|Previous Section||Home Page|
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require new vehicles to display a visible vehicle identification number.
The purpose of the Bill is to assist the police in catching car thieves and preventing car crime. The latest figures for car theft show an increase last year in the number of stolen vehicles to nearly 600,000--about one every minute.
Earlier this week, the RAC revealed that motorists in England and Wales bear a greater risk of having their cars stolen than any other drivers in the world. Even more worrying is the growth in professional car crime, in which cars are stolen by organised gangs rather than by joyriders. That is shown clearly in the sharp rise in the proportion of vehicles that are stolen and never seen again. That proportion has now reached 38 per cent. in the country and 50 per cent. in London.
The requirement in my Bill for the fitting of visible vehicle identification numbers--"visible VINs"--will not solve the problem, but it will make a difference by making it easier for police officers to spot a stolen car and harder for car thieves to disguise one. There is already a requirement for all cars to carry a vehicle identification number ; but, far from being easily visible, the number often presents the motorist with a considerable challenge. Even finding the number requires him first to locate the plate that is fixed in the engine compartment under the bonnet, and then to scrabble around under the carpet next to the driver's door, where it is usually stamped into the chassis.
Even if the cautious purchaser of a second-hand car succeeds in finding the number, he still cannot be sure that the car is genuine and has not been ringed. Car ringing is becoming a major industry. Every day smashed-up cars are being sold in salvage yards for far more than they are worth ; the write-offs are being bought not for the value of their parts or for scrap, but simply for their identity.
Having bought a write-off, the professional car thief will go out and steal a car of identical make and model. New licence plates can be fitted in just a few minutes ; then the VIN on the chassis is tampered with, or the metal on which it is stamped is cut out and the VIN of the write-off is welded in its place. If the thief did not acquire a vehicle registration document, he need only contact the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency to be sent a new one. The result will be that the thief has a car that appears entirely legitimate because it has a licence plate and a VIN that match those on the vehicle registration document, of which he is the legal owner. I recently visited the stolen vehicle squad, where I saw several vehicles that had been ringed in that way. It was only after careful forensic examination by experts that that was discovered. I pay tribute to the officers of the Metropolitan police's stolen vehicles investigation squad for their work and for the help that they have given me in preparing the Bill. Although comprising only 45 officers, it has had considerable success. Last month alone, its efforts resulted in the arrest of 22 people and the recovery of property worth more than £2 million. Those officers are still only scratching the surface of the problem and they believe that visible VINs would be a major weapon in the defeat of car crime.
Column 344To be effective, the VIN must be placed so that it can be seen through the windscreen by a police officer on the beat and it should not be accessible from inside or outside the vehicle. The police recommend that it should be recessed into the dashboard at the front nearside A-pillar and that it should be visible through a gap in the obscuration band.
Supported by a wide range of companies involved in the motor industry, the European secure vehicle alliance, an all-party parliamentary group of the House, has drawn up a specification for visible VINs which is supported by the police. In particular, the visible VIN should be designed in such a way that tampering and removal is obvious to the naked eye.
Several manufacturers are already fitting visible VINs. Some are etching the number on to the windows of the vehicle. That is better than nothing, but it is not sufficient, as windows may be easily replaced or the number altered. Plates stuck to the top of the dashboard are also inadequate, as they are easily accessible and may be prised off.
I understand that the Ford Motor Company initially adopted that approach. The new Mondeo has a visible VIN, fitted in the manner approved by the police, as do BMWs and Jaguars. The Home Office has called on other manufacturers to follow their example.
For several years, a number of states in the United States of America have had a requirement for visible VINs. The director of Michigan state police recently wrote to the stolen vehicle squad, saying that the
"visible VIN is an invaluable tool for both our patrol officers and autotheft investigators. The VIN plate is easily checked and extremely difficult to alter."
In preparing the Bill, I have been extremely grateful for the support of a number of organisations. I have already mentioned the European secure vehicle alliance and the Metropolitan police's stolen vehicles squad. Their assistance has been invaluable. I have received a letter from Mr. Taylor, assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police and secretary of the crime committee of the Association of Chief Police Officers, saying that the visible VIN was recently considered by ACPO's crime committee and was strongly supported. He states that it will help not only to defeat the car thief but to uncover getaway cars used in many other types of crime, including armed robbery and terrorism.
