Richard Page – 1985 Speech on the Greenbelt in Hertfordshire

Below is the text of the speech made by Richard Page, the then Conservative MP for Hertfordshire South-West, in the House of Commons on 19 December 1985.

I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for coming to answer an issue that has generated a great deal of enthusiasm, heat and anger in my constituency and in the other Hertfordshire constituencies. I would like my hon. Friend to imagine that I have beside me, as I know I have in spirit, all the other Hertfordshire Members. I am pleased to see a more physical manifestation in the shape of my hon. Friend the Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Mr. Murphy).

The subject of the debate is of concern not only to hon. Members for Hertfordshire, as other hon. Members have approached me and offered their support. Councils from outside Hertfordshire have written to ask me to support their interests over the green belt.

I do not intend to deal with the history and justifications behind the creation of the green belt. Regular consultations take place as part of that process, and in January 1985, the Hertfordshire structure plan review consultation document was published. The document was generally well received. There was strong opposition from the housing and construction industry, which believed that the review of the county structure plan needed to make provision for at least a further 12,500 to 22,000 units.

For this and a variety of other reasons, it was felt that further consultation should take place, and that took place in April of this year, on the new development options. It concerned incremental and major growth, all of which involved taking considerable acres from the green belt for housing development. The people of Hertfordshire were asked for their views on the building of about 72,500 homes in the county before 1996, an increase of 20,000 on the figure that was put forward earlier in the year. There has been a high level of response to those consultations and to date replies have been received from 336 groups and 1,072 individuals. All but about 50 have been against the proposal. Of the 50 who have written in in support, most have expressed qualified support.

In addition, the individual Hertfordshire Members have received representations directly themselves. I have been inundated by concerns and queries from my constituents, especially from those living in the village of Bovingdon, which is in the heart of my constituency. I understand from the consultation document that there is the possibility of about 700 homes being constructed there. If the proposal were implemented, it would destroy the environment and the character of the village. In the end, I had to beg my constituents to stop writing to me on the issue, especially from Bovingdon. I contacted the parish council and asked it to tell everybody that I had the message and that I would be supporting what they were saying, which was that 700 homes should not come into the area.

In addition, I consulted the two district councils, the borough of Dacorum, and Three Rivers district council. The Dacorum council resolved that it was not satisfied that the levels of dwelling provision contained in the new issue consultation document had been adequately justified and requested ​

“the county council to make a thorough examination of the Department of the Environment and the SERplan household forecasts, taking into account the importance of maintaining inner city policies. That it would be opposed to further development in the green belt as currently defined and would seek to maintain a policy of containing developments within urban areas. Finally, to inform the county council that the location of any further development should be established by the borough council through the local planning process.”

That was a clear-cut and unequivocal reply to the new consultation document.
Three Rivers district council was concerned to resist the efforts to nibble at the green belt and was worried about pressures that might flow from circular 14/85, headed “The Green Belt”, and circular 15/84, headed “Land for Housing”. There are obvious conflicts in the advice that is given in the two circulars. Three Rivers council is concerned especially about paragraph 4 of circular 14/85. I shall not go into the paragraph in detail, but it seems to avoid the realities. It points the way to the development of the white line, which in turn will bring it hard up against the urban edge, which in turn will produce greater pressures to re-draw the green belt. The routeing of the M25 through my constituency will inevitably create the temptation to make it the natural limit of permissible development. That is of concern.

I hope that the House will excuse the pun, but I do not believe that the green belt should be set in concrete for ever. There must be a little flexibility. Allowance should be made for building lines to be straightened and for sensible and regional density infillings, but not to the level suggested. It is possible that 2,000 of the 20,000 homes for Hertfordshire will be located in Dacorum. People chose to live in south-west Hertfordshire because of the environment. Many people say that more development should be permitted to allow local people the chance of getting a home. Unless there was a vast increase in planning permission, the cost of land would not decrease substantially to allow that wish to be fulfilled. I do not believe that I have been elected by my constituents to see my constituency covered in tarmac and concrete.

I do not blame those in the housing and construction industry for seeking permission to build more houses. They have a business to run. Of course it is easier to build on a greenfield site. In the past few months, we have heard much about the state of our inner cities. We have had the panoply of the Church of England putting pressure on us to do something about the inner cities. In anything to do with development, it must be the duty of authorities to restore, renovate and rebuild the inner cities rather than develop the greenfield sites. I point as a hopeful sign to the redevelopments on the docklands. We can build on that example.

