|Previous Section||Home Page|
Column 1432it could not be invalidated by actions taken by individuals in the industry who do not want to pay and who thus create all manner of problems for others.
My reason for mentioning the report is to emphasise its importance to a major sector of the British economy. The report cannot be allowed to gather dust while someone somewhere in some Government office decides what the next step should be. I was privileged to attend a meeting that Sir Michael addressed in September. He called clearly for positive Government action on his report's proposals. I again remind the Leader of the House that the Latham Committee was set up by the Secretary of State for the Environment.
Everyone in the industry supports Sir Michael's proposals and his call for legislation. I am sure that all hon. Members recognise the importance of an industry which builds homes and creates employment and that they will be looking to the Government for a clear statement of their thinking on the Latham report. The report was published last July and we should like to know what discussions are now taking place with representatives of the industry. I have already pointed out that more than 200,000 companies are involved in the industry and employ more than 750,000 people.
I realise that the Leader of the House is not responsible for the Department of the Environment, but I know from previous experience of Adjournment debates that he is courteous enough always to forward to the relevant Department any comments made by me or any other hon. Member. In view of the fact that many people are interested in this subject, may I ask the Leader of the House when he thinks that the Government will introduce legislation based on the report of the Latham committee?
Mr. John Greenway (Ryedale): My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House will recall that during business questions on Thursday I suggested to him that we should have a debate on the future of the railway manufacturing industry. There is to be an Adjournment debate on this subject tomorrow, but the matter that I want to raise and to which I alluded in my question on Thursday specifically concerns the future of the Asea Brown Boveri carriage works in York.
The carriage works is not situated in my constituency, although many of my constituents work there. In fairness to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Bayley), I must point out that he and I have together raised this matter with Ministers many times, and the position is now extremely serious. It requires action by Ministers during the Christmas recess, which is why it is especially relevant to raise it now, before the House adjourns.
Earlier today, in Transport Questions, several of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold), who has remained in his place all afternoon, mentioned the improved service on Network SouthEast since the introduction of the Networker 465 trains which are manufactured at the ABB carriage works. The third tranche of 465s is currently under construction, and that follows ABB's success in winning the competition for £150 million leasing of new rolling stock for British Rail which was awarded in 1993. The contract for the third tranche provided an option for British Rail to take up a fourth tranche. It is especially interesting that the idea of the fourth tranche being met
Column 1433through the option was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), when he was Minister for Public Transport, at a meeting of the York Railway Forum, which I chair jointly with the hon. Member for York.
The point is that the £150 million leasing order, which involved public funds, could not be repeated, or could not be guaranteed to be repeated in future years, but that any further financing of Networker trains would in all probability have to be accomplished through the private finance initiative. With that encouragement, ABB put in an offer to British Rail in June or July in relation to the option. The tragedy is that, some six months later, British Rail has not approached my hon. Friend the Minister for Railways and Roads, or his predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering, with any firm proposal.
I must point out to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House that, unless a firm proposal is put to the Secretary of State and advanced sufficiently for British Rail to signify its intention to take up the option by 15 January, the option will be lost. That is why it is urgent that the House consider the matter now.
There is no question in my mind but that British Rail has been dragging its feet. What has caused the greatest concern to many people in the York area, and especially to the hon. Member for York and me, the ABB work force and the York area economic development unit which has been monitoring the proceedings, is that it now seems that British Rail could be considering another tendering process and not exercising the option put into the contract for the third tranche.
That would be tragic news for the ABB work force in York, because it would inevitably mean a six-month tendering process and readvertising on a European basis through the Official Journal of the European Communities . In addition, ABB would not be able to offer the savings on the fourth tranche that it is able to offer now under the option arrangements.
The ABB works in York is the only carriage works in the United Kingdom that manufactures a complete carriage. That may have something to do with the fact that ABB recently lost the contract for the Northern line trains to GEC, which will import material from Spain. I cannot claim to be an expert on the matter, but I believe that a carriage works that manufactures a complete train is rather like a shipyard, although the process is shorter. Certain parts of the work take place in March or April, and the completed train is not ready until October or November.
