|Previous Section||Home Page|
Mr. O'Brien: Will the Secretary of State confirm that included in that statement there is a genuine interest on the part of Government to reduce the development of asthma in children and in the population in general? Will he give an assurance that new motorways will not be built near infant and junior schools? Does he agree that there has to be a distance of half a mile, or a mile, between a motorway and a school to ensure the health and safety of children in our schools?
Column 1382job, I have tightened vehicle emission standards on two occasions and have paid particular attention to putting in place arrangements that will add to those already in place as regards cleaning the air. As to new roads, I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a genuine concern about the A1(M) and proposals for new routes, the effect that those might have on the Ferrybridge-Pontefract corridor and whether the route ought to go to the east of Knottingley. He will appreciate that a variety of issues have to be taken into account in making such a judgment. He has made one of those points very eloquently today. I hope that he will accept that a number of others have to be borne in mind before a final decision is reached.
Mr. James Hill: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the M3 has been an outstanding success, as its use by the public has cut out many huge traffic jams of the past? None the less, the environmental side needs some attention. As a result of the sheer construction of the gap, almost 1,000 contractors' caravans are still in place. Should not a little environmental detail now be approached to make the M3 a real success?
Dr. Mawhinney: I agree with my hon. Friend that the M3 and the whole motorway network have been a success. Some motorways have been a little controversial at the time of construction but, as people reflect on what we now have in place, they agree that the system is to the great advantage of the travelling public, business and industry. I hear what my hon. Friend says about the environmental aspects of the M3 and I will report his concern to the Highways Agency.
Ms Walley: In view of the measures which the Secretary of State says are so important, when will he take full account of the report of the Standing Advisory Committee on Trunk Road Assessment and the report of the royal commission? When will environmental appraisal be at the root of all road schemes and transport policies? When will he introduce air quality monitoring, both nationally and as a requirement for local authorities?
Dr. Mawhinney: I should have hoped that the hon. Lady would know that, since 1985, environmental assessments have been at the heart of decisions on whether new roads should be built. The SACTRA report made it clear that induced traffic consequences of road building happen only on some roads but could not say in advance which roads those would be. It recommended that we should do more research to pursue that matter further and I am happy to tell the hon. Lady that we shall do so.
Sir Peter Hordern (Chairman of the Public Accounts Commission): The National Audit Office employs some 550 staff, who either have accountancy qualifications or are training for them. Of those, 60 have degrees in economics, although none are full-time professional
Column 1383economists. The office conducts a wide range of studies. When specialised advice is needed on relevant economic issues, the NAO uses external experts.
Sir Peter Hordern: I am familiar with the report to which my hon. Friend refers and I understand that the Public Accounts Commission has already considered it. It shows the good work which the National Audit Office does for the House and for Parliament generally in inquiring into administration rather than policy. It has also revealed that the index of suspects, which has some 340,000 names on it, is held in a manual that is updated by hand every day. It is hoped to move to a computer index soon, though some hon. Members may consider that that should have been done before.
15. Mr. Waterson: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what steps he is taking within the EU to resist the payment of illicit subsidies to (a) Air France, (b) Iberia and (c) Olympic Airlines. 
Mr. Norris: The UK has opposed the granting of state aid by national Governments to Air France, Iberia and Olympic Airlines, and we have applied to the European Court of Justice to annul the Air France decision.
Mr. Waterson: Will my hon. Friend take an early opportunity to remind his opposite numbers in Europe that, to use Lord King's words, within less than a decade British Airways went from awful to awesome as a result of privatisation, cutting overmanning and achieving more efficient management, and that if their national airlines cannot achieve that without massive subsidies they should be allowed to go out of business?
Mr. Norris: I listened closely to what my hon. Friend said and I think that his words will resonate throughout the House and outside. State aid merely shores up inefficiency, distorts competition and undermines European airlines' ability to compete in world markets.
20. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what estimates he has made of the public subsidy likely to be required to (a) construct the channel tunnel rail link and (b) operate services on it. 
