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Column 1300that the information was still not available. On that example, even when the Child Support Agency is doing the work, it is not effective, and the figures given by the Minister bear that out.
Another young women wrote me an appealing letter. She had a baby and does not seek maintenance. She did not say so in her letter, but she said that she wanted the name of the father on the birth certificate. She does not have much money, but she would like the DNA test to be taken by the man, who disputes the claim. She is having great difficulty.
I referred her to the Child Support Agency, which told her that it would be three years before it could tackle her case. She is an ideal young woman for the agency to help, because she is a single parent and simply wants the name of the father on the birth certificate so that the child is not fatherless. That is not an unreasonable aspiration.
Another example is that of a man in a high-earning category--he earned as much as a Member of Parliament. He fathered a child and accepted his responsibility. His marriage has recovered from the sense of betrayal that had been incurred, and he and his wife were settling back. He has two teenage children to look after, and they are ready to go to university.
Through the door came a letter from the Child Support Agency. There was nothing private or confidential about it. His wife opened the letter--they were exchanging correspondence--and all the old wounds reopened. That day, when he returned from his well-paid, responsible position--a pillar of society, if one likes--his wife had packed her suitcase ready to go. He told me that it had been a difficult week, but it looked as though the marriage could be saved.
That is the effect in thousands of houses up and down the country. Yet the bland, ineffective reply of the Minister yesterday made it sound as though it was all some sort of administrative procedure. We are talking about an area of great sensitivities and difficulties. Relationships are being trampled on with hobnailed boots. I hope that the Minister will take the message. It is fair to say that the message is not simply coming from Labour Members. Some Tory Members have criticised the agency--there are anxious mothers and fathers battering at their doors as well.
Another subject that I shall mention is one that I have raised in the House previously--wheel clamping. I am raising the subject again because it has been raised again in Bradford--wheel clampers have been about again. In this case, they clamped the car of an articulate young women who, I am happy to say, will sue them. They held on to her and kept her by her car for two hours while she organised the recovery of the imposition of £75. I have had an Adjournment debate on this subject, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar).
Wheel clamping is taking place in Bradford, and women are being placed in jeopardy. They are often clamped late at night, at 11 or 11.30 pm. We are not talking about people parking cars in other people's back or front gardens--we are talking about what appears to all intents and purposes to be wasteland. People come out of the Alhambra theatre in Bradford to find that their cars have been clamped and they must find £75. A few months ago, the fine was increased from £50--an arbitrary imposition.
Many people are angry, because they are placed in danger by these cowboys. Indeed, in one case--it is not West Yorkshire Outdoor Securities Ltd., although that is the most prominent cowboy organisation in Bradford--
Column 1301one clamping company was clamping cars without the permission of the owners of the land. It was simply putting on a clamp and extorting money from innocent car owners.
A consultative document was issued by the Home Office, and responses to it had to be in by the end of May. However, there is still no sign of any activity by the Home Office. It should produce some proposals as soon as possible. The matter is causing concern. I must tell the Minister about a woman who came to Bradford--she is not one of my constituents. She came 10 miles with a companion to go to the Alhambra theatre. Her car was clamped. The last bus and the last train had gone, and she had no other means of getting home. Fortunately, her companion had £50, which was handed over, and she was able to get her car. She went to the police. The police sat on their elbows and said that it was nothing to do with them--it was not a breach of the peace.
I shall tell the House what I say to people who are clamped and do not have the support of the police. I tell them to say that they will picket on behalf of the National Union of Mineworkers, and see what the police will do then. During the miners' strike, the police discovered all sorts of laws that could be utilised. However, in the case of men and women whose cars are clamped late at night, they cannot do a single thing.
The law needs clarifying along the lines of the Scottish court decision that clamping on private land in this way is extortion and theft. Since that court decision, there have been no traffic jams in Scotland, British United Industrialists, which have been raising money for the Conservative party. In response, the Leader of the House said that there were all sorts of conspiracies, and that it was not worth troubling his mind about them.
