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Mr. Freeman : Again, I cannot give my hon. Friend a completion date because he will know that the link comprises many different individual schemes. It is important that we develop multi-modal transport--that is, transport that comes partly by road, including by the A1-M1 link, to freight terminals including, for example, the proposed terminal in Doncaster and possibly one at Peterborough, which has already been mentioned. We need improvements to roads and railway lines if we are to speed freight.
Mrs. Dunwoody : The Secretary of State is spending £12 million on privatisation this year, all of which is going to bankers, accountants and anyone else who knows nothing about running railways. Would not it be an improvement, not only for the north Wales coast line but for all the lines running off the west coast main line, if the £12 million were spent on the railways instead of being handed to any firm that happens to contribute to Conservative party funds?
Mr. Freeman : It is always nice to end Question Time on a truly partisan and irrelevant note. The £12 million being spent on preparations for privatisation is money well spent. It is being spent as a result of a competitive tender and is going to the best possible advisers. I draw the hon. Lady's attention to the fact that we spend £1,000 million a year on investment and that this year another £500 million will be spent on subsidy to the railways. It is a small price to pay and it is well justified.
30. Mr. Skinner : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what steps he is taking to ensure that freemasons in all Government Departments disclose their membership of such bodies ; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Skinner : How many freemasons are there in the Government? How many are there in the Cabinet? If the Prime Minister can give us a rough estimate of how many bastards there are in the Cabinet, even though I do not think that he can count, is it not about time that the Government came clean? If the Minister does not agree, does he accept that many of us would like membership of the freemasons to be noted in the Register of Members' Interests?
Mr. Davis : Nothing in my notes will help with this one. No one could ever accuse the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) of understating his case. I cannot answer the first part of his question and I have no notion of whether there are any freemasons in the Cabinet, although I suspect not. As for the latter part of his question, it is a matter for him to take up with the Prime Minister, except for one point. The hon. Gentleman said that he thought that membership of the freemasons should be noted in the Register of Members' Interests, but that is a matter for the House, not the Government.
Mr. David Davis : Thirty-eight charters have been produced under the citizens charter initiative. Further and higher education charters for Northern Ireland will be published in the spring. An updated and improved edition of the employers charter was issued on 17 January ; revised versions of the jobseekers charter and the parents charter are also planned for the spring.
Mr. Greenway : Is the Minister aware of parents' increasing interest in their children's education following the introduction of the education charter? Can he tell the House of sectors in which standards are improving, such as reading across London, and in which children are clearly seen to be benefiting from Government's policy?
Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend is correct to say that many parents--in fact, most parents--are showing great interest in the league tables that are published as a direct result of a promise made in the first charter White Paper. He is also correct to say that charters are helping to raise standards. Off the top of my head, I can think of many schools. In particular, there is one in Basildon whose deputy head teacher recently wrote in a newspaper about how his school had taken on board the need to improve academic standards as a result of its performance in the league tables. That we see throughout the country, with school heads and in school management, which is a good thing for parents and for pupils.
Mr. Barnes : The original charter, drawn up by the chartists in the 19th century, was concerned with electoral registration and a fair franchise. As the franchise is now in a mess, with the names of up to 4 million people missing from electoral registers, should not the Minister turn his attention to electoral registration and improved methods of
Column 14updating it, such as a rolling register? That would have been something sensible to do with charters rather than some of the nonsense that we get.
Mr. Davis : I am getting a lot of interesting questions today, not that too many of them have much to do with my Department. Electoral registration is not a matter for the Cabinet Office. I can, however, say that, although the hon. Gentleman may not think that charters do much, 70 per cent. of the population think that charters and the techniques used-- league tables and competition--are worth while. He would do well, therefore, to pay attention to what his electors think.
Mr. Matthew Banks : My hon. Friend must be aware that British Rail has recently tightened up on the number of minutes by which a train is deemed to be late. Will my hon. Friend join me in congratulating the employees of British Rail who, with their own rail charter, which he has so enthusiastically championed, have successfully met the standards that they originally laid down and are now setting new standards, which we look forward to being met in the interests of the travelling public?
Mr. Davis : My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The theme of the charters this year is very much about tightening up standards across the board. In Network SouthEast, from memory, nine of the lines are tightening standards and six are improving reliability. That is happening across the board and it is a trend to be encouraged. As my hon. Friend says, British Rail is to be congratulated on it.
