Previous Section Home Page


1.46 pm

Sir Jim Spicer (Dorset, West) : I beg to move,

That this House notes the importance of all European organisations, including the Council of Europe ; and further believes that the long term future peace and prosperity of the continent depends upon the evolution of the European Union into an organisation deserving of the whole-hearted confidence, respect and support of the peoples of the Member States and also the rest of the world.

As I look around the Chamber of the House of Commons, even on a Tuesday and a Thursday, I find that very few people are left in the House who have been staunch Europeans for as long as I have. The reason is obvious. I was born in 1925. In 1940 and 1941, from the age of 14, I served as an air raid messenger in London during the Blitz. I joined the Army at the age of 16 in 1942. I fought through France, Germany, Holland and Belgium in 1944 and 1945, and I have vivid memories of those days and of the horrors of that war.

However, the horrors of that war were surpassed, in my mind, by the immediate aftermath of that war in Europe. I watched concentration camps being opened up. I saw millions of displaced persons moving about our continent, starving, lost, having nowhere to go, and above all--I am ashamed now at the fact that our Governments knew no better and we knew no better on the ground--we played our part in rounding up those displaced persons who were nominally described as citizens of the then Soviet empire and shipping them back, often at the point of the gun, to a country where they would inevitably land up either in a death camp or in a gulag camp where they would serve 20 or 25 years for no other reason than that they had been in Germany and had seen another world which others in the Soviet Union had not experienced. So in the 1940s and 1950s I and my generation and the generation before us said, "Never again", and out of that will and determination came the firm idea that we would bring the nation states of Europe closer together and create a prosperous and more peaceful Europe. I supported that concept from the beginning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), who has joined us in the Chamber, will know that I founded the Conservative group for Europe with the late Lord Beamish, who was a great figure in this House before he went to another place. I also served for eight years in the European Parliament and was Chief Whip of our group for five years, when I had occasional brushes with my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East--usually pleasant ones. How far have we gone in achieving what we all set out to do in the 1940s and 1950s ? If we are to have a prosperous, peaceful and influential Europe, it is essential that the Community enjoys the whole- hearted support, confidence and respect of the peoples of our Community. Let me list some of my worries. I have accepted--we have all had to accept- -the changeover from our being a European Community to a European Union, but I do not like it. The Maastricht treaty may say that that changeover must take place, but European "Community" has a good feel to it. It implies a community of individuals working together for the good of that community. I do not like the idea of a "Union" because it implies not only a trade union,

Column 1292

which can sometimes be a difficult organisation to work with, but forcing people into a union of which they do not want to be part. May I illustrate the difference between the Community as the Euro-enthusiasts see it and the reality of the Community on the ground ? I imagine that a chairman of a major company in this country would sit down at a board meeting knowing that all the directors on the board have one aim in mind--to work whole-heartedly and single-mindedly to ensure that the company improves and grows more prosperous and profitable for the shareholders.

Let us contrast that with the average meeting of the European Union. Whoever holds the presidency of the European Union knows that when he attends a Council of Ministers or Heads of Government meeting, individuals round the table are not single minded in their support for the Union, but are serving two masters. They are serving the Union, but they are also looking over their shoulder at their other master, which is their national interests and their individual interests within their nation state.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : My hon. Friend kindly referred to me in the context of the Conservative group for Europe. I think that I succeeded my hon. Friend as chairman of that group. I agree with some of what he has said, but the Union is at an early stage and will evolve gradually. We are only at the beginning of implementing the treaty. Does he agree that part of the problem is the excessive nationalism that still resides among individual member states ? I mean not patriotism but nationalism. The best way to overcome those difficulties of separation or dislike from a historical standpoint is for both the European Parliament and individual national Parliaments to work together to promote the Union.

