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Mr. Winnick : My hon. Friend is right. One cannot be complacent about the situation in my area--far from it--and my hon. Friend's area has been damaged far more than mine. It has been devastated by unemployment and all that goes with it. I noted that one or two Conservative Members were not listening to my hon. Friend. As he said, the fact that over 50 or 60 per cent. of school leavers know that they have no chance of getting a job, and that that will apply to their siblings because there will be no jobs for years on end, should shame us all, and especially the Government.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : I share the hon. Gentleman's acute distress about the large number of people who want to work but cannot find work. However, he implies that there should be a minimum wage below which work should not be advertised. What does he regard as an appropriate minimum, and what effect would it have on job opportunities ?

Mr. Winnick : I will not give a figure, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman listens to what I am about to say. He would not wish to work for the sort of wages that I have mentioned : he would not dream of doing so. I do not want to personalise the matter, but if he has children, the last thing he would want when they grow up--if they are not already grown up-- would be for them to be in such a situation.

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We must remember that we are dealing with our fellow citizens. We can argue about whether there should be a minimum wage and what it should be, but we should be concerned not only about high unemployment but about the absolute poverty wages on which so many people are forced to live. No Conservative Member inside or outside the Chamber would dream for a moment of trying to live on such wages.

Conservative Members earn the same parliamentary salary, of course, as Opposition Members, but as far as I am aware they have at least one other source of income. That is within the rules, and no one says that it should not be so, but I am dealing with people who, if they can get work, are being offered the sort of wages that I have outlined. It is interesting to note that the survey I mentioned said that one third of the jobs advertised were part-time and, of course, such jobs carry fewer rights.

The matter on which I wish to conclude my speech also relates to employment. I am concerned about the way in which an increasing number of employers are ceasing to recognise trade unions. Establishments that for years, and without any controversy, recognised unions have decided that they will no longer do so. That certainly applies in the print industry and in many other industries. Undoubtedly that means less protection for employees.

Take-it-or-leave-it union-free contracts include conditions that people are reluctant to sign, but if they do not sign such contracts, they know the alternative. But so do the employers : hence the offer of such contracts.

I am pleased that yesterday's one-day BBC strike was successful, although Conservative Members may not take that view. Although the BBC has not, fortunately, ceased to recognise unions--and I hope that it never does--it believed that it could offer all kinds of conditions to employees, who would simply take them and lump them. Yesterday's strike showed that those in the BBC are rightly willing to fight for what they believe to be their rights. I hope that management will come to a sensible conclusion and negotiate with the unions. For the reasons that I have outlined, the job market is poor. People in work are having their protection and rights constantly undermined, and that is clearly being actively encouraged by the Government. We shall certainly return to this topic after the Whitsun recess, because Labour Members think that these issues are important, and we will raise them at every possible opportunity.

4.54 pm

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Mid-Kent) : My constituency is currently enjoying a remarkable improvement in its health services, with new build in both its major acute hospitals, and considerable reorganisation and improvement in its priority care hospitals. The vast majority of its schools are thoroughly enjoying the much greater freedom given to heads to plan and organise their work and their capital expenditure. In general, morale in Mid-Kent is high.

The subject of my speech may seem trivial in comparison, but there are two or three areas in which the shoe pinches, and I should like to bring them to my right hon. Friend's attention. The first of them is the ridiculous situation that is being allowed to continue--indeed, to worsen--of the differential between duty on drink in the UK and that across the channel. That is nonsense, and it is doing Kent a great deal of harm.

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Between 1990 and 1994, the duty on beer in this country increased by 20 per cent. As one might expect, the volume being drunk has declined by 10 per cent. Pubs are closing at the rate of roughly 1, 000 a year, or 5 per cent. of the total. If that continues, what will happen to the Prime Minister's dream of keeping alive Britain's traditions, such as warm beer ?

To my great disappointment, the Treasury has recently yet again made clear that it is happy, because its take from the duty has increased. I suggest that the increase will be short-term if the goose that lays the golden eggs is allowed to be strangled. I wonder whether the Treasury's accounting on this matter is far too narrow. If pubs continue to close, jobs in the affected areas will decline, and tax income will disappear. The VAT on food sales will decline. Kent is unquestionably suffering : jobs and businesses are at risk. Some 15.3 per cent. of the take-home beer market is now being satisfied by beer bought on the other side of the channel. It is wholly ridiculous that a Kentish brewer should be forced to set up special outlets in France, where his beer is now handled by French workers. He has done that simply to survive, but those jobs could perfectly well come to Kent.

