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Column 358"this serious and new proposal in the search for a peaceful solution to prevent any escalation that could increase the tension in the region".
There are 5,000 British nationals in that area, which is also valuable to British industry. For reasons of right and wrong and to try to bring an end to that deeply unsatisfactory situation, I plead with the Government once again to think of holding a trial under Scottish rules in the Hague.
The third issue is Iraq. I quote from Riad El Taher of Friendship Across Frontiers, with whom I went to Baghdad and to the valleys of the Tigris and Euphrates last year. He has learned from independent travellers that the health situation there is diabolical due primarily to extra shortages of medicine and the desperate situation concerning water pumps and filters. The Leader of the House will know that I saw the Prime Minister about that matter. In the sweltering heat of this summer, I told him that there is a humanitarian aspect that ought to be resolved.
Finally, there are urgent questions for the Government in respect of cross- media ownership. Can The Times at 20p seriously be expected to make money without at first killing off at least one other broadsheet newspaper ? If the answer is no, is not Mr. Murdoch's policy of The Times at 20p a clear case of predatory pricing ? If so, why is it allowed ? My question No. 9 to the President of the Board of Trade this afternoon was not fully answered.
Are the Government aware of the alleged view of Rupert Murdoch, expressed to David English, that Britain is over-papered by national newspapers, and that Mr. Murdoch foresees a situation in which we have only The Times , the Daily Mail and The Sun as national newspapers ?
Are Ministers bothered about the extent of foreign ownership of the British press-- The Times , The Daily Telegraph , The Independent and, perhaps soon, the Daily Mirror and other papers ?
Mr. Murdoch is, in effect, giving The Times away. Of 20p, 17 p goes to the wholesalers and retailers who distribute and sell the paper. The 2 p that comes back to News International does not even begin to cover the cost of printing the paper--about 15p a copy. That is a £30 million a year subsidy.
Is Mr. Murdoch determined to use his virtually unlimited resources to rearrange the market to suit his own convenience ? He is a cynic about human nature, believing that price will always overwhelm values, particularly the civilised values that he despises.
Parliament can do something about this matter. If we have the collective will, we can do something about cross-media ownership and follow the American example, where many states ask owners to choose between making money from television stations and their ownership of the press. That is a clear choice that can be made, and was indeed made in the case of Roy Thomson and the Scottish newspapers that he owned. He was made to give up STV.
The issue is the quality of democracy. I believe that Mr. Murdoch must be made to choose between his newspapers, the television station and BSkyB. Indeed, there is a strong argument, such is the ownership from abroad, for limiting ownership of the British press to Europeans. That is a truncated view, to which we will return tonight on the Consolidated Fund.
Column 359international. There was a time when I felt that the whole of the United Kingdom wished to visit my constituency of Basildon--I really mean journalists and politicians. Judging from the results of the local government boundary review, it seems that, at the moment, Basildon is somewhat unloved. My district council very much supports unitary status. We wanted either to be a unitary authority on our own or part of a large unitary authority.
The result of the Local Government Commission review is that my constituents are given three options : option one is Basildon with Thurrock, while option two is Basildon with Thurrock, as is option three. That does not seem a great choice for my constituents. The chief executive of Thurrock council has said :
"Thurrock's population is distinct from that of the rest of Essex. They shop locally and socialise locally. The strongest social, cultural and economic ties are with London."
I have nothing other than good will--as have my constituents--to direct to the residents of Thurrock, but as I have already described, Thurrock wants very much to be a London borough. As ever, the Labour party's position on the matter is quite extraordinary. The socialist leader of the Labour group on Basildon council, who was my Labour opponent in the general election, gave public evidence about the redistribution of the constituencies. On that occasion, the Boundary Commission wished to destroy my constituency and put part of it with Thurrock, and my Labour opponent said that we had nothing in common with residents of Thurrock and argued that Basildon should be kept in its entirety. When it came to the local government review, however, he argued that we had a great deal in common with the local residents of Thurrock.
