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Column 599and that that value will not be defined according to whether their area wins one of the competitions about which the Government continually talk.
Every fortnight, I buy my copy of The Big Issue from Elizabeth. She is an accredited seller of The Big Issue . Her stand is in the wind tunnel between the underground station and the gates that lead us to this House. She is in her late 70s. I said to her, "Elizabeth, why are you here ?" She said, "What better place should I stand and attempt to sell this magazine than cheek by jowl with the place where the decisions are taken which affect housing, homelessness and housing need ?"
I strongly urge the Minister to speak to Elizabeth and to acknowledge that the Government have done good things, but they are merely the tip of the iceberg. The Minister presented a programme that reminded me of the spotted dick puddings that we used to get in school : there was a great weight of mainly grey suet pudding with the odd raisin dotted here and there, covered by a glutinous, too-sweet syrup.
There is real poverty and real need in our inner cities. There may be social explosions if we do not acknowledge that now. It is no good Conservative Members criticising local authorities on housing, education and how they deal with crime when Conservative Members religiously walk through the Lobby to support the Government who have cut housing and education budgets and who will be reducing section 11 funding.
Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South) : It is one of the joys of a Friday that one comes to this place with a long speech and is then told that one can speak until approximately 2 pm. I will therefore be very brief and will comment on only two of the many speeches that we have heard today.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) complained about the impact of the uniform business rate on local business. The UBR was introduced so that local authorities could no longer make industrial deserts of themselves. Before the UBR was introduced in London, an industrialist thinking of setting up in Haringey or in Enfield knew that if he was foolish enough to go to Haringey the burden of local authority rates there would be much higher than it was in Enfield. Similarly, someone thinking of setting up a commercial operation in Lambeth or Wandsworth knew that he would pay very much more in rates in Lambeth than in Wandsworth. The uniform business rate was designed to destroy the evil impact on local industry of high-cost socialist local authorities.
The hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) lamented the abolition of the Inner London education authority. She failed to realise that ILEA destroyed the chances of a generation of children in London. It sent them into the world unqualified for jobs which their native skills should have enabled them to be qualified for. The quality of education delivered by the ILEA was an absolute scandal. Abolition of the ILEA is at last giving hope to the children of inner London that they may leave school with a chance to get a good job and have a prosperous and full future.
In debates such as this, it is traditional to complain about the level of public expenditure in the inner cities.
Column 600What is important is not the level of spending by local authorities but the way in which they spend money. For example, refuse collection in Hackney costs £33.90 per resident, whereas it costs £13.40 in the London borough of Barnet. That is an example of inefficiency. Rent arrears in Barnet are 4.3 per cent. of the rent roll ; in Hackney, they are 20.1 per cent., and they are 29.7 per cent. in Lambeth. It is no wonder that the local authority debt in Lambeth is £878 million, compared with £132 million in Barnet. That is inefficiency, incompetence, a refusal to collect debt and a refusal to disgorge assets that local authorities have had for far too long.
I could speak at length about the incompetence of Hackney council, but suffice it to say that 0.9 per cent. of the local authority housing stock in Barnet is vacant, whereas in Hackney it is 9.2 per cent., 10 times as much.
Incompetent, socialist local authorities have destroyed inner cities in London. They created the problems. They denied the residents of those cities the chance of decent education and decent housing, and they destroyed opportunities for the residents. They deserve to be kicked out bag and baggage in May from the positions that they have abused for far too long.
Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : This debate has been a tale of two cities : the reality of what has been happening in our cities over the past 15 years, as told to the House so eloquently in the excellent speeches of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) and my hon. Friends the Members for Leeds, East (Mr. Mudie), for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott) and for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson) ; and the other cities that Tory Members such as the hon. Member for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall) seem to believe exist.
"What I saw was a city in which the smoke was everywhere. It smelled of burning wire and plastic. The smoke was so thick that it obscured the lights of a helicopter circling directly overhead. Sirens screamed every few seconds as strike teams of fire engines escorted by California Highway patrol cars--literally convoys of twenty vehicles, the patrol cars to protect the fire-fighters--raced from one fire to the next".
