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Column 345or 18 months by all kinds of extra expenditure, including tax increases, it is understandable that they do not look favourably on the Government, and are unlikely to do so in the future.
Those who earn the most are increasingly rewarding themselves with even more money. Signal workers would have been willing to settle for about 5 per cent., but the Government vetoed that. Had they agreed to it, the dispute could have been settled and today's disruption to train services avoided.
The Guardian index of top executive pay shows that, in the past year, top directors have received average increases of nearly 25 per cent., and even more in some cases. Seven directors receive more than £1 million a year. Last year, Mr. Peter Wood of the Royal Bank of Scotland received £18.5 million. I hope that he somehow manages to make ends meet.
The chief executive of SmithKline Beecham receives some £2 million a year while Glaxo, Barclays, Tompkins, and Kingfisher pay their top directors more than the £1 million mark. The chief executive of Cadbury Schweppes must have felt hard done by, because he received a percentage increase of just under 100 per cent. last year and now gets £852,000 a year. Top directors also receive performance bonuses, generous pensions contributions and share options, which sometimes amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
The comparison is so obvious. While those in the public sector have had increases of some 2 per cent.--many people in the private sector have not received much more, and some have had no increase whatever--those on the highest incomes have received substantial increases, despite the fact that the Prime Minister said that he did not approve of them. It seems all the more unfair when the Government are pursuing a wage restraint policy against signalmen and others in the public sector.
Nor should we forget that some of the top earners receive generous assistance when they leave their posts. Only last week, it came to light that the former managing director of Midlands Electricity departed with a compensation and pension package of some £655,000 and share options worth an additional £483,000--over the £1 million mark. Can such generous treatment be justified ? The former chairman of the water authority in my area received, on leaving the company, £230,300, plus £500,000 more in compensation for early retirement. That shows only too well that those with substantial incomes not only receive generous pay increases but, when they leave, they receive the sort of sums that I have mentioned. It is understandable that there is a lot of resentment. Some people may say that it is purely Labour envy but, while the Conservative Members are so strenuously against any form of minimum income and repeat time and again that it is out of the question, they appear to have no objection to maximum incomes. They never deplore the increases in pay to top earners in British industry. Indeed, they show no concern whatever.
The Low Pay Unit found that more than 44 per cent. of the work force in the west midlands were on low pay. That is 4 per cent. higher than the national average. The fact that some 855,000 employees in the west midlands earn less than the low-pay threshold helps to explain the poverty and near- poverty in which hundreds of thousands of people in our community are forced to live.
It is wrong that there should be such a gulf between those who are penalised by unemployment, when
Column 346employers simply say, "Take it or leave it," while at the other end of the income scale the fat cats reward themselves, often without justification, with increases such as I have described. Once again, it illustrates the Government's philosophy : indifference to the plight of those on low pay and total opposition to a minimum income policy, but no willingness to take action against those on the highest incomes. I felt that it was only right to raise such matters before we go into the summer recess.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford) : I wish to speak briefly about the problem of deregulation. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has heard me speak on this matter too often to find it amusing.
I was on the Committee that discussed the deregulation Bill upstairs for many days, and in the Chamber on Report and Third Reading. Throughout the Bill's Committee, Report and Third Reading stages, I fully supported all the Bill's objectives. It was a first-class attempt by a Conservative Government to do exactly what we should be doing--strip out some of the more absurd and idiotic regulations. I welcomed, as did many other people, the power which the Bill gave the state to take away those regulations, and I make no excuses for thoroughly supporting that great concept. Hon. Members should be ever vigilant against the over imposition of regulations. That important Bill is now going through another place. During its passage through this place, I raised the plight of small businesses, and suggested a remedy that had not been included in the Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough (Mr. Sykes) and I raised the matter both in Committee on 28 April and on Report on the Floor of the House. I draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the new clause that we tabled on Report, which appears in the Official Report of 23 May in columns 45-46.