The Conservative party is a continuing conspiracy. On the programme broadcast on 1 December, the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Sir E. Heath), a former Prime Minister, made the clear statement that, if people were asking others for money for political parties, it was a political donation. A Scottish Minister said exactly the same thing about British United Industrialists. The right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup made the point generally, but specifically referred to Aims of Industry.
It appears that not only Labour Members are concerned about this-- distinguished former Tory Prime Ministers are saying that such donations are for political purposes and therefore should be recorded as political donations. If that is the case, firms such as Lucas, which was named on the programme, are in breach of the law in not declaring such donations as political donations.
It was made clear that Aims of Industry and British United Industrialists know what they are doing. They are raising money which they have repeatedly said is to help the Conservative party at general elections. That should be sorted out and, if the 1985 legislation has been breached, the Government should call on the relevant Departments to institute prosecutions.
It was made clear by a member of the Wallasey Conservative party that Aims of Industry had campaigned
Column 1302on behalf of the then Lynda Chalker in Wallasey. If that happened--the programme has strong evidence that it did-- the election laws of 1983 must also have been breached.
The Leader of the House is cautious and believes that the Conservative party is the party of law and order. Here is a test : if it is the party of law and order, he should pass on the message to the Home Office to institute prosecutions against Lucas and other companies that have made illegal donations without admitting them, and certainly to ensure that Aims of Industry is prosecuted over its activities in Wallasey.
Everybody knows that public buildings and taxpayers' money are being used to subsidise dinners at No. 10. Many of us believe that those who turn up for such dinners include representatives of tobacco companies, which is why there is no ban on advertising cigarettes. The industry influences the Government through the money that it donates to the Conservative party. I believe that the beer barons are also making massive contributions to the Conservative party, which is why they did so well in the Budget.
If I am wrong, I expect that the Conservative party will want to raise its head over the sleaze surrounding it and start the prosecution process, so that it can refute, clearly and firmly, any accusations by people like me on the basis of evidence provided by television.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : I wish to discuss the subject of credit card fraud, which is particularly important at Christmas because we are expected to spend some £15 billion in the shops this month, much of which will be transacted on plastic. Unfortunately, fraud using credit cards has doubled in the past five years. People in this country have far more credit cards than our European neighbours. The French have 20 million cards and the Italians have only 5 million, yet we have 83 million credit, cheque guarantee or retailer cards.
Banks and retailers that issue cards are losing more than £400 million a year, or £761 every minute of the day, at the hands of fraudsters. Last year, more than 2 million cards were reported stolen. Of those, 150,000 were taken as a result of muggings and 300, 000 during burglaries.
Black market prices in London suggest that, once stolen, credit cards can be sold to a middleman for between £50 and £150. The platinum cards--whatever they look like--can be sold for some £300. Once a middleman has bought a card, he passes it on to an encasher who uses a team of petty criminals to buy as much as they can using the cards. Those goods are then sold at knockdown prices from the back of a lorry, at car boot sales or elsewhere. By the time the process is completed, the average loss on a stolen card is £600. Another problem is counterfeit cards from the far east. The police estimate that between 25 and 50 per cent. of gold card fraud is committed on counterfeit cards. So what measures can be taken to cut that fraud? Credit cards can be passed through an on-line system, which detects whether a card has been stolen. However, that system is expensive and not all retailers are linked up to it. Another system is to check the signature on the back of the card. Hon. Members will have noticed how many times their credit cards are returned to them without the signature being checked. Unfortunately, that is happening too often.
Column 1303Moreover, how many times do signatures differ during the day? Mine certainly differs from time to time, so even that checking procedure is made more difficult.