The issue applies more widely. Crime is being widely stimulated. Technically speaking, it may not be a crime for people to cross the channel up to four times a day to buy what is theoretically a personal allowance of liquor, but we know perfectly well that it is being put on articulated lorries and carried all over the UK. That is bad for the morale, and the morals, of the country as a whole. It is all very well for Customs and Excise to boast that last year it intercepted 30,000 litres of beer in Birmingham and Manchester and confiscated them. But, as we all know, Customs and Excise catches only a tiny percentage of what is improperly brought in, whether it be drugs or, as in this case, liquor. We are in danger of precipitating a further rapid decline in the British beer trade, the Kentish economy and the standards of morality throughout the country. I hope that the House will not adjourn until we have had a chance to discuss that matter.

My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will not be surprised to hear me return to what is regarded as the parochial issue of the channel tunnel rail link. One of the sad aspects of this place is that, if a project is large enough and lasts long enough, those who discuss it inevitably sound extremely boring, because everyone has heard it before.

However, I must raise the matter and say with great sorrow that my right hon. Friend the Minister responsible for the railways has disappointed Kent in the past few days. A delegation led by Christopher Jackson, Member of the European Parliament, and put together under the auspices of Maidstone borough council, went to see the European Commissioner for the Environment, which was a perfectly proper step to take.

Before the delegation went, my right hon. Friend wrote to Commissioner Paleokrassas to say that it might be helpful for him to know that that meeting with the Member of the European Parliament and "action groups"--it was actually a delegation led by an elected local authority--was out of order. My right hon. Friend gave the Commissioner a series of reasons why he regarded it as improper for the European Commission to take an interest in that matter.

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All along, my right hon. Friend the Minister had led us to believe that his objection to the Boxley long tunnel was on grounds of cost. So, if a properly constituted delegation goes to see the European Commissioner to discuss the availability of European funds, it is wholly improper that my right hon. Friend should attempt to shipwreck that delegation before it even started out.

I once received a letter from my right hon. Friend saying that, on environmental grounds, the Boxley long tunnel was preferable, and was being turned down only on the ground of cost. The issue has unanimous local support. The county council, all the district councils, all the conservation bodies, all the parish councils and all the action groups are unanimous on that matter.

I am disappointed, and have written to my right hon. Friend the Minister to seek an assurance that, when the hybrid Bill on the channel tunnel rail link is presented to the House, it will be drafted in a way that will allow the Committee to consider that major alteration in the route. I have a nasty feeling that an attempt will be made to define the terms in which the line is drawn in a way that will exclude that possibility. If so, I and all my friends in Kent will regard that as a gross betrayal of Kent. My right hon. Friend has frequently said that it would be for the Committee to decide, and I hope that he will give me that assurance.

We now know that it is almost certain that trains on the new line will run at 186 miles an hour. For a long time, the Department of Transport has been telling us all that the intention was that, in the early days, trains would run at 140 miles an hour, but that, if improvements in signalling and rolling stock were made later, the speed might rise, but not for a considerable time. We now discover that trains will almost certainly run at 186 miles an hour ab initio.

What is important about that is that it is yet a further example of the greater wisdom of the so-called "amateurs" in my constituency and other parts of Kent, who knew all along that that would almost certainly be the case. I am extremely worried that slippery half-truths are coming out of the Department of Transport. On a more cheerful note on transport, the Piggyback Consortium has just published an admirable report that suggests that some 400,000 lorry movements a year could be taken off Britain's roads if the relatively small capital works that would be needed to enable piggyback transport to be carried on British railway tracks were carried out. I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is interested in that matter, so I hope that he will give it further support. It would be good for us to debate it. Two events occurred in the House yesterday. First, the chairman of the Association of Directors of Social Services spoke to a Back-Bench Committee in this place. She reiterated the long-established fact that the association supports direct payment to disabled people, to enable those who choose to do so, and are regarded as capable of doing so, to buy in their domiciliary care at their own hand. Secondly, it was announced that 16, 17 and 18-year-olds would be given a voucher to enable them to choose where to spend the money which the Exchequer gives them.