That graphic description of Los Angeles in the spring of 1992 was seen by the current United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros. That is not the sort of tale that we wish to be able to recount at first hand about inner-city Britain. The truth is that our inner cities may not be so far away from that appalling scenario. Our cities have been ravaged because of a lack of guidance, support and leadership from the Conservative Government. This is Britain in 1994 : the British National party--a fascist party--has a council seat in Millwall ; drugs and crime are out of control ; our prisons are overflowing ; policemen are shot in broad daylight in cold blood ; people are kicked to death on our streets ; and people are forced to live on the streets. That is the unfortunate reality of life in Britain, and the ultimate blame rests with the Government.
Since the Conservatives took office in 1979, our cities have had to contend with different inner-city policies being launched at a rate of more than one a year--my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson) has already listed them--but still the decay goes on.
This is the first debate on inner cities since the Government decided to abolish the urban programme. We
Column 601come to lament the urban programme ; they come to bury it. There was not one word in the Minister's speech about the successes and achievements of that programme--one policy which, for a generation, provided much-needed funds and support for our inner cities. The roots of that policy go back a long way, from a speech made by the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson in May 1968, to the changes announced in April 1977 by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Stepney (Mr. Shore), with advice from my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw), through to when the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine) confirmed the Government's commitment to improve the inner cities in 1979. The right hon. Gentleman was then prepared to lavish praise on the urban programme which was devised by a Labour Government and was readily acceptable to, and accepted by, Conservative Governments. That was the case until 1 December 1993, when the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction said :
"As the hon. Member knows, the urban programme is being phased out".--[ Official Report , 1 December 1993 ; Vol. 233, c. 1032.] That shock announcement contradicted his superior, the Secretary of State, who proclaimed on 24 January 1993 that the urban programme had not been abolished.
Ministers for inner cities move on just in time to avoid answering questions on policies that have suddenly disappeared. The bodies of old inner-city policies must be holding up the triple towers of the Department of the Environment in Marsham street. Out with the urban programme went 30,000 jobs, 70,000 training places and 9,000 schemes, which provided £250 million a year to our most deprived areas. Those were all destroyed when the Government abolished that long-held policy.
There was no more secure funding for inner-city areas and there was no consultation with the voluntary sector. There was not even a glance back at the lost partnership. That was the latest slur on our inner-city areas. Our cities now face a crisis in confidence, resources and management by the Government. All we get are half-baked schemes and broken promises. There is a deep wound at the heart of our urban society--as has been mentioned so passionately by my hon. Friends--and the bloody fingerprints that caused that deep wound are those of the Government. It is well that the Minister should examine his fingerprints as I say that.
The breakdown in society that can occur has been foretold in Millwall, as was mentioned in the debate. There, the politics of despair and frustration have taken a hold. It is only a small step from Canary wharf to the Isle of Dogs. How can a party that propagates hatred and bigotry have a councillor elected in an inner-city ward in Britain in 1994 ?
The reason is shamefully obvious. People in that area have been forgotten for far too long by central Government and they are not receiving the help that they so desperately need. There is an absence of hope, and I saw that for myself on Monday when I visited residents and tenants in Tower Hamlets with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn.
The vulnerable have suddenly become scapegoats. The division of ethnic groups on racial grounds in inner-city areas must be stopped at all costs. That is why the Labour party has campaigned strongly against the cutting of section 11 grants. Cutting section 11 will solve none of the
Column 602budget problems which are so pressing and will only lead to increased friction. That will place an even greater strain on inner-city schools.
There is also a responsibility on the Liberal Democrat party in Tower Hamlets. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Mr. Maclennan) did not take the opportunity to condemn the way in which the Liberal Democrat party operated in Tower Hamlets. It is all very well for the leader of the Liberal Democratic party to lecture us on ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, but then we hear of the ethnic cleansing of council candidates who have been duly selected by the Liberal Democrat party.
I hope that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland, who is a decent man, will take this opportunity to condemn what his party has done in attempting to remove candidates on the ground of their race.
