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Column 1442and say, "Please come back in." There should be cries not for party unity, but for sticking to the pledges upon which we were all elected in 1992.
Mr. Andrew Mackinlay (Thurrock): It would be inappropriate of me to make my speech without acknowledging the courage of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss) in the way that he spoke in such forthright terms. In a sense, it was a parliamentary occasion. It is very rare for someone to speak so frankly on the Floor of the House about the deep divisions in the Government and clearly indicate the extent of the bitterness in the Government ranks. The hon. Member for Great Yarmouth should be congratulated on speaking in such frank and trenchant terms.
I do not believe that the House should adjourn, and I want to explain why. I want to reiterate a point that I have made in the House before. It is ludicrous that decisions about when this House should sit should be a matter for the Government and the Executive. Time and again, it seems that the House sits only if there is legislation for us to pass. The other important aspects of our parliamentary job, of scrutinising the Executive and of probing, cajoling and exposing, are deemed secondary to the role and interests of Government.
I look forward to the day--I believe that it will come one day, although perhaps not in my time here--when the House of Commons will be the arbiter of when the House sits and not the Executive.
Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South): It is.
Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend says that it is, but because of the payroll vote and the traditions of this place, the Government always get their way. I would like to see--
Mr. Spearing: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Winnick: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mr. Mackinlay: I will give way in a moment, after I have completed my train of thought. The Government Front Bench and the Opposition Front Bench agree through parliamentary choreography between themselves, and that is not in the interests of hon. Members in respect of their job of criticising and cajoling.
Mr. Winnick: Does my hon. Friend agree that the courageous speech which we have just heard from the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth--it was a very courageous speech and I, like all my Labour colleagues, speak as a stern and never-ending opponent of Toryism--would not be possible if the proposals are passed tonight? Under the proposals, debates like the one we are having now would disappear for good.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): That is not so.
Mr. Winnick: Yes, it is so. My hon. Friend should read the Order Paper and my amendments.
Mr. Mackinlay: I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I do not want to prejudge the debate that will take place later this evening, but there is a real danger that, far from us being able to assert the rights and powers of Back-Bench
Column 1443Members, we might allow them to be further eroded. The Adjournment of the House tomorrow, on the effective diktat of the Government, is bad on this occasion as it has been on other occasions.
During this debate, I have received notice from the Minister for Transport in London, as have other hon. Members, about the trunk road programme and the announcement of the new starts. In a letter to me, the Minister said that the A13 Wennington-Mar Dyke improvement scheme, which was previously an approved start for this year, has been postponed indefinitely.
I do not want to trespass into the debate about the roads programme, other than to say that it is indicative of how clumsy the Government are and how they are not running the country properly, because, during the debate, I have had a message bleeped to me which states that £2 million has already been spent on preparatory work for the A13 scheme which was due to start in January. That is not the way to run the country.
Had the document to which I have referred appeared a few days ago, or if we had had a few more parliamentary sitting days, we might have been able to explore the Minister's thinking behind the decisions which, on the face of it, appear not to have been thought through. I guess that that view is replicated by other hon. Members who have received similar letters about road schemes in the their constituencies.
Before the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr. Arnold) rushes over to bend the Lord President's ear, I want to make it clear that I am talking about the fact that the announcement--if that is the correct term--has been made at the fag end of a parliamentary sitting when there is little or no opportunity for us to probe the thinking behind it, particularly bearing in mind the fact that, in respect of the scheme to which I have referred, public money has been spent--perhaps abortively--in preparatory work. I would like to be able to probe the Minister further.
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Did the hon. Gentleman's Labour-led Essex county council downgrade the bid concerned and put other projects ahead of it in its application for transport supplementary grant?