I feel that my constituents have been hard done by in the commission's review. I very much hope that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary, when he considers those matters with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment, will look at Basildon's case for a unitary authority on its own. My final point concerns Kuwait. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Lady Olga Maitland) for all that she has done in trying to bring to the attention of the House the Kuwati prisoners of war. All hon. Members--bar, I think, about 56-- supported the war to liberate Kuwait. At the end of the war, I felt that there was an unfinished matter--the fact that Saddam Hussein was still ruling Iraq in a most evil manner. The 625 prisoners of war seem to have been completely forgotten. The Iraqis also detained foreigners from nine nations that were sympathetic to the Kuwaiti cause. It is very hard for us to understand the scale and anguish that the Kuwaiti people feel about their missing prisoners of war. Late at night, young people of 14 were rounded up out of their beds and taken away. I very much hope that Her Majesty's Government will resist the call to lift sanctions on Saddam Hussein. We should insist also that United Nations inspectors of biological and chemical weapons establishments should be permitted, with the International Committee of the Red Cross, to visit the prisoners of war in their gaols. It is an absolute disgrace that, for whatever reason, we seem to have forgotten them. I hope that the British Government and hon. Members on both sides of the House will keep up the pressure to achieve the freedom of those people.
Column 3606.36 pm
Mr. Nicholas Brown (Newcastle upon Tyne, East) : I think that the whole House will have much sympathy with what the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) has said. As always with these brief debates, in the three hours available to us, we seem to be able to cram a quart into a parliamentary pint pot.
At the beginning of the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) congratulated the Leader of the House on surviving what he described as the slaughter--a reference to today's Cabinet reshuffle. I am sure that the whole House is pleased to see that the Leader of the House is still with us. [H on. Members: -- "Hear, Hear."] He has a place in the affections of Opposition Members. I do not know whether the reshuffle could be described as a slaughter. It certainly was not a slaughter of the innocents. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, as he did in a previous Adjournment debate, made a determined case for the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill. He has the support of many Opposition Members for what he had to say. Similarly, his reference to what is now the pretty vexed issue of ministerial responsibility for veterans affairs commands much support from Opposition Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) spoke of the affairs of Surrey county cricket club and its perfectly reasonable desire to own the freehold of its premises. I suggest that she sponsor a Bill to vest the freehold. The local authority could then make a gift of it to the Surrey county cricket club. After all, if urban development corporations, set up by the Government, are allowed to vest the land of local authorities then hand it over to private sector business interests, surely in such a good cause it is open to us to consider proceeding in the same way.
My hon. Friend also had something to say about the relationship between publicans and their brewers. As I know a bit more about that, I feel that I am on safer territory there than I am when talking about cricket. There is widespread support for what she said. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the plight of Cyprus, which has been divided now for 20 years, and the attitude of the British Government. It is a feature of these Adjournment debates that my hon. Friend raises an important foreign affairs topic. He has campaigned vigorously on behalf of Cyprus, and, indeed, has a strong constituency interest in the matter. I congratulate him on his speech.
My hon. Friend the Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) drew our attention to the important issue of breast cancer, and the need for a national action plan. As she pointed out, one woman in 12 may be affected by the disease.
My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick)--seeking, I suspect, to show support for the Prime Minister's views, which is unusual for him--made some comments which I hope that the Leader of the House will find helpful and convey to the Prime Minister, who will no doubt receive them ecstatically. If the views of the rejected President of the European Commission are shared by the accepted President, surely Members of the European Parliament should consider carefully whether our Prime Minister would approve of the appointment of such a person.
Column 361My hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North also referred to inequalities in the treatment of those who work for a wage and the position of top managers who are able to set their own wages and conditions--including, all too often nowadays, very generous share option schemes. This is not the first occasion on which the House has considered an issue that is clearly very divisive, not just in the House but in society as a whole.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) spoke of personal pensions and in particular the inadequacy of provision, especially for those who opted out of the state earnings-related pension scheme, without, I suspect, fully appreciating the consequences. My hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) drew our attention to four separate topics--the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority and the importance of protecting those engaged in legitimate research ; the Lockerbie tragedy, and his continued campaign for a trial to be held according to Scottish rules ; Iraq ; and the newspaper price war. I note that that last subject will be debated again later tonight. Let me mention two other matters. First, as right hon. and hon. Members will know, the Leader of the House and I are engaged in discussions aimed at securing a package arising from the Jopling report. I am not yet in a position to state formally the views of the parliamentary Labour party, but I can say that discussions are proceeding well and have been very thorough. I hope that we can soon put proposals to the House that may well apply in the next Session, and I know that my view is shared by the Leader of the House. I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman personally for the courteous and constructive manner in which the negotiations have been conducted. There has been a genuine willingness to make progress, on the basis that the balance of advantage between Government and Opposition should not be disturbed : the arrangements that we make should be for the convenience of the House, and no attempt should be made to score party points.