The new clause sought to give business men and women redress against the unfair imposition by officials of regulations which lead to the eventual closure of their businesses. It also sought to give them redress against the imposition of such financial stringency that their businesses either become uncompetitive or eventually close down because, over a prolonged period, those excesses prevent them from trading competitively.
Sometimes that is the result of a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation of a regulation, but at other times it is because a regulation has been wilfully imposed on them without any regard for the true nature of the regulation. Either way, the reality remains the same--that regulations result in great difficulty, especially for small business men and women throughout the land.
The argument that I made then, and which I make no excuse for making again, was that those small business men and women are the ones who are least able to speak for themselves. They are the ones on which we dump so much paperwork and regulation that we smother them. The medium-to-large businesses can cope with all that ; they simply get another person along to deal with it. They can survive that extra imposition ; they have a bit of slack in their cash reserves. However, the small business men and women do not have those resources. They are the ones to whom we must look to provide the future employment for so many people
Column 347who are unemployed throughout the land. We must be extra-specially careful, therefore, not to allow regulations to have that effect on them.
Taking full regard of that, we introduced the new clauses simply to give those small business men and women the right to appeal to a magistrates court against such an unfair imposition. We thought it a reasonable device, and we presented it as such. It would have given the Bill the second leg that was necessary. The first leg was to strip away excess regulation, and the second leg would have been to guard against unfair imposition of regulation.
We were given certain assurances by my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr. Hamilton), who was at that time speaking for the Government, when summing up on Report. He said :
"I wish to try especially to provide an appeals mechanism that is quick, effective and cost-effective and will not create a new bureaucracy".
He went on to say :
"If my hon. Friend withdraws his clause and the matter goes to another place, the basis of the debate there will consequently be more informed. I fully support what my hon. Friend wants to achieve".--[ Official Report , 23 May 1994 ; Vol. 244, c. 69 and 70.] Being the very decent man that he is, my hon. Friend did just that, and we therefore complied and withdrew the new clause, on the basis that the Bill would be improved by the addition of such a clause during its passage through the other place.
I therefore draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House to the problem that appears to exist at the moment in introducing the new clause.
True to his word, my hon. Friend the Member for Tatton passed the matter to the deregulation task force, headed by Francis Maude--who was a colleague and who, I hope, will return to this place as a colleague--to consider the possibilities. The task force has considered it, and it appears it has handed the matter over to an official, to go away and put together a mechanism that could be properly implemented.
I understand that the official is now complaining that, first, there may not be enough time to put that mechanism into the Bill, and secondly, that there are some worries about the judicial approach. I also understand that the deregulation task force has essentially decided that the only way to solve the problem is to take the course that we proposed--the judicial route. It is simple and effective, and does not require extra bureaucracy.
I do not pretend to try to re-argue the case. All I am trying to do is to say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, in all good faith, men and women throughout the land had looked to us to find some form of redress.
We presented the Government with an opportunity. The Government, decently, said that they would consider it. I am worried that, if officials are allowed to say that it may be too difficult, we might not eventually include that mechanism in the Bill. If we do not, it will be a great failing for us here in the House, because we shall have failed the very people that we were sent here to support--the job creators, the people who will do the great job we want in providing new employment.
I urge my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, please, please, would he speak to everyone who is concerned with that matter, and give them a sense of
Column 348urgency ? If we do nothing else but put that into the Deregulation and Contracting Out Bill, we shall represent that vast group of people out there, the ones who cannot speak for themselves, the small business men and women. They will thank us, and rightly. It will be the right thing to do. I urge my right hon. Friend to do just that. 5.44 pm
Mr. John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) : I suggest that the House should not adjourn before we have had further opportunity to discuss the gathering crisis that hangs over the pensions of many people who depend on personal pensions. I should declare an interest in that subject, as a small part of my research assistant's salary is funded by the National Union of Insurance Workers.
As the Financial Times commented in an article on 15 July, "It has not been a good year for personal pensions".
That is an understatement. In the past year, there has been a series of damaging revelations about the personal pensions industry. It has become obvious that up to 500,000 people may have been wrongly advised to opt out of occupational pension schemes, and that more than 2 million people may have been wrongly advised to opt out of the state earnings-related pension scheme.