Mr. Mackinlay: My point is that the matter is now under way. Decisions about our trunk road programme are not being made in a planned way. They are being taken by way of crisis government. There is a major revenue problem, and foolish decisions are being taken. The issue to which I have just referred arose during this debate. It was not one of the issues to which I originally intended to refer. However, the House is to adjourn tomorrow, but a major issue which affects my constituency--and an issue which affects other hon. Members who have received similar letters about road programmes in their areas--has arisen, and we are unable to probe or examine the Minister's ludicrous decisions. In short, the Minister gets away with it, because Parliament will not be sitting after tomorrow. The issue which should be raised, and which is an overriding case why the House should not adjourn, relates to Gibraltar. A week and a half ago, I asked the Leader of the House for an urgent statement from the Foreign Secretary about the reprehensible and unreasonable way
Column 1444in which the Spanish authorities were behaving towards the colony. Of course, no such statement was made. That demonstrates how the House is failing in its obligations to scrutinise the Executive, particularly the Foreign Secretary. In the absence of that statement, it is fair for me to conclude that right hon. Gentleman is behaving dilatorily towards Gibraltar. He is a thundering disgrace to the cause of the colony.
This country has a proud and historic association with Gibraltar. The fiction, although it should be true, is that the Gibraltarians are British people, who have European Union citizenship. They are being denied the right to protection from Her Majesty's Government--protection that is extended to people from Grantham, Grampian, Huntingdon or Thurrock.
We have learnt from newspapers, however, that the Gibraltarians are suffering great disadvantages because of the actions of the Spanish authorities. In fact, people from Grampian, Grantham or Thurrock who visit Spain and who wish to visit the British colony are also being frustrated. That is outrageous. One would have expected that such problems would prompt one hell of a row in the House, but no anger has been shown, except by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) and me, when I raised the issue a week and a half ago.
Mr. Winnick: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way to me a second time. Does he agree that the issue of Gibraltar is germane to the motion that we are debating, because we simply do not know what might happen before we come back in January? In view of some of the accusations that may be made abroad or even in the House and elsewhere, it is important to make it clear that far from Britain wanting to keep Gibraltar as a colony because of our colonial heritage, the overwhelming majority of Gibraltarians--more than 90 per cent.--do not want to be part of Spain. If Spain wants Gibraltar, it is up to the Spanish authorities to persuade the Gibraltarians accordingly. I hope that we will not see any further appeasement from our Government on that important issue.
Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend has always impressed me--even when he was the Member for Croydon, South a long time ago--because of the important principle of national self-determination to which he has always adhered. That principle should be vested in the people. There is no doubt that the Gibraltarians have demonstrated time and time again their wish to maintain their association with the United Kingdom. They are proud to be British, as well as embracing their Gibraltarian identity.
I was extremely proud to accompany a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House to Gibraltar this summer, at the invitation of the Chief Minister, to celebrate the Gibraltar national day. We saw with our own eyes the desire of the Gibraltarians to maintain their association with Britain, and to be full British citizens. In reality, they are also citizens of the European Union, but they are currently being denied the rights of that citizenship because of the unreasonable actions of the Spanish authorities.
The hon. Members who made that visit smelt that something was up when the Governor of Gibraltar failed to receive our delegation--we were told that he was otherwise detained at a family wedding. It was somewhat surprising that the Governor, who is no doubt a fine
Column 1445former military man with a brace of medals, felt that it was inappropriate for him to join in the celebration of the existence of the colony of Gibraltar.
At that time, we also heard that the Attorney-General of Gibraltar had been eased out of office. According to today's edition of The Daily Telegraph , it is suggested that that was part of a pattern of skulduggery, emanating not a million miles from the Foreign Office. It appears that the Foreign Office is attempting to appease the Spanish authorities and to undermine Gibraltar Ministers. That is outrageous.
Should the Leader of the House say in reply to the debate that I am scaremongering and embroidering the facts, that is his fault, because I legitimately asked for a statement from the Foreign Office a week and a half ago, but was denied it. That was wrong.