Mr. Maclennan : I regret the line taken by the hon. Gentleman, and I would accept his strictures with greater humility if he himself had shown a readiness in Leicester to condemn clear racist actions which have been taken in his own neighbourhood. The hon. Gentleman did not acknowledge the exhaustive analysis of the complaints that were made against certain councillors, or the self-criticism contained in the report by Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Those have been adopted by my party and amount to a brave admission of wrongdoing. It is a serious attempt--unlike that of the Labour party--to eliminate racism in politics in Tower Hamlets.
Mr. Vaz : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has not taken the opportunity to condemn members of his party. My views on recent events in Leicester are clearly set out in early-day motion 693, which I hope that he will sign. Other members of his party, such as the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), have signed that motion.
The term "cosmopolitan" used to imply all that was good about society in our inner-city areas : a wealth of different cultures and experiences coming together and joining to form a society that was more cultured and broad-minded than most. With our cultural diversity, we should be the most envied society in the world. Under the Conservative Government, our inner- city centres have become the most pitied.
Crime and the fear of crime are the most serious blights on our inner cities. That is no wonder when we consider that car crime increased by 156 per cent. between 1979 and 1992. Burglaries have increased 163 per cent. in the same period. Drug abuse has increased fivefold since 1982. Drug-related crime has also increased by a staggering 153 per cent. since 1982. What a pity that the Minister did not take the opportunity of the debate to support the excellent work that is being done by the hon. Member for Finchley (Mr. Booth) in promoting the Bill of which I am a sponsor.
People are being increasingly marginalised and left to adopt increasingly extreme measures to protect themselves and their families. The time when private security guards protect those who can afford it, leaving the less wealthy stranded in lawless ghettos may no longer be the stuff of science fiction if the Conservative party continues with its present policies.
The hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) rightly raised the alarming conclusions of an Association of London Authorities report published today entitled "At a premium". It highlighted the fact that insurance companies
Column 603are restricting the amount of insurance that they give to inner-city businesses and homes and that there are certain places in our inner cities that they are not prepared to insure. That is an indictment of the way in which the Government's policy has operated in the past 15 years.
Mr. Kaufman : Is my hon. Friend aware that one of my constituents, whose business has been the subject of malicious damage on racial grounds, has been told by his insurers that malicious damage will be removed from his policy forthwith ?
We need to restore civic pride and leadership to our inner cities, not the city pride initiative that the Secretary of State launched so recently. That is just another cheap gimmick launched by the Government in a vain attempt to show that they are doing something for our inner cities and the people who live there. The Government have spent 15 years robbing our major cities of their money, dignity and pride. Now they want to give it back.
City pride involves only three cities : London, which does not have an elected strategic government, Labour Manchester and Labour Birmingham, which was recently pilloried by Ministers for investing in its future and the future of its people. The burning question for the cities involved, and certainly for Opposition Members, is what extra resources the Government intend to provide for the cities that participate in the scheme. I can tell the Minister the answer. We have been told in replies to parliamentary questions. The answer is none. Not an extra penny of resources will be made available for city pride. One wonders why the Secretary of State launched the initiative in the first place.
It is surprising that the Secretary of State could name only three cities in Britain which he said had an international reputation. What nonsense. What an insult to all the metropolitan areas such as Leeds, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, East, the international reputation of which is beyond question. The reality of Conservative policy for our cities is limited scope, limited investment and limited vision.
Then there is city challenge, heralded as the great hope for our urban areas and abandoned after only two rounds. City challenge turned the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) into the Hughie Green of regeneration policy. It was an "Opportunity Knocks" policy, with very few winners and many losers. Labour Members support the idea of funds being made available for inner-city areas, but we cannot accept the fact that there were so few winners in the game show and that the funds made available were so few and under such tight restrictions.
Nigel Smith of Drivers Jonas, a chartered surveyors firm with a great deal of experience in this area, has said of city challenge : "It is annuality gone mad".
The effect of the extreme regulations surrounding city challenge winners is that the best scheme does not always receive the funding it requires. The Government seem to have adopted the attitude that if a policy can be launched
Column 604in a blaze of glory, then do it, regardless of its real effects and without consideration for those struggling to improve our inner-city environments.