The third tranche of 465 Networker trains is likely to be delivered by October next year so from March or April onwards, ABB will have no option but to lay off staff, unless it is certain that it will get the fourth tranche, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Kettering always said was in the mind of the Department of Transport.
I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesham and other south-east Members agree that there are still too many old trains running on Network SouthEast. There is undoubtedly a need for further 465 orders. It is clear- -
Mr. Greenway: As the hon. Gentleman says, there are dangerous trains; it is interesting that he mentions that. There was a question earlier today about the dreadful accident at Cowden. I understand that one of the problems
Column 1434with the old-style trains, which were built 25 or 30 years ago, is that the carriage is just bolted on to a platform on wheels. If the train hits an immovable object or a train coming in the other direction, the carriage completely shears off the base.
The 465 train is a complete-build body and does not have that weakness. With the new trains, passengers on Network SouthEast would be considerably more comfortable. They would be likely to be attracted back to travel on the railways after the dreadful signalmen's strike last year, when many of them found other ways to get to work. They would also be considerably safer on their journey. This is a complex matter, which involves negotiations and delicate commercial considerations. It must be clear, however, that, unless the option is exercised, there is every likelihood that the ABB carriage works will close, because there simply will not be any work for the work force to do. I regard that as the most perverse crime that the Government could commit on the people of the York area. Until I heard one of the answers in Transport Questions today, I did not know that this was the first year since 1948 that British Rail had not ordered any rolling stock. I fully support the privatisation process, because I believe that the lack of investment is due to a lack of money. From what has happened with the airlines or with coaches, it is clear that the private sector is likely to produce considerably more investment. We were told during the privatisation process, however, that there would be no hiatus in investment. All the present investment seems to be directed towards infrastructure and rail track.
I am not suggesting to the Leader of the House that the Government should consider the only option to be to persuade the Chancellor to release some of the money that may well be saved on the road-building programme after what we have heard today, and to spend it on public transport. I do not suggest that the fourth tranche should be a publicly funded proposal.
What I am saying to my right hon. Friend is that ABB has done all that Ministers suggested it should. There is a PFI scheme for funding the fourth tranche of Networker trains. We should encourage British Rail and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport to make it clear that the option must be exercised by 15 January--or at least the intention to exercise it should be announced--so that we can reassure the ABB work force and secure here in the United Kingdom a carriage works that is capable of building all the new trains that a privatised railway will require.
From what the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said earlier, it seems that, if we agree with all the Jopling proposals, there may be no more three-hour debates on the Christmas Adjournment. That would be a great pity. I often think that these are the best three hours in the entire Session. An amendment has been tabled on the matter, and I hope that it will be selected, because I want to vote for it.
I do not relish the thought that if, however, we have a debate on the Christmas Adjournment next year--I have made it a habit to speak in such debates during my seven or eight years in this place--I shall have to remind the House of what I have said this evening about the future of the ABB carriage works.
Column 14356.15 pm
Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): I hope that this is not the last time that we have a debate on the Christmas Adjournment. It is an important opportunity for hon. Members to raise particular concerns. If the Leader of the House ever returns, he may make a note of those concerns--
Mr. Corbyn: The right hon. Gentleman's oppo, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), is here as his deputy; it is all right. He has got his pen out and he is writing things down. As long as he ensures that he writes it all down and sends it to the Minister concerned, I am quite happy.
I want to raise a number of matters concerning poverty and health in London. Christmas is often a time of deep conservatism and synthetic concern for many outside. Everyone else retreats to the bosom of the family and forgets about those outside who are begging, sleeping rough, living desperately overcrowded lives in other people's homes or waiting for hospital operations and surgery. The position of health care and poverty in London is desperate and complex. The number of people sleeping on the streets is still going up and hostel accommodation is no substitute for proper housing for people who desperately need it.