The result of the over-reliance on signatures and the reluctance to use on- line system means that 60 per cent. of all card fraud is committed after a card has been reported stolen. Barclays bank has its own system for Visa and Barclaycard. It looks at the purchase pattern of the person using the card and, if it is irregular, staff check up on it. However, the scheme to which I am most attracted uses photo identification and laser-etched signatures on the back of credit cards. It is being used by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the National and Provincial building society and the Trustee Savings bank. The Royal Bank of Scotland launched its pilot scheme in October 1991, when 30,000 customers at 39 selected branches in Edinburgh, London, Glasgow and Manchester were invited to apply for the new-style cards. They are "highline" cards with a photograph on the back and an etched signature.
The results achieved during the trial period were remarkable. Of the 360 cards lost or stolen, only three were used fraudulently, with a total loss to the bank of £494, as opposed to the £45,000 that it would normally have expected. Following that success, the card is being tested further in Lancashire and is now available to all Royal Bank of Scotland customers.
The National and Provincial building society has experienced similar success with its photo credit card, which differs from the Switch and hole- in-the-wall card of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Just five months after it was made available to the society's 300,000 Visa card holders, more than a third of the customers have taken up the offer to have their photograph put on the back of the card. It is an encouraging take-up rate and 1,000 customers a day are now applying for those new credit cards. Staff at those branches have Polaroid cameras with which they can take photographs of the customers. They charge £2 for a photograph, which is what customers would expect to pay commercially. Remarkably, no fee is charged for the cards. Too often, customers are asked to pay £12, £20 or even more for credit cards, even without photographs and laser-etched signatures. The beauty of having a signature etched on to a card is that a third of cards used fraudulently are intercepted between the time a company sends out the cards and the time the recipients receive them. If a signature is already etched on a card, it is much more difficult for a fraudster to put his signature on it, thus helping to crack down on such fraud.
The public seem to like the new system. All the polls show that people using the cards back the use of photographs and laser-etched signatures. Retailers also like it and it has been endorsed by the British Retail Consortium because it helps it to crack down on crime. Scotland Yard has also welcomed the scheme. It pointed out that, even if a fraudster could remove the picture of the owner and replace it with his own, he would be reluctant to do so because, where suspicion occurs, the card is retained by a member of staff and the police then have a good idea of what the fraudster looks like. So thieves and fraudsters hate such schemes.
I am not enamoured of the idea of making such a scheme compulsory, but the evidence shows that companies issuing cards should embrace such new technology. It is a wonderful addition as a form of identity in general. I favour the idea of identity cards. A cheque
Column 1304guarantee or credit card with a photo on the back is an absolute boon. The cost of a card without a photograph is about 25p and with a photograph it is £1.20, but the massive savings that can be achieved will more than pay for the extra price.
Banks should not drag their feet over implementing new technology to reduce credit card fraud. It wastes police time, when such fraud could be stamped out. Given the fantastic reduction in fraud through using that technology, why should police time be wasted by not using it? Consumers who do not use that technology pay for the fraud every month through credit card protection schemes, inflated borrowing rates and card charges. It is up to us as elected Members to call on the banks to make every effort to tackle this problem. Our constituents have the right to be protected against credit card fraud and no stone should be left unturned in pursuit of that aim. 11.40 am
Mr. John Spellar (Warley, West) : I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) for his kind comments. I had better not go further because if I did the political editor of New Statesman and Society will see yet another conspiracy. The Leader of the House will be pleased to know that I will not go into the subject of the Child Support Agency which I spoke about yesterday in the Adjournment debate. As I said then, many of the problems being experienced with that agency were raised when the right hon. Gentleman, as Secretary of State for Social Security, introduced the measure.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South spoke about wheel clamping. I shall give a brief history of how that matter has been pursued in the House by a number of Members, including myself. In the summer, I secured an Adjournment debate on the subject and had some meetings with Ministers and civil servants. Unfortunately, that did not bring any results, so I introduced a ten-minute Bill, and a consultation document was published. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South said, responses to that were due by the end of May, which was a fairly short response time. Since then, there has been nothing from the Home Department. I have tabled questions and had correspondence with the relevant Minister, but there is still delay in taking a decision.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South said, for well over a year private wheel clamping has been banned in Scotland and there have been no horrific consequences or enormous traffic problems. Such wheel clamping still takes place in other parts of Britain, although there has been a bit of a lull recently. I was interested to hear that there are still problems in Bradford. During the Christmas period, people drive into areas with which they are not familiar to do Christmas shopping or to go to pantomimes. From previous years, we know that that is the peak time for clamping. There will be an upsurge in cases and more unfortunate people will be subjected not only to considerable indignity and inconvenience, but to occasional danger and certainly considerable cost. Given the increased charges in Bradford, it is obvious that the clampers there do not think that inflation is only 1 per cent., as the Chancellor said in his Budget speech.