I have every confidence in and support the Administration of the Chief Minister, Joe Bossano, and his colleagues. They have done a great deal to maintain the economy of the colony at a time when it faced a major crisis through the swift withdrawal of funding from the Ministry of Defence, which had been given because the colony was used as a port. The Administration had to find other means of maintaining the economy, and they have done very well. I accept that mistakes might have been made, but the colony has not had much support from the United Kingdom Government. That, too, is disgraceful. The Spanish Government are now turning on the screws by making spurious suggestions about major irregularities in the customs arrangements between Gibraltar and Spain. They have claimed widespread smuggling of drugs, cigarettes and other contraband. The implication behind those suggestions is that the Gibraltarian authorities are acquiescing in those irregularities. I do not believe that that is so, but, were it so, one would expect Her Majesty's Government to tackle it and to make a statement to the House. They have failed to do so.
I challenge the Leader of the House to arrange for a Minister from the Foreign Office to make a statement to the House on Gibraltar before we adjourn. The Government, for all their boasts about their prowess and their apparent macho diplomacy, have once more demonstrated their weakness when it comes to protecting and promoting the best interests of British people, albeit those who live in Gibraltar. The Government are appeasing Spain, and it is about time that something was done.
I notice that, by coincidence, a meeting is planned at the Foreign Office tomorrow with Spanish Foreign Ministers. That means, of course, that it will be too late for a statement to be made to the House about the outcome of those talks. By the time the House returns, things will have moved on and gone off the boil. We will be faced with a backlog of other issues that hon. Members will want to raise. The problems faced by Gibraltar will be ignored.
It is not unreasonable for me to accuse the Government of behaving dilatorily towards Gibraltar and to demand a statement. I hope that the good sense of the majority of hon. Members will persuade them to join me in arguing that we should not adjourn until such a statement is made.
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Mr. Douglas French (Gloucester): I was surprised when the hon. Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) was so suspicious of my brief intervention in his speech, when I pointed out that charges on the Severn bridge were levied in one direction only.
I support the line that the hon. Gentleman has taken. One reason that the charges are so high is that they are only imposed in one direction. They could certainly be reduced if they were charged in both directions. He will be pleased to know that a delegation of Conservative Members and local councillors from the area recently met the Minister for Railways and Roads to discuss the future tariff arrangements for the bridge. I hope that that meeting will produce some constructive results.
During the Christmas period, there will, sadly, be many road accidents, as usual, and many will involve uninsured motorists. That is a serious matter, on which the time for action has arrived. Effective and practical measures could be taken to reduce the problem significantly in the United Kingdom as it has been overcome in other countries. One such measure is the mandatory display of windscreen insurance discs.
Through my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, I urge the Secretary of State for Transport to re-examine that policy to see whether a way could be found to implement it. The idea has a long history. I raised it in the House as long ago as the Christmas Adjournment debate in 1991. Since then, organisations like the Motor Accident Solicitors Society have declared themselves much in favour, and the Association of British Insurers has also made positive comments. Admittedly, some leading insurance companies have been more sceptical.
It is a serious problem. The best estimate is that, of 23 million motorists in this country at present, approximately a million drive with no insurance. Rising premiums have caused a growing number of people to think that it is better to drive while uninsured and face a slim chance of being caught than pay a yearly premium that is likely to be more expensive than a fine imposed by a magistrates court. To counter the problem of uninsured drivers, the Government have increased the maximum penalty for driving while uninsured from £1,000 to £5,000. But that scarcely touches the heart of the problem. In 1990, only five drivers in the entire country were fined more than £1,000 for driving without insurance. In 1991 there were six, and in 1992 there were 25, but only one was given the maximum penalty of £5, 000. That is one driver out of a total estimated number of 1 million.
The failure to tackle the problem vigorously is expensive, because uninsured motorists give rise to claims bills of some £250 million a year. Thus, a £250 million subsidy is paid by honest motorists to dishonest motorists. The Motor Insurance Bureau is funded by a 2.5 per cent. levy on motor insurance policies, which is not much different from the insurance premium tax, on which so much objection has been expressed. The Motor Insurance Bureau operates on a restrictive basis--a last resort-- so that, in many cases, it will not meet claims, which then fall on the insurance policy of the driver who was insured, even though no culpability can be demonstrated. Whenever this subject is raised, there are said to be insuperable obstacles. Windscreen insurance discs are said to be incompatible with a system based on insuring the
Column 1447driver rather than the vehicle. It is said that WIDs do not prove that the person driving the vehicle is insured to drive it--some insurance policies cover an insured person and his spouse or a named driver only. It is also said that WIDs cannot accommodate the different uses to which a vehicle may be put--some policies restrict a vehicle's use to social, domestic and pleasure purposes, while others cover business.