Many factors affect the health of people in London. Ill health is in part due to poverty, in part due to air pollution, in part due to stress and in part due to unemployment; there is a whole series of factors. We live in a country that still claims to have a national health service that is universal and free at the point of use. Opposition Members cherish that deeply and I look forward to the day when a Labour Government are elected who can ensure that that principle is carried through in all circumstances.
In that setting, I refer with real anger to a copy of a circular that I have just been given. It is from the surgical directorate of Whittington hospital in my constituency. It is dated 5 December and has been sent to all consultant surgeons and anaesthetists. It says:
"The Executive Management Group have directed us to curtail all non-urgent elective surgery with immediate effect .
I have instructed Bed Bureau to cancel all non-urgent patients with the following exceptions: Day Cases, ECRs, GP Fund Holder's Patients, 18 month plus waiters . . . and Waiting List Initiative Patients."
Those patients are mainly from other boroughs. The circular continues:
"Please note that `Urgent' should be taken to mean where there is a real risk to life, or real probability of serious deterioration, if an operation is not performed before April 1995."
Taken at face value, the circular says that those who think that they have a right to health care in my borough or in Camden--the area covered by Camden and Islington health authority--have no access to anything other than emergency treatment for a life-threatening condition before April 1995. That is happening at the same time as wards are being closed, beds are unused and staff have nothing to do in some hospitals. It is nonsense. It is a travesty of justice and many people are in serious pain while waiting for a hospital bed to be made available for them.
Column 1436I believe that that circular is a direct consequence of the operation of the internal market in the national health service. It is also flies in the face of all the assurances that my hon. Friends the Members for Islington, South and Finsbury (Mr. Smith), for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), for Hampstead and Highgate (Ms Jackson), for Hornsey and Wood Green (Mrs. Roche) and I have been given at numerous meetings, that there was to be no prejudice in favour of patients of fundholding GPs. Yet the circular says that if one happens to be a patient of a fundholding GP, one is okay and can get treatment. If one is not a patient of a fundholding GP--43 out of 44 GPs in my constituency are not fundholders--one has to wait until April next year before one can get an appointment.
I have also read very carefully the finance report given at the most recent full meeting of Camden and Islington health authority. Very strange language is used in those reports. They talk of over-activity in the hospitals--over-activity in Whittington hospital, which, apparently, is working a little too quickly and therefore doing more than was expected of it at the start of the financial year. That, apparently, is a reason not to carry on treating patients who need treatment, but to stop doing anything until the end of the financial year.
The report goes on to complain of the very large increase in the number of emergency admissions in hospitals in the Camden and Islington area. The reason for that, I hazard to say, is that many people, out of desperation, present themselves at the casualty unit because they know that they will have to be seen, whereas if they go to a GP, they know that the GP, however hard he or she may try, will not be able to get them a bed or refer them to the hospital. Also, the increase in the number of emergency admissions is because of a large increase in bronchial conditions being referred to the hospital, which is a serious problem throughout London.
With respect to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), the large number of asthma cases referred to hospitals at present is to do with cars, with the building of roads, and with air pollution. Asthma and other bronchial illnesses are now of epidemic proportions in this capital city and it is up to the Government particularly to do something about air pollution and promoting public transport, rather than private, polluting motoring. Those issues can be ignored no longer.
Further on in the report, I found that waiting lists for operations in the hospitals in the community that I represent, at 30 September 1994, showed that 1,200 people were waiting for appointments at Whittington hospital, a similar number at London Royal Free hospital, an even larger number at the University College of London hospital and a slightly smaller number at St. Bartholomew's. Indeed, 40 per cent. of those people have been waiting more than six months for an appointment. I believe that those figures will be considerably higher in future.