The Association of British Insurers has written to me to say that it
"fully supports the introduction of such a system and has been calling for it for many years."
The RAC made clear its strong support for the introduction of visible VINs by all car manufacturers, together with legislation to make it an offence to tamper with a VIN.
Visible VINs alone will not defeat car crime. The prudent motorist can take a number of other measures. The national vehicle security register is run by Retainacar and provides information about the history of a motor car, which could be easily checked by dealers and those considering the purchase of a second-hand vehicle.
Immobilisers and car alarms are also effective in deterring car thieves. In the short time that it has been available, the new tracker device, which can be fitted inside a vehicle and is activated by remote control if a car is stolen, has been remarkably successful both in achieving the recovery of a stolen vehicle and the capture of those responsible.
Column 345However, the measure proposed in the Bill is simple, and has already been shown to have a significant impact on cutting car crime. It has long been called for by the police, and is supported by the insurance industry, manufacturers and the public. The only people likely to oppose the measure are the car thieves. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Whittingdale, Sir Ivan Lawrence, Mr. David Marshall, Mr. Robert Maclennan, Mr. Bob Dunn, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. Stephen Day, Mr. David Lidington, Mr. Michael Stephen, Mr. John Sykes, Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Mr. Michael Brown.
Mr. John Whittingdale accordingly presented a Bill to require new vehicles to display a visible vehicle identification number : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 July, and to be printed. [Bill 123.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising on Thursday 26th May, do adjourn until Tuesday 14th June.-- [Mr. Kirkhope.]
"That, in the opinion of this House, Her Majesty's Ministers should provide sufficient time on the floor of the House before 27th May 1994 to allow all remaining stages of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill to be completed, and that sufficient time be provided before the end of the Session for the consideration of any Amendments to the Bill which may be made by the House of Lords."--[ Official Report , 29 April 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 497.]
The motion was approved by the House, entirely without dissent, and merited not only a quick and positive oral ministerial response, but also ungrudging implementation by the Government. Yet the will of the House, as expressed by the motion, is still being ignored, some will say contemptuously ignored, even as we debate the rising of the House for the Spring Adjournment. Indeed, much apart from respecting the will of this House, the Government made clear, both on 6 and 20 May, their determination to wreck the Bill by fair means or foul, and plumbed new depths of parliamentary skulduggery last Friday. The whole country saw then what the Prime Minister's recent promise of "less confrontation, more decency" means in practice. He made that promise in an address to Scottish Conservatives in Inverness when paying tribute to the memory of our late and deeply mourned colleague, John Smith, the weekend before last.
But never was there a more blatant act of indecency than was witnessed in this House on the day of John's funeral last Friday, when, as my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) said, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, having already had to apologise, in a personal statement to the House, for his conduct in the debates on the Bill on 6 May, "cynically talked out" a measure whose only purpose is to give full citizenship to Britain's 6.5 million disabled people.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : Will not the right hon. Gentleman confirm that when the Labour Government and their Labour predecessors were in office that kind of parliamentary activity in respect of private Members' Bills was normal practice ? Does he deny that Labour Governments have ever acted against private Members' Bills in that manner ?
Mr. Morris : The answer to that question was given by his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) when he moved the motion to which I referred. On 29 April, he pointed out that under the last Labour Government a great many Bills to which the Government were not especially friendly were allowed to proceed to the statute book. In the particular case of my own Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill, it reached the statute book in 1970, in spite of initial opposition from Ministers.
Quite definitely, the balance has been tilted very heavily against the private Member over recent years. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Exeter for detailing so thoroughly the change there has been in ministerial attitudes to private Members' Bills over recent years. A great many Bills now are Government Bills masquerading as private Members' Bills. Indeed, I am sure that it would be helpful to the
Column 347House if, in parentheses after the short title of a Bill, the letter G could appear to indicate that the Bill is one drafted by the Government, if that is the case. There has been a marked change in the treatment of private Members' Bills on the Floor of the House and we need very urgently, I believe, a constructive report about this from the Select Committee on Procedure. I rejoice that it is looking at the procedure for private Members' Bills, and I am totally certain that it will make helpful proposals to this House.