Sir Spicer : My hon. Friend is right. It is a problem and in my view it is insoluble. I shall tell my hon. Friend exactly why. In the past two years, the Danes have held a referendum. It was clear that the Danish Prime Minister looked over his shoulder and was given a clear message by the people of Denmark. There was a French referendum through which the President was almost given the same message by the people of France. We are now in 1994. Is my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East is saying that Chancellor Ko"hl in Germany is not thinking far more about the elections in November than he is about what is happening on the European scene ? Everything that he does while sitting around the European table is absolutely dedicated to creating the right atmosphere for his party and for his individual stance back at home, which is perfectly human.

Next year there are presidential elections in France. Is my hon. Friend saying that a French President or a French Prime Minister is not already embarking on a campaign of fighting France's corner up to the line and to the exclusion of all other interests ? That is the reality. Perhaps we wish that it was not, but I am sad to say that it is and will remain so because of the question of serving two masters.

If we are to have a prosperous Europe with low unemployment, it cannot be achieved in isolation from the rest of the world. We cannot construct a cocoon in which we in Europe have our social chapter, with ever-rising standards for our people, with low unemployment, increased productivity and all the good things coming through, while the rest of the world is in a position of, year after year, competing with us much more favourably.

Column 1293

Last September, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wrote an excellent article in The Economist which drew attention to that particular point. He said that European labour costs had risen by 4 per cent. during the 1980s and that elsewhere they had not risen at all. He highlighted the fact that expenditure on social services and health in the Community was more than double that of the rest of the industrial world and said that that gap was increasingly widening. It is impossible for us to compete with the rest of the world. I wonder how many hon. Members saw a programme on BBC 2 on Saturday night about China called "The Giant Awakes". It illustrated the sort of competition that we can expect in the years ahead. The BBC hand-out about the programme said :

"In the centre of the Pearl River, the People's Liberation Army has joined the rush for wealth--their new factory, manned by 7,000 teenage peasant girls and dubbed Virgin Island, churns out millions of cheap pairs of shoes monthly and is already rocking the world's shoe industry. The teenage girls work 10-hour shifts, six days a week, for £20 a month. We run the factory through discipline and love,' announced the general in charge. That means drill sessions, marching to the canteen, pep talks . . . and dancing at the factory disco." It was a frightening programme. However, it illustrates exactly what we are up against. It becomes even more frightening when one realises that they are so pragmatic about the way in which that factory is run and that the main person involved comes from Taiwan, is in charge of all production and has invested a great deal of money on mainland China.

I wonder whether that lesson is wasted on Opposition Members ? I suspect that it is, because liberals and socialists are enthusiastic about signing up to a social contract, which will raise expectations of ever-better working conditions and higher wages, regardless of our competitors in the world. That is totally irresponsible and will do this country and our people no service in the future.

More generally, may I quote two words used by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade when he spoke about Europe the other day ? He said that we were facing "European sclerosis". That is true. Time and again, one sees examples of how Europe is not going the down the road which those of us who are staunch supporters of a European identity would wish it to travel. There are ever more costly regulations and in many cases they are not being implemented by all the nation states that signed the directive involved. An article in The Economist clearly says :

"Unfortunately, most governments find it easier to pass laws than to respect their letter or spirit. Every year the commission gets roughly a thousand complaints against governments for restraining trade. The commission's usual response is to start infringement proceedings', which may, after a couple of years, end up in the European Court."

What happens during those two years while the Court is dealing with an infringement ? Does the nation state continue totally to ignore the directive and its substance, which it signed up to ? I sincerely hope not.

I can illustrate that much better by talking about the water directives. The United Kingdom is the only country in the Community that implements the water directives in full. In that context, if not only the water directives but all the directives are to be implemented, it is essential that we have better and proper policing which is not left to the national state but is dealt with by the Community as a whole.

Column 1294

The future in terms of the advance of joint foreign policy and defence is a major problem, especially when there is no longer any external threat. There is an increasing likelihood that nation states will go their own way and follow their own national interests. I do not want to go into the details of how we got into the appalling situation in Yugoslavia. However, there are certainly some member states of the European Union--as I must call it now--that bear a heavy responsibility for the situation that exists today.