The construction industry is facing a bleak Christmas and is experiencing its longest recession for years. As we know, many famous companies, household names, have gone out of business, and the industry believes that at least
Column 1305one other major contractor is likely to go under. The problem affects not just the big names but it is widespread in the industry. Subcontractors are being squeezed at all levels. More than half of the brickwork contractors who were in business a couple of years ago have disappeared. They are experiencing dramatic reductions in orders and a considerable squeeze on their cash flow.
There has been comment about the time that it takes to get money from main contractors and clients, and I am pleased to see that such matters are being addressed. A former Member of Parliament, Sir Michael Latham, is looking at the issue of contracts in the construction industry, and the industry is looking forward to a report from a man who is knowledgeable in this area.
I was pleased to hear the Chancellor acknowledge some of the difficulties that are being experienced not just in the construction industry, although that is the industry in which difficulties have been exacerbated, but by small companies who experience delays in the payment of their bills. The Chancellor is looking at some remedial measures including, I am pleased to hear, the German system of compulsory interest after a specific delay. That will help companies to stay in business.
Such difficulties are also experienced by the work force, the operatives in the industry. There have been major reductions in the number of people working in construction. One of the industry's worries is that many people with valuable skills who have been made redundant two or three times during the prolonged recession will have left the industry never to return. The industry wonders what skills shortages it will face when there is an upturn in building. Those who are still lucky enough to be in work face considerable problems over pay reductions and the worsening of conditions. Wages for skilled craftsmen in London have reduced by about a third over the past two or three years. Many of them have been forced into casual employment and, effectively, companies are nodding and winking at such people who also claim benefit. Many companies would not be able to price jobs at current levels and people would not be able to work for current wages if they were not illicitly claiming benefit with the collaboration of companies. If the Chancellor is looking for cuts, I suggest the return of some degree of regulation and proper contractual employment in the building industry.
Quite apart from what will happen on deregulation, companies face pressure on health and safety standards. Underlying all the problems is the fact that the industry is experiencing its worst slump since the war. A couple of weeks ago an east midlands builder told me that that week he had advertised for bricklayers and for the next three days he was inundated with calls. Many of those who called had been laid off in the previous few weeks because house building companies had constructed to the first level and were leaving the sites vacant over the winter while they waited to see what would happen in the housing market. Far from being static, the situation is declining further.
The Secretary of State for the Environment should give some encouragement to the building industry about future prospects. The Chancellor of the Exchequer could have done that. Although there was a welcome announcement about the Jubilee line, the commercial property sector is quite flat and house building is still just staggering along
Column 1306and is the only area in which there is likely to be any development. It is worrying that public sector housing is not receiving the necessary support through the Government allowing councils to use capital receipts or encouraging housing associations. Such moves would give a much needed boost to house building. Government Departments have not been helpful to the industry, as we have seen with the celebrated Bristol case. The curtain walling contract for the Ministry of Defence procurement office in Bristol will be awarded to a foreign company because only overseas companies were allowed to tender for the project. That was based on an out-of-date, 18-month-old report from the Bath technical institute. That situation has now passed, and British companies would have been able to complete the project.
