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Column 323Wise, Audrey
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.
Question accordingly negatived.
That, at this day's sitting,
(1) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 9 (Sittings of the House), the Motion in the name of the Prime Minister for the Adjournment of the House shall not lapse at Ten o'clock and may be proceeded with, though opposed, until Eight o'clock in the morning, at which hour, unless proceedings thereon have previously been concluded, the Motion shall lapse ; and
(2) notwithstanding the provisions of Standing Order No. 14 (Exempted business), the Speaker shall, not later than one and a half hours after the Motion in the name of Mr. Greg Knight relating to Privileges has been entered upon, put the Question already proposed from the Chair and, if that Question is for the Amendment of the said Motion, then put forthwith the Main Question or the Main Question, as amended ; notwithstanding the practice of the House, the Motion shall be regarded as a single Motion ; and the said Motion may be proceeded with after the expiry of the time for opposed business.-- [Mr. Andrew Mitchell.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That this House, at its rising to-morrow, do adjourn
until Monday 17th October.-- [Mr. Newton.]
Sir Geoffrey Pattie (Chertsey and Walton) : The House should not adjourn for the summer recess without having an opportunity to consider the National Audit Office report of 29 June 1994, dealing with the policies of the Department of Transport on the acquisition, management and disposal of land and property that has been purchased for road construction. Once again, the Department appears to be seen in a poor light, showing inadequate management and an apparent indifference to the anxieties and suffering of individual people living in their own homes.
On the schemes examined by the National Audit Office, the Department median average time to announce the preferred route was 10 years from the time of the original announcement, and a further six years to reach the compulsory purchase stage. Two schemes that the National Audit Office examined took 20 years or more.
The only part of the National Audit Office report in which the Department receives some encouragement is from section 2.24 onwards, concerning informing the public, but even there there are shortcomings, which are identified in section 2.26 :
"In April 1994 the Highways Agency published their acquisitions charter statement, Your Home and Trunk Road Proposals', which aims to provide homeowners with clear and straightforward information on the type of compensation available for those whose property is affected and the stages at which they can claim. The charter statement does not commit the Highways Agency, however, to publicising on individual schemes the point at which discretionary purchase applications will be considered."
That is important.
Part 3 of the National Audit Office report gives the main cause for concern up and down the country, particularly in my constituency. It is the part dealing with the management of land and property. Section 3.4 of the informative report states :
"The Internal Audit examination in 1991 (paragraph 1.6) noted that the managing agreements then in force lacked clear guidance and objectives on rent levels, rent arrears, maintenance expenditure and vacancy levels. Although the Department issued further guidance on these matters in 1992, five of the 14 agents responding to the National Audit Office survey considered that the guidance still lacked clarity on some areas such as security costs."
On the important subject of monitoring performance, paragraph 3.6 states :
"The Department do not analyse and compare the performance of regions and agents and they do not, therefore, have information to identify variations and to help focus on particular problem areas. The Department's lack of computerised information until recently has also severely hampered their ability to monitor achievements." On the subject of vacancy levels, section 3.9 states :
"The National Audit Office found that at 31 March 1993 for all land and property owned by the Department there were rent arrears of £2 million or 21 per cent. of total collectable income"
for that particular year.
In paragraph 3.11, the report states :
"The National Audit Office found that by 31 March 1993 for the 2350 residential agent managed properties, rent arrears of £1.2 million had accumulated, or about 20 per cent. of total collectable income for 1992-93. This compares with 17 per cent. one year earlier and 14 per cent. at 31 March 1987."
In my constituency, the problem has been exacerbated. Behind all the statistics produced by the National Audit
Column 325Office lie real life stories. One example involves an address at New Haw in my constituency--41, Pinewood avenue. A letter sent to me by the chief executive of Runnymede borough council stated : "A particular property at 41 Pinewood Avenue provides a graphic illustration of the sorts of problems that local residents have to tolerate. It was acquired in 1993 and squatters broke in in October/November 1993. The terrified family next door contacted the agents many miles away in Guildford but received no response. Numerous telephone calls to the Department of Transport at Dorking and letters also resulted in no response. During this time the squatters arrived at any time day and night with loud music and drug pushing. Police patrolled but squatters used rear access along the motorway to escape raids. The Department of Transport officials at Dorking were very defensive and unco-operative, often with an unpleasant attitude with little or no concern for the problems of residents and their quality of life. Endless further delays and finally court action resulted in the squatters being evicted at the end of May this year, some six/seven months of absolute misery for local residents. As though this was not enough the Department of Transport and their managing agents left this property unsecured even after eviction and squatters made further attempts to break back into the premises."