When we are talking about defence, the average person in the Community can see little relevance in the establishment of a German-French joint brigade. What purpose can that brigade perform outside the Community ? If there is a need for troops to operate outside the Community for any purposes in Yugoslavia or anywhere else in the future, the German component of the brigade would have to draw stumps and say that the French can go but the Germans cannot, and all the integration that has been built into the brigade would fall apart overnight. The concept of a brigade is idealistic and does not have any bearing on where we are and where we should be going. I shall say what we should be addressing if we wish to create a Community that will command whole-hearted support. I refer first to the Bruges speech by Baroness Thatcher when she was the leader of the Tory party. At the core of that speech was this question : "How are we to reform European institutions so that they provide for the diversity of post Communist Europe and are truly democratic ?"

That question remains unanswered today and it is one which all of us must address.

I shall conclude by quoting the response given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in an article on 23 September 1993. He said :

"It is for nations to build Europe, not for Europe to attempt to supersede nations. I want to see the Community become a wide union, embracing the whole of democratic Europe, in a single market and with common security arrangements firmly linked to NATO. I want to see a competitive and confident Europe, generating jobs for its citizens and choices for its consumers. A community which ceases to nibble at national freedoms, and so commands the enthusiasm of its Member Nations (and peoples).

Such a community would be a more genuine and lasting European union than anything we have now. It offers peace. It promotes security. It widens free trade. It preserves and enhances infant democracies. It marches with the instincts of free people in free nations. It is an ambition for the new century that dwarfs the dreams of the founders of the Community. The Treaty of Rome is not a creed. It is an instrument. We must tune it to the times."

That statement unites every Conservative Member, and I know that it would strike a chord with many Opposition Members if they were allowed to express an independent opinion. They would not do that at this time for fear of offending their Whips. The views are in line with French and Danish opinion, and now--most notably in my view--with the views being expressed by the possible future German leader, Mr. Schauble. He has made it clear that he believes in a Community of nation states, not a Community that is dominated by Brussels. That is not the view of the Opposition. As we move towards the European elections in June, I hope that the distinction between the views of the Government and those of the Opposition will become clear to the people of this country, and that they will vote accordingly.

Column 1295

2.6 pm

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : I start by congratulating my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander) and for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) on achieving the two debates. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West on the sentiments that he has just expressed. My hon. Friends had two advantages over me--they scored above me in the ballot for motions and, as you may recall, Madam Deputy Speaker, their names were legible to Madam Speaker, whereas she had some difficulty reading mine. I have taken Madam Speaker's warnings to heart.

In a few weeks, in this country and across western Europe we shall commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-day. Unlike my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West, I was born a couple of months after D-day. I do not want to enter into the debate as to whether the Germans should be present at that commemoration. If they were, it would mark emphatically that the commemoration was a way of celebrating the present peace, unity and strength. We would be looking forward, instead of looking back. It is right to look back, but there is a case for celebrating the present.

After the war in 1918, there were less happy developments which led inevitably to a further European conflagration. After 1945, the victorious powers were much wiser. There was the generous and imaginative gesture of Marshall aid, following the speech by General Marshall at Harvard in June 1947. There was the imaginative speech from Winston Churchill about a European union at Zurich in September 1946.

I have been involved and interested in those developments through my work before entering the House of editing the diaries and letters of Leopold Amery, the father of the noble Lord Amery of Lustleigh. I read in the diaries how, as early as November 1945, Amery wrote to Churchill :

"There is only one way of limiting Russian demands and that is . . . for the future, build up some sort of European Union or Commonwealth"

Amery used the vital word commonwealth, which has much a more attractive resonance to us in this country than the term union-- "that can hold its own against Russia . . . So long as Europe remains Balkanised, European countries will be tempted to look to outside patrons in every quarrel, while the outside patrons will consciously or unconsciously tend to foment their quarrels. In the end it will come to a final struggle between the patrons. A European Commonwealth is something that can hold its own with Russia and figure, much more genuinely than China or France alone, as one of the real world powers."