The House will understand
Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that any and every disablement group in the whole of the United Kingdom may write to the Chairman of that Committee and ask to be heard by that Committee ? It does not necessarily follow that they will be heard, but their letters will be treated as evidence by that Committee when it considers these matters. Every group involved in this matter in the United Kingdom is now free to make representations to Parliament.
Mr. Morris : The Select Committee on Procedure has been extremely kind. It has already written to many people to ask if they have evidence to offer members of the Committee. I have no doubt whatever that it will make it clear that information is welcomed not only from both sides of this House but from anyone living anywhere with an interest in private Members' legislation who has constructive proposals for it to consider.
The House will understand my strong feelings, as the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill's author, about the disgraceful way in which it has been treated by the Government over the past two and a half years. When I first brought the Bill to the House in December 1991, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People said that his attitude to it was one of "benevolent neutrality". Last Friday, his behaviour in talking it out was seen by disabled people everywhere--I quote one of their leaders--as an act of "malevolent hostility" to the Bill.
If the Leader of the House is still in any doubt about the feelings of disabled people in regard to what happened last Friday, he should speak to the editor of the Evening Echo in Chester Hall lane, Basildon, about a reader's letter sent to him by Denise Smith of Rayleigh in Essex last weekend. Denise broke her neck in a car accident. She states that her self- esteem plunged last Friday to "an all-time low" and that she was left feeling that an apology was being demanded "for my very existence". Her letter continues :
"The Minister has now made it blatantly clear that anyone with a disability is well and truly second-class and cannot expect to be treated as a person who could, given the chance, be a useful member of society."
That eloquent comment from Denise Smith of Essex is highly representative of the mass of letters that I have received since last Friday.
When the Bill commenced its Report stage on 6 May, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People was asked whether he or his Department had been
"in any way involved in the drafting of any of the amendments or the new clause tabled by the hon. Members for Sutton and Cheam . . . for Bristol, North-West . . . and for Bury St. Edmunds".--[ Official Report , 6 May 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 991.]
The right hon. Gentleman replied that he had played
"No part whatever in the drafting of any of the amendments and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody in my Department has been involved in the drafting of any of the amendments in this
We now know that what the right hon. Gentleman said then was untrue, but we did not find out the whole truth until I tabled a parliamentary question for priority reply on 18 May asking : "on what date the Minister for Disabled People authorised his Department to instruct Parliamentary Counsel on the drafting of the amendments tabled to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill by five hon. Members on 3 May."
In total refutation of what he had told the House at column 991 on 6 May, the Minister's reply to my question stated :
"On the 20 April 1994 I authorised my officials to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to draft amendments."
It was that parliamentary reply that proved conclusively that the Minister's response to an intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), at column 991 on 6 May, had very seriously misled the House and that now the Prime Minister was also involved, since, in a letter of 5 April to my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North (Mr. Radice), the Prime Minister wrote : "It is clearly of paramount importance that Ministers give accurate information to the House. If they knowingly fail to do this, then they should relinquish their positions."
In the reply given to my parliamentary question of 18 May, the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People made it pikestaff plain that, 16 days before, he told the House on 6 May that he had "no part" in the drafting of the 80 wrecking amendments and that "nobody in my Department had been involved in the drafting of any of the amendments",
he had, in fact, authorised his departmental officials
"to instruct Parliamentary Counsel to draft amendments." In his personal statement of apology to the House on 9 May, the Minister regretted, in the understatement of the century, that he had not made "a fuller explanation" earlier of his Department's role in drafting the 80 amendments tabled by the five hon. Members. He could, of course, have given us all the facts about his Department's role in the debate on the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter on 29 April, on which he spoke at considerable length and on which I now ask for action before the House rises for the Spring recess. That the Minister did not take the opportunity given by that debate on 29 April--nine days after he had instructed his officials, in effect, to wreck the Bill--is a source of deep and enduring concern to right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House and in all parties. It really is totally essential that we should have a full ministerial statement of the Government's attitude to the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter. The Leader of the House must know that the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has the backing of a clear parliamentary majority and an even more emphatic majority of the British people, including all disabled people ; that it has already been approved at all stages in the House of Lords ; and that, but for the wrecking tactics used against the Bill, it would be now be awaiting Royal Assent. The Government can no longer be allowed to pretend that they are right and everyone else is wrong. It was Oscar Wilde who said, among friends, after the disappointing first night of one of his plays :
"The play was a great success, but the audience a failure." This is the Government's position in relation to the public reaction to their obstruction of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. Their task now is to join with all of us, in all parts of both Houses of Parliament, who want urgently to try to restore some faith among disabled people in political
Column 349decency and parliamentary democracy. Nothing could achieve that more quickly, or more surely, than a statement today from the Leader of the House accepting the call of the hon. Member for Exeter on the Government for the parliamentary time needed to enact the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill in this Session of Parliament. 4.19 pm
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Staffordshire, South) : I am sorely tempted to follow the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), not least because I was somewhat caught up in the events of last Friday. I intend to speak on a very different subject, but I will say that I believe that he made a powerful speech. He has been a doughty campaigner for the disabled for longer than I have been in the House, which is 24 years. I regret the manner in which the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill has been dealt with, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House knows.