The pensions industry companies have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Personal Investments Authority, whose birth this week has, to say the least, been surrounded by almost complete scepticism. Merely a brief examination of the Order Paper of the past few days will show that there are no fewer than three early-day motions, tabled by Members on both sides of the House, highlighting failures in the regulatory system. The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant) referred to one of them earlier. A succession of firms with household names, such as Norwich Union, Legal and General, Nationwide and now Barclays, have either had to suspend their sales staff for retraining or have been fined by regulators for the blatant mismanagement of sales practices. It is therefore not surprising that, in the first quarter of this year, there was a dramatic drop in the sale of personal pensions--a fall of nearly 160,000 compared with the same quarter in the previous year.
The rows about bad management of the industry and ineffective regulation can obscure an even more fundamental problem. There are, in my view, sound reasons for most people to plan their pensions as a combination of state and non-state provision. The reality today is that many--probably most-- working people who are outside secure occupational pension schemes will not be making sufficient provision to ensure that they receive a pension that they or anyone else will regard as adequate when they retire.
State pensions, including the SERPS element, will be too low for most of those people who depend entirely on them. Half the people who opted out of SERPS for appropriate personal pensions have an income so small that they would almost certainly have been better off in SERPS, and of all those with an appropriate personal pension, 60 per cent. are only putting in their national insurance rebate and are not making any additional contribution from their income.
Not only are many people with personal pensions underprovided ; they often do not persist with the policy. As long ago as 1991, the Securities and Investments Board
Column 349revealed that a third of personal pensions are terminated or paid up within two years. At that time, the Consumers Association calculated that losses to investors through front-loaded commission charges and early penalty surrenders were running at £250 million a year--the equivalent of an annual Maxwell scandal. That was as long ago as 1991.
I recently completed a survey of 44 of the top pensions companies, asking about their lapse rates and termination rates. Of those 44 companies, only 13 were prepared to provide any information about the early cancellation of their policies, and all those that did so emphasised that there is still no industry-wide standard for providing that information. Of the 13 who were prepared to speak about the lapses in their policies, almost all said that one in five of their policies lapsed in some manner after two years. For most, between 30 per cent. and 50 per cent. of all the personal pensions that they sold lapsed in the first five years.
That highlights several serious problems. First, the difficulty of getting hold of that information from most companies means that one of the most useful indicators of the quality of the pension policy and the quality of the advice given by the insurance company is not available to the consumer.
A second problem is highlighted. We keep hearing Government statistics that 5 million people have personal pension policies, which implies that those policies will be kept until they mature and the policyholders will be able to retire on their proceeds. But it is clear that only a minority of those who buy personal pension policies see them through to full term. Many people with personal pension policies will keep them for only a short time, will lose a great deal of money on them and, ultimately, will not have adequate pensions. There are, sadly, few signs that the Government have even begun to grasp the scale and scope of the problem. Attempts have been made, very belatedly, to tighten up the regulatory structure, with the formation of the Personal Investment Authority, but I believe that that authority will turn out to be only a staging post on the route to a more satisfactory system of statutory regulation. My concern is that regulation of the industry, however it is conducted, is still approached purely as an attempt to control the way in which products are sold. The regulation does not cover the quality of those products.
It is clear that many people who buy personal pensions buy policies that, for one reason or another, they cannot continue to full term, so they lose much of the money that they had hoped to put aside for their pension. Our regulation needs to focus far more on the quality of the products sold, establishing minimum standards of quality to protect those people who will depend on them for their pensions. I raise my concerns about the personal pensions industry not because I seek to rubbish the industry, but because I recognise that there will be, for the foreseeable future, a category of people who cannot obtain occupational pensions and who would be ill advised to rely purely on state pensions. An essential element of future pensions policy must be to ensure that the personal pensions industry is run correctly.
