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Mr. Newton : To those of us who lived through the period, the contrast that my hon. Friend mentioned is striking. That underlines the increasing success of the policies that the Government are pursuing.
Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside) : Will the Leader of the House please consider a debate on pollution in Liverpool bay and the Irish sea ? Does he know of the widespread concern about the increase in deformities of the limbs in new-born children ? A lobby is taking place on the
Column 1049matter. Does he accept my great concern regarding Mr. and Mrs. Parry, who live in the town of Buckley in my constituency, whose child has been affected in that way ?
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Can my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the construction industry in view of its excellent performance, especially when compared with the rest of Europe, and the important report that Sir Michael Latham is preparing on contractual arrangements within the industry ?
Mr. Newton : I cannot find immediate time for a debate, but I was here during Department of the Environment Question Time yesterday and heard references to that important report, as did my hon. Friend, and of the Government's intention to study it most carefully.
Mr. Terry Lewis (Worsley) : Will the Lord President consider a debate on the way in which we commemorate events such as D-day ? Many other events took place at around that time--they have been forgotten during the recent unseemly debate--including, for example, the fall of Monte Cassino after three months of bitter battle only three days before D-day. Veterans of that episode may feel a little left out of all the debate, which was caused by the Prime Minister's incompetence. May we have a debate on the issue ?
Mr. Newton : In his last sentence or two, the hon. Gentleman soured an otherwise reasonable question and I do not accept his view. While it is possible only to stage major commemorative events in response to events of the scale of D-day, we all agree that much was happening in many of those years that deserves our memory and certainly our thanks to the people involved, who fought on our behalf.
Mr. Gyles Brandreth (City of Chester) : Will my right hon. Friend find time next week for a debate on the press, in the light of reports in The Independent on Sunday and the Daily Mirror that branded part of my constituency--the fine community of Blacon--as a no-go area ? Those reports are a travesty of the truth and an insult to the good people of Blacon, who meet challenges with good humour, resilience and the will to overcome them. A fine community has been traduced by two national newspapers. May we have a debate next week to explore how newspapers can slander such communities without any justification ?
Mr. Newton : I cannot promise my hon. Friend a debate. I am glad that he has had an opportunity to mention the matter. I am grateful to him for giving me a copy of the press release that he has issued, which, I hope, will help to correct the impression created.
[ That this House notes with concern that blinkered ideology and the privatisation of last year's firework safety campaign has contributed to a rise in the number of injuries to over 1,000, a 20 year high ; notes that the Government ignored repeated warnings from safety experts and others that the privatised campaign would be a disaster ; notes that when civil servants ran the safety campaign firework
Column 1050injuries were less than 1,000 ; notes that the Government gave the contract to a French company subsidiary, Euro RSCG, and doubled the budget previously administered by civil servants to £160,000 ; notes that the Minister cancelled the key firework safety booklet, Safer Displays, against the advice of civil servants and to the consternation of Britain's fire chiefs ; notes that the fire posters produced by Euro RSCG were so poor that fire departments refused to circulate them and that television advertisements were so ineffective that they were cancelled ; calls on Euro RSCG to return the fee they received from the DTI and compensate the victims of firework injuries ; requests the National Audit Office and the Committee of Public Accounts to investigate how this campaign came to be privatised and why the spending of public money was so ineffective, and to make recommendations to ensure that future firework safety campaigns are run effectively by experienced civil servants and fire safety experts ; and regrets that Ministers are seeking to abolish the licensing of imported fireworks, thus putting the public at risk from potentially dangerous category 4 fireworks. ] ?
It describes the calamity of the privatisation of the firework safety campaign, which resulted in a double cost to that campaign by a foreign company. It produced material that was unusable and the result was the greatest number of fireworks casualties for 20 years. May we debate the Government's privatisation binge and decide that it has now come to an end, that they are scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that there is no way in which organisations such as Companies House, the Patent Office, the Accounts Services Agency and the Passport Office in my constituency can be sensibly privatised ?
Mr. Newton : I think that the hon. Gentleman was straining to get from the point with which he started to the point with which he finished, and I do not accept any general conclusion that he seeks to draw.
Mr. Rupert Allason (Torbay) : Bearing in mind that the objective of the terrorist is to create maximum disruption and inconvenience and provoke over-reaction, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the powers of the police in the City of London are due to be renewed shortly, and will he give the House an assurance that there will be a full debate on the counter -measures that have been taken in the City of London, which have created a great deal of disruption and can be described as having played into the hands of the terrorists ?