The Labour party also rejects the notion that towns and cities should have to compete with each other for limited and valuable funds. How can it be right that Liverpool should compete with Bristol, Salford and Plymouth and that Leicester should compete with Luton, Leeds and Manchester ?
At last, we have the single regeneration budget. That is finally an acceptance by the Conservative party of what the Labour party has said for years : the time for a co-ordination of Government policies on inner cities has surely come. Labour has been campaigning for many years for an integrated regeneration policy. However, as with all other good ideas from this side of the House that the Conservative party pilfers, its implementation causes us great concern. The reality is that Derby, Nottingham and Leicester, for example, which, under the urban programme alone, received £12 million will now have to compete with the rest of the east midlands area for a slice of the £100 million budget. That equates to £10 million for the entire east midlands pot. A large proportion of the agencies active in regeneration are small and have no experience of competing for funds, especially where the allocation decision rests ultimately with Ministers. The number of bidders has vastly increased and the pivotal role for local authorities has been callously disregarded. People are leaving our cities at the rate of 4 million every five years. According to a recent survey, a further 30 million people would like to leave them. Community groups and voluntary organisations must be fully involved in the decision-making process about regeneration initiatives. The success of the programme in the most deprived areas is also dependent on the index of urban conditions being used to ensure that areas of multi- deprivation remain the focus for attention. It seems that the single regeneration budget is now to be a scaled-down version of city challenge, with less funds and fewer winners.
Is it not strange that we heard nothing in the Minister's speech about the so-called capital receipts holiday ? The time limit on the release of receipts was a cynical move by the Government, as it forced local authorities into a hopeless situation. We support local authorities being able to use their capital receipts, but we cannot agree with the time limit.
Local authorities had to sell as much as they could in an attempt to protect front-line services because of the cut in their standard spending assessments. However, they attempted to sell at a time when the market was at its most depressed. The year time scale meant that those buying from the authorities were in a very strong position, which partly explains why the authorities failed to raise the figures expected.
The 57 urban programme authorities were told by the Treasury that they would be able to cover the cut in the urban programme, plus the cut in standard spending assessments with the funds that they would raise from the sale of their investments. I have conducted a survey, and the truth is that not one of the authorities that have responded to my survey have been able to cover even the cut in their SSAs, let alone divert funds into the urban programme projects.
Column 605In total, 23 urban programme areas that responded faced a deficit of more than £24 million in their regeneration budgets alone. These areas are already, by definition, the most needy. Stealing from them, as the Government have sought to do, has hastened the decline in their infrastructure and has led to greater environmental degeneration--facts for which this Government are alone responsible. The hopes and aspirations of those directly involved in urban regeneration are not lost for ever. I recently returned from the United States, where I met people involved with the creation and implementation of President Clinton's urban regeneration policy. The meetings included some at the Housing and Urban Development Department, where I spoke with Secretary Cisneros's advisers. To ensure that I got a balanced view and did not overlook any of the main agents, I spoke to members of the Centre for Community Change and people who were implementing the policies.
I found a real feeling of hope and excitement for the future there. After a decade of neglect and decay under Presidents Reagan and Bush, cities are finally back on the political agenda. The new Administration, under even tighter financial constraints than those in this country, are investing real money in inner cities. Nearly $900 million is being provided for 104 cities, six of which will get $100 million each, to be spent without federal Government interference in 10 years. That massive investment runs concurrently with--not instead of--existing Administration policies. The Administration are relaxing existing legislation to free funds that are already available.
As we are told, however, money is not everything. As well as that massive investment programme, the Clinton Administration are changing the emphasis for regeneration policy. From the President down, agencies have given their backing and support to regeneration schemes. As a result, the private sector is very excited by the prospect and is waiting, cheque book in hand, to become involved. At last, the Americans have an Administration who are prepared to act and to listen.