The House does not have to take the word of the institute. I have talked to major developers who have been involved in similar projects who say that they have had satisfactory work within an adequate price from British companies. Unfortunately, the attitude of many Departments is to encourage overseas competition in a futile attempt to cut prices. That is done in a way which is inconceivable to any of our foreign competitors. It is unlikely that the French army would allow a British contractor to tender for a curtain walling contract or that the European Parliament in Brussels would invite any non-Belgian company to tender for its roofing work.
It is also as unlikely as the Bundeswehr inviting a number of overseas companies to tender for its ammunition contracts, as occurred in the infamous bribery case involving a Ministry of Defence official. The core problem is that the Government are encouraging overseas competition to the detriment of British companies. That occurs in a number of areas, but particularly in the Ministry of Defence.
Finally, I think that the House should review the period of the recess. Prolonged breaks are damaging to our standing with the public. It is not bad for hon. Members, who are thick-skinned about the matter, but it is bad for democracy when the parliamentary representatives are constantly attacked in the press. Hon. Members may safely rebut criticism from highly paid journalists who write about our pay, because they always seem to be reluctant to put their wages and conditions alongside ours. That is a challenge that they seem reluctant to take up.
We make ourselves targets by having prolonged breaks. There are so many issues which the public are crying out for us to debate and scrutinise. We should not adjourn until those issues have been fully discussed.
Mr. Dicks : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With great respect, my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) has not been here for a great deal of the morning. Some hon. Members have been here from 9.30 am waiting to speak.
Mr. Milligan : I am grateful for your ruling on that issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I will try to keep my remarks brief, so that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Dicks) will have a chance to make points for his constituents.
In the Christmas spirit, I will ask my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to pass on the thanks of my constituents to three of his ministerial colleagues for actions they have taken to help my constituency during the Session.
First, will my right hon. Friend thank my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport for receiving a delegation from Eastleigh to consider the future of the British Rail Maintenance Ltd. works? There has been considerable concern about how the jobs there will be affected by rail privatisation. My right hon. Friend received the delegation in a sympathetic way and suggested the setting up of a railway liaison group, which is meeting later today to consider ways in which those jobs can be saved, and my right hon. Friend has promised to attend meetings of the group regularly. In view of his busy schedule, we are extremely grateful for the interest which he has shown.
Secondly, will my right hon. Friend thank my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment for his sympathetic view of the future of Hampshire in the context of the local government review? There is a strong feeling in Hampshire that it would be wrong to move towards unitary government. Hampshire county council is older than this Parliament, and it is an effective county council which is widely respected. Hampshire brought in the lowest shire council tax in the country last year, and I believe that it would be wrong to abolish the council. I was grateful to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for saying that Hampshire might be an exception which would be allowed to retain a two-tier system.
Thirdly, I am particularly grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor. Only 10 days ago in the House, I made a speech about unemployment and suggested two measures which I though would be of concern, particularly in my constituency, but also across the country. I thought also that those measures would help to reduce unemployment.
The first measure was more help to small business and, in particular, action to penalise companies that did not pay their debts on time. The second was more help to provide training. I am delighted that my right hon. and learned Friend adjusted his Budget at the last moment to take account of those two concerns and that he made recommendations in those directions.
I should like to address my main remarks not to either Front Bench but to the Press Gallery, which is characteristically packed for today's debate. I spent 20 years as a journalist and I have great sympathy for those who ply the trade. I think that journalists come in for a lot of unfair criticism. People do not realise how speedily journalists must produce their articles. One need only look at the coverage this week of the Budget. It was remarkable that most newspapers were able to produce such detailed and extensive coverage within a few hours of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor sitting down.
I believe that most journalists do a remarkable job. This country is blessed with a press which is much more entertaining than most papers abroad. When the British press is compared with Die Welt, Le Monde or the New York Times, one sees that it is a pretty good read. It is also diversified. We have the highest newspaper readership of
Column 1308any country in Europe. We must admire the quality of the press, which maintains a high standard of language, unlike some of our television companies. One reads much less bad language in the press than one hears on BBC 1 or ITV of a Sunday evening now that swearing and bad language have become commonplace on television.