There are several spheres in which the Government have not shown sufficient energy or action. They must assume responsibility for ensuring that people are properly covered by future pension provision. The Government
Column 350have wasted the best part of £10 billion on encouraging people to opt out of the state earnings-related pension scheme. Many of those people will be no better off, and some will be worse off, as a result of opting out. Many of them will be entitled to opt back into SERPS, so the £10 billion will have produced little benefit to anyone. The Government have not yet highlighted to individuals how much money they should be putting aside towards some form of non-state pension if they want to achieve a certain level of retirement income. The time has come for the Government to take responsibility for giving an indication of those figures, which would have two benefits.
First, it would raise awareness of the cost of pension planning and shatter the complacent view held by too many people that simply having a personal pension must mean that it will generate sufficient retirement income for them. Secondly, highlighting the cost of private provision would encourage a better and more reasonable debate about the balance to be struck between tax-funded state pensions and non-state provision funded from people's incomes.
In addition, the Government should regularly conduct a national representative survey of the pension provision that individuals have made for themselves and, from that, project the level of pensions that people will receive. That is not done at present, but it would give us a much clearer idea of what those people's pensions will be in 20 or 30 years time, and could provide the basis of future policy development.
The role of regulation should be broadened so that we not only regulate how policies are sold, but ensure that the quality of policies is consistently pushed upwards.
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham) : It will be no surprise to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to hear that I intend to raise yet again the subject of the channel tunnel rail link. First, and significantly on this day, I should like to pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. MacGregor) who had the political courage and intellectual strength to reject Union Railways' proposal for a tunnel under Pepper Hill at Northfleet in my constituency. Thanks to the public campaign run by the residents of Northfleet and the conclusions of a geological survey on noise and vibration, a strong case was developed, which I took to my right hon. Friend who was then Secretary of State for Transport, and to which he gave careful consideration.
It would have been in the personal interest of my right hon. Friend to take a strong, firm decision at that stage to announce the route of the channel tunnel rail link from London St. Pancras to the channel tunnel at Cheriton. He could have taken a firm decision and told my constituents at Northfleet to lump it, but he did not. He understood the intellectual case put to him and told Union Railways to go back to the drawing board. That has resulted in an improved route, which skirts Pepper Hill, and I believe that that new route will be one of my right hon. Friend's lasting mementos. I also pay tribute to the hard work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), who was Minister of State throughout the saga.
A number of problems remain. I want to highlight the site of special scientific interest at Ashenbank wood and Cobham park--the latter is part of our national heritage and was laid out by Repton. I recently convened a meeting at Cobham hall of local councils and environmental
Column 351organisations at which we considered environmental mitigation. We have now been advised that Union Railways has redesigned the route at that point to a level 4 m lower and has agreed to our request to carry out a geological survey, which we believe will prove that United Railways' plans in that terrain of loose gravel and combustible lignite would not be wise.
Gravesham borough council will, at our request, provide professional consultants to assess the situation. I should like the tunnel to be designed through the chalk beneath because that would overcome the engineering problems caused by the geology as well as the environmental desecration that would be caused by the current proposal. The cost of that environmental improvement and other lesser improvements should be assessed.
I pay tribute to our previous Member of the European Parliament, Mr. Ben Patterson, who, over 15 years, was an excellent member of the European Parliament. Until the European elections, he led an effective campaign to harness significant grants under the environmental programmes of the European Commission. I expect his Labour successor as Member of the European Parliament to see that campaign through. I have written to that gentleman, Mr. Skinner, and to date he has been conspicuous by his silence. He has not even had the courtesy to acknowledge my letter, let alone do anything about the problem.
Another problem is the fact that the safeguarding is drawn far too tightly. The boundary of the safeguarding zone at Gravesend skirts five properties-- four at Longview, in Henhurst road, Cobham and the Lodge at Scalers hill. That is unfair as it leaves the houses, which are sandwiched between the A2 motorway and the proposed channel tunnel rail link route, in a position that will become progressively more unbearable. The properties should be included in the safeguarding zone now. In the interim, I thank Union Railways because, following my strong representations, it has agreed to buy out two of the properties at Longview on compassionate and health grounds. I wonder why it will not put the whole matter in order by including all five properties.