My right hon. Friend will not be surprised to know that I intend to talk about the Balkans. My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) said this afternoon that he thought that it was a scandal that the House would not sit on Friday or on 13 June because several important domestic subjects--we have just heard about one of them--would not be debated. It is greatly to be regretted that we are not taking the opportunity of using one of those days for debating what is, by any standards, one of the greatest international crises since the war--arguably the greatest and the one fraught with the most danger.
Mr. Cormack : The hon. Gentleman, for whom I have great respect, says from a sedentary position that Vietnam was worse. I am not sure that he is right ; certainly in terms of the European continent he is not right. However, I will not be diverted by the hon. Gentleman because I want to make one or two--I hope--important points. I emphasise the fact--again, this will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend--that I strongly deprecate the fact that the House has not been given the opportunity more often to debate the crisis in the former Yugoslavia and, in particular, the terrible events in Bosnia. Throughout the whole of this long, tragic saga, we have hardly had an opportunity to debate the issue exclusively. We had a brief, three-hour debate introduced by the Liberal Democrats on a Supply day. If my memory serves me correctly, we have had one debate on the Balkans in Government time. We have had one or two foreign affairs debates in which it has been germane to mention the matter, but the House has not focused its attention as much as it should have done.
When the House neglects to debate these matters, it marginalises itself, because what is happening in the Balkans is of enormous significance to us all. I do not want to go over that point again because I have taken every possible opportunity to speak on the subject. I have spoken about the atrocities and about the mistakes made by leaders in this country and elsewhere in tackling the matter. I regret the prevarication and the wrong signals which have repeatedly been given to the aggressors. My right hon. Friend knows all that.
Although I am, indeed, criticising my right hon. Friend for not giving us the time for a debate, I thank him for his unfailing courtesy and I thank my right hon. Friend the
Column 350Foreign Secretary who, on many occasions, has received the officers of the all-party Bosnia group to discuss the matter. Although we have not always come away happy with the outcome of our discussions, my right hon. Friend has made himself available most generously ; for that, at least, we are grateful.
Let me come to my two main points. I refer the House to a meeting that took place within the precincts of the Palace of Westminster yesterday. Sadly, it was not well attended by hon. Members ; one understands the many competing demands on our time. Yesterday, we had a visit from a remarkable body--the Serbs Citizens Council. During all the debate on the situation in Bosnia, there has been a regrettable tendency for people to talk as if the war was a simple civil war, which it manifestly is not, and to ignore the fact that it started very much as aggression from another country against a sovereign state which we have recognised. There has been a regrettable tendency too to talk about the warring factions. That is an insulting term because one of them is in fact the legitimately recognised Government of a sovereign state. In all parts of the House and the country, there has also been a tendency to claim--I am certainly not singling out the Government for blame here--that we are dealing with the Serbs, the Muslims and the Croats.