I have serious criticisms of the circular and, indeed, of the information that has been given to many people in the past about the way in which the internal market will operate in regard to the health service in London. The internal market is a recipe for disaster; it is impossible to plan within it; and it means that each hospital has to try to fend for itself, to win contracts if it can. It means that if the health authority does not have the money to pay for the treatment of patients, the patients have to wait longer and longer for operations, with consequent loss of
Column 1437earnings, loss of jobs and loss of employment prospects, and problems for the social services, carers, families, friends and everybody else. It is a completely mad way in which to run any kind of health service in this capital city.
Even further afield, I see the closures that are planned. On Saturday I went to Bart's to visit a very close friend of mine, who has been a patient there for the past six months. As I was walking through the hospital, looking at the buildings, feeling the sense of history and witnessing the absolute dedication and care of the staff there, who look after people in very serious conditions and do their best to make those patients' lives comfortable, I thought to myself that it was a criminal act to close that building. It is an act of lunacy, it is vandalism and it is fundamentally wrong.
I would hope that the Secretary of State for Health would go to Bart's and have the courage to look every patient and member of staff in the face and say, "You are surplus to requirements and we intend to go ahead with the closure of this hospital." To close that 800-year-old hospital is an act of the most crass vandalism imaginable, knowing full well that that hospital's patients will have to go on to the waiting lists of the UCL, of Whittington hospital, of the Royal Free and all the others; knowing full well that the closure of its casualty unit will mean that the already overstretched casualty units at UCL, the Whittington, the Royal Free and the North Middlesex will not be able to cope; and knowing fell well that the Secretary of State is also planning the closure of yet another casualty unit somewhere in north-east London. Frankly, it is appalling.
Even at this late hour, I hope that the Secretary of State will recognise that she has been thrown a lifeline in the NHS management executive report last week which, at last, says that non-market considerations can be taken into account in the future of particular hospitals. I also hope, while she is on the subject, that the Secretary of State will look at the future of the Royal Northern hospital, which is also in my constituency, on the Holloway road. Its casualty unit was built as the borough's war memorial by public subscription--there is a large plaque to say so. Inside the hospital, there is an arch and an inscription for every one of those people who died in both world wars.
There is a huge local campaign to retain the building and use it as a nurse -managed bed facility, so that people coming out of long-stay or acute surgery will at least have somewhere to go for supportive care before they go home and can be looked after in the normal way. It would be a very cost- effective, good and sensible use of that building. I hope that the hon. Member who is reporting back to Ministers will relay that information to the Secretary of State and convey the concerns that many of us have expressed.
One hundred years ago, people in London hoped that their standard of living would start to improve, and that there would be more hospitals and better- quality housing, and the possibility at some point in the future of decent health care for them. All those people, who linked together the problems of poverty, unemployment, air pollution, bad housing and dangerous working conditions, recognised that health had to be taken as a whole. Yet here we are at the end of the 20th century, and all those problems are coming back to address us. It is time that we had a Secretary of State and a Government who were prepared to recognise that there is a link between debt,
Column 1438poverty, air pollution and homelessness and ill health. The greatest cause of ill health is poverty and all its aspects have to be treated as one.
I hope that the Secretary of State recognises that it is time that she got a grip on the way in which the health service is run in London, lifted the nonsense circular that affects my constituency and also lifted the axe that is hanging over one casualty unit and Bart's hospital. At least, then, people who were desperate for treatment would get the treatment for which they had paid through taxation and national insurance contributions and could sleep securely in their beds knowing that they would be treated over this Christmas period. 6.27 pm
Mr. Michael Carttiss (Great Yarmouth): Before the House agrees to the motion to adjourn tomorrow, I should like to press on the Leader of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West (Sir A. Grant), in his absence, the need for a debate on the pros and cons of a national referendum being held before--not after--the 1996 intergovernmental conference. We need to consider not only the issue of a referendum itself, but the questions or question that may be asked.