Amery was a great British Commonwealth man but in the last years of his life--he died in 1955--he worked with Churchill on early attempts to develop a European commonwealth.

Earlier, we debated institutions that predate the treaty of Rome and the European Community as we know it now. Amery welcomed Churchill's speech at Zurich a year later, commenting that although Churchill may not have been altogether wise in putting the Franco-German partnership in the forefront,

"he is absolutely right about it, and the idea will presently sink in."

We may reflect on whether, if Britain had been fully involved from the start in developing European institutions, it might have avoided some of the rigidity of the treaty of Rome which developed in the way that we

Column 1296

know. Britain was not involved in the Community during the 1950s. It twice attempted to become involved during the 1960s, but failed to enter the Community until 1973. By then, the bus had moved on and the EC had developed some of the rigid structures that have definitely caused this country certain difficulties.

I shall examine four aspects of the European Union. As to defence, perhaps I may commend my own motion on the Order Paper, which will not be debated but which contains various references to the fact that Britain still spends above average for NATO European countries because of our particular involvement in Europe and outside it. My motion also emphasises--I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West supports this--the need for equipment to aid the mobility of our forces together with those of our allies. My motion refers in particular to helicopters and the Westland Apache. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. Butterfill), who is in his place, also supports that.

Finally, on defence, the Government

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. The hon. Gentleman must not seek to make the remarks that he would have made if the third motion had been debated. He must relate them to the motion before the House.

Mr. Nicholson : I merely wanted to comment that in Bosnia, in which European Union states are much involved, we have the balance right--taking into account our interests, the need to establish a civilised community in Yugoslavia and public opinion. One extreme holds that Britain should provide more troops to fight in Bosnia, which I believe would be entirely wrong. The other extreme holds that we should wash our hands of the matter and have no involvement. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Defence have taken the right course, as recent developments bear out.

Our debates on Maastricht and current debates on local government reorganisation bring home to the public how many actual and potential tiers of government exist at European, national, regional--which Labour and the Liberal Democrats would like to develop, but which we would probably oppose --and local government level. I support the Government's attempts prudently to reduce bureaucracy and regulation in Europe as well as nationally. However, we should have regard to the sentiments, expressed in recent months in respect of over-regulation and over-administration from those various and sometimes conflicting tiers of government. I believe that counties are an effective means of communicating the needs of those communities to the European Union and that we would pursue a sorry path if we moved towards a regional tier which is the view of the Labour party. However, that is a matter for debate.

I intervened on my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) in relation to the European Court of Human Rights. I am concerned about the overriding of laws that we have deliberately passed in this House by reference to European institutions and, in particular, the European Court of Human Rights. Such overriding has occurred not when we have made accidental lapses, but when we have passed purposeful measures.

Column 1297

I received a letter this week from a constituent in the construction industry, drawing my attention to a report on the front page of the Daily Mail which stated that the Law Lords' judgment which brought Britain into line with the European Union on rights for part-time workers triggers the threat of redundancy pay demands back- dated up to 16 years. He said that that was a nightmare and the consequences of the development of such a nightmare have been described today.

Following that development, the Government had to concede to European pressure to boost maternity pay entitlements in line with a European Union directive. My constituent wrote :

"This is the European social chapter in by the back door. It will undoubtedly damage prospects for women in employment."

I commend to the Government the need to stand up against that. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) is present in the Chamber because he has a silent interest in employment matters. He will note carefully what I am saying.

Enlargement is at the centre of the present debate about qualified majority voting and the matters that my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is pursuing most skilfully in Brussels. Enormous damage would be done to the United Kingdom if we were seen to be placing obstacles or delays in the way of the entry of Norway, Sweden, Finland and Austria into the European Community. Those countries have much in common with us and the way in which they approach matters will be more in tune with how Britain approaches matters than some of the Mediterranean countries. Those countries have much in common with us for historical reasons : Norway is an ally in NATO and Sweden and Finland open up the Baltic and relations with the Baltic states. We would welcome a speedy resolution of that difficulty.