Finally, let me make a plea for Swan Hunter. It has become almost traditional--in what has been a sad and difficult year for Tyneside, for my constituents and for those in the neighbouring constituencies of Wallsend and Jarrow who work in the shipbuilding yard--for me to make such a plea, and to ask the Government to give Swan Hunter an order so that it can survive. As the House will know, yesterday the vital procurement order relating to the Sir Bedivere, which could have secured a private sector solution to Swan Hunter's problems, was placed with Rosyth. That decision almost certainly means the closure of Swan Hunter and the end of shipbuilding on the Tyne.
Let me give the House an idea of the scale of the problem on Tyneside. Before the receivers came in, Swan Hunter's wages bill was just over £1 million a week. That went into a pretty concentrated economy in the communities represented by my hon. Friends the Members for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) and for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and myself. We stand to lose all that.
Although most of the domestic industry had ganged up against us--for reasons that may have seemed commercially sound to those involved--we had managed to secure a foreign shipyard, Constructions Mecaniques de Normandie, which was interested in taking our yard over, to compete for work not just in the British procurement programme but in the middle east. It believed that the work could be done on Tyneside. If the bid had been allowed to
Column 362proceed, we could have added something to the British economy, foreign investment and overseas work ; we would not be taking work from others. That strikes me as particularly unfair.
Our community has been hit by heavy engineering redundancies at NEI Parsons, by pit closures in County Durham and Northumberland and by the complete closure of the shipbuilding and ship repair industry in neighbouring Sunderland. If the blow delivered yesterday is fatal, as it almost certainly will be, I do not think that we shall be able to sustain it. I am sure that the Lord President is not unsympathetic ; he realises how desperate is the plight of Tyneside people. Will he arrange for a representative of the Department of Trade and Industry, or perhaps the Prime Minister himself, to announce an aid package for Tyneside--an economic development package--to ameliorate the dreadful circumstances in which we now find ourselves ? I hope that that can be done before the House rises for the recess.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton) : I thank the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East (Mr. Brown) for his kind remarks about me personally ; I also thank hon. Members for their warm response to those remarks. I am certainly pleased to be continuing in my present role, not least because of the exposure that it brings me, in debates such as this, to what might be described as the rich tapestry of House of Commons life--ranging from the impact of fragments on Jupiter to a number of other events rather closer to home.
I congratulate the House on the way in which it has conducted its business over the past three hours. I cannot recollect as many as 16 or 17 speeches being made in this debate before. That number will make it even more difficult for me to reply to all who have spoken as fully as I should like. Let me add, however, that in cases of which I can only take note I shall ensure later that points deserving further reply from my ministerial colleagues will be drawn to their attention.
I well understand why the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East mentioned Tyneside and Swan Hunter. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Trotter) would echo many of his views, and I will ensure that the points that he raised are drawn to the attention of my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade and others who may be concerned with such matters. As the hon. Gentleman knows, five or six years ago I was for a year the Minister with responsibility for shipbuilding, and I had much to do with shipbuilding on Tyneside. I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's reasons for raising the issue.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned our discussions on the Jopling report. As I have repeatedly emphasised, the eventual package must pay due regard to the interests of all involved. The need for such a balance makes the task complex, and it must necessarily proceed on the basis that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. A good deal of detailed work remains to be done, and--as the hon. Gentleman said--neither of us can become drawn further into the matter today ; but I too can say without reservation that our discussions have been friendly, positive and constructive.
Column 363We believe that we have made good progress in identifying a package that offers the prospect of achieving wider agreement on changes that could be made in the next Session, probably on a trial or experimental basis. I hope to work further towards that end during the recess and perhaps I might reciprocate the kindness of the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East by saying that I hope that he will be able to continue to work with me in the positive and constructive way that we have achieved so far.
I hasten to make some comments as best I can on some of the speeches that have been made. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chertsey and Walton (Sir G. Pattie) drew attention to the National Audit Office report on property owned by the Department of Transport. My right hon. and hon. Friends at the Department are seeking to ensure that the properties are let quickly, which would appear to be the best preventive measure. I am sure that they want to look carefully at the points that he made.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) predictably, but I would not say unreasonably, went over ground that has become fairly well trodden. I hope that he will understand if in the brief time available I do not add to what has been said about the Civil Rights (Disabled Persons) Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of provision for ex-service people. During that debate, the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) said :
"The debate is intended for hon. Members to bounce ideas off one another".- -[ Official Report , 1 July 1994 ; Vol. 245, c. 1078.] That did not give quite the impression that the right hon. Gentleman sought to convey in his remarks. The Government's attitude was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken), who was previously the Minister of State for Defence Procurement.