When Sarajevo hosted the winter Olympics a little over 10 years ago, the city was held out as an example of--I do not like the phrase because I think it clumsy--multi-ethnic co-operation. People lived side by side in harmony. They intermarried. They respected each other. They worked together. All that--or, rather, a lot of that--has been literally blown asunder in the past two and a half years. I corrected myself there because all of it has not been blown asunder : the fact remains that the Government of Bosnia, whom we recognise, are still a Government composed of Muslims, Croats and Serbs. The members of the Serbs Citizens Council who came to see us yesterday emphasised that fact. They made some important points which should be put on the record. They referred to the Assembly of Citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina of Serbian nationality which was held on 27 March this year, in which more than 500 delegates from all parts of Bosnia-Herzegovina took part. They said that the assembly provided a platform for the opinions of the estimated 200,000 Serbs residing in the free territory--the territory still controlled by the Bosnian Government. They made the point that the war criminal Karadzic--and they called him that--represented no more than 40 per cent. of the Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
I could recite the facts and figures. If I did so, the House would no doubt be interested but it would perhaps also be unduly detained. Let me make one point above all others. The two people who were speaking for the council yesterday were Mr. Goran Simic, who is a poet and essayist, one of the founders of PEN in Bosnia and the president of the Cultural Association of Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and a lady, Nada Salimovic, who is the president of the Centre for Peace in Sarajevo.
We were much moved by what those two visitors had to say. In particular, the lady turned to us and said, "I am a Serb but I do not think of myself just in those terms. I am a citizen of Bosnia. I am married to a Muslim. Our children have been brought up to respect different points of view and different cultures. We are part of European civilisation." And they are.
Column 351It is to the lasting discredit of us all that European civilisation has been torn asunder in that land over the past two and a half years, and it is to the lasting discredit of us all that we have not been able more effectively to deal with the situation. I do not belong to the "something must be done" school because I think I can claim that I warned the House about the war before it even started. I initiated the first debate at 3.20 am in early December 1991--some five months before the Bosnian war erupted--urging that we should put in air and naval patrols to deter the Serb aggression in Croatia and to protect Dubrovnik. I still believe that, had we been resolute at that time, up to 250,000 lives could have been saved and the 3 million people in Europe who are refugees would not be refugees.
Throughout the Bosnian conflict, I--and members of all parties--have consistently advocated a tougher and more resolute approach. Approximately 60 hon. Members have signed an early-day motion stating that, in the wake of Gorazde, the rest of the safe havens must be safe. It also draws attention to the fact that we proved in Sarajevo that, if one not only talks tough but acts tough, one gets results. Ultimately, we should be prepared not to put in masses of ground troops but to allow the Bosnian Government to defend themselves and give them air cover in so doing.
What is morally wrong can never be politically right. It is immoral that, when we recognise a sovereign state, we do not go to its aid or give it the means to defend itself or allow it the means to acquire the necessary weapons--it is not as if we are being asked to hand over the weapons personally. There is no point in saying that there is an embargo across Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia does not exist, and we recognise its component parts as sovereign states.
According to what we were told at yesterday's meeting with the Serbs, it appears that there is a very large number of people--I have no way of confirming or challenging the figures--of Serbian background and nationality in Bosnia who think of themselves as Bosnians first and Serbs second and who wish to defeat fascism and to see a victory for democracy. It is essential that we recognise that fact. It would be utterly scandalous if, without debate--or even with debate, for that matter--we allowed the Bosnian Government to be browbeaten into a settlement that recognises and rewards ethnic cleansing and the changing of boundaries by force. The message that that would send not only to Europe--one has to think of the many fragile situations in eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union--but beyond about the impotence of the so-called new world order would be dire indeed. I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to relay these points to my right hon. Friends the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister ; I regret that I am unable to do so in the course of a proper debate on Bosnia and the Balkans.
With the strong support of my fellow officers in the all-party group, I have often suggested that a summit meeting be held for the leaders of the four permanent members of the Security Council involved. President Yeltsin made the same suggestion, but after we had made ours ; perhaps he read our press releases. I have raised this issue in questions on the Floor of the House and in letters to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister who has generously agreed to meet the officers of the all-party group shortly after the House returns from the recess. I am extremely grateful for that, but events are not standing still.