Only after representations by the local authority and myself was priority given to the particular property--short-let tenants have now been installed.
Many people are surprised at the attitude of the Department of Transport to the public and local authorities. It seems to make little attempt to be user-sensitive or to try to understand the anxieties of local people. The upheaval caused by the planning and construction of a motorway is a traumatic experience for anyone. To add to that trauma, the problems of squatting, vandalism and drug-related activities is completely unacceptable in this day and age, and all the more so when those activities result from mismanagement on the part of the Department.
What Runnymede borough council finds so extraordinary about the whole matter is that it has devised a scheme to cope with homelessness in its area. It has developed an effective private partnership scheme under which private landlords make their properties available for families who would otherwise be homeless. The properties are handed back at the end of the tenancy agreement and the families are rehoused in other suitable properties. The properties are well looked after, there are no voids, there is a sensible income and homeless people get somewhere to live. All that shows a well-managed housing policy, and Runnymede offered to provide that service to the Department of Transport for the usual fees. No reply has been forthcoming.
Sir Michael Grylls (Surrey, North-West) : My right hon. Friend and I have the pleasure of sharing Runnymede borough council, which crosses our two constituencies. It really is a pleasure most of the time, but it has not been a pleasure during the planning stage of the link road. It has caused absolute havoc for people living in Thorpe and Egham--a very nice village and a very nice town. Many properties have been blighted and I hope that my right hon. Friend will mention that in his speech. It is almost impossible for people to move. People with a growing family who need an extra bedroom for the children find it impossible to get rid of their houses at anything other than knock-down prices. Devastation has been caused and the Department of Transport should be doing something about it.
Sir Geoffrey Pattie : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who draws attention to the problems that his constituents share with mine. Over both our areas, about 120 properties have been acquired by the Department.
A local authority with a proven record on managing housing stock well and to the advantage of all concerned has been spurned by the Department. That has led to the problems and mismanagement that I have described and to the additional costs to the public purse that have been highlighted so well in the National Audit Office report. 4.7 pm
Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe) : It is difficult to know whether to congratulate or commiserate with the Leader of the House on surviving this morning's slaughter in Downing street. I want to refer in this debate to two important decisions of this House still awaiting implementation, about each of which we are entitled to at least an oral ministerial statement before we rise for the summer recess. The first concerns the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill which, since I first presented it to the House for First Reading in 1991, has had over 40 hours of parliamentary debate. I am told that that is rather longer than it took to dispatch King Charles I.
In an attempt to end what is now being called the "filibuster of the century", the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir J. Hannam) moved a motion on 29 April in the following terms :
"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.]
Like the Bill itself, the motion had strong backing in all parts of the House and it was approved, after nearly five hours of debate, without a single vote against.
A speech on the motion from the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People left the Bill's supporters here and all across Britain with high hopes that its Report stage, due the following Friday, was being approached by the Government in a spirit of honest endeavour to reach common ground with the Bill's all-party sponsors. Unless words had lost their meaning, it was said, the Minister was at the very least committed by that speech to ensure fair play at the Bill's Report stage on 6 May. But then came a rude awakening. It was discovered that in fact the Minister, even before he spoke on the hon. Member for Exeter's motion, had already given instructions for the Bill to be destroyed. Within four days of the Minister's speech, 80 new amendments to the Bill were tabled en bloc, all in the names of five Conservative Members. The amendments were drafted for them, at taxpayers' expense, by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel on instructions given by the Minister for Social Security and Disabled People on 20 April, nine days before his speech of 29 April on the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter. Inevitably the effect of the amendments was to ensure that the Bill would be talked out on Report.