Mr. Watts: The level of public sector support for the construction of the channel tunnel rail link will be determined by the competition currently under way to select a private sector promoter for the rail link. The Government do not intend to subsidise the private sector operation of international services.
Column 1384behaviour from the noble Lord, given that he spiked the project five years ago, when he said that it should receive no public subsidy whatever?
Mr. Jacques Arnold: Bearing in mind the fact that the north Kent line is subsidised, along with the other commuter services in the London area, is not one advantage of the channel tunnel rail link that it will cut commuting speeds from Gravesend from 50 minutes to 19 minutes on the high- speed rail link?
Mr. Paul Channon (Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee): In its first report of 1992-93, "Refreshment Provision for Line of Route Visitors", the Catering Committee recommended that the area currently occupied by the Westminster Hall cafeteria should be converted to a visitor centre, but that that should take place only when a suitable alternative has been found for the present lunchtime users of that cafeteria. The House agreed the report on 12 July 1994.
Mrs. Campbell: I thank the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee for that reply. I am glad to hear that some progress has been made. Is he confident that when I am visited by children in the future, as I was recently by 80 children from Arbury county primary school of Cambridge, those children will be able to sit and eat their sandwiches inside instead of having to go outside and eat them in the rain?
Mr. Channon: I entirely agree that that is very much to be desired. The Director of Works is currently preparing design options, which will have to be considered by the various Committees of the House. The serious problem is that between 400 and 450 people already have meals in the Westminster Hall cafeteria. Some suitable alternative must be found for them before much else can be done.
Mr. Dunn: As one of the bars to extending facilities in the House is the lack of space, is my right hon. Friend aware that a number of rooms are currently used by policy advisers to the Labour party and are therefore now redundant?
Column 1385financial provision for the publication at monthly intervals of a list of dining room bookings, giving the names of organisations and hon. Members. 
Mr. Beith (on behalf of the House of Commons Commission): The provision of such information is a matter for the Catering Committee, following the implementation of the structure set out in the Ibbs report.
Mr. Prentice: May I urge the right hon. Gentleman to make suitable representations to the Catering Committee? As the Nolan committee is examining the interests of Members of Parliament, their parliamentary consultancies, and so on--about which there has been tremendous public concern--is there not a case for greater transparency and openness, so that people outside know exactly which Members of Parliament are booking how many rooms for outside organisations?
Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman can urge the Catering Committee, as no doubt he did before it gave a parliamentary written answer on that very subject on 1 February at columns 671-72 . He has also no doubt urged his hon. Friends on the Committee, on which the Opposition are well represented by the hon. Members for Jarrow (Mr. Dixon) and for Heywood and Middleton (Mr. Callaghan).
Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what has been the cost of energy efficiency measures in the parliamentary estate in the last three years. 
Mr. Steen: I just wonder whether enough is being done to reduce the burning of fossil fuels and whether the House is doing enough by setting an example of how we behave in that respect. Bearing in mind the fact that we have a tremendous predominance of staff--many people think that we are overstaffed--in the Palace and its surrounding accommodation, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it should be possible to get some of those employees to go round turning the radiators down, so that rooms like mine do not reach a temperature of 82 deg F, as it did last week, which is more suitable for a sauna than for an office?
Mr. Beith: I very much agree with what the hon. Gentleman has to say. The House has already achieved a saving of 7 per cent. in gas and electricity consumption and is on course for a target of 15 per cent. by 1996. It hopes to achieve a major reduction in fossil fuel burning by installing a combined heat and power plant in the Norman Shaw buildings and has various technical devices by which it seeks to avoid excess heat being produced. However, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is right that Members and staff can draw attention to practical means of cutting energy waste.
Mrs. Dunwoody: Will the right hon. Gentleman bear it in mind that brilliant toys which somehow or other do not work are very dangerous, and that at present the House has a great tendency to have a series of lights which click on very effectively after one has passed out
Column 1386of the corridor that they are meant to illuminate? That is not only exceedingly dangerous, but will cost a fortune in compensation when someone is hurt as a result.