The BBC "East at Westminster" programme in my region yesterday referred to the recent Gallup poll, which asked whether the public wanted a referendum on having a common currency in the European Union and closer ties with Europe--more rather than less integration with the EU--and in which 81 per cent. of the public responded yes. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-West was on that programme and may have seen--
A Sunday newspaper reported on 11 December that it had polled 100 constituency Conservative association chairmen on the same question. Over half those asked supported having a referendum.
With your great grasp of events and impressive memory, Madam Deputy Speaker, you will recall that I tabled an amendment to the Government's paving motion for the debate on what was to become Maastricht legislation. I argued that we should not proceed until after a referendum, either before or after the Edinburgh intergovernmental conference. I was unable to support either the Government or the Opposition. My right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench, as they were then--I cannot call the Prime Minister my right hon. Friend now because he has crossed me off his Christmas card list--persuaded me to join them in the Lobby to vote for the Government's motion, which I did.
Mr. Carttiss: No, they did not con me. My then right hon. Friend the Prime Minister promised me that there would be no Third Reading and no conclusion to the debate on Maastricht legislation until the Danes had had their second referendum. On that basis, I was happy to support him.
Column 1439During the debate on 4 November--I apologise for detaining the House by regurgitating my words on that date--I referred to the American presidential election. The debate took place the following day. I said:
"The message that came from the United States via our televisions screens last night was clear and strong: President Bush had not addressed the jobs problem; he had seemed to leave the recession to sort itself out and had had no coherent economic programme; and he had lost touch with the people of America. I have to say to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister that, if he does not address the problem of jobs, establish a coherent economic programme and regain touch with the people of this country, he will go the same way as George Bush."--[ Official Report , 4 November 1992, Vol. 213; c. 337.]
Happily, the right hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) has addressed the "jobs problem". There has been a continuous improvement in employment prospects. The right hon. Gentleman has established an almost "coherent economic programme", with the one blip of value added tax at 17.5 per cent. Happily, I and some of my hon. Friends saved the Government from that dreadful mistake.
The Prime Minister was dead against a referendum two years ago, when I tabled my amendment, and before that. There was recently a reference to "another Whipless Tory". In fact, I am not whipless outside this place even if I am within it. [Interruption.] Read the News of the World . Although the Prime Minister was opposed to a referendum two years ago, as I said, last week he showed some movement towards recognising that the majority of the public want a referendum, and that is what the majority of the Conservative party wants.
I am not asking for a referendum on whether we stay in or leave the European Union. That decision has been taken. It is nonsense to pretend that there is any future for Great Britain outside the European Union. However, the way in which the EU develops in the remaining years of the century, and Great Britain's place in determining its future structure and the dimensions of the Union, should be debated more widely and more thoroughly before the Prime Minister goes to the IGC in 1996.
It is alleged that the Foreign Secretary is willing to have the issues debated. That is what we read in the newspapers.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer--I cannot refer to him as my right hon. and learned Friend--is said to be dead against that course. He got it wrong on VAT and he has got it wrong on that.
During the weekend, one of my constituents drew my attention to an article that had appeared in The Mail on Sunday of the previous weekend, on 11 December. It purported to have been written by the Prime Minister. Before I refer to the specific quotation in the article that my constituent was querying, I shall quote the sentence
Column 1440allegedly written by the Prime Minister when he spoke of my hon. Friends who lost the Whip on 28 November. The Prime Minister is alleged to have written:
"For some, Europe is anathema. They are appalled by all it has to offer and they seek--in their more extreme moments--a complete withdrawal."
"No, no, no" was said in the Chamber on a memorable occasion by Lady Thatcher, as she now is, when, happily, she was Prime Minister. I say "No, no, no" to any thought of debating in this place or wherever a move out of Europe.
I was referring to an article that appeared in The Mail on Sunday on 11 December. It contained the following statement under the Prime Minister's name:
"Some Conservative Members voted against the Government. They did so knowing that, if we had lost, there would have been a General Election."
That is what he said. The name "John Major" appears over the article.