There were attempts at first to give the impression that the 80 amendments had been drafted by the five Members themselves. That impression was corrected by the Leader of the House in a parliamentary reply to me on 6 May, in which he confirmed that all the amendments were drafted
Column 327by the Office of Parliamentary Counsel. Subsequently there were two statements of unreserved apology for misleading the House in proceedings on the Bill : one by the Minister himself, and the other by the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland). But their statements were scant consolation for Britain's 6.5 million disabled people. For them, as they have since made clear to all Members, the wrecking of the Bill was an unforgivable act. They feel deceived and betrayed. They point out that the Bill had the support of a clear majority of Members ; that it had been given a Second Reading in the House of Lords on three occasions and completed all its stages there as long ago as November 1992 ; that the Bill's sponsors had consulted both very widely and in detail about its provisions ; and that the response to that consultation had been strongly positive. They recall the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter and they regard the Government's failure to implement it as contemptuous of this House. Above all, they ask why, if the Government felt that their case was even remotely defensible, there was so much deceit and deception in responding to the Bill at a time when the Prime Minister was stressing his determination to restore "the highest standards in public life."
The Leader of the House may say that we have now had the Minister's statement of last Friday and seen the consultative document. But that is no answer to disabled people who ask, in anguish and with anger, what trust they can ever have in Ministers who promise consultation while continuing even to ignore the opinion of the House of Commons itself. If they can ignore the House, whose preference for the Bill over all the alternatives was clearly expressed in its approval of the motion on 29 April, then whose opinions are they ever likely to accept if they differ from the Government's own ? That is the question leading representatives of disabled people are asking after the Minister's statement last Friday. They complain bitterly of being forced to trade a good and viable Bill for a promissory note of little face value, let alone real value.
As Leader of the House, the right hon. Gentleman has a duty in this debate to respond to the very deeply felt concern among disabled people, more especially about the apparent futility of the parliamentary process when, as it seems to them, the decision taken by this House on 29 April has been so unceremoniously dumped by the Government and without any attempt at justification.
The right hon. Gentleman must know that the motion the House approved on 29 April was by no means extravagant. To opt for extravagance is not the way of the hon. Member for Exeter. All that his motion sought was an hour or so of parliamentary time to meet the strongly reaffirmed call from disabled people for full citizenship, and, as the hon. Member for Exeter said in moving the motion : "We are not asking for the impossible or even for the original. Between 1951 and 1985, private Members' Bills were given Government time, of which 33 were granted extra time by Conservative Governments. Library records show that, between 1979 and 1986, four private Members' balloted Bills were given Government time. All those Bills show that, where there is a parliamentary will, there is a parliamentary way."-- [ Official Report , 29 April ; Vol. 242, c. 505.]
Column 328It is still not too late for the Government to make the only worthwhile apology for their scandalously indefensible treatment of the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. They can do so by honouring the decision taken by the House on 29 April. Time can still be found for the Bill's remaining stages before this Session ends, and I implore the right hon. Gentleman now to accept the will of the House as expressed by its approval of the motion of the hon. Member for Exeter.
The Government's treatment of that motion is not an isolated case. There is now the further case of the motion of my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) on the welfare of the ex-service community, which the House approved on 1 July 1994. It is a motion in which I have an interest to declare, but not a financial one, as honorary parliamentary adviser to the Royal British Legion. My hon. Friend's motion was in the following terms :
"That this House, mindful of the increasing needs of the United Kingdom's ageing ex-service population and the many problems of younger members of the ex-service community in direct consequence of Options for Change', considers that there is now a pressing need for a sub-Department of Ex- Service Affairs within an existing Ministry and with a designated Minister to be responsible, as the only fundamental and long-term solution for the case and welfare of ex-service people and their dependants ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government now to respond positively to the Royal British Legion's urgent call for a sub-department to be established."
The issue addressed by that motion is one about which the ex-service community feels very strongly. This year's Royal British Legion conference, which spoke for 800,000 legion members, voted unanimously to press the Government to establish the sub-department. At a time when bits and pieces of responsibility for ex-service affairs are scattered all over Whitehall, ex-service organisations want someone in Government to focus attention on all their concerns : a Minister in an existing Department who can provide full access to the whole Government through a single Whitehall door. They do not seek to emulate other countries with full-blown departments of state for veterans' affairs, but simply to make life easier for the ex-service community here in the UK--not least the war disabled and war bereaved--by achieving a modest and common-sense change in the machinery of government.