The private sector in Britain is a valued partner in regeneration policy, but Conservative Members must realise that it has had enough of the Government's tired and discredited policies. If they need any reminder that their policies are failing, the Minister and Conservative Members should read the speech by the director general of the Confederation of British Industry last week. He commented on the Government's attitude to local authorities. Howard Davies is not the first person in the private sector to speak out against Government policies, but merely the latest in a long and illustrious line that includes the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, which stated that
"the role of local authorities and the work they undertake is vital. Policies need to be developed which will encourage local authorities to see the agency as a welcome partner, rather than an hinderance imposed from outside."
The Institute of Directors, the British Urban Regeneration Agency and other organisations have been ready to support the view that the Government must ensure that regeneration policies are planned properly.
If the Government do not care about the views of the private sector, they care even less for those of the voluntary sector. For the past 15 years, that sector has largely been ignored. Regardless of that blanking by central
Column 606Government, it has continued to grow in importance. It is vital for the voluntary sector to be allowed to play a full part in ensuring proper regeneration of our inner cities.
We have heard a lot from Conservative Members about certain Labour- controlled councils. I shall not waste the time of the House by reading out the Conservative list of shame, which includes Brent and Ealing councils. In Brent, council rents have increased by 71 per cent. and the rent arrears, at a staggering 34.4 per cent., are the worst in the country. There has been a 27 per cent. fall in the number of elderly people receiving home helps and a Tory councillor's car loan of £6,500 was written off and no action was taken. In Ealing, £16,000 of council tenants' money was squandered in an aborted attempt to sell council housing and council rents have increased 118 per cent. under the Conservatives. For three years, Ealing has failed in its bids for European funding. The list goes on, but I have heavily edited it in view of the amount of time available.
It is no wonder that people in our inner cities are turning to the Labour party. The House will have heard about the splendid result in Quinton ward in Birmingham, where the Rev. Richard Bashford won the seat last night with a massive majority of 300 votes. It is the first time that the Labour party has won that seat. That is a tribute to the excellent work of Theresa Stewart, the leader of Birmingham city council, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones).
Our inner cities will either follow the American example, which has led to social fracture and anarchy, or take the path of the European city. Labour intends to tackle the problems of our inner cities head-on. That is why we established City 2020, an inquiry into our urban areas. The inquiry has visited 15 urban areas in the past six months and will visit a further 30 before November, because we do not feel that it is possible to develop a coherent effective strategy for our cities without consulting the people involved in the regeneration process. The committee is considering not only the ways in which urban policy has failed, but the success stories--the examples of good Labour councils throughout the country. It was Manchester, a Labour council, which put in an excellent bid for the Olympic games. Yesterday, I was in Greenwich and Lewisham. In Lewisham, I saw, in the shape of the Lewisham 2000 initiative, a bold and imaginative attempt to unclog an inner-city area. In Greenwich, I saw evidence of a good Labour council working with the private sector through the Waterfront Partnership. I also heard of Greenwich's plans to be the centre of the millennium celebrations. What better place can there be in the world for those celebrations than the place where time itself is measured ? I urge the Minister to support that venture, which will be a tremendous boost, not only for London, but for the country. Which authority can match the municipal drive and imagination of Birmingham, Sheffield and Leeds ? Even the Government have shown they have had to swallow their pride and praise Labour councils. The Home Secretary mentioned Birmingham's crime-fighting initiatives and the Minister for Housing, Inner Cities and Construction praised Birmingham's housing policy. Those councils are not exceptions, but are members of a great and illustrious club, of which cities such as Coventry, Liverpool, Leicester, Nottingham, Bristol, Leeds, Newcastle, Plymouth and Labour London are members. All have undertaken excellent schemes.
Column 607The Labour party proposes a new Magna Carta for our cities, encouraging civic entrepreneurship. Municipal leaders are waiting to take up the challenge to clear derelict land sites, construct new buildings, encourage the private sector to invest, create jobs, provide training opportunities, establish confidence in the area, build or enhance cultural amenities, promote an efficient transport infrastructure and confirm the international importance of their city. It will be a real partnership of equals. [Interruption.] The Minister may shout, but he spoke for 66 minutes. In that partnership, local authorities, the voluntary sector and the private sector will work together to improve our urban areas effectively.