I should like there to be a noise assessment of the channel tunnel rail link crossing at the Wrotham road, A227, and its effect on the village of Istead Rise and the houses at the tollgate. If we are to have such a major project we must ensure that we make the right decision now.
We still await an announcement adopting Ebbsfleet as the intermediate international station. That is an obvious location because it would serve well travellers resident in south-east London, Kent, Essex, Surrey and Sussex. Were the proposal for Ebbsfleet international to go ahead, it would mean thousands of new jobs for Gravesham and new roads for Northfleet. Northfleet town would effectively be bypassed and it would give my constituents better house values. Until now, the channel tunnel rail link has marked down house prices in that area of Northfleet. I believe that the announcement of an international station at Ebbsfleet would mark them up.
Mr. Bob Dunn (Dartford) : My hon. Friend referred to Pepper Hill. Like him, I hope for an early announcement of an international station on the Ebbsfleet site. I am sure that my hon. Friend shares my concern that the construction of
Column 352the rail link and the infrastructure connected with the Ebbsfleet station will cause immense problems for the local roads infrastructure, not least disruption to the A2, with the consequent movement of cars on to the lanes of Southfleet at Longfield, New Barn and Betsham. Will my hon. Friend join me in pressing the Department of Transport for a proper plan and timetable for infrastructure improvements ?
Mr. Arnold : I fully agree with my hon. Friend. If we are successful in getting the international station for the Ebbsfleet valley between our two constituencies, there will be further challenges--for example, the work sites and how construction will be carried out with minimum disruption. There will also be the challenges of ensuring that we protect the environment at the Ebbsfleet water course, that archaeological studies of the Roman remains are carried out in advance and that the sports facilities at the proposed location for the station are fully replaced to serve the public in that area.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), I want briefly to comment on local government reforms. We must not lose sight of the fact that the objective of the reforms is local delivery of services, subject to local decision taking and at the best manageable cost. Against that criterion, I believe that Kent county council is inevitably found wanting, stretching as it does from the London boundaries to Thanet and Dover and southwards into the Weald. It is far too remote.
To the credit of the council's previous Conservative administration, it recognised the problem and set up local area offices. In my area of north- west Kent it set up an administrative office at Gravesend. Nevertheless, decision taking at Maidstone remains far too remote. The present Liberal and Labour-controlled council has taken some very insensitive decisions and there has been much neglect.
There are some dreadful examples of that. The council is currently bulldozing through the Wainscott bypass in the face of opposition from the people of Higham. It is neglecting the people of Old Denton by the failure to build the east Gravesend access road, which would take lorries out of Old Denton and provide good access to Comma Oil, the Norfolk road industrial estate and Denton wharf. It is neglecting the people of Northfleet by not building the fourth phase of the Thameside industrial route, which would effectively provide a Northfleet bypass.
The council has opposed every application for grant-maintained status for schools in the face of votes in favour as high as 90 per cent. among the local parents. Therefore, I welcome the decision announced yesterday by the Secretary of State for Education to approve the application by St. Joseph's Roman Catholic school at Northfleet.
I should like there to be a unitary council for north-west Kent, based on Gravesend and covering the existing area of the education and social services and also of the health district. That would achieve real local government, a unitary council with no confusion of responsibilities, minimum transitional disruption for the principal local government services --education and social services--and, at last, local decision making on our side of the north downs.
Some self-seeking local councillors concerned with their own personal bailiwicks have suggested that a north-west Kent unitary council would drag us into London and cover our green belt with concrete. That
Column 353self-interested scaremongering is absolutely shameless. Those claims could not be further from the truth. Kent is an historic county. We have our traditions--our Lord Lieutenant, our High Sheriff, our cricket team and our 101 voluntary organisations. There is no proposal from anyone to extend the county of Greater London. Indeed, Kent- wide co-operation can be achieved by a revitalised Kent association of district councils.