Mr. Newton : I understand the right hon. Gentleman's point, but my point about the spirit in which the hon. Member for Thurrock approached the debate and the point that he made does something to weaken the right hon. Gentleman's argument.
My hon. Friends the Members for Leominster (Mr. Temple-Morris), for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) and for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and a range of other hon. Members on both sides of the House made a number of points about the local government review, local government expenditure and so on. I have been given a briefing note which says that I should say that the Government are in a listening mode. I can tell hon. Members on both sides of the House that both I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are listening carefully to what they say.
I have a line that is barely more helpful for the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Ms Hoey) who spoke about the freehold of the Oval. It says that it is not for the Government to intervene in a matter between Surrey county cricket club and the Duchy of Cornwall. I am cautious about going beyond that. I have been the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, but that is somewhat different. I am sure that those at whom her remarks were directed will want to consider carefully what she has said and what is in the early-day motion. I know that my right
Column 364hon. Friend the Prime Minister is interested in Surrey county cricket club, and some of the hon. Lady's remarks may have aroused his interest.
The hon. Member for Vauxhall and others raised the issue of pubs. I am advised that there are not seen to be grounds for the Government to take action against Inntrepreneur Estates Ltd., except possibly for abuse of the English or French language, because there is no evidence that the company has breached the beer orders or undertakings. Again, I am sure that the hon. Lady's remarks will be carefully studied, not least by those Ministers who will be relieved that presumably the purpose of her speech was to ensure that somebody did not need to be here at about 5 am to listen to the debate in which she had intended to raise that matter.
I congratulate the House generally on the ingenuity that has been shown. I calculate that about half the speeches that I have listened to in the past three hours have been a way of hon. Members avoiding the need to be here at extremely inconvenient hours during the night. I am sure that that purpose will be warmly endorsed by my right hon. and hon. Friends who might have had to be here.
I must tell my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson) that those who brief me assiduously have failed to give me any up-to-date information on the situation on Jupiter. To be honest, they have not come up with anything useful on Classic FM either. One of my hon. Friend's questions was directed at me and concerned the content of the next legislative programme, which is a matter in which I have an interest. As my hon. Friend will know, part of the way in which that interest is expressed is in a traditional phrase saying that one cannot anticipate the next Queen's Speech. However, I note what my hon. Friend said.
I can tell the other hon. Members to whose contributions I shall not be able to respond that I shall genuinely look at what they have said, not least at what was said by those who raised health service issues, some of them going back to my time at the Department of Health. The hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon) may recall--if she does not, I intend to remind her-- that I was the Minister who launched the breast cancer screening programme some eight years ago. It made us the first country in the European Community to launch such a programme. We are always concerned to find ways of building on that initiative and improving the way in which we deal with that problem. I apologise to those hon. Members on whose speeches I have not been able to comment, not least the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), who raised some powerful points. I invite the House--I hope to obtain its assent--to pass the motion on the Order Paper. Question put :
The House divided : Ayes 170, Noes 74.
Division No. 301] [6.56 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)
Allason, Rupert (Torbay)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)
Browning, Mrs. Angela
Column 365Burt, Alistair
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)
Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Ruclif)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Cope, Rt Hon Sir John
Curry, David (Skipton & Ripon)
Davies, Quentin (Stamford)
Deva, Nirj Joseph
Durant, Sir Anthony
Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)
Fenner, Dame Peggy
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Fry, Sir Peter
Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Gorst, Sir John
Grant, Sir A. (Cambs SW)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)
Hampson, Dr Keith
Hannam, Sir John
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Hill, James (Southampton Test)
Howell, Sir Ralph (N Norfolk)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Jones, Robert B. (W Hertfdshr)
Kilfedder, Sir James
Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)
Knight, Greg (Derby N)
Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Lawrence, Sir Ivan
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Maitland, Lady Olga
Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Mitchell, Sir David (Hants NW)
Monro, Sir Hector
Neubert, Sir Michael
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Onslow, Rt Hon Sir Cranley
Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Porter, David (Waveney)
Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn
Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)
Robinson, Mark (Somerton)
Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)
Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela
Shaw, David (Dover)
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)
Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Spencer, Sir Derek
Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Spink, Dr Robert
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Taylor, John M. (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Thornton, Sir Malcolm
Twinn, Dr Ian
Walker, Bill (N Tayside)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Wiggin, Sir Jerry
Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Sydney Chapman and
Mr. Timothy Wood.
Adams, Mrs Irene
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)
Banks, Tony (Newham NW)
Bennett, Andrew F.