No solutions can be imposed from above. Communities have to be empowered. Local people must realise that they have a stake in their environment. It has to belong to them. Ministers cannot, and must not, be allowed to adopt the Pontius Pilate attitude to inner-city problems. It cannot be left to the Church of England alone to have faith in our cities.
Our cities will have a major role to play, economically and socially, in the new global marketplace--one which will take them forward into the next millennium, prepared and ready to compete with not only the best in Europe, but the best in the world. The evidence is all around us. There is a new consensus for change. We have a good history of municipal leadership and the civic leaders in Britain are ready to take up that challenge.
Mr. Baldry : The House will notice that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) has given me only three minutes to respond to the debate, so I apologise to my hon. Friends if I am not able to respond in the way I should have liked.
We heard some excellent speeches from my hon. Friends the Members for Finchley (Mr. Booth), for Croydon, South (Mr. Ottaway), for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr. Hargreaves), for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey), for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan) and for Hendon, South (Mr. Marshall). Those speeches are worth reading and re-reading. My hon. Friends spoke with concern, knowledge and commitment.
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, North (Mr. Henderson), who introduced the Opposition's approach to
Column 608inner-city policy, put up three tests. He said that there should be a test on the economy, on planning and on co- ordination. I am happy to accept those tests.
It is obvious that the economy is moving from strength to strength. Unemployment decreased by 38,000 in the month to February. The unemployment rate is at its lowest since July 1992, and in the past six months unemployment has decreased by an average of more than 28, 000 a month. Unemployment is reducing and the number of people in employment is increasing.
In February alone, the volume of retail sales was 2.5 per cent. above the previous year's level. Manufacturing productivity rose by 3 per cent. in the year to 1994. Some Opposition Members were scathing about the construction industry, but total orders received by contractors for construction work in the three months to January were 16 per cent. higher than in the previous three months and 30 per cent. higher than in the same period a year earlier.
I am happy to accept any challenge put to the Government on the economy, because we are one of the few countries in the developed world that are moving out of recession and into recovery. The hon. Member for Leicester, East cannot have been listening when I described our new planning policies. My hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham also set those out clearly. New planning for town centres, retail developments, transport and the environment are all intended to ensure the regeneration
It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put .
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, at the sitting on Tuesday 29th March, notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Speaker shall
(1) put the Question necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Mr. Secretary Gummer relating to Rating and Valuation not later than one and a half hours after their commencement ; and
(2) put the Questions necessary to dispose of proceedings on the Motion in the name of Sir Fergus Montgomery relating to Northern Ireland Affairs not later than one and a half hours after their commencement ; such Questions shall include the Questions on any Amendments to the said Motion which she may have selected and which may then be moved ; notwithstanding the practice of the House the said Motion shall be regarded as a single Motion :
and the above proceedings may be entered upon and proceeded with, though opposed, after Ten o'clock.-- [Mr. Conway.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Conway.]
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South) : I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak on this subject. In a curious way, it stems from two Ministers : the Minister of State for the Armed Forces, who claimed that there was parliamentary accountability for Menwith Hill station ; and the Minister for Public Transport, who found Menwith Hill station so secret that he was not even aware of it when he was a Minister at the Ministry of Defence and thought that it was a railway station. In a recent debate, he astonishingly said that his civil servants had prepared him to reply to this Adjournment debate and he then discovered that it was connected with the Ministry of Defence. The story of Menwith Hill begins in the public area, not with a ministerial statement, debate or planted parliamentary question in the mother of Parliaments. It began on 18 July 1980 when the New Statesman published an article by Duncan Campbell and Linda Melvern entitled
"The Billion Dollar Phone Tap--America's Big Ear in the Heart of Yorkshire".
To suggest, as the Minister has, that there is parliamentary accountability for that spy station in the Yorkshire hills is to torture the truth. Its establishment has been accompanied by lies, evasion, deceit and a persistent refusal by Ministers to provide proper information to elected representatives in this so-called mother of Parliaments. Indeed, the Minister of State for the Armed Forces has refused to allow Labour Members around the base. That is a curious change because in 1981 the former Secretary of State for Defence, Francis Pym, gave me permission to visit the base. The only qualification to that permission was a refusal to allow Duncan Campbell to accompany me because he knew something about the spying and procedures going on inside the base.
