprise, surprise, it has not got around to enforcing it. That means that when the body arrives at a British crematorium, it is decoffined, as the parlance goes, from the Spanish coffin and then recoffined in a British-made coffin which, surprise, surprise, conforms to EC regulations. The coffin can then be burnt at the crematorium in full compliance with the directive and with the Environmental Protection Act. Britain, as ever, has done its bit in conforming to the regulations. However, when one asks those working at the crematorium what happens to the Spanish coffins, one is told that they are taken out the back and burnt on a bonfire.

That story was related to me by one of the most famous SEFRA-hunters of all time, Christopher Booker of The Sunday Telegraph. It is such bureaucratic absurdities that have prompted me to seek leave to introduce a Bill to curb the creeping growth of SEFRAs and to rein back their power to introduce new and punitive regulations which are doing unnecessary and untold damage. That is apart from their appalling cost which has to be supported by the public purse and which, no doubt, contributes to the nation's £50 billion deficit. In short, our nation's enterprise is being inhibited. Any talk of lifting the burden will have a hollow ring unless something is done about the growth of SEFRAs. That is an important task and I ask the House to give me leave to do something about it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Anthony Steen, Sir Michael Grylls, Sir Michael Neubert, Sir Anthony Durant, Sir Donald Thompson, Sir Keith Speed, Sir Geoffrey Johnson Smith, Mr. Dudley Fishburn, Mr. Quentin Davies, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Bernard Jenkin and Mr. Roger Evans.

Deregulation (No.


Mr. Anthony Steen accordingly presented a Bill to empower the Secretary of State and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food further to control the activities of self-financing regulatory authorities : 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 213.]

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Orders of the Day


[14th Allotted Day]

Political Parties (Funding)

Madam Speaker : I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister. I seek the co-operation of the House in the hope that hon. Members will exercise voluntary restraint on the length of their speeches so that I may call all hon. Members who seek to be called.

3.43 pm

Mrs. Margaret Beckett (Derby, South) : I beg to move,

That this House records it concern at the revelation that Asil Nadir and his companies made nine separate donations totalling £440, 000 to the Conservative Party, which were undeclared in his company accounts and undeclared by the Conservative Party itself ; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to endorse the Charter for Party Political Funding published by the Labour Party, in particular its demand that all political parties should publish fully audited accounts which disclose the source of all large donations and should refuse any donations from individuals who are neither British residents nor British nationals, any donations from foreign Governments or their agents and any donations from foreign companies not registered in Britain ; and urges Her Majesty's Government to commence proceedings against any company which has made a political donation without declaration under the Companies Act 1985 and to invite all parties to submit their list of company donors to the Department of Trade and Industry to assist in ensuring compliance with company law. Britain today is a country in turmoil. Its people, perhaps slowly emerging from three long years of recession, feel anxious, beleaguered and insecure in their employment. All too many of them are insecure in the possession of their homes, conscious that there is no such thing as a safe job or a secure profession and increasingly fearful that there are all too few safe streets. The people of our country know that last April they were deceived and their confidence was betrayed by the Government and the party in which they placed their trust. As they gaze with dismay on the failures of the Government, their confidence is further eroded not only by the crass incompetence that they see the Government displaying but by the atmosphere of sleaze and the odour of corruption that they exude.

For years, Conservative Governments have listened to no one. For years, they have used the power and patronage of government, at least in part, for party political advantage. This is a Government who have ceased to be able to tell the difference between the country's interests and their own-- perhaps they have even ceased to believe that one can be distinguished from the other. For years they steadily placed, honoured and promoted those who saw things in the same narrow compass, until it would appear that there is no one to blow the whistle, no one to see the line of proprieties being crossed and no one to call a halt.

There is a remarkable coincidence between the Government's placement of honours and donations to the Conservative party. The top ten corporate donors-- [Interruption.]

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Madam Speaker : Order. I should say at the outset that I cannot force right hon. and hon. Members to listen, but what I can enforce is that whoever has the floor during this debate will be heard, and I hope that my cautionary remarks will be taken on board by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mrs. Beckett : Since 1979, the top 10 corporate donors to the Conservative party are as follows. United Biscuits has given more than £1 million and the honours received were one peerage and one knighthood ; Hanson, £852,000, two peerages ; Taylor Woodrow, £837, 362, which is remarkable precision, one peerage and one knighthood. British and Commonwealth gave about £823,000--I shall leave out the odd figures--and received one peerage ; P and O gave £727,000 and received one peerage and three knighthoods ; Glaxo gave £600,000 and received two knighthoods ; Trafalgar House gave £590,000 and received one peerage and one knighthood. There is a remarkable coincidence in the placement of honours and the placement of money--

Mr. Gary Streeter (Plymouth, Sutton) : While the hon. Lady is giving us the figures, will she tell us how much the National and Local Government Officers Association spent on its misleading and grubby advertising campaign at the last general election?