Mr. Newton : I hear what my hon. Friend says, although I have to say, as someone who travels pretty frequently through the City of London on the roads, that it does not seem to me that disruption has been on the scale that he suggests, or anything like it. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport, one of my colleagues principally involved in those matters, came into the Chamber while the question was being asked and I am sure that he will have noted what was said.
Mr. Bill Olner (Nuneaton) : The Leader of the House must be well aware of the injustices that continue to be perpetrated on my constituents and, I suspect, other Members' constituents, by the Child Support Agency. Will the right hon. Gentleman, as a matter of urgency, ask the Minister to come to the House to make a statement, or seek a debate in the House so that the matter can be
Column 1051reconsidered ? He must be aware of the tremendous injustices that are being perpetrated every day, causing undue anguish to hundreds of women and men.
Mr. Newton : I am sure that the hon. Gentleman was here, for example, during the last Department of Social Security questions, when many references were made to that, and my hon. and right hon. Friends said that they were keeping the matter under continuing review. He will also be aware that a Select Committee announced this week that it is undertaking further inquiries into the matter.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : I am sure that the Leader of the House is aware of your request, Madam Speaker, for short questions and short answers. Will the Leader of the House therefore ask the Prime Minister to set an example and, especially, next week ensure that he answers questions briefly and that if he wants to make statements he makes them at half-past 3, so that we can have a dignified debate about them ?
Mr. Newton : The Prime Minister this afternoon--if that is what the hon. Gentleman has in mind--was asked a clear question by the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition about the D-day celebrations and he answered it clearly and fully. The House is entitled to expect no less. I am sure that my right hon. Friend was right to do that.
[ That this House warmly congratulates Camden Council for its innovative initiatives to help blind or partially sighted residents to cast their votes in person in the forthcoming local elections and beyond ; welcomes, in particular, the introduction of a Braille template which will allow blind people to read the same information on candidates in each polling station throughout the borough as sighted residents ; further welcomes the introduction of ballot papers with enlarged print for people with partial sight or poor vision ; commends such initiatives to all councils which wish to ensure equal access to polling stations ; and gives its support to the umbrella group, Full Franchise, in its endeavours to persuade the Government to do its upmost to boost voter registration levels and access to polling stations for disabled people. ]
It compliments Camden council on action that it has taken to assist such voters to exercise their franchise rights, and compliments the organisation Full Franchise, which also seeks to get disabled people into polling stations. It would seem to be especially appropriate to debate it in the coming week, as we are moving into an election period.
Column 1052do all that they can to help in those matters and have issued guidance provided by the Royal National Institute for the Blind on the size and choice of typeface for ballot papers.
Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South) : May I join the Lord President in expressing sympathy to the family of Constable Pollock, but also extend it to all other victims of terrorism and their families at this time ?
Will the Lord President bear in mind next week's debate on the private Member's motion in the name of the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) and consider allowing free time in the House so that the mind of the House may be carried on the Civil Rights (Disabled People) Bill proposed by the hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) ?
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : May we have a debate next week about the spin-offs of privatisation, particularly the £2 billion worth of contracts that the public utilities have brought back in the past year or two from Latin America alone ? During that debate, we could reflect on the fact that had the Opposition been successful in defeating those privatisations, thousands of jobs in Britain would not have ensued.
Mr. Newton : That is certainly worth reflecting on, as is the fact that many of those orders and contracts have followed overseas visits by my right hon. and hon. Friends, not least my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) : If it is correct that Scotland has been excluded from the Energy Conservation Bill, which will receive its Third Reading tomorrow, what are the Government's intentions on energy conservation in Scotland ?
Mr. Newton : I think that the hon. Lady must be referring to an amendment tabled to the Bill. It is not a decision that the House has made and the right course would be for her to make her point in tomorrow's debate.
Mr. Alistair Darling (Edinburgh, Central) : May we have a statement or a debate on the proposed takeover of the Cheltenham and Gloucester building society by Lloyds bank ? Many people in the industry believe that it may be just the start of a spate of such takeovers. Unless the Government make a clear statement on the framework that will govern those takeovers, it is feared that competition and, therefore, choice available to the people of this country will be seriously diminished. It is a matter of public interest and we need a clear Government statement.