Mr. Beith: I understand that automatic sensors can lead to considerable energy savings and that they are used in the House in places where it is thought safe to do so--not, for example, where there are steps or stairs. However, if the hon. Lady or other hon. Members know of places where their use could lead to danger, they should refer them to the appropriate authorities.
31. Mr. Harry Greenway: To ask the Chairman of the Finance and Services Committee how much it is planned to spend on House of Commons services in the coming year; upon which main projects; and if he will make a statement. 
Mr. Channon: The estimates for the House of Commons administration and works services for 1995-96 were laid before the House on 23 March 1995, making provision of £73.3 million and £49.9 million respectively for the two votes. Major projects are identified in the annual reports of the Commission.
Mr. Greenway: May I ask my right hon. Friend to find room in that £82 million of expenditure to apply for planning permission for the Terrace marquee, so that it may be open all the year round instead of only eight months a year? [Interruption.] Is my right hon. Friend aware, and is the House aware [Interruption.] --perhaps the hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) is not--that that facility is popular, and that it can be used all the year round because there is heating in it? Might it be used to accommodate the children and other people who want to eat their sandwiches at some times of the day?
Mr. Channon: My hon. Friend's interesting suggestion has met with a mixed reception from the House. He may like to refer the matter to the Chairman of the Catering Committee who, I am sure, will be only too anxious to consider it carefully.
Mr. Benn: Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this year is the 700th anniversary of the summoning of the first Parliament by Edward I, on 27 November 1295? If there is money available for projects, should it not be devoted to improving the facilities for those who visit the House? We still call them "strangers" rather than "electors", so we have not even caught up with 1832, and we still allow them to freeze in the streets when they come to visit Members of Parliament.
There are facilities in Westminster Hall. The security arguments are much less compelling than they were, with the end of the cold war and with the ceasefire in Northern Ireland. We really should treat the people who come to see Members with a lot more care and respect, over and above the changes that the right hon. Gentleman announced today for some eating facilities in the Westminster Hall annexe.
Mr. Channon: The right hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and several other hon. Members earlier raised points akin to his. The Director of Works is preparing proposals. I should be misleading the House if
Column 1387I suggested that that will happen quickly, but I take note of the fact that an influential and large number of Members wish to press ahead with it at the earliest date.
Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what further representations the Commission has received about financial provision for access for the disabled to the Palace of Westminster. 
Berwick-upon-Tweed, as representing the House of Commons Commission, what steps he is taking to improve financial provision for disabled access to the Palace of Westminster. 
Mr. Beith: Following the comprehensive review of disabled access carried out by the Accommodation and Works Committee, projects have been included in the works programme shared between both Houses. Provision of about £240,000 was made in the previous financial year and £372,000 has been approved for the current year. A list of the completed and planned items of work has been placed in the Library.
Mr. Beith: The hon. Gentleman is right. When the building was designed, thought was not given to the way in which disabled people might obtain access to it, and much work is going into discovering ways in which that can now be achieved. The expenditures that I have described are part of that process, but there will be much more as the Accommodation and Works Committee considers the matter further.
Mr. Corbyn: Can the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that, when that money has finally been spent, the whole building will be fully accessible to all the people who come here who suffer from any type of disability?
Last week, when there was a large lobby for the Disability Discrimination Bill, the staff in the building were helpful to those who came. Nevertheless, it is humiliating that someone who comes in a special vehicle has to get special permission to park it and someone to take them from their car up to the Lobby, and then they have to go up in a goods lift to get into the Gallery, where there is limited space for them.
Frankly, the manner in which we treat people who come to this House belongs in the 18th century or earlier. I have been a Member for 12 years, during which the question has been raised time and time again. Yet there are still no proper facilities for people who suffer from disabilities. They are grossly discriminated against by this House.