How can the Government any longer resist the case for giving sophisticated, intelligent, disabled people a similar right to choose how to spend their entitlement to public funds at their own hand, directly to employ their own domiciliary staff ? It is nonsense to suggest that a 16-year-old makes better use of choosing how to spend

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public money than somebody who may have broken his or her back but has kept all his or her intelligence and capacity to manage. Before we adjourn, we should debate the role that volunteering can play in the life of this nation, if only we would think big rather than relentlessly small. We should provide an opportunity for every young person who wants to, do so to contribute as a volunteer. Nothing would do more to enhance the self-respect of young people, especially those who are unemployed or who, for whatever reason, have had a poor school record. Nothing would give them a better chance to get a reference ; take ownership, in a small way, of a part of this society ; learn how to work with others ; and learn how some other people live. We must revisit that issue.

We must also make it easier for benefit recipients to volunteer. The recent statement on the number of hours that can be worked as a volunteer before putting benefit at risk was disappointing. It was far too discretionary, and did not meet the earlier commitment that the Government would make it much easier for people who want to give back to society in a voluntary capacity the opportunity to do so without losing their benefit.

The chief reason why older people do not volunteer has been shown to be that nobody asks them. The Government could encourage much greater participation of the rapidly growing proportion of our population who have either left employment at the age of 50 or 50-plus, or gone into part-time employment at that age, to contribute to society their skills, experience and knowledge. I know that the Prime Minister is interested in that matter, and that the new Home Office initiative has still to get under way, but the scale of that initiative is pathetically small, and we can and must do better. 5.9 pm

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I do not think that we should pass the motion and adjourn on its terms until we have heard an explanation --and perhaps an apology--from the Lord President of the Council for the conduct of one Member of the House. I refer to the Secretary of State for Health. The Lord President will perhaps refer also to two other recent events--the apology by the Minister of State, Department of Social Security and the apology that was made just a few moments ago, although that will not be a part of this debate. I take no joy in drawing the right hon. Gentleman's attention and that of the House to what I believe to be another clearly inaccurate statement, made this time by a member of the Cabinet. I hope that the matter will be cleared up before the House goes into recess. Perhaps the Lord President can suggest how the manifest inaccuracy which appears in column 415 of the Official Report of 28 April can be amended satisfactorily.

In a debate about the national health service in London, the Secretary of State for Health referred to the London ambulance service in her second speech of the day. The House will know that I have participated in no fewer than seven Adjournment debates on the subject and have tabled one private notice question--which would have been totally unnecessary if the service were all right. The right hon. Lady tried to explain why she would not give way during her speech. She said :

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"I have had frequent lengthy discussions with the hon. Gentleman, not least on the Thames and on other occasions. I have learnt from experience that if he wishes to make his point, it is wise to let him make it in his own speech if he catches your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker."--[ Official Report , 28 April 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 415.] The right hon. Lady would not give way to me. Alas, I have not had frequent or lengthy discussions with her, for the simple reason that I have not had any discussions with her at all, other than the incident on the Thames to which she referred and to which I shall come in a minute.

In fact, I could not understand what the right hon. Lady said at the time because she did not say it very loudly. However, I looked at Hansard the next day and read those words. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 29 April, and asked her :

"either withdraw your statement that we have had frequent lengthy discussions', or jog my memory by stating when and where they took place.

I would be grateful for full replies to these two matters" I also raised an ambulance matter

"I raise by a personally signed letter."

Unfortunately, that personally signed letter did not arrive for some time. A couple of days ago, I reminded the Secretary of State that a reply was due. However, I did not receive a letter from the right hon. Lady ; I received a letter yesterday from her Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. It referred to the matters about which I complained in only one short paragraph :

"I am sure that the references, which were made during the recent Opposition Day Debate, were meant to reflect the continuing interest you have shown in the LAS over recent months, which has been very much appreciated."

I think that it may have been appreciated because I have been talking to officials of South West Thames regional health authority, whose members the right hon. Lady appoints. But that is all that was said.

If people are to be allowed to say that they had frequent lengthy discussions which did not occur and justify their claims by saying, "We knew you were concerned about it", what will happen to standards in public life ? That is the sum total of the written replies that I received from the Secretary of State. I think that hon. Members and anyone else would say that that is not good enough. It is an attempt to evade our rights as representatives of the people who send us to this place. What could be less contentious in party terms than the ambulance service ?

I felt obliged to raise the matter during this debate. I think that it may be even more serious than I have outlined. Not only did the right hon. Lady speak about events which had not happened ; she also suggested that we had had a conversation on the River Thames. I will tell the House about that conversation.