I do not want to comment further on that dispute, which was debated yesterday. If our partners were to be particularly stubborn and hostile in respect of some of the matters that lie between us, that would jeopardise Britain's ability to co-operate willingly in a positive and constructive way.

Having said that, there are people in this country--I hope that they are not on the Conservative Benches although it is up to my hon. Friends on the Euro-sceptic wing of the party to speak for themselves--in the press and elsewhere, and the article in The Times yesterday by Lord Rees-Mogg is an example of such thinking--who argue that it would be worth risking a few years of Government under the right hon. and learned Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) if, as a result, the Conservative party in opposition were not only to move to the right, which is what many of those people want, but to become hostile to recent developments in the European Community. I firmly believe that that would so badly damage and divide this party that it would thrust us out of office, perhaps for a decade. We have lessons to learn from what has happened to the Labour party since 1979. After 1979, the Labour party was overtaken by extraordinary insanity and extremism which have kept it from office for 15 years. I hope that people in the press who have been flogging the European issue so mercilessly over the past year--I believe that this is the main motive for so many elements of the press being so extraordinarily hostile to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister--will consider carefully how they represent these matters as the sort of thinking that I have described is extremely dangerous.

Column 1298

My hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West mentioned the European elections. If the country elects many Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates to the European Parliament, that will be greatly detrimental to the interests that my hon. Friend has set out, and which I have tried to pursue, of developing a European Community with which British people can be at ease--a European Community with low regulation and in which the various tiers of government can co-operate. Whatever happens in the elections, I am sure that any successes for the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties will be extremely damaging to our national interest and to the longer-term interests of our people.

2.20 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : I am grateful for catching your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, especially at such an early time of day. I previously spoke on a European matter at about 2 am. I did not speak for long then and I guarantee that I will not speak for long this afternoon.

We have heard many splendid contributions to this debate and the previous debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dorset, West (Sir J. Spicer) on initiating this debate today. It could not be more appropriate given that our Foreign Secretary is currently discussing the enlargement of the European Union. We have had today an excellent debate on Western European Union and the Council of Europe, two important institutions of Europe. As was said time and again by my hon. Friends in that debate, becoming a member of the Council of Europe is almost a stepping stone to applying to become a full member of the European Union.

At the moment, we are considering the question of four countries joining the European Union, but in future--perhaps the near future--we shall consider even more applications from countries to become full members of the European Union. The current debate on Norway, Austria, Sweden and Finland is vital to the future of other countries that may seek to join the European Union.

We have talked about the emerging democracies of the former Soviet Union becoming members of the Council of Europe. A Council of Europe report shows that nine countries have outstanding applications for membership : Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Albania, Andorra, Belarus, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In the future, such countries may apply to become members of the European Union. Who can say now which way things are likely to go ? I hope that in any future widening of the European Union, which we and perhaps Opposition Members want to see, we shall pay full attention to common sense. That is why I fully endorse the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Dorset, West and for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson), and the wording of the motion, which is full of common sense. It talks about a European Union with which people in this country and the rest of the world will feel comfortable and at ease. My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan) and I visited one of the European institutions the other day ; we went to see the new parliament building in Brussels. It is not finished yet, but I am sure that it will be in the near future. I sometimes lose track of how many parliament buildings we have around the European Union. In my time, I have been to the European Parliament in

Column 1299

Luxembourg and I have been to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. The new parliament building in Brussels is lavish. Strasbourg is now saying, "We can do better than that and we can build a brand new parliament building so that we shall not have to give up European Parliament sessions in Strasbourg."