Mr. Beith: The sums that I have already described will be only part of the process. I have already indicated that more proposals will be needed to achieve the objective described by the hon. Gentleman--if, indeed, we can ever achieve perfection in a building which was not purpose-built with the concerns of the disabled in mind, as I believe our new building over the way will be. The staff of the House have made every effort, not so much
Column 1388to provide special permission as to give special and appropriate assistance. A variety of measures is being considered to ensure that disabled people may have access to all parts of the building.
Mr. Dalyell: Is not the appalling truth that the highest echelons of the United States Government and the Crown Office simply do not want to confront the truth about Lockerbie? Had they done so, would they not have been far more assiduous in carrying out their duty under Scottish law to investigate any leads which might result in the exculpation of the two Libyan suspects or, indeed, any other suspects? They simply have not carried out their legal duty under Scottish law in following the leads. I will not say that they have been bone idle, but they have not carried out their duty. In those circumstances, will the Lord President tell us what wretched excuse is now being given for not going ahead with the second best, which is a Select Committee of this House?
Mr. Newton: On the first point, I can only say that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate remains satisfied that the evidence supports the charges against the two accused and against no other individuals. On the second point, I shall simply say that there have already been numerous inquiries into the Lockerbie disaster and it seems to me that the appropriate course is to seek to pursue the case which is to be mounted against the two people who have been accused, rather than to engage in further inquiries.
Mr. Newton: Parliament makes available coverage of all the proceedings from the Chambers of both Houses and some Committees. The use made of that material is a matter for editorial and scheduling decisions by the broadcasters. Most viewers see coverage of Parliament in daily, national or regional news programmes. There is also some live coverage and a number of daily or weekly programmes using parliamentary material.
Mr. Mackinlay: Has the right hon. Gentleman noted that there has been a fall in the amount of coverage given by television to proceedings in this Chamber? Is it not partly because of the restrictions placed on broadcasters, which prevent panning shots and reaction shots--for instance, to the comments that I am making now--and the need for greater access and editorial freedom to enable broadcasters to show the totality of the proceedings in this Chamber, rather than just the person who is speaking? Will he also bear it in mind that the Committee Rooms in which a number of important Committees sit do not have
Column 1389cameras? Those Committees should be reported on television, but it is not possible because the technology is not there.
Mr. Newton: The hon. Gentleman will know that some relaxations in the rules covering the use of reaction shots were introduced in 1991. The Select Committee on Broadcasting, which I chair, took a further look at the rules recently and felt that the necessary consensus did not exist, either in the Committee or in the House, to justify further changes at this stage. Given the amount of coverage that is devoted to occasions when the rules are at their most restrictive, I rather doubt the hon. Gentleman's assumption that such rules inhibit coverage.
Mr. Michael Brown: What powers has the Broadcasting Committee to take action against broadcasting organisations when they flagrantly break the rules that this House has set? For instance, in an incident not long ago Channel 4 News used slow-motion shots of this House when a Division was taking place. What action can be taken when the rules are broken?
Mr. Newton: The Broadcasting Committee could propose a range of actions to the House. In that case, the matter was taken up with the television companies concerned; they have said that they accept that what happened was outside the rules and I would not expect it to recur.
Mr. Flynn: As a third of the time devoted to business questions is wasted on the meaningless ritual of asking for debates and then having them refused, and as a large amount of the time for points of order is equally wasted, when Members try unsuccessfully to persuade Madam Speaker that their patently bogus points of order are genuine, should we not follow the example of the Indian Parliament, which has introduced a period known as "zero hour" when Members can raise issues of concern without necessarily seeking replies to them, although they sometimes get them? That would avoid wasting time but would still fulfil the function of allowing about a quarter of an hour each day when Members can raise important and urgent matters.
Mr. Newton: First, I would raise an eyebrow at the hon. Gentleman's nerve in asking that question, as I have with me a list of subjects that he has raised at business questions in the past few weeks. Secondly, as it happens, I have arranged a zero three hours for next Wednesday morning.
|Next Section (Debates)