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14. Mr. Stringer: What assessment his Department has made of the future level of inward investment from Taiwan. [20426]

18. Helen Jones: What assessment his Department has made of future levels of inward investment from Taiwan. [20430]

Mr. Fatchett: The United Kingdom has an unrivalled record in attracting inward investment from Taiwan, highlighted recently by significant investments by two major Taiwanese companies, Acer Peripherals and ADI. The promotion of the UK as the preferred location in Europe for Taiwanese investors will remain a priority for the Invest in Britain Bureau and the British Trade and Cultural Office in Taipei.

Mr. Stringer: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and congratulate those organisations on the work that they are doing bringing investment into this country. I wonder whether they would share my opinion--which resulted from my experience when Teco Electric and Machinery Company first came to the Trafford Park estate in Greater Manchester--that the prime reason why Taiwanese companies locate in this country is for access to European markets. Does my hon. Friend agree that enormous damage is being done to that prospect by the comments of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Foreign Secretary?

Mr. Fatchett: My hon. Friend is absolutely correct in what he says. The role of Britain as a central player in the European Union is important in attracting inward investment and creating new job and employment opportunities for the British people. Those opportunities would be placed at risk if the Conservative party's policy were put into effect. That is why so many knowledgeable and experienced members of the Conservative party now disagree openly with the Conservative leader and with the shadow Foreign Secretary.

Helen Jones: Is my hon. Friend aware that more than 10,000 students from Taiwan are currently paying their way through higher education in Britain? Does he agree that this can only serve to strengthen the links between the two countries and encourage further inward investment, and will he undertake to do all that he can to promote those developments?

Mr. Fatchett: We should always sell the importance of our higher education system. It has a great deal of merit; it is attractive to other countries. It is important to build the person-to-person contacts that the higher education system provides. That is true not only in Taiwan but throughout the world. I give an assurance to my hon. Friend that we will sell British higher and further education in Taiwan and throughout the world.

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Parliamentary Declaration

Mr. Tony Benn, supported by Mr. Chris Mullin, Audrey Wise, Mr. Roger Berry, Ms Diane Abbott, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Alan Simpson, Mr. John Austin, Mr. Ken Livingstone, Mr. Cynog Dafis, Mr. Jeremy Corbyn and Mr. Dennis Skinner, presented a Bill to provide for a new Declaration to be made by Members of Parliament upon their election to the House of Commons: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed [Bill 106].

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I apologise for detaining the House, but, as you know, Select Committees are held to be extremely important, not only to the House but to the wider public, because they are the forum where hon. Members come together to seek common ground on which they can address complex issues. I wish to draw to your attention the "Agenda" programme, broadcast on Radio 4 last Saturday, which dealt principally with the tobacco industry and problems of the circumvention of British tobacco duty.

During that programme, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who I understand is Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, and to whom I apologise for not having given notice in raising this matter--[Hon. Members: "Oh."] There is no discourtesy intended. The point that the hon. Gentleman made during that broadcast was that he saw no point in having a dialogue, as he put it, with representatives of the tobacco manufacturers.

As you know, Madam Speaker, this is an extremely important issue, not just for the House but for the public. We have had considerable debate on tobacco advertising, on which the Government have altered their policy in response to a very substantial donation to the Labour party. In this case, do you not think that it is inappropriate for the Chairman of a Select Committee to deny access to a key Committee of the House for people who have an important point to raise on behalf of 15 million of our constituents--more people than voted for the Labour party at the recent general election?

Madam Speaker: No. What I know is that it is up to hon. Members to make the comments that they wish to make, and it is not for me to inhibit those comments in any way. What I also know is that the hon. Gentleman should have given notice to the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) before raising this matter. I have not seen the "Agenda" programme; I was not in the country at the time.

Mr. David Faber (Westbury): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. In reply to my question during Question Time on the training of the Indonesian police force and any plans that the Government have to help and to give training assistance, the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), said that I had misunderstood a reply that had been given by the Secretary of State for International Development. The previous question asked by the hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) had clearly referred to both training and assistance being given to the Indonesian police force. This is a crucial matter, as the Government are making great play of their ethical foreign policy, particularly with reference to Indonesia. Either the right hon. Lady has misled the House, albeit inadvertently, or the policy has changed.

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Madam Speaker: What is the point of order for me?

Mr. Faber: The point of order for you is that I should like either the Minister or the Secretary of State for International Development to make a statement. Either she has been overruled or the policy has been changed.

Madam Speaker: Statements by Ministers are not a matter for me, but no doubt Government Front Benchers have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say.

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Local Government Boundary Changes (Referendum)

3.34 pm

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport): I beg to move,

The new Government have made much of their wish for the emergence of democratic initiatives, particularly in local government. Active friends in local government have mentioned to me that the Minister for Local Government and Housing has made encouraging noises on this topic on several occasions. I understand, too, that a Bill is being introduced in another place permitting specific initiatives in this area. However, both that Bill and such words as I have heard from Ministers deal with initiatives that relate to current institutions of local government, based on current boundaries.