The Department of Transport accepted all those objections when it made its last major statement on the matter in a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Melton (Mr. Duncan). The then Under-Secretary of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), said:
"we have decided not to require evidence of insurance to be displayed on a vehicle windscreen. Under our present driver-related insurance system the enforcement benefit would be little more than is already provided by the check on insurance which is made when renewing vehicle excise duty."
That explanation did not do the Minister credit, because it amounts to a massive understatement. Everybody knows that vehicle excise duty provides no check whatever, because it can be obtained for a year with insurance that is valid for only 24 hours.
The Minister's answer went on:
"The display of an insurance disc would provide no assurance that the driver was covered by an insurance policy or complying with policy conditions".
Of course it would not. Its advocates do not suggest that it would. But it provides more information than would otherwise be available if it were not displayed and, as such, must be helpful.
The Minister continued:
"nor would it protect against the insurance being cancelled once the disc has been issued."-- [ Official Report , 23 June 1993; Vol. 227, c. 171.]
But it would protect against cancellation if, to get the premium refund, the policy holder was required to return the disc. None of those arguments carries any weight, except for those looking for reasons not to take that action.
A windscreen insurance disc system would provide tangible evidence that some kind of insurance cover was in place in relation to a particular vehicle. It would be evidence of the existence of an insurance policy but not proof of its adequacy, which would still be provided by supporting policy documents. The disc could provide much valuable information, such as the name and age of the driver, the classification of use, the date of expiry, whether the policy is for any vehicle or, if it is for only one vehicle, and the make and registration number of the vehicle.
For people insured to drive more than one vehicle--in practice, the vast majority of people drive only one or, at most, two vehicles--individuals could display their personal disc on the windscreen before starting out on a journey. That would become as automatic as clicking on a seat belt.
Some important parallels can be drawn with vehicle excise duty, for which the display of valid cover is mandatory. There are 140,000 convictions a year for failing to display a road fund licence. They are not displayed because they have not been bought; but the chances of identifying 140,000 evaders without a
Column 1448requirement to display would be minimal. So the need to display enhances compliance. I submit that, were not the tax disc required to be displayed, the level of evasion would be much higher. It therefore follows that, if an insurance disc were required to be displayed, the number of uninsured motorists would be likely to decrease or the number of evaders apprehended would increase.
I have heard it said that the policy that I am urging on the Secretary of State would cause administrative burdens. With up-to-date technology, however, it is simple for an insurance company to provide a disc in the form of a tear-off section on the certificate issued when the cover is taken out. For insurance companies whose systems are up to date, that would present no difficulty whatever.
There is even an opportunity for a go-ahead insurance company to blaze a trail and introduce windscreen insurance discs voluntarily. It could be done in conjunction with an advertising campaign. Indeed, the disc could promote the brand name of the insurer. More generally, the industry could require display to meet the terms of the policy. It might even provide a small discount for doing so.
Such a system would meet with the significant approval of the police. All my exchanges with the police on the subject have shown that they are extremely enthusiastic about it. Discs would provide on-the-spot information which the police often have difficulty in extracting. They would save police time in checking insurance details, as well as the costly and totally unnecessary procedure of producing documents at another police station some days later, which is said to cost the police some £20 million a year, the majority of which could be saved.
Most important, that would increase the chances of catching uninsured drivers, many of whom are to be found around Christmas time. The present system catches only those who are stopped by the police and required to produce their insurance documents. It fails to catch about 750,000 people who fall into that category.