For ex-service organisations, in representing their members' interests, now to have to deal with 17 different Ministries is bureaucratic and inefficient, costly to the taxpayer, damaging to the reputations of Whitehall and Westminster, and hurtful to the ex-service community. Who can doubt that all the tension there was recently between the Government and the ex-service community over the 50th anniversary of D-day could have been avoided if there had been more sensitivity to and awareness of that community's wishes than could be achieved under existing arrangements ?
In a parliamentary question to the Prime Minister, I asked "if he will be meeting representatives of the Royal British Legion to discuss the approval by the House on 1 July of the resolution on the welfare of ex-service people ; and what representation he has had from the Legion in regard to a meeting".
His answer was :
"We welcome continuing close contact with the Royal British Legion and other service organisations. A request for a meeting has been received from the Royal British Legion and is being considered at present."--[ Official Report , 14 July 1994 ; Vol. 246, c. 712 .]
Column 329My question gave the Prime Minister an opportunity to assure the ex-service community that the Government recognise the importance to them of the decision taken by the House on 1 July ; but his reply ignored the decision, even though the Royal British Legion's request to see him was expressly for the purpose of discussing that decision.
Not content with his response, I tabled a further parliamentary question to the Prime Minister requesting a clear statement of the Government's intentions. I asked him
"if it is his intention at present or at any time in the future to implement the Resolution of the House of 1 July on the welfare of ex- service people".
His reply of 15 July was :
"We have no such plans at present".--[ Official Report , 15 July 1994 ; Vol. 246, c. 778. ]
That reply will be widely seen, and not only in the ex-service community, as grossly unsatisfactory. It does nothing for the Government's reputation and is demeaning of this House. The Leader of the House, who made plain his respect for the ex-service organisations here last Thursday, must surely now recognise the concern provoked by the Government's contemptuous dismissal of the decision taken by the House to help their members. What on earth is the use of allocating parliamentary time for private Members' motions when, if they are approved, the Government act as if they had never been debated ? Is that not to denigrate and diminish this House ? Will the right hon. Gentleman now arrange very urgently for oral ministerial statements on the Government's response to the motions approved both on the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill on 29 April and the welfare of the ex- service community on 1 July ? In discharge of his responsibilities to all Members of the House, will he also do his best to ensure that the response in each case is both positive and worthy of the people whom the two motions sought to help ? After all, they are people whose claims on the attention of this House deserve the highest priority.
Mr. Peter Temple-Morris (Leominster) : I welcome this opportunity and am grateful for the fact that I can make a speech about my constituency. The subject that I wish to address is important to my constituents, and, indeed, many hon. Members, on both sides of the House-- local government reorganisation and the unfolding reports of the Local Government Commissioners.
As far as Hereford-Worcester is concerned, in the old county of Hereford, there is considerable concern about that. The detail of that concern can be made clear to the House, and I, and other hon. Members, hope to participate in the debates, which, I dare say, will come during the next Session and next year. But at this stage, in terms of the background of the 1972 reorganisation, before we get on to the present one, nothing produces such strong feelings--few things do--as interfering with people's local government boundaries. Within parties, it divides--Conservative against Conservative, Labour against Labour. It generates an awful lot of feeling across the country. We have been brave enough to embark on a further reform, and the message that I am giving is that, now that we have done so, we will have to finish it.
The county of Hereford was merged with Worcestershire in 1972. There was great uncertainty about before that time with the Redcliffe-Maude commission
Column 330under the previous Labour Government. The intensity of feeling as a result nearly caused the loss of two Conservative seats. It is a relevant warning for the future. My hon. Friend the Member for Hereford (Mr. Shepherd) has championed the cause of Herefordshire and, indeed, is associated with much of what I have to say. We need to know where we stand. We intend to conclude the inquiries and recommendations on which we have embarked. I would be grateful for any ministerial assurance that can be given along those lines. The existing county of Hereford- Worcester has had a comparatively brief local government life of 20 years. It has worked very well. I am the only cross-border Member of Parliament, in the sense that my constituency is two thirds Herefordshire--the old county--and one third Worcestershire. Worcestershire has four times more people than Herefordshire and has been a very great support, not least over rural schools and libraries. All those things and the finance that comes from a good base in that regard can be used to support the rural areas.