Column 352I should like to think that, in the fortnight during which the House is not sitting, my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will discuss with Presidents Yeltsin, Mitterrand and Clinton the convening of a conference on the Balkans. Such a conference would make President Milosevic--who is the arch-villain--aware that he and his warlords, Mladic and Karadzic, will not be allowed to get away with murder, to keep their brutally gotten gains or to succeed in ethnic cleansing. Perhaps only a meeting at that level and of that importance can impress on the world that--for all that we have made mistakes--we are determined in that at least.
I do not know how many hon. Members have seen the film, "Schindler's List". I saw it during the Easter recess. I was much moved by it ; I am sure that anyone who saw it must have been. When I came out of the cinema with my 22- year-old son, who is at university, who was also very moved by it, he said to me, "What you are talking about in Bosnia is very similar"--and it is. Even as we commemorate 50 years after D-day--I say "commemorate"--and 49 years after we celebrated a victory over fascism, deeds are being done in our own continent that are as despicable as those marked in that film. Let no one be in any doubt. Appeasement plunged the world into catastrophe in the 1930s ; appeasement can plunge the world into even greater catastrophe in the 1990s, as we approach the end of the millennium.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : There is much in what the hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) said--he said it very eloquently--with which I agree. The hon. Gentleman will know that, as some of my colleagues will remember, at various times when statements have been made to the House, I have indicated my view that we should not give in to appeasement, that we should be very much aware of the terrible crimes that have been committed in the former Yugoslavia, and especially in Bosnia, and that ethnic cleansing is totally unacceptable.
I remember Michael Foot's last speech--I believe that it was literally his last speech in the House--in which, in the most moving way, he described his horror at what the Serbians were doing. There was no doubt in his mind that it was the Serbian warlords, first and foremost, who were responsible for what is happening in Bosnia. I can understand the Leader of the House giving the explanation that he did about the House coming back a day later after the Whitsun recess. I have no quarrel with that. However, I am not very happy about the way in which we seem to be drifting increasingly into longer and longer recesses. I know that the Leader of the House, although he did not actually deny that we were having longer recesses than previously, said that there was not much difference. However, it appears to be the case that, two years ago, in 1992, for example, we broke up in the middle of July--certainly a week earlier, if not more than that.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) indicated assent .
Sometimes we have to explain to people outside this place the difference between holidays and recesses--that a recess is not necessarily a holiday. When I am holding my surgeries in July and August--I know that the same applies
Column 353to other hon. Members ; I am not praising myself in any way--I do not necessarily feel that I am on holiday. I do take a summer holiday, and it is wise to do so, but a distinction needs to be drawn. I am not one of those who believe that it is useful to have longer and longer breaks from the House. One of the virtues of our parliamentary democracy is that ours is a full-time Parliament. "Full-time" obviously does not mean that we do not have recesses, which are necessary and perhaps needed for many reasons, but we should not drift into a situation where it is accepted, for example, that we break up in the middle of July and come back in the second or third week, or perhaps the last week, of October. We should be very careful about this.
Governments of all parties very often have good reason, especially when they are in difficulty, for not wanting the House to sit. For all the reasons with which we are very familiar, this is especially so in the case of the current Government, as will undoubtedly be demonstrated in the results of the European election of 9 June.
Mr. Newton : Although I do not wish to suggest other than that the hon. Gentleman is making his point in an extremely reasonable way or that his manner is uncharacteristic, I should point out that the very early July date to which he has referred had something to do with the disturbance in the programme that resulted from the Danish referendum of that year. A good deal of pressure is put on me to implement--in shorthand terms--the recommendations of the Jopling report. One of those recommendations is precisely what the hon. Gentleman is resisting.
Mr. Winnick : I note and appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said. I am not by any means in favour of all Jopling's recommendations. The suggested morning sittings, however, would at least be some sort of compensation. As I have said, this ought to remain a full-time Parliament.
I agree with the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill, in respect of which the Government have acted very shabbily. Perhaps the majority of those in the country at large did not notice that the Bill was being debated. Conservative Members may believe me or not, as they wish, when I say that there is a strong feeling that disabled people have been treated shabbily. I am pleased about this feeling. It is felt--quite correctly--that Parliament too has been treated in a shabby way.