The metropolitan green belt is safeguarded by law, by planning decisions and even by the east Thames corridor study. In Gravesham it is well and truly laid out and safeguarded south of the A2, to the east of Riverview park and Chalk and to the south of the former. We shall be robust. Gravesham borough council is robust, and a north-west Kent unitary council would be likewise.
I oppose the favoured proposal of the Local Government Commission for two unitary councils, North-West Kent and Medway Towns, with the remainder of the county based on two-tier administration. That option of the Local Government Commission is a half-measure and a soggy compromise. We should have a proud county of Kent served by six unitary councils, co-operating in a revitalised Kent association of district councils. I hope that my constituents will join me in pressing for the Local Government Commission's third option. 6.5 pm
Mr. Cynog Dafis (Ceredigion and Pembroke, North) : It would be inappropriate for the House to adjourn before it has had the chance to consider the need to reduce road traffic, especially in view of the recent report on the increase in cases of asthma and the likely link between that and air pollution.
That issue has concentrated people's minds on road traffic. Indeed, it has been suggested that asthma levels among children have doubled over the past 10 years--the same period over which there has been a doubling in the number of private and light goods vehicles on the road. That cannot be entirely coincidental.
It is clear that the advantages in personal mobility and convenience of increased road traffic are being vastly outweighed by the negative effects. Indeed, the advantages are already cancelled out by congestion. If current predictions of a 35 per cent. increase in road traffic by the year 2000 and a doubling by the year 2020 are fulfilled, road traffic will be a monster running out of control. That monster must be tamed.
Asthma is only one of the health effects of the constant increase in road traffic. A Lancaster university report estimates that up to 15 million people in Britain could be suffering from health problems as a result of road traffic near their homes. That is a figure that we do not remember often enough. At the same time, there are almost 4,000 deaths each year on our roads and 40,000 throughout the European Union. Those are horrific figures. There is no conceivable ethical justification for allowing such carnage. The financial cost of road accidents is estimated at £8 billion annually--a huge sum. The environmental effects of increasing road traffic are already very serious and they are set to become disastrous. We know about the loss of open countryside, the loss of habitats and therefore the biodiversity that constitutes a great part of the wealth of our planet.
Road traffic is an increasingly significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By the year 2000, road traffic
Column 354will be emitting 23 per cent. of the United Kingdom's carbon dioxide, very effectively undermining the Government's commitment to stabilise at 1990 levels by the year 2000. That commitment is a hopelessly and, in my view, grotesquely inadequate response to the immense threat posed by global warming and the need recognised internationally to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent. in the near future.
Road traffic is also a profligate consumer of resources. It takes up 80 per cent. of the energy used in transport, which in turn is responsible for 33 per cent. of all energy consumption in the United Kingdom. Together with domestic energy, the total comes to more than 50 per cent. It imposes massive costs in terms of road building and insufficiently recognised costs in terms of the quality of community life.
There are costs too in terms of social inequality. After all, 35 per cent. of all households do not have access to a car and 53 per cent. of women do not have a driving licence. Those categories of people are disadvantaged by the inadequate provision of public transport which is exacerbated in turn by the fact that other people who have access to a car over-use it.
Something needs to be done, but what ? Technology can play its part in reducing some of the environmental damage, but that reduction is bound to be limited. There is no bucking the need to reduce the use of the car and other forms of road transport.
How can that be done ? It is clear that we need a United Kingdom-wide strategy with targets set by the relevant Secretaries of State. Stabilisation by 2000 at 1990 levels would be both modest and achievable, although many would say that that was an inadequate target, with a 5 per cent. reduction by 2005 and a 10 per cent. reduction by 2010.
The principle of target setting is supported by the CBI and increasingly supported even by people who have in the past been associated with the road lobby. According to a recent survey in the Observer , Michael Roberts, the CBI's transport policy adviser, said :
"Traffic growth produces congestion which produces further roads which produces more growth and more congestion. It is a vicious circle that must be broken."