Mr. Garrett : I read that the main performance indicator for the charter for the immigration service is a two or three-minute wait at passport control at Heathrow, whereas I guess that most hon. Members and most people are much more alarmed about the detention and incarceration of innocent visitors by the immigration service at Heathrow and other places. Does not that illustrate the profound vacuity of the entire charter effort?
Mr. Davis : All it demonstrates is the profound vacuity of the hon. Gentleman. The Home Office has answered that question several times and each time demonstrated that every tenet of his questions is wrong. The hon. Gentleman ought to know the difference between the immigration service and Customs and Excise.
The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. William Waldegrave) : I have received representations from about 100 organisations, which are now being reviewed. We will announce our conclusions shortly, after considering the representations. I am sure that the House will agree that it is important that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the ombudsman, should be properly resourced to oversee the code of practice. I am, therefore, pleased to announce that next year the resources available for the PCA will be £9.5 million--more than double the current level.
Column 15idea of the code of practice being policed by the new commissioner? Would it not be sensible to wait until the new scheme has had plenty of opportunity to operate, so that we can judge it in practice, before my right hon. Friend chooses to introduce legislation on freedom of information?
Mr. Waldegrave : My hon. Friend was a member of Standing Committee C, which considered the Right to Know Bill, and is expert on those matters. Many of the people who have doubted that we were going down that route said that we would not resource the ombudsman properly to do his job. We have done that now and I am pleased to be able to announce it. I think that the new system will work well and that it will be much easier for people to deal with than complicated court-based procedures.
Mr. Meacher : How can the Tory Administration make any pretensions to open government when five Cabinet Ministers have secretly signed certificates that would have sent innocent men to jail rather than expose their duplicity in misleading the House about arms to Iraq, and when the Prime Minister--
Mr. Meacher : We are concerned that what we have been told is not the full truth. I wish to say no more than that. That is a matter with regard to open government. We are concerned when the Prime Minister has tried to pretend his total ignorance of Iraqgate for four whole years, when Westminster and Wandsworth councils have secretly pursued a policy of bribing residents to leave, not to provide homes for the homeless but to provide votes for themselves, and when the Prime Minister overrides a permanent secretary to force him to spend £200 million of aids moneys as a sweetener for an arms deal in Malaysia in statutory breach of the Overseas Development and Co-operation Act 1980. When will this Tory Government ever learn that the first requirement of open government is to start telling the truth?
Mr. Waldegrave : The hon. Gentleman was a junior member of a Government who failed even to tell their own Cabinet about Chevaline because they did not trust the left-wing Cabinet members--at that time, he was a fiery left-winger, but since then he has become more middle class-- let alone announce it to the House of Commons. The hon. Gentleman should give up doing his failed Presiley Baxendale act. He does it much more incompetently than that barrister-- [Interruption.] If the hon. Members behind the Opposition Front Bench could have heard comments made by those on it, they would rightly have spoken of sexism. They should listen to the rubbish spoken by their own Front Bench.
The hon. Gentleman had no other points to make today except one, which he made in The Times -- [Hon. Members :-- "Answer him."] I am answering the hon. Gentleman's point. He made serious allegations against the Prime Minister in The Times. He did not even check the facts. He referred to a letter which he alleged had been written to the Prime Minister in June 1990. If he will recollect matters, he will find that the present Prime
Column 16Minister was not the Prime Minister in June 1990. That is about the level of accuracy of the hon. Gentleman's allegations.
Mr. Duncan Smith : Are not the recent Herr Mohnke disclosures good illustrations of the need for my right hon. Friend to keep encouraging and pushing his colleagues to release such information early, as it is important for the general public to understand such details so that they can start asking questions and we can put pressure on our allies and colleagues?
Mr. Waldegrave : The Ministry of Defence has made it clear that it was in relation to new, tougher criteria for the retention of documents that those papers were released. I think that the House has welcomed that.
33. Mr. Gordon Prentice : To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for the latest year for which figures are available, what is the number of people who have died intestate and whose estates have transferred to the Duchy of Lancaster.
After inquiries had failed to reveal next of kin and after ex-gratia payments had been made, the assets of 328 estates were vested in the Crown in the right of the Duchy.