My tribute to the existing county is very relevant to the proposals for change. The Local Government Commission has now delivered its first report ; its recommendation, and two further options for the county of Hereford and Worcester, are in favour of a unitary authority of Herefordshire. A geographically vast and, indeed, beautiful area on the Welsh border--it has a population of some 162, 000, while neighbouring Worcestershire's population is more than four times larger--will have everything except an obvious financial base. Let me make two points to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, one specific and the other general. I shall not discuss the proposals for Worcestershire, save to say that my constituency includes Tenbury Wells, which--with the surrounding area--is affected by the proposals of the Local Government Commission.
I anticipate that Tenbury Wells will want a rural connection ; in the context of the recommendations for Worcestershire, it may go for a two-tier Worcestershire authority, which would mean its being part of a Malvern Hills district council. I merely encourage Tenbury Wells to speak out to the commissioners. Household after household is currently receiving the recommendations, and being invited to participate in consultation.
The county of Herefordshire is cohesive and extremely historic. As I have said, it has everything but a good financial base. It is a vast area, and will clearly incur expense in delivering county services, however resourceful and ingenious the new council may be. If we create the new county--everyone wants it, including me--we shall have to finance it, which will mean a central Government grant formula that caters for the smaller and, in particular, the rural counties that we are creating.
I think--dare I say it--that this is a matter on which both sides of the House must agree : I have observed during my parliamentary life that a change of Government can mean an infinitesimal touch on the tiller, leading to a diminution of resources from the centre to, for instance, rural areas.
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : I hesitate to interfere in matters concerning Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Some of us, however, spent 177 hours in Committee Rooms 12 and 14 considering the Local Government etc.
Column 331(Scotland) Bill. Many of the problems that the hon. Gentleman describes are just a year ahead, and how we are suffering.
Mr. Temple-Morris : This is not the first time that Scotland has been the precursor in terms of various local government events--if I may use suitably neutral phraseology. I always enjoy the hon. Gentleman's speeches, and I shall certainly try to read some of the proceedings on the Bill that he mentions.
In fact, the hon. Gentleman's intervention reinforces my view. I fear that if--for political or other reasons, some of which may be somewhat emotional --we create entities and are then not prepared to show the colour of our money by financing them, there will be nothing but trouble for the areas concerned. A rural area with a weak financial base is extremely vulnerable. I have said that locally, and I now say it nationally. There is little or no local padding when it comes to making up for any deficiency in central Government grant. We have started the process ; let us finish it. Whatever entity we create, if our creation depends on the centre it is the obligation and duty of the centre to finance it.
Ms Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) : I want to raise a couple of issues that relate not just to my constituency but to the country generally. They are issues that should be brought to the attention of the House before it rises for the summer recess. We are about to begin what many members of the public assume will be holiday and leisure time for Members of Parliament. We know that most of that time will be spent working in our constituencies. Those of us with London constituencies do not leave this place very often, even during the summer.
One thing that many hon. Members may wish to do during the summer and which many people do is play cricket. Surrey county cricket club, which I am privileged to have in my constituency is currently doing extremely well, and I hope that it will go on to win something this year. I have just come from the Oval, where the House of Commons and the House of Lords cricket team is playing a South African ambassador's team as a celebration of South Africa being brought back into the international cricketing world.
An important development in Surrey county cricket club is the way in which it has increasingly tried to do more for young people in the area who want to get involved in playing cricket. In inner-city areas, cricket has sometimes been seen as an elitist game, but Surrey county cricket club is trying to ensure that it is not viewed in that way, but is seen as a game that many of our young people, particularly from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, can play. There have been good developments at Surrey on that.
The freehold of the Oval is owned by the Duchy of Cornwall. That means that the Duchy of Cornwall--indeed, the heir to the throne--has a great deal of control over what the cricket club can do. Surrey county cricket club has been trying for some time to purchase the freehold, because it would like to have control of its own destiny. It is a famous ground and it should be able to develop further, in the interests of cricket locally and nationally and for the good of the local community in my constituency.
Column 332Unfortunately, the Duchy of Cornwall is not keen to sell the freehold. It is not that it is not used to selling things. Since I was elected as the Member of Parliament for Vauxhall in 1989, the Duchy has sold off all its housing in Kennington. Admittedly, it has sold it to a housing association, and a large amount of that housing has stayed in social ownership. I pay tribute to the Duchy for the way in which it handled that sale. However, it refuses to enter into negotiations about selling the Oval freehold.