I wrote three letters to the right hon. Lady and her Ministers in September 1992, prior to the collapse of the ambulance service, warning her about the situation. But I did not receive a reply from her. Being of a charitable turn of mind, I thought that perhaps, under instruction--we know that these things happen--she might not have seen my letters.

During a social event which had nothing to do with politics or our offices I saw to it that the right hon. Lady received an envelope from me. We met briefly afterwards and talked about the social event--which, again, had nothing to do with politics or the health service. It was not a discussion ; I merely wanted to make sure that the right hon. Lady received a warning in September 1992 before

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the ambulance service collapsed, because I thought that she might do something about it. That is the purport of her second reference. There can be only one explanation--a charitable one--for the sequence of events. It was suggested to me by someone who, when I outlined what had occurred, said, "She must have felt that she had discussions with you because of all the trouble that there has been about the London ambulance service." A long overdue payment of £14 million above budget has been made to the London ambulance service. Perhaps the right hon. Lady had terrible trouble with the Treasury because of my Adjournment debates. I do not know. It may be that that is what she had in mind when she made those references. That is my charitable interpretation.

Surely we must maintain standards in the House. Members of the public are already worried about certain matters which I will not go into now. Two recent unfortunate incidents have been raised today already. Ministers must be very certain that what they say--even off the cuff--is accurate. If it is drawn to their attention that their remarks are inaccurate, they should not weave, duck and dive as I am afraid the right hon. Lady has done. When I gave her the opportunity to make amends for what she had said--perhaps not as pointedly as I should have--that opportunity was not taken.

I have a good maxim : one hates the sin and loves the sinner. Unless we take a stand on matters such as these, authoritarianism will grow. On certain occasions we have to say, "I will take it thus far, but no further". We have now reached that point.

The Secretary of State for Health is not known for her feeling in the House. She frequently relies on copious notes and she does not always give way as one hopes a Minister of the Crown wishing to serve the public and their representatives will do. I think that the Secretary of State, who is knowingly most unpopular, might become a very popular person if she returned to her primary function as the Member of Parliament for Surrey, South-West.

5.18 pm

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton) : The two opening speakers in the debate--the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack)--raised difficult issues about which there are strong feelings in the country and in the House. They were absolutely right to speak as they did.

It will be a source of some comfort to my hon. Friends and some irritation to Opposition Members to be reminded that this Parliament has nearly three years to run. I think that it is appropriate for the House to delay rising in order to debate some of the themes and practical policies that the Government might pursue both immediately and in the second half of this Parliament.

Since I spoke in the equivalent debate a year ago--my right hon. Friend will recall that speech--much has changed for the better in respect of the real world in Britain, and the actual policies, as opposed to the rumoured policies, being pursued by the Government. The divisive and enervating Maastricht debates are over, although there are some--particularly in the press and to a lesser extent here--who want to continue them.

Economic recovery is gathering pace by the month, and with it, unemployment is falling. Over the past six months,

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unemployment has fallen nationally by more than 130,000 to 9.5 per cent ; in the south-west region, it has fallen by nearly 12,000 to 8.5 per cent. and in my constituency it has fallen by nearly 100 to 7.7 per cent.. We welcome those trends and hope that they will continue.

The legislative framework is now in place for the deregulation of many of the bureaucratic burdens that have built up on business over the past few years. We must monitor it to ensure that it is the bath water and not the baby that is thrown out. I welcome the initiatives announced yesterday by my right hon. Friends the President of the Board of Trade and the Secretary of State for Employment and, particularly in view of the speech by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), I hope more effort will be targeted to help those who have been unemployed for a long period. I hope, through my membership of the Select Committee on Employment, to play a part in developing that.

Most important, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill marks a comprehensive, relevant and generally popular move forward on numerous issues of crime, public order and civil liberty. It has been pointed out by the Police Federation that the present Home Secretary is the first to challenge the liberal establishment at the Home Office. That is welcome on the Conservative Benches and in the country.

All those measures are evidence of a Prime Minister and a Government who listen to the country--and not least to hon. Members--and take action, although to read the accounts in some of the newspapers, one would hardly guess it.