Mrs. Beckett : The money that NALGO spent on its election campaign-- or in the campaign that it ran at the time-- [Interruption.] I am quoting the hon. Member for Plymouth Sutton (Mr. Streeter). It was his description, not mine. That money will be found declared in NALGO's accounts, which is more than can be said for many of the donations to the Conservative party.

As I was saying, given the placement of people and the award of honours, there seems to be no one who will tell the Conservative party when to call a halt.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett : Not for the moment.

How else can we explain the Treasury's extraordinary decision to pay the then Chancellor of the Exchequer's legal fees in a private lawsuit ? How else could the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food--since promoted to be Secretary of State for the Environment--have thought it uncontroversial to allow a major company to pay to have his grounds improved ? How else can we have reached the position where it is so widely believed as to be no longer a matter of much remark that, as the list that I quoted shows, honours given in the name of the Crown are regularly assumed to be purchased by financial contributions to the Conservative party ? How else can it ever have been thought--

Several hon. Members rose --

Madam Speaker : Order. Hon. Members should not persist. The right hon. Lady is making it clear that for the moment she is not willing to give way.

Mrs. Beckett : How else can it ever have been thought acceptable that the party of government publishes no proper, independently audited accounts, acknowledges that more than half its funds come from sources it is not

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prepared to reveal and now admits under pressure that a large part of its campaign to secure the election was funded from overseas ?

Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) : Will the right hon. Lady give way ?

Mrs. Beckett : Is the hon. Gentleman going to tell me where the money came from ?

Mr. Oppenheim : I thank the right hon. Lady for her courtesy in giving way. Does the Labour party ever accept money with strings attached-- yes or no ?

Mrs. Beckett : No, certainly not. [Interruption.] I have given the answer.

How else can it be thought acceptable for the party of government to react as it did for months, with complete indifference, to the discovery that it was paid almost £500,000 in a fashion which breached company law by someone now a fugitive from British justice ?

In his evidence to the Select Committee on Home Affairs the other day, the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Sir N. Fowler)--I am pleased to see him here today because I hope that he will answer the questions that he did not answer in that Committee--said : "I am not in the business of looking for ways round the laws of the country",

as, of course, Mr. Nadir did in the donations he made to the Conservative party. However, perhaps I can draw the right hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House to a story that appeared in Scotland a year or so ago.

James Sneddon, the former director of the Conservative Board of Finance Scotland, who is no doubt well known to Conservative Members, said :

"The attraction of the British United Industrialists arrangement"-- this is for the payment of donations to an organisation outside the Conservative party--

"is the exclusion of any disclosure of such a payment as a political donation in the statutory accounts of your company." That is the advice that the gentleman gave to those whom he hoped to seduce into giving money to the Conservative party through that indirect route, a way around the law. It was advice being given by the Conservative party about the way around the law.

Mr. David Shaw (Dover) : Will the right hon. Lady please tell me why a man who took £750,000 of Maxwell pensioners' money without any real work being done in exchange is given the honour of sitting on the Labour Front Bench in another place?

Mrs. Beckett : The hon. Gentleman has made a serious allegation about the circumstances in which someone was employed. I am not responsible for the employment of someone in a company in which, as I understand it, he did work for which he properly received remuneration. The hon. Gentleman cannot show that the Labour party received money illegally from companies, as we now know that the Conservative party has.

Mr. Burns : Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Beckett : In a moment ; I want to say a little more about British United Industrialists. I do not want to leave the point before I have made the matter clear.

Advice was given by the Conservative party that it was a means of companies paying money to the party without

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shareholders being told. I hear some Conservative Back Benchers saying that the organisation does not exist. I understand that it may have been wound up but, for many years, Conservative Members asserted that donations made in that way were nothing to do with them. Indeed, in a debate in another place not so very long ago--in 1989, I believe--the then treasurer of the Conservative party implied, and may even have stated, that such an organisation was not a means of channelling money into the Conservative party.