Achieving such targets would involve a major cultural change. That needs to be understood. It would have far-reaching implications for economic policy in an economy which is so strongly dependent on growth in car production, and so on. But it is the kind of change that would bring Government policy and economic policy more into line with the Rio idea of sustainable development. I am glad to see that the Labour party's environment policy published today begins to address the need for a change of direction.
Such a cultural change can be brought about only through widespread public involvement and community debate. Cultural change must involve collaboration and debate between people in the communities. That process should be led by our local authorities. They are or will soon be drawing up their local Agenda 21s, part of the Rio process. They will be considering how to move towards sustainable development at a local level.
Transport policy and reduction in road traffic should be integral to the process of drawing up local Agenda 21s. It should be a statutory requirement for local authorities to show how they propose to meet the specific traffic reduction targets in their areas.
Column 355There is no shortage of ideas about how that can be done. Certain German cities, such as Frieburg and Bextehude, have managed significantly to reduce car use and the accompanying pollution which car ownership has increased. Greater ownership reduced use. Local authorities and the Government would benefit from study of the excellent document of the Council for the Protection of Rural Wales, "Wales needs transport not traffic", which sets out a broad range of policy proposals from revamping existing cost-benefit analysis assumptions to provisions such as encouraging cycling and improved integrated timetabling of public transport. A great deal can be done at local level in a practical way.
Everything is to be gained from an active debate at local level on the need for change in transport policy, but the Government must give a lead. That is why I presented recently to Parliament the Road Traffic Reduction Bill, prepared and supported by the Green party, Friends of the Earth and Plaid Cymru. It is a subject to which I shall be returning during the recess and after when I return to traffic-jammed London in the autumn. I hope to find wide support for the Bill from all corners of the House. That support can currently be registered by signing early-day motion 1520.
I am confident that this is an idea whose time has come. It is a theme that needs addressing now. I am confident that there will be widespread support for it throughout society. I hope that we shall have a positive response from the Government. I hope that we shall not find the same lack of vision and obsession with short-term considerations that we saw with the Energy Conservation Bill which was destroyed by exactly the same process as was described earlier by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) in relation to the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. We need a more progressive and illuminated approach than that.
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale) : Like you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and, I suspect, all other hon. Members, I am looking forward to the recess, not least because it gives us the chance to have a holiday and the opportunity to pursue other things, whether within our constituencies or in other areas of special interest that are more difficult for those of us with constituencies a long way from London to pursue when the House is sitting.
However, another reason why I am looking forward to the recess is that I believe that during the next three months there will be yet more economic good news. We shall see low inflation maintained, continuation of the steady economic growth that we are now enjoying, and the further shrinkage of the dole queues, with unemployment falling. All that, I hasten to suggest, particularly if the good weather that we are enjoying at the moment continues, will lead to a continuing improvement in the Government's fortunes.
But that is not what I wanted to say to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. That is just a little warm-up for something that will not be quite so welcome in certain sections of the Government. I want to refer to my growing concern about the funding of education in North Yorkshire.
Column 356The most important of all changes in our Government that have been announced so far today is the appointment of my right hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mrs. Shephard) as Secretary of State for Education. I cannot think of anyone better qualified to do the job. She was an education officer for many years in Norfolk and then was the local education authority chairman. I am sure that she will bring into play her vast experience of funding schools in a rural area such as Norfolk, which is not that different from north Yorkshire.
The needs of education funding in our shire counties are not being given the importance that they deserve. Only last week, the Select Committee on Education published its report on the disparity in funding between primary and secondary schools. Much of what I read in that report seemed to coincide with and reflect the growing concerns expressed to me by head teachers, particularly in the primary sector, during the past three or four years.
One reason why education funding in large rural counties such as North Yorkshire is a problem is that the standard spending assessment does not reflect the needs of sparsity. In a nutshell, the problem is that we have to fund a large number of small primary schools in rural areas. It is all very well to suggest that a number of those schools should close, but some are several miles away from each other and it would cost a great deal of money to carry on with the policy that we began a few years ago of closing three or four small schools and opening one new one. That policy has been successful where it could be carried out, but while small rural schools exist--they are extremely popular with parents and local communities--they are a significant drain on the education budget, with the result that the funding of some of the larger primary and junior schools is significantly less than it is in inner-city areas.