So yet another parliament building is on offer. I sometimes wonder whether we should have one each. There are 12 member states ; if each had a parliament, we could meet there once a month. What will happen when there are 16 member states ? Can we not have some common sense in decisions on our institutions ? Such institutions are extremely expensive. People floating between Strasbourg and Brussels is expensive enough, and I hope that we shall consider establishing one parliament building to which everyone can go. I know that it would not be set up in the United Kingdom, so I am not bothered about where it would be located. Let the people concerned make up their minds on the matter.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Is not the problem that there is no agreement about the seat of the European Parliament because the Governments of the member states will never come to an agreement that will suit the Union ?

Mr. Evans : That may be the case, but it does not detract from the argument that the common-sense approach would be to knock a few heads together in the European Union and to decide where the European Union Parliament should be based. All the supporting institutions could be around it, so we would not have to float around the European Union, as we currently do, which is a waste of European taxpayers' money. That is the last thing that we as Conservatives want to happen. The common-sense side of subsidiarity allows member states far more say in what goes on in their country, if it does not impinge on other European Union countries. I want far more common sense to be applied.

We have heard some horror stories recently. My hon. Friend the Member for Taunton mentioned a subject on which, as he said, I am silent, but that does not mean that I do not have feelings about Brussels' decisions on it. There has been a proposal for a European plug, for example. I am sometimes exasperated by some of the Commission's proposals. It is almost as if it has to justify

Column 1300

its existence by continually coming up with ideas. But people in this country ask, "Why do we need to go down that route ?"

Mr. Dykes : It is part of the single market.

Mr. Evans : Yes, but we have had our present plug and socket system for many years. It can be proved that it is extremely safe and that it does not impinge on our fellow European Community member states. Another system may be more convenient for them, but if I were to accept the argument that we should all have the same plugs and sockets, before long we would all be speaking the same language and driving on the same side of the road. That may be the direction in which my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) would like to lead us, but the vast majority of people in this country would not support that. Let us have some common sense in the rules and regulations emanating from Brussels so that we can feel more comfortable about supporting them.

My constituents and the majority of my Conservative colleagues are extremely pleased with the Foreign Secretary's policy on qualified majority voting. In the past few years, far more issues have been settled by qualified majority voting. That may have been right. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East said that problems would arise if each member state could block proposals just by saying no and that we would not get anywhere. The blocking measure is important to protect the interests of this country in certain sectors and it should be retained.

If future qualified majority voting extended to 27 countries as opposed to 23, it would be more difficult for us to block the application of European Community legislation to Britain. In that case, we should hold back for a while. An intergovernmental conference will be held in 1996, so I cannot understand for the life of me why there is such pressure to decide on QMV by Tuesday. The four countries that will join the European Union will be net contributors, so I should imagine that all the members of the Union would like them to join. If the decision on QMV were deferred until 1996, at least we should have time to reflect and to ensure that we got it right. We should have a full 12 months to discuss how QMV should work and we should then be able to judge whether any alterations should be made to it.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Column 1301

Orders of the Day


Read a Second time .

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.--[ Mr.Butterfill .]

Bill immediately considered in Committee ; reported, without amendment ; read the Third time, and passed.


Order for Second Reading read .

Hon. Members : Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 15 April .

NURSERY EDUCATION (ASSESSMENT OF NEED) BILL -- Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Second Reading [ 18 February ].

Hon. Members : Object.

Debate further adjourned till Friday 15 April .


Ordered ,

That, in respect of the Insolvency (No.2) Bill and the Transport Police (Jurisdiction) Bill, notices of Amendments, new Clauses and new Schedules to be moved in Committee may be accepted by the Clerks at the Table before the Bills have been read a second time.--[ Mr. Arbuthnot .]


Ordered ,

That European Community Document No. 4616/94, relating to agricultural prices proposals 1994-95, shall not stand referred to European Standing Committee A.--[ Mr. Arbuthnot. ]

Column 1302

Edgware General Hospital

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Arbuthnot.]