That approach is fine where local government boundaries are functioning well and are accepted by the people concerned--but what of the areas where they are not? The Government have already shown that they are not minded to tolerate identifiable communities being trapped in an insensitive system of government with which the people concerned are unhappy. They made it quite clear, for instance, that the ending of the current state of affairs in Scotland and Wales had to be determined by the people of those parts of the United Kingdom themselves. They have also made it clear, most importantly, that the views of the other parts of Britain are to hold no sway in these matters. Accordingly, the Government moved swiftly to enact change by means of the referendums for Scotland and Wales.

I seek the support of right hon. and hon. Members, particularly those in the governing party, for the idea of consistency of approach, thereby enabling people to determine which local government areas their long-identifiable communities should belong to. My principle is that the people of the affected areas should decide through the power of a binding referendum.

At the moment, we have a complete and utter shambles. The Local Government Commission for England is a quango. The previous Government wasted parliamentary time replacing the--then perfectly good--boundary commission by setting up this new quango, to no purpose besides giving it new terms of reference to make its members putty in ministerial paws. Members of the commission are doubtless good men and women true, but they know full well, whatever the circumstances they are called in to comment on, that they will have wasted their time if they do not come up with a decision that finds favour with the Secretary of State of the day. They are asked to judge any proposals for change not just according to how much favour they find with the people concerned, but according to the effects that the proposals may or may not have on the people of the adjoining areas, who are not bothered one way or the other about the whole idea.

The commissioners are allowed to obstruct any proposals, such obstruction being based not on hard and fast evidence that they may have about the effects of a

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proposed change but on speculation or guesswork as to what the financial effects on the given communities might be. They may leave aside any assessment of the potential of the changes for good, financially and in other aspects of good governance; disregarding if they wish any improvements that might accrue from changing the form of local government to one with which local people could identify. The commissioners have treated the adult population in my part of the country like children who are not to be trusted with taking into their own hands responsibility for the consequences of determining their own affairs.

I have read that the Government are contemplating giving the populations of various areas the power, using a referendum, to determine whether local government spending should be allowed to exceed Government guidelines. If that is so, it is in line with the direction of my Bill.

The present position is, in short, that in order to recommend change to the Secretary of State, the local government quango must prove a negative. It must prove that the proposed change will not create a net harm to some undefined portion of the people, who may not be bothered one way or the other by the suggested change. How are such matters to be decided? The answer is that the quango seems to please itself.

One thing is certain, however: the commissioners do not please the people of the communities in question. The experience of dealing with the commission has been described by some of those who have had occasion to do so in my part of the north-west as trying to knit with spaghetti.

There has always been a particular frustration that anyone wishing to introduce a petition for change has no idea whether it will ever be translated into a formal proposal for consideration by the commission, let alone whether it will become the basis for positive action.

The commission's timetable is kept full, so its limited resources are stretched. To respond to a major structural review of local government in one area within a short time, as the people of Southport have had to do on two occasions, has taken phenomenal effort by a dedicated set of people, including myself, working to achieve the public will.

For example, in 1995 a ballot was organised in Southport, with the people of the town being polled on a particular prospect for change and the status quo. Twenty-two thousand people spoke with such an overwhelming and convincing majority of 19:1 that the chairman of the boundary commission, as it was then called, felt that he had no option but to request the then Secretary of State to instruct him to conduct a special review of Southport's position. The Secretary of State rewarded that request by winding up the boundary commission and caused further years of delay by pushing through a Bill to create the new commission for England, which is no better than its predecessor.

Through those years of delay, the people of Southport held firm. When the review finally came, we presented our evidence in technical detail, advocating the advantages of change, and citing the vast numbers of local people who supported such a change. What did the commission do? It listened intently to boasts of

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efficiency from the officers of Sefton council, of which Southport is part, who did not want Southport to break free, and watched as the same officers orchestrated a campaign to maintain power over Southport.

The commission took evidence from various spurious community groups and seemed to give equal consideration to the opinions of many of those unrepresentative bodies and to the views of thousands of Southport residents who had consistently voted for change over the past 23 years. It also commissioned a small public opinion poll from MORI, in which the questions were phrased in a way that was hopelessly irrelevant and confusing to respondents and subject to gross misinterpretation.

Given such shoddy behaviour from the quango, we in Southport were not particularly surprised when the commission made an interim recommendation that the status quo should prevail, provided that Sefton council gave the commission within the following 12 weeks some evidence of its ability to introduce changes in the way in which it dealt with local government in communities such as Southport.

We were downcast, but then the amazing happened--or, perhaps in the case of Sefton council, it was not so amazing. After ignoring the Local Government Commission's findings throughout the summer of 1997, Sefton failed to submit to the commission any evidence at all. One can imagine the disbelief of thousands of people in Southport when the commission returned to us in November to tell us that we could ignore its previous document, together with the conditions that it attached to maintaining the status quo and its precisely defined single, viable, alternative proposition for a Southport and Formby unitary authority. The people's faith in fairness and accountability in the democratic process was shattered.

For reasons that were not disclosed, the commission decided to ignore not only its own previously published criteria for decision making, but the votes in a properly organised referendum of the thousands of people affected.

Southport is one example, among others. That is why I feel that there is no option but to introduce the Bill, which requires the Secretary of State to cause any local authority--

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