Mr. Newton : While I will draw those remarks to the attention of my right hon. Friends, I am sure that they will give appropriate consideration to any such matter in view of their responsibilities under the relevant legislation.
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. This matter relates to your role as the defender of Back-Bench Members and concerns whether oral questions are in order. On Tuesday this week, in answer to a question of mine seeking information, the Secretary of State for Employment said :
"I agree with that part of paragraph 78 of the Employment Select Committee's report published on 10 February which refers to the hon. Gentleman's question."--[ Official Report , 19 April 1994 ; Vol. 241, c. 734.]
Is it reasonable to expect even the most diligent hon. Member to be familiar with every part of every paragraph of every report of every Select Committee that has been before this House ? As you rightly call hon. Members to order when our questions are not entirely related to the original question, will you consider calling Ministers to order when their answers are irrelevant and evasive ?
Madam Speaker : The hon. Gentleman may ponder on whether it is possible for even the most diligent Speaker to be familiar with all the reports and printed questions that appear on the Order Paper. Had he given me notice of his question, I should have done research on it and been able to give him an answer. It is extremely difficult to refer to Hansard and various reports and, however diligent the Speaker may be, I cannot familiarise myself with all of those.
Mr. Peter Luff (Worcester) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You may have been aware of a certain commotion during Prime Minister's questions. A number of hon. Members became aware of what they thought was a flash from a camera in the Press Gallery. Will you conduct an urgent inquiry to establish whether that was the case ? Will you also take the opportunity to remind all those who observe our proceedings that still camera photography is not allowed in this place ?
Madam Speaker : I am always riveted by the proceedings in the Chamber and am not interested in what goes on elsewhere. However, I have interested myself in the matter and made inquiries. It was a foreign camera woman who did not understand our regulations and took some film. The film has since been confiscated. Is everybody happy ?
Mr. Robert Ainsworth (Coventry, North-East) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You have repeatedly made representations to hon. Members in the recent past for short questions and short answers. While I accept that you have a difficult job in trying to keep the House in order and I could even accept that, on occasions, it is necessary to treat the Prime Minister differently from other hon. Members, I do not believe that I am exaggerating when I say that the first answer that the Prime Minister gave to my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) this afternoon was a full two minutes in duration and his second reply was a full one and half minutes. When the tactics are clearly not to answer the questions, but to bore the House into submission, surely you can give us some protection.
Madam Speaker : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, I am not responsible for comments made by the Prime Minister or any other Member in the House. When questions are asked--I hope that they are not long questions--I like to see brisk answers. I would not have said that the Prime Minister's response was boring to any section of the House. I thought that both sides of the House were interested in what he said in response to a perfectly proper question.
Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I agree with you--I thought that both replies were interesting. They were so interesting that many of us wanted to ask many supplementary questions on them. That is why I seriously ask you to consider the following. You rightly say that Question Time should have cut and thrust, and fast repartee, with quick questions and quick responses. If the Prime Minister does as he did today and makes two important statements during Question Time, not only do we lose that cut and thrust, but we lose the opportunity to ask supplementary questions. It would be better if you could guide the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister to make statements at the appropriate time, rather than making them during Prime Minister's Question Time.
Madam Speaker : I am sure that the entire House gives me support in attempting to make good progress. I have been keeping records. Since I made my statement, things have improved. But this last week, as I mentioned the other day, I have been disappointed. I hope that what I have said will be taken on board by Back Benchers as well as Front Benchers in the coming week.
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : I beg to move, That this House deplores the Government's transport policies which are failing Britain and which, if continued, will leave the country with a transport system unfit to meet the needs of the people of Britain in the twenty-first century.
I must first declare an interest--I am proud to remind the House that I am sponsored as a Labour candidate by the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, formerly the National Union of Railwaymen, which tries to serve the interests of so many people who live and work in my constituency. It was the union of which both my father and grandfather were members, and I am proud to continue that link. I receive no personal financial assistance from that arrangement.
Over their period of office, the Tory Government have abandoned to market forces many of the strategic and regulatory duties carried out by previous Governments, and still carried out by most Governments in the developed world. Nowhere has that been more obvious than in the transport sector. The Government have tried to hand their responsibilities over to the private sector.
The trouble with that free market approach to transport is that it does not work. One reason is that most important transport projects are large in scale, require enormous amounts of investment and take a long time to complete, so it can be a long time before investors have any return on their investment.