Early-day motion 1552 has been tabled today with cross-party support. It has nearly 50 signatures already, and we hope that, by the end of the week, it will have substantially more, because we feel that, in this day and age, as we move into the next century, it is quite wrong for an individual and the Duchy of Cornwall to have control over whether Surrey county cricket club wishes to put on a new door handle, put a screw in a particular place or build something new in the interests of local people. Every time it wants to do anything, it has to obtain Duchy approval, Duchy architects have to be paid for and the costs are increasing. It is disgraceful. I hope that, by my bringing this to the attention of the House, all those people who love cricket will use whatever influence they have to persuade the Duchy to sell the freehold to Surrey. If that happened, Surrey county cricket club would be able to celebrate its 150th anniversary next year with a present from His Royal Highness Prince Charles.
The second issue I want to raise is also a leisure activity, but not something with which I am involved. Those who know me may find it unusual that I intend to raise the issue of pubs, publicans and the brewery industry, because I am not known to frequent the bars of the House. However, I have many pubs in my constituency, and I recognise what a focal point they are in the community for social activity. I was delighted to sponsor the Vauxhall "pub of the year" award. Luckily, or unluckily, many Members of Parliament live in my constituency, and when they are not busily engaged in their duties here, they frequent the pubs there. As the House rises for the summer recess, thereby giving hon. Members a greater opportunity to visits pubs in their own constituencies, I draw to the House's attention the plight of many landlords and landladies who are picked on and exploited by the major breweries.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) has been actively pursuing this issue, and many hon. Members have been lobbied by pub tenants. A large public meeting was organised recently by the very effective South London Licensed Victuallers Protection Association. Publicans from all over south London attended to find out how they could lobby more effectively.
Under the beer orders that the Government introduced a few years ago, the number of properties tied to each brewery was supposed to be limited to 2,000. The orders were intended to reduce monopoly control of the market, increase competition and diversity, and benefit the customer and the long- term interests of the industry. Those measures have clearly failed.
The brewing giants have effectively invested their money in lawyers and corporate strategists not only to get around the intention of the beer orders but to tighten and further restrict the operation of high street pub retail outlets. The situation now is even worse than before the introduction of the beer orders, which at best have been
Column 333woefully ineffective and at worst have colluded in aiding the interests of the brewers against those of the pub tenant and customer.
Although breweries were supposed to be limited to 2,000 tied houses each, they found a convenient way to get around the law. Grand Metropolitan swapped its brewing interest, Watney Truman, for the estate of Courage. It set up Inntrepreneur Ltd. and became a 50 :50 partner in some 15,000 pubs. Whitbread and Bass also started leasing companies. Many times the supposed 2,000 limit for tied houses are still contractually tied to the same brewery--but now, under even more draconian, unfair and anti-competitive practices.
Publicans face absurd minimum purchase orders, despite the current recession in the pub trade, which is especially acute in areas such as that which I represent. If pub tenants fail to sell an often unrealistically large amount of their brewer's beer, they have to pay a heavy cash penalty- -about £83 a barrel in many cases.
That loophole has led to the absurd situation of one publican I know having had four different corporate landlords in just five months even though he is still tied to the same brewery, paying the same extortionate rent and the same minimum purchase order penalty. The price that pub tenants have to pay for the beer they do manage to sell is also often far higher than that at which the same sales representative of the same brewery sells to neighbouring pubs. Rents for tied houses are also skyrocketing--increases of 100 to 150 per cent. have been common on south London, and some are even greater. The rents are out of proportion to the declining value of properties and the market rents for similar sized shops or other businesses. Because of dubious valuations, one estimate of the worth of Grand Metropolitan's share of the pub empire is £150 million more than its real market value. That suggests to me that, in a world of high finance, there is another motive for continuing the anti-competitive monopolistic practices.
To use a pun, the only reason that tenants continue to put up with this appalling situation is that the breweries have them over a barrel. Tenants have often invested their life savings in their businesses ; to walk away would be to invite bankruptcy, abandon all they have worked for, and make themselves homeless. For many people in their fifties, it could mean being unemployed for the rest of their lives. Even so, bankruptcy and financial ruin are common, as breweries drain the last drop of cash from vulnerable tenants. Typically, suicide among publicans is on the increase.