The windscreen insurance disc system has worked successfully in other countries, such as France, Ireland and Italy. It is well known by those who have looked at the subject that, before Ireland introduced WIDs in 1986, as many as 20 per cent. of drivers were uninsured. Within a year, that number had fallen to 8 per cent. The Irish Government estimated that every uninsured driver cost those drivers who were insured an extra £70 in premium. That Irish system is driver-based, and generally uses the insurance companies that operate in the United Kingdom and in Jersey, where the system has also been introduced with success.
Finally, the implementation of this proposal should be accompanied by the requirement that drivers be able to produce driving licences and insurance documents on the spot--that is to say, that those documents should be carried at all times. A combination of those two proposals would bring down the number of uninsured motorists, would help the police, and would greatly reduce insurance premiums for the many honest motorists.
Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover): I shall speak briefly because other people want to speak. The main reason why I should like this debate to take place before the Christmas Adjournment is that today I received a letter from the Secretary of State for Education, in reply to my request
Column 1449that a deputation be allowed to meet her with a view to getting a single site for the Bolsover school. I had raised the matter previously on the Floor of the House, and I took it for granted that a deputation comprising Bolsover school governors, the Derbyshire education committee and myself would be able to meet her; yet, for some strange reason, the Secretary of State refused.
I hope that the Leader of the House will convey that information to the Secretary of State. As a result of raising the matter in that fashion, we might be able to arrange that meeting.
I think that it was at this time last year that I mentioned the Bolsover landslip in this Adjournment debate. The Leader of the House conveyed the relevant information, and we obtained a meeting with the Department of the Environment at that time. Although we did not get everything we asked for-- we did not get the £1 million--we were able to arrange for a survey to be undertaken with a view to stabilising that dangerous landslip. I hope that the Leader of the House can do the same again in respect of the matter that I have mentioned today. The only other matter that I shall mention is the dioxin at Bolsover Coalite, which I have mentioned many times in similar Adjournment debates and on other occasions. Greenpeace recently tested the dioxin level of the blood of many workers at Bolsover Coalite-- testing that had never been undertaken by the Department of Health. Greenpeace found some alarming results. Some of the tests showed dioxin levels four or five times worse than what were supposed to be normal levels; whereupon the workers at Coalite decided to send me a petition, asking whether the Secretary of State for Health would arrange for proper blood tests of dioxin levels to be taken for all workers that wanted them. I sent on the information. Sadly, the Secretary of State for Health has refused to allow those tests to take place.
I make that request to the Leader of the House, bearing in mind the fact that this type of Adjournment debate has been valuable in the past for many of us to raise matters of a constituency nature, however briefly, and that on some occasions we have managed to get the wheels of government turning in our direction. I hope that that occurs on this occasion as well.
Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr): My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was the 16th speaker in the debate and, having listened to all the speeches, I have to say that they have all been models of their type. Some have been short and effective, as was that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover; some have been longer, but nevertheless models of their type. They prove that this type of setpiece debate before a recess is justified to enable hon. Members to raise various issues. No one wants to snuff out such debates.
Speeches such as those that were made tonight will be able to be made before the recess next Christmas, but on a Wednesday morning instead of late at night. It is inconceivable that, as three or four of the speakers said--for example, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) and my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North (Mr. Corbyn)--we will not be able to hold this type of debate in the future. The debate will simply move to a different part of the week.
Column 1450I confess some astonishment, as it is one of my few visits to the House in recent weeks, having been occupied in the midlands, that no hon. Member mentioned--as I suspect that hon. Members have in the past couple of weeks, and after last Thursday as well--the need for an urgent debate on the scandalous goings-on in the gas industry and the drop in morale among employees of that world-class company. If I had been a Back Bencher, I should have wanted to hold a debate on the public funding of political parties in view of the expose in the Financial Times today of the funding of the Conservative party by British business. I should also have wanted to debate one of the other issues mentioned in relation to the health service by my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, North--the proposed closure of Bart's. However, I should have wanted to widen the debate, to encompass the climate of fear that exists in the national health service and employees in that service--the fear to speak out about the truth about what is going on in the national health service. That issue demands the attention of the House.