Bearing in mind everything that my right hon. Friend has said about the measure that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingswood (Dr. Berry), I should point out that at no stage did the Government then say that they would oppose it. On 11 March, for example, no one voted against the Bill. The Prime Minister said that the matter would be considered carefully in Committee. In the course of the four Committee sittings no Government amendments were put forward. If the measure is wrong, for all the reasons that the Government have put forward, surely Ministers should have used the opportunity of the Committee stage to have it amended. What happened afterwards ? On Report, 80 amendments--all of them wrecking devices prepared by the Government and drafted by parliamentary counsel-- were tabled.
Column 354This is a disgraceful way to treat Parliament, and it is certainly a disgraceful way to treat 6.5 million disabled people. Just as groups have needed legislation to deal with discrimination on grounds of race, sex, or whatever else, so it is accepted that we need laws to protect the interests of the disabled. The sooner we have such legislation the better.
Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East) : Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the House of Commons would be much improved if, as he has suggested, we were to spend more time debating crucial national, regional and policy issues and to accept much less legislation of poor quality from any Executive, of whatever colour ? No Executive should interfere with private Members' legislation that has cleared the hurdles of Committee stage and so on.
My main reason for intervening in this debate is to express concern about employment and related matters. I have read in the press that the Government are considering making an attempt to tighten up proposals for the jobless. Apparently, the unemployed will have to show not only that they are actively seeking work but also that other measures are being taken.
Undoubtedly, the impression being given is that people rather like being unemployed. Nothing could be further from the truth. I cannot over- emphasise the fact that the vast majority of the unemployed are desperately eager to find work. I accept that a few people here and there, for various reasons, do not want to work--that they adopt the same attitude as a number of rich people. Where vacancies occur, people sometimes start to queue in the middle of the night. They are anxious to be interviewed so that they may lose their current status, with all the associated problems.
These people--many of them with families--live on the very lowest incomes. They want to be in the same position as individuals like ourselves--able to earn a living. They also want the pride of being involved in work. Any impression to the contrary, such as the Government at times seem to want to give, is based on fantasy. From a propaganda point of view, it may be useful to try to explain away the very high level of unemployment, but, as my hon. Friends, from experience in their constituencies, know only too well, the unemployed are eager to find work.
We have been celebrating many 50th anniversaries. Today is the 50th anniversary of the wartime White Paper on employment. That document, which was produced by the coalition Government of the day, created feelings of great hope. Members of the forces and civilians were given the expectation that, when the war ended--as it did a year later--there would be no return to the misery of the 1920s and the 1930s.
People were led to believe that, when the war against fascism was finished, when the fascist enemy had been destroyed--hopefully, once and for all-- they would be able to earn a living and bring up their families properly. The hope was that they would not have to live anywhere near the poverty levels experienced by their parents and grandparents. It is a matter of deep regret that the unemployment figures in Britain remain so high.
However, we should be concerned not only about the number of people who are unemployed, but also about the way in which some employers are clearly exploiting the
Column 355situation by offering very low wages. I pay tribute to the Low Pay Unit, which does an excellent job. It recently conducted a survey in the black country, which includes my constituency, and found that 70 per cent. of vacancies dealt with by jobcentres and elsewhere carried wages of less than £4 an hour, and that in 25 per cent. of cases the figure was less than £3 an hour.
How would any of us like to be earning that kind of money ? How can a person live on such wages ? Even if the wife is in work--and women are likely to be earning not all that much--how can parents bring up their children free from poverty and deprivation ?
Employers are exploiting the unemployment situation, knowing full well that what I have said is true. People are so keen to stop being jobless that they are prepared to accept what is on offer. There is no doubt that such employers have been encouraged by the Government through the abolition of the wages councils, the constant emphasis on deregulation, and so on. The blame for inflation is put entirely on high wages. This produces a climate of opinion in which employers can offer wages at the levels I have mentioned.
Mr. Eddie Loyden (Liverpool, Garston) : I am following my hon. Friend's case with interest. Does he agree that we should be concerned not only with the high levels of unemployment but also with how joblessness affects individuals, families and communities ? It appears that there is almost an acceptance of the current levels of unemployment. Individuals, families and communities are being destroyed. I am thinking in particular of young people, many of whom, in their twenties or thirties, have not worked since leaving school. Let us consider all the problems that will arise for such young people thinking about marriage.