For the immediate future, I want to impress on my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House the need for early action to deal with the very great burdens and the anger and concern being imposed by the Child Support Agency. A meeting in my constituency last Friday was attended by about 70 people who were suffering from the exactions of the CSA. I accept that when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House was Secretary of State, there was very little recognition of the problems as the Bill passed through Parliament, but we now need early and urgent action.

We also need an early statement on the Government's decision following the Bloomfield report on the dental profession. There has been long irritation about what is happening to the dental profession and dentistry.

While I have the opportunity, I should like to impress on the Leader of the House the need for legislation next year to implement the Government's commitments on national parks. I am glad to see in her place my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mrs. Browning) who has tried to pioneer that this Session. I hope that we will have Government legislation on both those commitments and to implement the reform of agricultural landlord and tenant legislation for which we have long been pressing.

Let me set out some of the objectives that we must pursue. Continuing economic recovery and the continuing battle against crime must jointly take top priority. Practically every family in the country is concerned about one or the other, and often both. We must not tolerate without good reason any obstacles to that progress. While I congratulate the Home Secretary on burying most of the Sheehy report on the police--if there were time, one might reflect on whose fingerprints were on that report before it was buried--the criteria I have set are those

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against which we must judge the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill which is yet to be considered in detail on the Floor of the House. Secondly, there is the objective of lower taxation. We must continue to explain that no responsible Government could continue borrowing at the recent rate while the economy was clearly coming out of recession, and that the alternative to tax increases, however regrettable, was deep cuts in public services that our constituents, including their grandparents and children, all value.

We must also keep in the foreground the objective of fiscal equity--that tax burdens should fall and tax reliefs be made in proportion to income. People on middle incomes--by that I mean anything up to the fairly large figure of £30,000 a year--have a legitimate complaint which should be recognised as we are able to reduce taxes.

The third objective, which was the theme of my speech a year ago and the theme of much that I have been saying since, is the continuing need for the legislation that we pass in the House to avoid change for its own sake and set out clearly particular cases for change and the need for improvements.

I have already referred to Sir Patrick Sheehy, but no reference to this policy of consolidation would be complete without a reference to his administrative twin, Sir John Banham. On the Banham issue, which I shall explain is relevant to the European dimension, I can only remind the House that neither of the Opposition parties wants to simplify local government ; they want to get rid of one tier so that they can erect a new tier of regional government with powers of taxation, and to that end they want to abolish the counties. It would be ironic and, indeed, bizarre if one as intelligent, historically minded and traditionalist as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment swept away 1,000 years of history to enable the hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to set up his regional socialist satraps.

Mr. David Hanson (Delyn) : I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman said. He and I have spent many weeks serving on the Committee considering the Local Government (Wales) Bill, in which he voted to sweep away the county councils in Wales. How does he square that argument ?

Mr. Nicholson : Wales is a country with a very different history and geography from England, and what we have been sweeping away in Wales are the new structures that were set up some 20 years ago. I have never had any dissent from the sweeping away of the counties of Avon, Humberside and Cleveland that were set up in England 20 years ago. I have paid considerable attention to the need to ensure a degree of consistency in my policy towards English local government and what I have been supporting and voting for in the Local Government (Wales) Committee.

The European point is this : I understand that it is the ambition of both Opposition parties--and a Labour Member explained it to me--to centralise upwards in Europe and to devolve downwards to regional tiers so that, eventually--and they accept that it will take some time--the United Kingdom Government and this Parliament will wither away. The suggestion is that the House would

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meet two or three times a year for ceremonial purposes. When I put that point to one of my hon. Friends from Somerset he reminded me that that was the ambition of the right hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), who would not even allow the House to meet two or three times a year. The House should recall that as we go into recess.

Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : This is a fascinating explanation of Labour party policy, presumably obtained from the hon. Gentleman's own party's headquarters in Smith square. To whom is he attributing this explanation of Labour party policy ?

Mr. Nicholson : It is not from Smith square ; it was based on more than one conversation with people in the political domain. I am glad to hear from the hon. Gentleman that he is as embarrassed as other Opposition Members might be at the suggestion. I am sure it is the logical conclusion of many of the measures to which the Labour party are committed.

Mr. Brown : It is not the logical conclusion of many of the measures to which we are committed ; it is not our policy at all. I therefore have to press the hon. Gentleman for an explanation as to where he found this travesty of a policy statement.

Mr. Simon Burns (Chelmsford) : Will my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton (Mr. Nicholson) give way ?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse) : Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot intervene on an intervention.