Mr. Prentice : I thank the Minister for that reply and for his personal intervention, which allowed a grant to be made to the Lancashire free legal advice centre which allowed it to buy updates for its law library. Is not it the case that, in this day and age, it is quite anomalous for the estates of people who die intestate in the county palatine and in the Duchy of Cornwall to be treated so differently from those of people who die intestate elsewhere in the country, where the money goes to the Exchequer? Is not it about time that we got rid of that throwback to medieval times?
Mr. Waldegrave : I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is indeed an anomaly, but it is a worthwhile anomaly from which the people of Lancashire benefit. If the hon. Gentleman had been addressing his requests for help to the worthy charity of my right hon. Friends in Her Majesty's Treasury, doubtless, he would have got his money, but perhaps he would not. Hon. Members for Lancashire would do well to hang on to that anomalous piece of history. It does good for the people of Lancashire.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman : Does it not astonish my right hon. Friend that an hon. Member purporting to represent Lancashire should be so unpatriotic about matters affecting that county's citizens? Is my right hon. Friend aware that the citizens of the county town of Lancaster have done extremely well out of the fund? The kids' club, the pre-school play group, the disablement centre and many others have benefited from that unique charity--and long may it survive.
Mr. Waldegrave : The Government actively pursue a policy aimed at achieving equality of opportunity in civil service employment. The latest reports on the position of women and ethnic minorities in the civil service were published last month and placed in the Library of the House. The report on disabled employees will be published in the spring.
Mrs. Gorman : I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I endorse the Government's determination to ensure that more women can make an active contribution in the civil service, but would not that policy be enhanced if women could get more help with provision for their domestic responsibilities? Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we could jointly persuade our friends at the Treasury to make the costs of child care or of looking after elderly folk back home tax deductible, women who have acquired the necessary skills and talents could make a much larger contribution to our public life and also provide many more jobs?
Mr. Waldegrave : It is perfectly right that help with, for example, child care must be a high priority for the civil service if we are to get women into senior jobs. I am well aware of my hon. Friend's long-running campaign on that and I entirely share its objectives. We are making real progress. At first management grade level--executive officer--women now have 46 per cent. of the jobs, compared with 29 per cent. as recently as 1984. That is a considerable improvement.
Mr. Matthew Taylor : While the Minister is considering equal opportunities, will he seek to ensure that the political background of ministerial appointees to the quangos and other bodies now running so much of the civil service is made public, so that we may see where those appointed by Ministers are coming from politically?
Mr. Waldegrave : As the hon. Gentleman knows, civil service appointments are made through the proper machinery of the Cabinet Office. In other sectors where appointments are made by Ministers, they are always made on the basis of who are the best people for the job.
Mr. David Davis : The Chemical Industries Association carries out a survey of graduate recruitment annually, but I understand that firm figures for 1993 are not yet available. The latest survey showed recruitment of graduates by major employers in the United Kingdom chemical industry to be 856 in 1992, and the provisional prediction for 1993 was 652.
Mr. Devlin : Does my hon. Friend agree that if the chemical industry is to maintain its position as Britain's second largest export earner, it must continue to recruit topflight scientists from our universities as they graduate? Is not the fall-off that occurred in 1993 a cause for concern? Should we not encourage the chemical industry to recruit as many people as possible so that it has the scientists to carry it forward into the next century?
Mr. Davis : First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's continued interest in these matters : he is a member of the all-party chemical industry group and has many chemical concerns in his constituency which he ably represents. Like him, I welcome the chemical industry's substantial contribution to research and development and, indeed, to the whole economy. I certainly agree with my hon. Friend and with the president of the Chemical Industries Association that companies would do well to consider carefully the need to invest in highly trained staff and research and development as a factor in securing longer-term economic progress.
Mr. Miller : British universities are clearly doing an excellent job in providing graduates to the chemical industry--despite the fact that they are under-resourced--but what conclusions does the Minister draw from the article recently published in Physics World about the acute shortage of physicists in British universities? Has the hon. Gentleman drawn any conclusions in respect of that shortage that extend into other disciplines?
Mr. Davis : Let me set the matter straight for the hon. Gentleman. It is projected that between 1987-88 and 1995-96, the number of science, maths and engineering graduates will have risen from 40,000 to 67,000. The number of full-time postgraduates studying science, maths and engineering has risen by more than 30 per cent. since 1987-88, and it is projected that the intake of students into first-degree physical sciences, including chemistry and physics, will have grown by 40 per cent. between 1987-88 and 1995-96. In addition, postgraduate research has doubled over the past decade. It is difficult to see where the problem arises.
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