Two issues concerning the press have been raised. The first is the question of privacy, which has been extensively discussed and which I do not wish to discuss further this morning. The second--which I believe most people would regard as more important--is the accuracy of the press. I was interested to note that the chairman of the Press Complaints Commission said that 70 per cent. of the complaints that the commission receives deal not with privacy but with accuracy. As I said, producing accurate articles soon after an event is difficult. Inevitably, mistakes are made. We all make mistakes. Only this week, we have seen typing mistakes in the transcript of the messages between the Government and the IRA. The information was produced quickly and mistakes were made, and that happens in journalism, too. I once made a terrible mistake when I was working for the BBC. The former leader of the Liberal party, the right hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Sir D. Steel) was standing in the European elections in Italy. We followed him around for a day and watched him eat spaghetti and talk to the Italians, then rushed to the studio to record a piece for the six o'clock news. The opening line in my commentary was, "Sir David Steel is the first Englishman to stand for election in Italy." Within a few minutes, the BBC switchboard was jammed with hundreds of thousands of calls from people complaining that I did not realise that the right hon. Gentleman came from Scotland.
It is easy to make mistakes, but sometimes there is too much of a rush to produce an article without properly investigating the circumstances. Only last week, I was rung up at 11 o'clock at night and asked about a report that money was being filched from the railway pension fund to pay for the royal train. Late that night, I contacted my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, who made it clear that there was no truth whatever in the report. I pointed that out to the BBC "Breakfast Time" programme, but those concerned were not interested in whether it was true-- it was too good a story, so they ran it, with comments from Opposition Members. I regret to say that two newspapers did the same, not just reporting the untrue allegations but suggesting that they were true. The Guardian said :
"The Government has taken £730,000 from the British Rail pension fund and transferred it to the royal train's budget to make the train more attractive for private investors to take over."
We do not look for favours from the Daily Mirror, but we do expect normal standards of journalism to apply sometimes. That newspaper ran the headline :
"BR regrets that £730,000 has been diverted to Royal Train". The story reads :
"Transport Secretary John MacGregor has shunted hundreds of thousands of pounds away from British Rail pensioners to keep the Royal Train running."
The Guardian at least had the grace to publish a letter from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport two days later pointing out how untrue the story was--although, interestingly, right at the bottom of its correspondence column. To my knowledge, the Daily Mirror has made no such apology.
Column 1309Newspapers have a duty to try to check the accuracy of stories before they print them, and when they get them wrong, as inevitably they will, to print proper corrections. Some newspapers have now introduced local ombudsmen who look into complaints and that is a significant improvement. I should like to suggest another simple change. Most newspaper editors could adopt the practice of American newspapers such as the New York Times and print a regular corrections column--not dictated by politicians but in the interests of their readers, and put things right where mistakes have been made. That would be good for the readers and for the reputation of newspapers. The Times, when it was the top people's newspaper, made a regular habit of printing corrections. Alas, that happens no longer. If local and national newspapers introduced a regular corrections column, they would be doing their readers a great service. In the Christmas spirit, I offer that suggestion, and I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend's comments.
I should like an answer before the Christmas recess to the issue that I am about to raise. It is almost a business question and, as the Leader of the House is here, perhaps he will agree to a debate on airport capacity, particularly as it affects Heathrow airport in my constituency.
Everyone knows that Heathrow airport is the busiest international airport in the world and that there is a great deal of pressure on it to expand. A planning application for terminal 5 is currently with the Secretary of State for the Environment, and we are expecting the pre-consultation approach at the beginning of next year.
Linked to that, the British Airports Authority has asked the Department of Transport for permission to contribute towards the widening of the M4 in my constituency. It is amazing that the Department of Transport can have consultations about the widening of the M4, as it relates to terminal 5, before there has been a planning inquiry and an acceptance of the need for terminal 5 and the proposal to build it.
A working party looked at runway capacity requirement for the south-east into the next century. The working party sat for many months and came up with the wonderful recommendation that it would keep all the options open and make no recommendations. I do not know what it cost the public purse, but it was a joke.