No Conservative Members voted against the Government on the night in question. Seven of my hon. Friends abstained when it came to the Labour amendment, which aimed to block European finance legislation, of which the majority of Labour Members are much in favour. I voted against the Labour amendment. I was one of 330 Members who voted with the Government to oppose that amendment. We gave the Prime Minister his vote of confidence with a majority of 27. I did not vote against the Government. I did not, as the Prime Minister claimed in the article, risk a general election.
The Prime Minister, if he did write the article, continued: "So it is no use their pretending that their vote did not matter or that they did not know what the result would be. . . . That sort of self-indulgence is neither understood nor accepted by the vast majority of their colleagues in Parliament, or by the country." I resent being told that adhering to the Conservative party manifesto, on which right hon. Members on the Government Front Bench and I were elected, is self-indulgent. In Essen, the Prime Minister said:
"I hope over the months to come they will show they are Conservatives".
That is a reference to those who were expelled from the Conservative party. The Prime Minister expressed the hope that "they will support the Conservative Government, they will defend Conservative policy, they will defend the manifesto on which they and I were elected."
I shall remind the House of promises that were made in the Conservative party's manifesto. It reads:
"We will insist on more effective control over community spending".
That appears on page 4 of "The Best Future for Britain". That is the document on which I and all Conservative Members were elected, including, of course, those who now sit on the Government Front Bench. I repeat:
"We will insist on more effective control over community spending".
Column 1441Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham): That is precisely what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is doing.
Mr. Carttiss: That is what my ex-hon. Friend says from a sedentary position. I know that he wants to speak in the debate, and the sooner I finish, the better will be his chance of making a contribution. I hope that he will not interrupt me to talk nonsense.
Over the past two years, nothing has been done to deal with the problem of fraud within the Community. That fraud has siphoned off £6 billion of European money. The Prime Minister and his colleagues have done nothing to address that problem. The EC budget is set to rise from £55 billion to £65 billion by 1999. We make an annual net contribution of £2 billion, and I could not vote for that--
I could not vote for increasing our contribution in the light of the promise that I made to my electorate. That is why I did not support the Second Reading of the European Communities (Amendment) Bill although I voted against the Labour amendment, which made good sense. In our manifesto, we pledged:
"We will redouble our efforts to reform the common agricultural policy, and we will stoutly defend the interests of British farmers and consumers."
In addition, we said:
"all member states must live up to their obligations under Community law . . . we secured agreement that the European Court will be able to fine any member state which fails to do so."
Those are not my words; they are quoted from page 3 of the party manifesto.
Earlier this year, the European Commission fined Italy £2 billion for producing 1.5 million tonnes of milk a year in excess of its agreed quota for 1989 to 1993. Spain was fined £1.4 billion. Italy and Spain refused to pay. The United Kingdom, Holland and Denmark then lodged a case against the Italian and Spanish Governments at the European Court of Justice. However, on 21 October, the Chancellor of the Exchequer withdrew the United Kingdom complaint to the ECJ, much to the disgust of the Danes and the Dutch, who were outvoted. So much for our pledge in the manifesto in respect of which my right hon. and hon. former Friends were elected in 1992.
So much for our pledge to make the European Community states live up to their obligations under Community law. The EC backdated an increase in the Italian and Spanish milk quotas to 1989, so they escaped penalties of £800 million, which is about the sum that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was seeking to raise from taxing old-age pensioners' heat and light.
Meanwhile, dairy farmers in this country, including those whom I represent in Norfolk, have had to reduce milk production. Some have gone out of business. The cost of a pint of milk has risen and doorstep deliveries are said to be at risk. So much for the Government promising in our manifesto stoutly to defend British farmers and consumers.
When someone to whom one tells the truth in their front room throws one out, one does not walk up the garden path next morning, knock on the door and say, "Please let me in." It is up to the person who has thrown one out, and to whom one has told the truth, to recognise the truth