That fact applies whether it is a railway, a tunnel, an airport or a road. As a result, would-be investors often want some guarantee of income, or a monopoly, or both. That is where the free market approach breaks down, because a guaranteed income or a lawful monopoly can be achieved only with the help of taxpayers and government, whether local, regional or national.
Mr. Oliver Heald (Hertfordshire, North) rose
That is not the only problem faced by those who would rely on market forces. [Hon. Members :-- "Give way."] I will give way when I have made a little progress with my speech. If hon. Members opposite persist in interrupting, I can assure them that I will not give way to them.
That is not the only problem faced by people who would rely on market forces in transport. Free market forces will not secure safety or protect individuals and communities from the danger, nuisance and environmental damage caused by various forms of transport. Government, whether local, regional or national, has to set and enforce limits and standards for noise, safety, engine emissions, or the skill and character of taxi drivers. In short, to ensure a
Column 1056decent transport system, we need a strategy, and we need regulation. The present Government have abandoned both, and the results are obvious.
Traffic congestion is estimated to cost businesses £15 billion per year--and that takes no account of the frustration faced by the human beings involved. Parts of the railway system are a national disgrace. Business is hampered by the difficulties of shifting freight, and passengers are hampered by the unavailability of fast, regular and reliable public transport.
Nowhere is the Government's failure to discharge their strategic duties more obvious than in the scandal of the channel tunnel rail link, and the failure to upgrade the west coast main line. The Government decided that the private sector should build the channel tunnel link. No public money was to be invested--they even passed a law against it.
But what has happened ? While the 186-mile fast link from the channel to Paris has been built and is ready, not a yard of the link between the channel tunnel and London has been built, although that is a distance of only 67 miles. As a result, the British link may not be in place until 10 years after the French connection is in operation. Trains from Paris will travel to the channel at 185 miles an hour, will go through the tunnel at 85 miles an hour and will then trundle though Kent at about 50 miles an hour. Could anything better epitomise what is wrong with Britain ?
The Secretary of State has boasted in the House that it will take only three hours to get from London to Paris on the train. So it will, but he can take no credit for that. If the train were to travel through France at the speed at which it travels through Britain, the journey would take not three hours but five and a half.
Then there is the Secretary of State's outrageous treatment of people on the route. He is still resisting the reasonable requests of the people at Pepper Hill in Gravesham. But the situation is worse than that after the route crosses the Thames.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) rose
Mr. Dobson : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. In Barking, before entering the tunnel running to my constituency, the Eurotrains will thunder past the houses of thousands of local people. I have met a woman whose house is just 12 in from the fence at the side of where the channel tunnel link will run. The trains through Barking will pass far closer to people's homes than was ever suggested anywhere in Kent. The people of Barking demand the same treatment as the people of Kent. They are right to demand it, and we support their demand.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Does the hon. Gentleman remember twitting the Secretary of State for not making a decision on Pepper Hill ? Had the Secretary of State made that decision, the line would have gone under the houses of my constituents, and we would not have had the opportunity to try for an alternative.
Mr. Dobson : I was objecting to the years of indecision and stupidity on the part of the Government, which have left the people of Kent still feeling very uncertain and blighted. They are not yet convinced that the route has been fixed. It is sensible of the Government to adjust the route
Column 1057at Pepper Hill in line with what people want. They could have done that years ago if they had had the wit to get on with it.
Mr. Phillip Oppenheim (Amber Valley) rose
Mr. Dobson : The failure to build the channel tunnel link is bad for London and the south-east, but it is a disaster for other parts of the country, which will be denied fast, regular and reliable connections with the European rail network for a decade or more. People in south Wales need the north downs railway line from Reading to Redhill to be upgraded. That would provide a direct rail link from Wales to the channel tunnel, avoiding congested routes through inner London, and it could place Cardiff within little more than four hours of Paris. But the Government do not propose to do that.
Nowhere is the Government's failure more obvious than on the west of Britain, served--if that is the right word--by the west coast main line. That line, which links the major conurbations of Greater London, the west midlands, Greater Manchester, Merseyside and Glasgow, is a national disgrace. As we approach the 21st century, one of the signal boxes on the west coast main line contains working equipment placed there in 1890, 104 years ago.
Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) : The west coast main line covers my area too, and I too want it improved. The one way I see that happening is if private investment comes in to finance the line. As the hon. Gentleman also wants improvements to the line, may I ask him whether he has changed his attitude since September 1992, when, talking about entrepreneurs who will be looking to invest in our railways, he was quoted in a national newspaper as saying : "Yes, this is the politics of envy. We are envious of their wealth. These people are stinking, lousy, thieving, incompetent scum."
Mr. Dobson : The hon. Gentleman's quotation is accurate, but misapplied. I am proud to repeat what I said ; I was talking about people who enriched themselves at the expense of others on poverty wages : they are thieving scum. I believed it then and I believe it now. As far as I know, my remarks do not apply to anyone who intends investing in the west coast main line--unless, under privatisation, it is intended that rail workers be paid poverty wages. In that case, my comments will apply.
Mr. Michael Bates (Langbaurgh) rose
What do the Government have against the people who rely on the west coast main line, and who depend on it to serve their industry and commerce ? Eighteen million people and 2 million manufacturing jobs depend on the line.
Let us compare it with the east coast main line. King's Cross to Edinburgh takes four hours and six minutes on the best journey. Euston to Glasgow takes five hours and 22 minutes. Admittedly, the Glasgow journey is eight miles longer, but I do not think that can account for a difference of one hour and 16 minutes. The difference is accounted for by the inferior track, signalling, power supply and rolling stock.
The average speed from King's Cross to York on the east coast main line is 94 mph. The average speed from Euston to Preston is 78 mph. There is just no comparison--and all the Government can say is that they are trying to attract private sector funding. Even that, however, is
Column 1058intended to be used only as far as Crewe. No one is even thinking of improving the line north of Crewe. That is a grotesque betrayal of all the people north of Crewe who depend on the line.
So what have the Government been doing ? The answer is : not very much, except privatising and deregulating buses, and preparing to privatise the railways. What cock-eyed priorities they have. All over the country, buses have been deregulated and privatised. As a result, many services have disappeared. Many staff have had their pay cut and working conditions worsened. What is more disturbing is the increasing incidence of fiddling by employers, which increases drivers' working time and reduces their rest periods.
I suspect that right hon. and hon. Members will be surprised to discover that, with the approval of the Government, drivers have been told by their employers that the time when they are collecting fares can be counted as part of their statutory rest period, because the limitation on hours applies only to the period when they are actually driving.
I heard recently that a driver who finishes work at 1 am is knowingly employed by another part of the same company to drive a school bus, commencing work at 7.30 am. That cannot be safe for the driver, other people on the road or, above all, the schoolchildren in the bus. All over the country, safety is being sacrificed in the name of deregulation--and there is more to come. Most regulation is necessary to protect passengers, staff, other road users and the environment. Deregulation imperils all that.
I remind Conservative Members that the late Lord Ridley, then Mr. Nicholas Ridley, told the bus operators that, as a result of the changes he was making, they would be able to operate their undertakings without a social conscience, and they are certainly doing so. They have no social conscience towards the staff, the passengers or the communities they serve.
Mr. Oppenheim rose
Mr. Dobson : It is costing a fortune to privatise the railways. Official figures from the Department of Transport and British Rail show that at least £446 million has been squandered on rail privatisation. Not a penny of that £446 million will be spent on new track, new coaches or the new signalling that is needed all around the country. Most of it will be poured into the pockets of accountants, brokers, merchant bankers, PR advisers and management consultants--£446 million, to provide outdoor relief for the advisory classes.
We should consider where that money could have been invested instead. That £446 million would meet more than half the cost of modernising the west coast main line ; £446 million would pay 10 times over for the Government's share of the cost of building the midland metro, the supertram from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, but £40 million is not being found.
Column 1059That money would pay seven times over for the extra tunnelling needed to give the same environmental protection to the people of Barking as has been given to the people in Kent. It would cover four times the cost of electrifying the midland main line from Bedford to Sheffield or extending electrification from Edinburgh to Aberdeen. It would pay three times over for the cost of electrifying the trans-Pennine link from Liverpool to Hull ; it would pay eight times over for the cost of electrifying and resignalling the line from Leeds to Bradford. That £446 million would pay for 29 new InterCity trains or 130 Network SouthEast units or eight or nine major resignalling schemes, but instead the Government are frittering it away.
The improvement schemes I have listed are all sensible ideas supported by local people and local businesses because they would help the economy of all the areas affected by them.
I challenge the Secretary of State, and I challenge him now Mr. Oppenheim rose