2.33 pm

Mr. John Gorst (Hendon, North) : I am grateful for the opportunity to draw attention to the dismay caused in my constituency by the suggestion that one of the two Barnet hospitals, Edgware general hospital, should be closed. I am glad to see that my hon. Friends the Members for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes), and for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Brent, North (Sir R. Boyson) are here. They have neighbouring constituencies, will which be equally affected if the proposals are implemented. Edgware general hospital has been an important part of the north Hendon community for 65 years. During that time, it has steadily built a reputation for excellence in its treatment of patients and for the dedication and care of its staff. The hospital has now become an integral part of the community that it serves. It has become so much a part of the local scene that literally no one is prepared to contemplate its loss.

Many of my constituents feel that to be deprived of a facility such as their general hospital would be akin to Kew losing its gardens or Canterbury suddenly finding that its cathedral had been confiscated. That is the measure of how gravely my constituents regard the local health authority's proposal to deprive them of their hospital. Of course, tradition or sentiment do not of themselves provide justification for preserving an institution. One must respond to changing circumstances and, if need be, match them to new arrangements. Nevertheless, when matters are both profoundly disturbing and vastly expensive, we should be doubly certain that innovations are required.

My constituents feel, and I agree with them, that these changes involving the proposal to close Edgware general hospital are most definitely not necessary or desirable. They fail on every ground laid down by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he was Secretary of State for Health. At that time he said :

"a better national health service . . . means a service that always puts the patient first . . . in ways responsive to people's views." My constituents simply do not agree that the arguments for the closure of Edgware hospital do that. They do not meet the criterion of "putting patients first". How can one say that one is putting people first if, in the process, one is making them sick with anxiety because of what one is foisting on them ? How can one say that while ignoring every potential patient's objections ?

Public opinion apart, the closure does not stand up to examination on other grounds. Even the process of public consultation upon which its acceptance is supposed to be based has been inadequate--an inadequacy to which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East will attest.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : We are deeply grateful to my hon. Friend for his leadership and resolute determination in our campaign and many hours of meetings. We have all worked together under his leadership to save the hospital. Is not one of the most bizarre issues the fact that while there is heavy population density around the hospital, which makes it an ideal

Column 1303

location on the border between his constituency and mine, the local health authority's alternative proposal, Barnet hospital, is in a relatively rural underpopulated area ?

Mr. Gorst : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I thank him for the support that he has given to our endeavours to keep the hospital open.

While proclaiming a regard for public opinion, the so-called "consultation process" has been little more than window dressing. If there has been a success, it has been in uniting all sections of the community, and every shade of opinion within it, against a proposition that has the dubious distinction of never before having united so many people in such a concentrated area on a single subject with such universal hostility.

Young and old, left and right, doctors and patients--all have joined in a show of unparalleled opposition. More than 40,000 names have been collected and public protest meetings have drawn unprecedented audiences. Ordinary local residents, many of whom have never before protested about anything, let alone attended a public meeting, have gathered to express their indignation, astonishment or concern.

Sir Rhodes Boyson (Brent, North) : My hon. Friend's knowledge of my constituency is as wide as, if not wider than, that of his own constituency. I echo the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) about the leadership that my hon. Friend has given in attempting to keep the hospital open.

Throughout my constituency, there is considerable concern about this matter. Endless letters have been sent about it and concern has been expressed in small meetings in churches and elsewhere. I do not accept the Government's figures and their claims that beds have to be taken out of London hospitals. I think the figures are erroneous. The bed numbers in London are no better than those in the rest of the country.

Today, we are concentrating on saving the hospital and I hope that the Minister will assure the House at the end of the debate that it will be saved, otherwise this battle will increase. I think that throughout London

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes) : Order. Interventions should, by their nature, be short, particularly in a debate such as an Adjournment debate.

Sir Rhodes Boyson : I shall finish this thought and then sit down. I support my hon. Friend in all that he has said.

Mr. Gorst : I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend. Indeed, I will return to the point that he has made in a moment. I reiterate that the people who are protesting against this proposal are not rent-a-mobs of local trouble-makers. They are active business men, elderly pensioners and worried housewives--the sorts of people whom we are used to calling middle England.

Next Section

  Home Page