I suspect that other hon. Members might have wanted to mention the gross invasion of privacy by the press in recent days.
I cannot mention all the speeches that were made tonight, but I support that made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East (Mr. Hughes) about the crazy situation that has arisen regarding the Severn bridge. I probably use it no more than half a dozen times a year, but I also use the roads in Gloucestershire, and what has happened there as a result of the abuse of effective privatisation is crazy. The sufferers are not only the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East, but the, believe it or not, tens of thousands of people who live in the Gloucestershire area, where the roads are being damaged again by people who seek to abuse the toll system.
I did not know, I confess, that there are differences between the arrangements for the tracking through of commercial vehicles at Dartford and on the Severn bridge. My hon. Friend the Member for Newport, East was absolutely right to mention that.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, or part of Staffordshire--I always forget which--
Mr. Rooker: The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) mentioned the important subject of the neglect by the House of the situation in Bosnia, but his speech went wider than that, because it is an issue as the House breaks for Christmas.
British troops are in many parts of the world, but our service personnel are on call in Bosnia. Their lives are at risk during the recess and in the new year--a vulnerable part of the year. We know that they will not relax as everyone else relaxes, as they seek to ensure that the convoys of food and other aids get through to that troubled part of Europe. That is the scandal. It is a troubled part of Europe, and the trouble should not have been allowed to exist anywhere in the way that it has in the past three years. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to say that to the House in this short debate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks), who has apologised because he cannot be present, mentioned the county hall saga, which is
Column 1451becoming nothing short of a catastrophe for the Government. The building is now an eyesore. People, especially tourists, stop while walking across the road and ask, "What is that building over there?"--draped as it is with banners and scaffolding, and allowed to decay.
The building is a national asset. Only political spite and bile have not allowed it to be used for a major public sector facility, such as the London School of Economics or some other provision. It cannot be allowed to decline further. The cost of putting it right will be more in the long term, as everyone knows.
The hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), wearing his hat as the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, but, I suspect, in some ways wearing his previous hat as the Member for Brierley Hill from 1967 to 1974, made an astonishing attack on a new Member of the House, who had taken his seat and been sworn in as recently as one hour before, and who is powerless at the moment to defend himself.
It is outrageous to argue that my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West (Mr. Pearson)--what a phrase, eh--my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley, West?-- [Hon. Members:-- "Hear, hear!"]--did not seek to engage in any debate during the by-election. He accepted every invitation that was offered to him by everyone who wanted to put all the candidates on one platform or wanted to put the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates on the platform with a Labour candidate. One of the reasons that that did not come about was the abuse of the Representation of the People Acts by minor parties who are not seriously interested in exercising political power, and who abuse the electoral process.
All responsible political parties which are represented in the House are serious contenders for political power and should put their programmes and policies before the people at elections. That matter should be addressed so that we are not prevented from putting forward our case at by-elections or general elections by minor parties who have no interest in the outcome of the results. It is an abuse. I do not wish to snuff out minor parties--far from it. Parties should be registered. I am in favour of all other aspects of modernising our political process.