The consequence is there for all to see. The primary school in the village in which I live, for example, has 395 pupils on roll. Interestingly, that was the number in 1988 when the school had a complement of 16 teachers. This year, the number is down to 13.6 and is likely to fall further. At the same time, the school has accumulated a £21,000 deficit through local management of schools. The LMS formula in North Yorkshire is partially to blame, and that is recognised by both the department of further education and the local education authority--there are moves afoot to redress the balance. Four factors fall more within the Government's purview than that of the LEA, and I will target three of them. Under LMS, funding is given for average rather than actual salaries. That creates a serious problem in North Yorkshire, where many schools still have the same teachers in post as when LMS started--and they have higher than average salaries. Secondly, year after year we continue to lose out from area cost adjustment. I see no virtue in persisting with that scheme, which is supposed to reflect the higher cost of schools in London and the home counties, and a large percentage of expenditure goes on salaries--and they are fixed nationally. That only piles one agony on another.
Another problem is the growing population and increasing school rolls. Those pupils are growing older, yet no extra money is given. The extra cost must be met from the budget increase, which was only 1.8 per cent. last year for the whole county. I do not underestimate the difficulties of dealing with such problems at a time of financial stringency. They are not easily resolved. One could say much more about the funding of North Yorkshire county council, and we will be making representations to
Column 357Ministers at the Department of the Environment. That has a knock-on effect on education funding, given that the standard spending assessment is the starting point.
Schools will reopen before the House returns from the long summer recess, and I dare say that many hon. Members will have the opportunity to visit schools and to talk to head teachers. I hope that my remarks will help to inform Ministers when they come to consider how to resolve the problems that I mentioned. Some decisions will be taken soon after the House returns, so I hope that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will convey my concerns to Ministers in the relevant Departments so that greater fairness may be established for schools in shire counties throughout our land. 6.23 pm
Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) : Four issues will not wait until October. The first is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority report. On 12 April, in a debate on the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, I interrupted the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight) to ask this question :
"Has the hon. Lady had any discussions with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ? Some people believe that research would be affected. Is the hon. Lady absolutely sure that it would not ?"
She replied :
"Absolutely sure. I have had discussions with the authority. It knows what my intention is, and why."
I have a different version of events from members of that authority, but I will let that pass for reasons of time. The hon. Lady continued :
"I want to send a message out to scientists that there is no point in spending any more time on research in that area, or in messing about with aborted mouse eggs, rat eggs or anything similar. The end product from using aborted human eggs for fertilisation purposes will simply not be allowed to be used. There are occasions when the House must assert its authority and make it clear that scientists sometimes go too far."--[ Official Report , 12 April 1994 ; Vol. 241, c. 158.] I was shocked by that, but nothing like as shocked as when I heard the Secretary of State for Health assent to all that drivel. After consulting the British Medical Association, I ask whether, in the light of the HFEA's recent conclusion that the use of foetal ovarian tissue in research is acceptable, the Government will give the reassurance that the hon. Lady's amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill regarding the use of foetal ovarian tissue in fertility treatment will not in any way restrict valuable research in the causes and avoidance of infertility, birth defects, miscarriage and related areas. I am familiar with the distinguished research conducted at Edinburgh, and that matter is urgent. Secondly, I have repeatedly raised the issue of the Lockerbie disaster and Pan Am 103. A letter to me from the Lord Advocate dated 8 July states :
"The investigation remains open and we will, of course, look into anything relevant to the case ; we cannot comment on particular investigative steps which may be taken."
I have thought for a long time that the Crown Office does not have the evidence that it claims. Nevertheless, I take at face value its desire to have a trial.
On 26 March, the Arab League backed a Libyan proposal to send to trial in the International Court of Justice, with Scottish judges and under Scottish law, the two Libyans suspected of the Lockerbie boming. The Arab League's resolution urged the UN Security Council to take into consideration