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Madam Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been allowed the time allocated to him under Standing Order No. 24. I have, of course, listened carefully to what he has said. As the hon. Gentleman knows, I must give my decision without giving any reason for it. I regret that I do not consider that the matter raised is appropriate for discussion under the Standing Order. I therefore cannot submit the application to the House.

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Points of Order

3.34 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it in order for the President of the Board of Trade to refuse to answer a parliamentary question--in this instance, from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood)--even though to provide an answer would entail only 10 minutes of the right hon. Lady's diary secretary's time, and would involve neither excessive expense nor any risk to our national security?

Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman must give me details of such a situation. I cannot give him a yes-or-no answer without being fully informed of what he is talking about, which I am not at present.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that on Question 1, I asked the Secretary of State for Scotland whether he was able to make an announcement about criminal cases and the review authority for Scotland. I was told to exercise some patience, because his hon. Friend the Minister of State would reveal all when answering Question 13. Of course, we did not reach Question 13. Is there any chance of extra time, Madam Speaker?

Madam Speaker: I wish there were. I shall let the hon. Gentleman into a little confidence, if I may. When the Scottish Office team were leaving, I observed that we did not make the progress on Scottish questions that I had hoped we would. That being so, I make the general point that I hope that we shall make better progress in future on Scottish questions. Perhaps I can be helped by Back Benchers as well as those on the Front Benches. Perhaps, also, those on the Treasury Bench will let the Scottish Office team know what I have said.

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire): Further to the first point of order, Madam Speaker. The question was a simple one, based on how many days the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry had spent in her office between 1 August and 5 October. May I have the exact criteria for not answering the question? I understand that national security or excessive cost must be involved. Tracking down the Beckett family caravan surely does not fall into either of those categories.

Madam Speaker: I shall want to know the full situation. The hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) said that he would write to me about the matter. I shall look into it and respond. I have no idea how many hours or days the President of the Board of Trade spent in her office, and I cannot be expected to respond until I have undertaken my research. I open my mouth in the House only when I have a proper answer to give, not to state something that I imagine.

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Division No. 79 (Corrected Figures)

Mr. Jon Owen Jones (Lord Commissioner to the Treasury) and Mrs. Margaret Ewing, who acted as Tellers in Division No. 79 on Monday 3 November, came to the Table.

Mr. Jones: We have to inform the House that the numbers voting "Aye" in Division No. 79 yesterday on the Third Reading of the Education (Student Loans) Bill were reported in error by us as 283. The number voting "Aye" was 293.

Madam Speaker: Thank you. I shall see that the correction is made in the Journal. I hope that this will not happen again.

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Prohibition of Bull Bars

3.38 pm

Mr. Richard Spring (West Suffolk): I beg to move,

Those of us who go into public life are often influenced in our attitudes by our personal experiences. These may turn on the great issues of the day such as the level of taxation and our relationship with other countries or the future of the welfare state, or on something specific.

Nearly five years ago, I stopped my car in Bury St. Edmunds to allow someone else to park. In my rear-view mirror, I spotted a 4x4 vehicle heading towards me. It soon became apparent that it would not stop, and seconds later the inevitable collision took place. I remained calm, because my vehicle, a Volvo estate car, had a reinforced outer steel chassis and was regarded as the safest car manufactured.

I got out of the car to examine the damage. The 4x4 vehicle, fitted with bull bars, was undamaged. On superficial examination, the damage to my estate car did not seem great. It was taken away, however, to be properly examined. I was horrified to be informed subsequently that such was the damage from the bull bars that the chassis had buckled. In fact, the car was effectively written off. I was truly shocked, because it struck me: if bull bars could destroy a Volvo estate car, what could they do to a child's head? As a father of young children, I found the prospect sickening.

In Germany, it has been established that a vehicle could kill a child while travelling at 20 mph. Fitted with bull bars, a death could result at 12 mph, or even as low as 10 mph. The Transport Research Laboratory has indicated that the number of fatalities or serious accidents arising directly from bull bars is quite limited. Others take a different view. The truth is that nobody really knows. What we do know, however, is that, without any doubt, some children have tragically lost their lives through bull bar-related accidents. It has been fully documented.

Bull bars were invented in Australia, in the outback, to prevent serious accidents with kangaroos. Well, there are no kangaroos in Britain. Even in Australia, bull bars are being banned in urban areas.

Given the evidence, it is very disappointing that bull bars are still legal in Britain. Over a number of years, the Department of Transport has sought a way forward with the European Commission, but progress has been lamentably slow. Sweden and Finland object to the ban. Apparently, in Lapland there is a risk of colliding with moose or reindeer. In Britain there are no moose and very few reindeer. It seems extraordinary that the apparent needs of a small corner of Europe should mean no progress elsewhere. Whatever happened to subsidiarity? Jersey and Cyprus have simply gone ahead and banned bull bars, and those bans have not been challenged.