Parliamentary accountability is virtually non-existent. There is little point in asking questions when answers are refused. On 27 April 1988, I asked the Secretary of State for Defence
"if he will list the agreements authorising the use of Menwith Hill communications base, Harrogate, by the United States National Security Agency."
Mr. Ian Stewart replied :
"The use of Menwith Hill by the United States Department of Defence is subject to confidential arrangements between the United Kingdom and United States Government."--[ Official Report , 27 April 1988 ; Vol. 132, c. 203.]
I asked the same question on Thursday 19 July 1990. The then Minister of State said :
"I have nothing to add to the answer which my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, North (Mr. Stewart) gave to the hon. Member on 27 April 1988."--[ Official Report , 19 July 1990 ; Vol. 176, c. 654.]
I persisted again on Tuesday 16 June 1992 and asked the Secretary of State for Defence
"if he will list the agreements governing the use of Menwith Hill by the National Security Agency of the United States of America." The Minister replied :
"The use of Menwith Hill by the United States Department of Defence is subject to confidential arrangements between the United Kingdom and the United States Government."--[ Official Report , 16 June 1992 ; Vol. 209, c. 501.]
In other words, elected Members of Parliament are denied information on the appropriation of more than 200 acres of
Column 610land by the United States Government, who now run a spy station in the heart of our country which is linked up to a global network. That is inexcusable. If there is parliamentary accountability, the moon is made of green cheese.
The Menwith Hill story starts with the purchase in 1955 of a 246-acre farm on rural moors west of Harrogate. On 15 September 1960, after the expenditure of $6.8 million, the United States army security field station opened. On 1 August 1966, control of the station was transferred to the ostensibly civilian National Security Agency of America. Francis Raven, who was the chief of G group of United States army intelligence until 1975, claimed that the takeover occurred because the army resisted eavesdropping on diplomatic and economic targets. That claim can be found on page 209 of James Bamford's excellent work "Puzzle Palace". At least the Ministry of Defence is helpful in some respects. The copy of that book has disappeared from the House of Commons Library, so it secured one from the MOD library-- it was the only piece of useful information that the MOD has provided on the matter.
Menwith Hill is a spy station--a sophisticated version of the man in the dirty raincoat looking through a bedroom window or the pervert spying through a lavatory keyhole. Those who defend the station's invasion of our land, which has never been approved by Parliament, are no better. There is no glory or wonderful purpose involved in Menwith Hill. That is all the more true now that the cold war is over. Ministers justified the Menwith Hill base by saying it was part of the cold war, but we understand that that has finished. What is their justification for the spy station now ?
Yorkshire land has been taken from us to provide an eavesdropping centre that is virtually free from urban, electro-magnetic interference. That is why the station is sited at its current location. The station is part of a chain of such stations that span the globe. Their aim is to assert and retain United States supremacy. For example, exactly opposite to Menwith Hill, on the other side of the globe in a prohibited region in Australia stands the twin of Menwith Hill, Pine Gap station. When Menwith Hill opened, the United States air force security service listening post at Kirknewton near Edinburgh ceased operations and a former employee is quoted on page 210 of "Puzzle Palace" as saying :
"I had to keep a special watch for commercial traffic, details of commodities, what big companies were selling, like iron and steel and gas. Changes were frequent. One week I was asked to scan all traffic between Berlin and London and another week between Rome and Belgrade. Some weeks the list of words to watch for contained dozens of names of big companies. Some weeks I just had to look for commodities. All traffic"
-- interception material
"was sent back to Fort Meade in Washington."
Menwith Hill took over those functions and continued to pursue military eavesdropping.
Its spying grows. The cold war has ended, but the radomes number 21 after recent expansion. About 1,200 staff, who are mainly American, are employed there--the number has grown from 400 in 1980. United States staff are ordered never to mention the National Security Agency of America and to report all outside contacts with foreign nationals--the British people who live in the region--to ensure that supervision of such contacts is maintained. The base has a few carefully controlled public relations