I would usually give more details of the heavy-handed, bully-boy tactics of the brewery giants, but some tenants who attended meetings in the House were shortly afterwards visited by brewery managers, who threatened them for making trouble with their Members of Parliament. Test cases are currently before the courts, disputing the legality of some of the anti- competitive practices, so I shall not go into further detail of individual cases. The European Commission has also been considering a number of complaints, and is firmly of the opinion that the responsibility for sorting out the mess lies with our national Government.
I hope that, before the summer recess, the Government will get the message that a full review of the legislative and regulatory framework of the brewing industry is urgently needed. The beer orders have been tried, and have been seen to fail. I call on the Government to investigate
Column 334minimum purchase orders, excessive rent increases, over-valuation of properties, and the monopoly exploitation of tied house contracts.
When hon. Members visit pubs in their constituencies in the summer, they should ask the publican what is happening to him. I believe that they will then return to the House determined to get the Government to do something about the wholly unjust beer orders.
Mr. Patrick Thompson (Norwich, North) : I am happy to follow the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey), who has conjured up summery pictures of cricket fields and of the consumption of beer. Like me, she is clearly in favour of a summer Adjournment, and of leisure--even if we do not always get as much of that during the recess as others may think. I am happy to follow her down that route.
I am a fan of Martyn Lewis, who is a proponent of good news--as some hon. Members will know, he spoke to the all-party media committee not long ago-- and I welcome the opportunity to refer briefly to one or two encouraging trends over the past few months. That should counterbalance much that I-- and, I am sure, others--have found negative about current political debate. I do not criticise any particular organisation or party, but I have detected a slight negativity, so in my short speech I shall refer to one or two positive factors. First, I compliment the Government on the "Front Line First" announcement earlier this week. It contained good news for all of us who are keen on the reserve forces. Having read in the press that there might be further cuts in the reserves, we have now heard that their numbers will be held to 59,000, which is most welcome. Originally, I had hoped to have the opportunity to debate that subject at greater length later tonight, with my hon. Friend the Minister of State for the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, that will not now happen--for two reasons. First, my calculations show that there will not be time. Secondly, my hon. Friend may now have other things on his mind. I wish him well in his new appointment, which we have heard about today--and a very important appointment it is, too. The announcement about the reserve forces was good news, and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will get the message through to the Secretary of State for Defence that it was much appreciated. Will he also ensure that the promised legislation on the reserve forces, which has been written about during the last few months, will be introduced in the Queen's Speech ?
If we are to encourage the reserve forces, we need to re-examine the employment implications, in terms both of employment security and of encouragement for employers to release people who are doing that worthwhile job, as members of our Territorial Army or our other voluntary reserves. I hope that my right hon. Friend will do all he can to ensure that there will be an announcement in the Queen's Speech about a Bill to update the law on the reserve forces. I trust that that point will be taken on board and passed on.
I shall now deal with something totally different. Over the past two years I, like millions of other people, have been encouraged by the success of the radio station Classic FM, which is now two years old. I see that my hon. Friend the Treasurer of Her Majesty's Household is shaking his head. He may not be in favour of Classic FM-- [Hon.
Column 335Members :-- "Radio 1."]--but I am, and I am willing to debate with anyone the virtues of Classic FM and the appalling nature of Radio-- [Interruption.] No ; my hon. Friends will be encouraged to hear that I shall be brief.
Classic FM now has about 5 million listeners ; that is good news. The point that I wish to make--not at length, Mr. Deputy Speaker, although it is well worth making--is that, even in the commercial world, there is scope for success when the taste of the British public is respected rather than despised. Trendy individuals from places such as Islington, and other places that I have never visited and do not really understand, seem to have rather a low opinion of public taste, but the success of Classic FM shows what happens when public taste is respected.
People in this country have a real interest in good music, in good art, and in science, which is my particular interest. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave) for all the excellent work that he has done for science and the scientific community while he has had ministerial responsibility for science. When I move among the scientific community, I have no doubt that there is much support and respect for his work in that area. I hope that that remark has the support of hon. Members on both sides of the House.