I am delighted that the Department of Transport has issued a comprehensive consultation document. The possibility exists for unilateral national action. The Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club oppose bull bars. They are not used in royal parks, and large commercial delivery organisations, such as DHL, have banned them. A number of insurers refuse to cover vehicles that are fitted with bull bars. Overwhelmingly,

4 Nov 1997 : Column 117

public opinion is moving against them. I applaud the efforts of successive Road Safety Ministers to move towards a ban--now, most notably, Baroness Hayman.

My Bill affords the opportunity to ban bull bars. This is not a party political issue. Sponsors of the Bill come from the three main political parties. I hope that the Government will support the Bill, but, if not, that they will find another route to get them banned. Talking of road safety is like approving of motherhood and apple pie. How can one be against it? In Britain, we have a good track record, which could only be enhanced by the successful enactment of the Bill into law. This is quite specific, and will make a difference.

In other parliamentary traditions, the name of the main promoter of the Bill is sometimes attached to the new law. I say this not for myself but because, if that tradition existed in the House, the Bill, if passed, might well be called the Flynn law, after the hon. Member for Newport, West (Mr. Flynn). He has tried twice, unsuccessfully, to move this process on. In so doing, he has greatly highlighted this issue in the public domain. I applaud him once again today.

The time has come to remove these ugly, dangerous and offensive devices from our roads. The blunt truth is that bull bars are not fashion accessories; they are killing accessories.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Richard Spring, Mr. John Austin, Mr. Alan Duncan, Mr. Paul Flynn, Mr. Christopher Fraser, Mr. Andrew George, Mr. Nick Hawkins, Mr. John Hutton, Sir Peter Lloyd, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. David Ruffley and Mr. Desmond Swayne.

Prohibition of Bull Bars

Mr. Richard Spring accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the fitting of bull bars to motor vehicles: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 13 February, and to be printed [Bill 73].

4 Nov 1997 : Column 118

Opposition Day

[3rd Allotted Day]

Student Finance

Madam Speaker: I must inform the House that, on the two motions tabled by the Opposition, I have had to limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.44 pm

Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood): I beg to move,

I am pleased that, on the first occasion when the Opposition have the opportunity to choose the subject for debate after our prolonged summer recess, my colleagues and I agreed that we should focus the attention of the House on the shambles that is the Government's higher education policy.

That subject was last discussed when the Secretary of State for Education and Employment came to the House at the end of July following the publication of the Dearing report. He came to the House within a matter of hours of the publication of that report in order to reject its key recommendations on the future of undergraduate student finance.

Dearing recommended, first, the continuation of means-tested maintenance grants in order to ease access for students from a low-income background. The Secretary of State announced that the Government were to reject that recommendation.

Secondly, Dearing recommended against the introduction of means-tested tuition fees, although the report considered it as option C. The Secretary of State came to the House of Commons to announce that, despite the Dearing report's recommendation that it be rejected, he and the Government would introduce means-tested tuition fees.

Thirdly, Dearing recommended that any income raised from students in order to finance the future growth of higher education should be ring-fenced to go into the higher education system. The Government have made it clear that that recommendation, too, is rejected.

The Secretary of State came to the House and disingenuously presented his policy as Dearing-plus. His policy was not Dearing-plus; his policy was to reject Dearing and substitute his own, or perhaps I should say the Treasury's, policy instead. His branding of that policy as Dearing-plus has fooled almost no one. I say "almost no one"; a week ago I would have said it had fooled no one, but it appears to have fooled the Prime Minister.

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We saw last week, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister--[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is embarrassed by the Prime Minister. I am not surprised. The Prime Minister was asked why the Government had rejected the Dearing report, and his reply was nothing short of astounding. The Prime Minister said:

by which he meant the election campaign--

    "that we should abide by the recommendations of the Dearing committee".--[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 892.]

I know that the Prime Minister is not a detail man, but as a statement that beggars belief. It is wrong on almost every count. It is not true that the Prime Minister made it clear throughout the election campaign that the Government intended to implement the Dearing report's recommendations. It is just as well that it is not true, because that is a policy that they will not carry out.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition repeated to the Prime Minister his words during the election campaign, when he said:

That was not, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) might have said, a remark offered on a wet night in Dudley; it was a remark that was regularly repeated by people who are now senior Ministers.

On 24 April, not much more than a week before polling day, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), now the Foreign Secretary, said:

He went on to say that he was happy to predict that, if the Tories got back for a fifth term, they would start to charge students for tuition. It is a pity that he did not offer a prediction about what Labour would do if it was elected on 1 May.

Last week, the Prime Minister was wrong in his description of the Government's present policy. Furthermore, he was wrong in his recollection of what either he or his right hon. and hon. Friends said during the election campaign. That shambles at Prime Minister's Question Time last week was symptomatic of a much wider shambles that has pervaded this field of policy since the Secretary of State's rushed statement to the House in July, before the summer recess.

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