Mr. Burns rose--

Mrs. Beckett : Just a moment ; I am about to give the hon. Gentleman some information that I know he wants.

Despite the denial by the Conservative party in the House of Lords and for many years outside, when talking of indirect means the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Smith) said :

"British United Industrialists has been mentioned--everyone understands the role of the recipient and realises that a large proportion of the funds paid to it are passed to the Conservative party. There is complete openness and accountability."--[ Official Report, Standing Committee D, 16 May 1989 ; c. 7.]

Conservative Members may say that that organisation did not exist, but it did, and it was a means of channelling money to the Conservative party.

Mr. Burns rose--

Mrs. Beckett : I shall say a little more about breaches of the law rather than about the implications.

Other breaches of the law occur among those who support and give money to the Conservative party.

Mr. David Shaw rose --

Mrs. Beckett : The Financial Times revealed--

Mr. Shaw : Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Madam Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman has had his intervention. I understand that he will seek to catch my eye later, so he might do one of two things for which I asked earlier : he might at least listen.

Mrs. Beckett : The Financial Times revealed that in 1990 a company called Sovereign Leasing made a donation of £100,000 to the Conservative party. It failed to declare the payment in its accounts, thus breaching the law. The donation came to light only because the company was taken over by the Bank of Austria, which presumably had slightly higher standards.

There is also on record a company called Hartley Investment Trust. In the run-up to the 1987 general election that company gave £167,000 to the Conservative party, which was the largest corporate donation to the Conservative party ever recorded--so far, at any rate. That company is breaking the law. It should have filed accounts for the year ending March 1991 by the end of April 1992, and for the year ending March 1992 by the end of April 1993. It has failed to do so. That company is chaired by Alan Lewis, and the hon. Member for Shipley (Sir M. Fox)--the chairman of the 1922 Committee and a member of the Conservative party's board of finance-- is a non-executive director. So let us hear less from the Conservative party about the people who legally give money to the Labour party and declare their donations.

Mr. James Clappison (Hertsmere) rose --

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Mrs. Beckett : The background to the way in which the Conservative party receives its money is the reason why we have proposed a charter for political party funding, to apply to all political parties in this country. However the issue may have arisen, we believe that it is right that such a charter should now be introduced, but from the evidence so far it appears singularly unlikely that the Government have either the will or the guts to do that.

The presence on the Government Front Bench of the Secretary of State for Employment is a clear sign of how the Government propose to handle the debate--and on how they have handled the matter from the beginning, when it was first revealed that the Conservative party had taken money illegally, in secret and from overseas. The Conservatives say nothing about the way in which they are funded--

Mr. David Ashby (Leicestershire, North-West) rose

Mrs. Beckett : All they do is talk about the relationship between the Labour party and the trade unions.

Mr. Ashby : On a point of order, Madam Speaker.

Several hon. Members rose--

Madam Speaker : Order. I have to take a point of order.

Mr. Ashby : The suggestion has been made, Madam Speaker, that Conservative Members of Parliament have acted illegally. That is a most dreadful slur on Conservative Members, and the fact is-- [Interruption.]

Madam Speaker : Order. A number of Members may not be listening as carefully as I am listening. I have been listening most carefully, and the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) is talking about the corporate structure of the Conservative party. I ask hon. Members at least to give a hearing to the Front-Bench speakers from both sides. Indeed, I insist that they do so. If hon. Members listened a little more carefully, they might hear a little more clearly what is going on.

Mrs. Beckett : We already know how Conservative Members will respond to the debate.

Mr. Ashby rose--

Mrs. Beckett : Not for a minute.

Conservative Members will respond as they respond to every criticism or concern, no matter how well founded or by whom expressed. First, they bluster that it is an outrage that they should be criticised at all. Then they say that all the comment is misplaced and results from ignorance or malice. Finally, they assert, as they are asserting today, that no matter how flimsy or non-existent the evidence, their critics are not merely as bad as they but far worse, and hence should say nothing at all.

The trouble is that Conservative Members probably believe that. It was said of the inhabitants of the Nixon White House at the time of Watergate that part of their problem was that they had become so out of touch with general expectations about standards of behaviour and what was acceptable in political life that they thought that everyone was behaving in the same way as they were but was just not being honest about it.

My suspicion that that is the attitude of the Conservative party is reinforced by some information that came my way on Sunday courtesy of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan). At the end of

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