Mr. Burns : I thought I might be helpful to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Nicholson : I give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Burns : The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) wants to be consistent. Given his party's views on leaked private conversations on railway trains, he may understand that it would be wrong for my hon. Friend to break the confidence of his conversation with a Labour Member.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It is also wrong for one hon. Member to try to answer on behalf of another hon. Member.

Mr. Nicholson : In view of my hon. Friend's point and your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall leave the matter there. However, I was glad to hear the assurance given by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East. I made it clear that I was talking about a gradual and long-term process. This House should be aware of the processes supported by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. However, the Liberal Democrats--who have no representative here today--are rather more open and less coy than the Labour party about their attraction to those processes.

The usual cautionary phrase used when administrative upheaval is proposed is, "If it ain't broke, don't mend it." I remain convinced that that is an essential watchphrase, which has often been applied to the Post Office-- that much valued and greatly improved service. There is now unanimity that some changes need to be made in its organisation. I especially welcome those proposed last week by my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade, first, for Post Office Counters to strengthen the role

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of sub-post offices--which are so vital to rural and semi-rural areas--and, secondly, to provide greater commercial freedom for the Royal Mail.

Whether that extension of commercial freedom, which I think all parties accept, and the interests of fair competition require a measure of privatisation is something that we must consider during the consultation period. I am extremely grateful that my right hon. Friend has provided time for consultation on these complex matters. The fair competition point is valid, which is why I know that there is support for a measure of privatisation. However, we also need to guarantee--not just for a few years, but indefinitely--the commitments on the uniform tariff and the retention and, indeed, improvement of the present collection and delivery service.

On the question of privatised utilities generally, there are one or two tasks that the Government and Parliament should undertake during the second half of this Parliament. Obviously, one of those tasks is to promote vigorously the undoubted successes of privatisation, especially in telecommunications and gas, and even the vast investment now being undertaken in the water industry. I shall have more to say about water later. At the same time, we need to consider some of the difficulties that have arisen, for example, the power of the regulators and the failed diversifications in certain utilities, which was highlighted recently in The Sunday Times .

While all Conservative Members accept that considerable benefits will come from the introduction of competition into the gas industry, there is concern in the south-west at the possible burdening of our constituents with transport costs. I am assured that the benefits from competition will greatly outweigh the transportation costs. We will have to examine that closely. My hon. Friends in the south-west would find the general principle of geographical discrimination unacceptable if, as has been suggested, perhaps in a rather alarmist way, in the Western Morning News , it were to apply to postal, electricity or telephone charges.

There are other, rather more significant, issues relating to the privatised utilities that will not go away--for example, whether the privatised coal industry is being treated fairly in relation to electricity supply. As a Member representing a constituency in the south-west, I am sometimes asked why my constituents and I are interested in the coal industry. I suspect that one reason is that the south-west traditionally has been dependent on agriculture. It is also surrounded by fish and therefore also dependent on the fishing industry, as my hon. Friend the Member for Falmouth and Camborne (Mr. Coe) well knows. Therefore, there is a fellow feeling with those in the coal industry that this country should not only exploit its skills, professionalism and hard work; it should be able to exploit its natural resources.

Something that is very much of concern in the south-west is the charging system for water. Is it right and justifiable that our constituents in Devon and Cornwall, and my constituents in the extreme west of my constituency, should pay the total cost of clearing up the beaches along the whole south-western peninsula ? I am sorry to tell my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that those issues will not go away. Indeed, my hon. Friends and I will return to them again and again.

The country is now facing the European elections. Whatever the speculation in certain section of the press, the Conservative party is united on the programme spelt out by

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Margaret Daly, the Member of the European Parliament for Somerset and West Dorset, and other candidates, which is to keep Britain's veto in Europe, to support a Europe that does less and does it better, to work constantly for a level playing field in Europe, to ensure proper enforcement of EC laws across Europe, to protect Britain's budget rebate and to fight fraud in Europe.

Conservative Members are united behind all those matters, and in many of them our views are in sharp distinction to those of Opposition Members. It would be perverse if, as a way of protesting against certain measures from national Government, people were to elect large numbers of Liberal Democrat or Labour MEPs whose views on European issues are light years away from the views of the bulk of their constituents. That would be regrettable and I hope that the country will recoil from that possibility.