There is consensus among the responsible parties represented in the House to ensure that we are not deprived of the opportunity to put forward our proposals on television and radio in elections. That matter should be addressed. That process was behind the comments of the hon. Member for Altrincham and Sale, which were somewhat unkind, but I understand the spirit in which they were made, with a 29 per cent. almost English all- comers' record for the Labour party. I can understand why not a single paid Government Whip has been present for the debate. They are attending not a celebration party but a wake. I agree with the hon. Gentleman on a separate issue, which is concern about the press interview given by Myra Hindley. This is a matter for personal views, and I speak for myself. I have always been an abolitionist. One of the planks that I have always used, even when I debated the issue at school, is that, in respect of some of the most heinous crimes, life should mean life. That costs the taxpayer more, I understand, but it is part of the quid pro quo of being an abolitionist-- that is, in some cases, life
Column 1452must mean life. Frankly, in that case, it is absolutely certain that life should mean life. I respect the hon. Gentleman for what he said.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) spoke about the collapse of the social housing programme and the effect on homelessness. He is absolutely right. My hon. Friend the Member for Tooting raised the long- delayed Government response to the Latham report. In one of my previous incarnations, I spoke on housing and construction on behalf of my party. Michael Latham's work makes a major contribution to renewing and reforming an industry upon which the country depends. That industry does not have a large import content. It is home-grown; it is labour-intensive in terms of creating jobs. My hon. Friend listed a host of proposals which deserve serious and, what is more, urgent Government consideration. I do not regard such legislation as politically contentious. There would be good will on both sides.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Rutherglen (Mr. McAvoy) deployed a case for flood victims. Like others, I have seen the effects only on television. Astonishing new rivers were created in a major city overnight, leaving many constituents homeless during this festive time. My hon. Friend's call for extra help for victims should not be unheard.
The hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a powerful intervention, and I respect the way in which he made it. He shared with my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Bayley) a call for the urgent need to return to the railway building industry. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Because I was not present at Question Time, I did not know that it has been disclosed that this is the first year since 1948 that British Rail has not ordered any rolling stock. In one of my previous incarnations before I came to the House, I worked briefly for Metro-Camell Ltd, the carriage and wagon works in Birmingham. I understand something of the nature of that industry.
It beggars belief that York--to many people, it is the home of the railway industry and of our fine national railway museum, which I have visited on a couple of occasions--will be left without capacity to build railway vehicles and carriages. If we do not invest in the industry, the result will be fewer British jobs, less capacity to build and design, and less potential for export. One industry after another has gone down the plughole. Because of the 15 January deadline, the option should be addressed urgently by the Government. I hope that the Leader of the House will ensure that that matter is addressed.
I pay tribute to the brave and courageous speech by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Carttiss). I mean that most sincerely. I understand the position in which he and some of his colleagues find themselves. One of them is my pair, and I want him back with the Whip as soon as possible. I certainly respect the way in which the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth put his case.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) made a case for Gibraltar. I have visited Gibraltar a couple of times. I have no interest to declare; they were private holidays in 1977 and 1979. At that time, Joe Bossano was the organiser of the Transport and General Workers Union in the colony. From my three weeks in the colony and from listening to Gibraltarians talking in the streets, cafes and pubs about their feelings then--they have not changed--I know that in no
Column 1453circumstances would they be prepared to be ruled by Madrid. There is no question about it. I suspect that the hype has probably been raised so that the British Government can sell out on the fishing negotiations regarding the Irish box. That will pacify the Spaniards to keep the heat off Gibraltar. I hope that that is not the case, but I am naturally a suspicious person.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover said that the Secretary of State for Education declined to meet him regarding the Bolsover school. From my experience, the Secretary of State for Education would be well advised to meet my hon. Friend, or she will have a very uncomfortable 1995.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. Tony Newton): I welcome the hon. Member for BirminghamPerry Barr (Mr. Rooker). More and more it feels like an occasion for a certain kind of groupie, as I have now had to reply to seven or eight recess Adjournment debates, and there is a certain repetition in those who appear on such occasions. I can hardly remember one without the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox). I emphasise that that is no criticism, before anybody attacks me. I do not think that I can remember a single one without my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery), not many without my hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway), and indeed very few without either my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire, South (Mr. Cormack) or the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). I must at least pay tribute to their assiduity in attending such occasions.
I was grateful for the remarks of the hon. Member for Perry Bar about suggestions that such opportunities are about to disappear for ever. Such suggestions do not seem to stand up. That matter will be the focus of attention in the next debate.
Mr. Spearing rose --
Mr. Newton: I have little time. If the hon. Gentleman's point relates to the procedure motions, I suggest that he might sensibly make his comments it when we reach them.
As ever, I will not be able to refer to all speeches with a substantial comment. However, the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) always takes me by surprise when he asks for something nicely rather than beating me about the ears, I will certainly communicate his requests--