The Department of Transport has said that it will require from August of this year until May of next year to consult on all the options, about which the working party could not come to a conclusion.
One of the options is a third runway at Heathrow. That is one of the most nonsensical ideas that I have ever come across, since I have been a Member of Parliament or before. Even the air traffic control people have said that if there were a third runway at Heathrow it would never be more than 30 per cent. utilised because the congestion is not on the ground but in the sky.
I do not know why that was an option, especially as Stansted has capacity for approximately 8 million
Column 1310passengers, and only approximately 2 million use it. If ever there was a case for Stansted to use its vacant runway and terminal capacities, it is this.
The Secretary of State for Transport has said that he must keep the consultations open. He said, "Unofficially, Terry, I can tell you that in my view there will be no third runway at Heathrow." His spokesman for aviation has said much the same. The Department of the Environment has said that it would never agree to pulling down thousands of homes in three villages in my constituency in order to put a third runway at Heathrow.
While all this behind the back, nudge nudge, wink wink attitude is taken, the issue is driving people crazy. My constituents want a definite assurance that there will be no third runway at Heathrow. People are concerned that their homes are blighted, that, having lived there for many years, they will have to move away. They are concerned that they will not get the right compensation if they have to move, which they do not want to do. I cannot understand why this situation should be allowed to go on.
The Labour party has earned no great credit in this matter. Its candidate at the last election has been winding up people there. Old people have been worried sick because he told them, prior to the 1992 election, that within six weeks of the Tories getting back into power there would be a Cabinet announcement that a third runway would be built at Heathrow. All this time later, there has still not been such an announcement. There will not be such an announcement, but he is trying to get people in my constituency worked up. He has linked the opposition to the runway with the opposition to the fifth terminal, and he has united people in the battle.
Another issue is that we still have night flights. Anybody who was in London overnight will know that the first flight coming in fron woken up by an aeroplane ; they go back to sleep." That is another nonsensical report that has been produced by idiots who have nothing better to do with their time.
There should be a move towards the complete abolition of night flights. We should say to the aviation industry--to the airlines and the British Airports Authority in particular--that Heathrow is situated within a community and that that community should not be manipulated for the benefit of airline passengers, airlines and airport owners. They should adjust to the needs of the community. Many of those people were there long before the airport. Others came later, and obtain good-value properties under the flight path. However, the airlines tend to believe that because the economic benefits come from Heathrow, that is the overriding factor and nothing else should be considered.
I have a simple answer to solve much of the problem. There are 77, 000 domestic flights a year in and out of the world's busiest international airport. There is no reason not to halve that number by telling people flying from airports such as Manchester, Liverpool and Plymouth that they cannnot come to the world's busiest airport, but must go to other airports such as London City, Luton or Stansted. We cannot continue to have 77,000 movements a year, plus general aviation movements at Heathrow, when there is a demand for international airlines to use it. If we halved the
Column 1311number of domestic flights to Heathrow, we could use some of the space created for international flight use. We could also cap the level of movements.
My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House must tell his colleague, the Secretary of State for Transport, that I want an answer to the problem before Christmas. I want an announcement before Christmas that there will be no third runway at Heathrow--it is unnecessary and impractical. I want the fears of my constituents, especially old age pensioners, who do not understand what is going on, allayed immediately. If my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, does not allay their fears, he will face the biggest row and fight that he has ever experienced over transport.
Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : Before the House adjourns for the Christmas recess, I wish to raise three issues. They do not, on this occasion, include Pitsea post office, as I am prepared to let the guilty parties, the post office and Tesco superstore, wrestle with their consciences.
I pay a warm tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) for his magnificent effort in yesterday securing more than £300,000 in Konver from the European Community. I also pay tribute to the excellent European Member of Parliament, Miss Patricia Rawlings, and my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. My constituents and the rest of Essex will benefit greatly from that extra money.