5.37 pm

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington) : The House should not adjourn because matters relating to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill remain outstanding. I want to raise two aspects of the Bill that have not been referred to during the debates over recent weeks. The first is a statement by the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People, which appears in Hansard on 29 April. I intend to read that statement twice because I want to draw the attention of the House to the ambiguity of what he said and show why disablement groups may have been misled. I shall read the same words on each occasion.

The Minister said :

"As I said, there is an established handling procedure and, however strongly any of us may feel about the issue, we cannot deviate from it. That is not to say that the Government are not listening with care and sympathy to those who are actively campaigning for the Bill and properly using every opportunity to ensure that it reaches the statute book and that the thinking behind it is widely understood in the country outside."

That is my first reading of those words. I shall now re-read exactly the same words :

"As I said, there is an established handling procedure and, however strongly any of us may feel about the issue, we cannot deviate from it. That is not to say that the Government are not listening with care and sympathy to those who are actively campaigning for the Bill and properly using every opportunity to ensure that it reaches the statute book and that the thinking behind it is widely understood in the country outside."

There is a distinction between the way in which I read those words the first and then the second time. In the first, the Government are interpreted as using every opportunity to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book, with the thinking behind it widely understood in the country. On the second reading, the interpretation is that the people outside are taking those actions.

I put it to the Leader of the House that the first interpretation was the one that was accepted by the disablement groups and that led them to believe that the Bill would be supported by the Government as late as 29 April this year. That was nine days after, according to the Minister's reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), he had authorised his officials to instruct parliamentary counsel to draft amendments on 20 April 1994. He authorised the drafting of the amendments on 20 April, yet on 29 April he told Parliament, in the words that I first used, that the Government supported the legislation, obviously subject to some amendment. It is in that that much of the misunderstanding has arisen.

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If one goes on to quote other remarks made the Minister in the debate, they seem to confirm only the first interpretation that I put on the words, because at the end he said :

"The Government are determined to continue with that progress, and we are determined also to look at the provisions of the Bill and to see what common ground can be established between the Government and the Bill's sponsors . . . We will come to Report next week with an attitude which firmly reflects and reinforces the commitments made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and we will pursue the remaining stages of the Bill in that spirit. We will return to the issue next Friday, and the Government will continue to study and reflect on the comments which undoubtedly will be made in those discussions and, in due course, we will make clear to the House our conclusions about the further consideration of the matters."-- [ Official Report , 29 April 1994 ; Vol. 242, c. 514-16.]

That was nine days after the instruction was given to Parliamentary Counsel to draft those wrecking amendments.

My second point relates to the ruling of Madam Speaker on 11 May. Madam Speaker made a ruling on the Floor of the House, using the same language as she used in a letter to me. So in the light of that, I feel that, in so far as Madam Speaker said that she was breaking from orthodoxy on those matters and was prepared to rule on the Floor, I am at liberty to quote only those parts of her correspondence with me to which she referred on the Floor. She places emphasis on one particular word. The letter reads :

"In the light of developments since I received your letter, as a result of which the House is in possession of the facts and has received an apology, I have concluded that I would not be justified in myself granting precedence for this matter's further consideration."

"myself" being Madam Speaker.

What Madam Speaker is therefore saying to me--I must make it clear to the House that, on principle, I have not discussed that ruling with Madam Speaker or had any contact with her office, and that I can speak quite freely, as I am uncompromised by any discussion--and to the House is that she was not in a position to grant the motion precedence. However, in the letter, she goes on to say :

"My decision in no way reflects your right"

my right

"to seek ways to pursue this matter yourself."

She is saying that I can pursue the matter. There are only a few ways open to me to do that in terms of bringing a motion. Either I win a ballot--I have never won one of those ballots, or perhaps I did, in 1985--or I would have to convince my political party, which, in the circumstances, would be improper, that it should table the motion on a Supply day. I believe that, technically, it could. The problem with that is that the moment a political party is seen to be tabling a motion of that nature, it politicises a matter that should be dealt with on a cross-party basis. I think that it is impossible for the Labour party to table such a motion, because it has implications for procedure in the future when those matters arise, as they will, no doubt, again and again.

If my political party cannot table a motion, and I cannot table a motion, and Madam Speaker is unprepared to give the matter precedence, the only remaining person in a position to table such a motion is the Leader of the House. I believe that there is a responsibility on him to table that motion, and I shall explain why.

I was astonished, as I said at the time, by Madam Speaker's ruling. What I did not say at the time, however,

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