First, I have been the unpaid spokesman for hospital radio broadcasting for as long as I have been a Member of Parliament. I am beginning to think that I have not done a fat lot of good, as, each year, I have made the same speech, but have been unable to deliver the goods to interest the House in that important issue.
All Members of Parliament receive letters from constituents about hospital radio broadcasting. They make the right noises, but there has not been the will in the House to deliver to hospital radio broadcasting what it wants. At first, we tried to obtain zero-rated VAT for hospital radio broadcasting. We then tried to get hospital radio broadcasting its own frequency. We have now reduced our expectations and merely want to replace the present induction loop system with a generalised frequency.
There are 640 hospitals with more than 260,000 beds. The organisation employs more than 12,000 volunteers, and is the largest voluntary organisation in the country. It broadcasts more than 10,000 hours of programmes every week to 8.2 million people. I hope to goodness that the House will take the subject seriously. We all have constituents who work as volunteers in hospital broadcasting. Let us give them what they want--the Christmas present of their own frequency.
My second topic for discussion is China. I was appalled that, by just one vote, Beijing failed to win the Olympic games. What is the world thinking of? Have we forgotten Tiananmen square and the disgraceful events that took place there? It is outrageous that we seem to have forgotten the atrocities that took place in China a short time ago.
Basildon constituents are interested in matters in China. I wish to bring to the attention of the House the position of Bishop Cosmas Shi Enxiang. He is a Catholic bishop who is loyal to the Vatican, which puts him at odds with the Chinese communist authorities that require Catholics to be submitted to the Government-controlled Chinese Catholic
Column 1312Patriotic Association. I suppose that he is in an old folks' home. In reality, he is in detention. I hope that, before Christmas, the Government will do everything they possibly can to secure the release of that bishop.
Thirdly, in 1991, I introduced a ten-minute Bill to amend the Pet Animals Act 1951. I appeal to the House to explain to our constituents that purchasing pets before Christmas is a serious matter. It is a disgrace that that Act, which is more than 40 years old, enables children under 16 years of age to go to pet shops and purchase kittens, dogs, alligators and other amphibians without proper parental consent and information on how to look after them. I hope that the House will have a happy Christmas recess. I hope that the nation will enjoy the Christmas break. From one Essex man to another, I have great expectations of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House and I hope that he will give a Christmas present to hospital radio broadcasting, to the Chinese bishop and to pets throughout the country.
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : It seems like only a few weeks ago that we last held a debate of this kind ; indeed, it was only a few weeks ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) was right to draw our attention to the way in which people view what must seem to them--they even seem to me--to be protracted breaks. They are longer than the electorate expect the House to have.
The Leader of the House seems anxious to pack us off for the Christmas recess as soon as he can, so much so that the debate is held on a Friday, and many of my hon. Friends anticipate the wishes of the Leader of the House on those matters. It is not hard to see why. The debate today has focused on deprivation and hardship. It has been demonstrated from the Conservative Benches that deprivation and hardship can be found in parts of the country where Labour Members, perhaps, do not look for it closely enough.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), who opened the debate, spoke movingly of affordable housing, of the importance of objective 2 status and of economic deprivation. I thought that he might talk about Jarrow, where he used to be a teacher, or Hebburn, where he served on the urban district council, as it then was. I thought that he might talk about Consett, in the north of England, which was his first parliamentary battle. But no ; instead, he told us of the economic deprivation in his constituency. I thought of Prestbury and Alderly Edge and the communities that seem to be having a rough time. I thought of the industrial decline, to which he referred, since the end of the war--I assume that he meant the Falklands war--his cry that something must be done and his hope that the Department of Trade and Industry would do something before he went upstairs. I took that to be a reference to the Committee Corridor and the 1922 Committee.
The theme of deprivation and neglect by Government departments was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), who referred to British Coal's responsibility, or its attempt to avoid it, for subsidence and housing damage in the high street and New Station road part of his constituency.
The theme found an echo on Conservative Benches. The hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) also spoke