I return to the question of flexibility and the idea that there can be some tolerance around the edge of the green belt. I have a suggestion. I know that it is not new and I put it forward without having consulted either of my two local councils, so I might be out of order with them. I suggest that there could be merit in considering the idea that, while housing development should be concentrated in the towns, the rate of housing development in rural areas should not be allowed to exceed the rate of 0·5 per cent. per annum of existing housing stock. This could be administered through and by local district councils. I know that this was not approved in 1979 by the Secretary of State ​ because of representations by district councils on that structure plan, but I believe that it would give flexibility to local councils and might merit reconsideration.

I understand that the results of this consultation process will be considered on 13 January by the county planning committee, which will look at a draft structure plan to put to the Secretary of State. I sincerely hope that the county will firmly reject the idea of adding another 20,000 homes to the original January 1985 plan.

I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to confirm the Government’s support for the green belt, to enable me to reassure my constituents. I should like him also to reassure my constituents in Bovington that they will not see 700 houses springing up beside their homes. I should like to take back some reassurance to my two local councils, so that they know that the Government are firmly behind them when planning matters are considered and large inroads into the green belt are proposed.

Jeremy Hanley – 1985 Speech on Copyright Infringement

Below is the text of the speech made by Jeremy Hanley, the then Conservative MP for Richmond and Barnes, in the House of Commons on 18 December 1985.

I welcome the presence of my hon. Friend the Minister for Information Technology. I apologise for causing him to rise from his slumbers at such an hour, but I know that his concern about the subject of the debate is such that he will not begrudge the hour. The title of the debate is “Copyright infringement”, which is a rather bland title for what is often regarded as an unexciting subject. There are many who have thought that a little piracy and a little copyright infringement does no harm. It has been thought that a little stealing from those who already have enough, who already earn enough and who are employed is all right. It is considered that they are greedy if they want to stop any form of copyright infringement and that they can afford to bear it. That is the sort of attitude that so often pervades our society.

Recent events have changed all that. The public are now well aware of the depths to which the pirates can sink. With the recent cases of piracy involving the Live Aid concert, the title of the debate would perhaps be more appropriate if it were “Stealing from the Starving”.

The piracy of intellectual property is a world-wide industry. It has been estimated that between £800 million and £1,000 million worth of sales of audiotape worldwide are affected. It is probable that sales of videotapes and films to the value of £2 billion are affected. Books are pirated to the tune of £300 million worldwide on the best current estimate, and there is also piracy worldwide of computer software, textiles and other designs, motor parts, industrial and commercial products, and even of brand-name pills and medicines which are pirated and manufactured out of salts and sugars. The pirated pills and medicines do no good but at worst they can cause death because of their substitution.

I am sure that many hon. Members will have read and discussed the recent cynical attempt to cash in on the suffering of the starving millions in Africa by the Indonesian pirates, who have produced bootlegged tapes of the Live Aid concert which took place in July.

The British people have a good record of providing bilateral and multilateral aid, both through Governments and through private individuals giving generously. No doubt the House will remember that the Live Aid concert galvanised the world. It produced an international inspiration to give, and an international recognition of the fact that so many people, through no fault of their own, were starving and in need of help. We recall that 140 artistes gave of their services for no fee and performed live. Mr. Bob Geldof, in his unique and abrasive manner, cut through the niceties and red tape, put the show on the road and tapped the hearts and consciences of millions.

Perhaps I should explain the difference between bootlegged and pirated tapes. A pirated tape is when the manufacturer takes an existing tape, copies it, sells it—thus breaking copyright—and keeps the proceeds. A bootleg tape is when a manufacturer records something that does not exist on tape—perhaps a concert on television, or even a live concert. He manufactures and then sells the tape.

There are no original tapes of the Live Aid concert. There has never been a genuine, original tape of that concert. Many people may have recorded it in their homes, ​ many people may even have recorded it on video machines, but there is not a single commercial tape that is legitimate. People may question why it was not recorded, and feel that an opportunity may have been lost. They may ask whether Mr. Geldof is causing piracy by creating an unfulfilled demand. The truth is that 140 artistes have 140 lawyers, and to get 140 lawyers to sanction recorded music for sale is a devil of a job. Mr. Geldof gave guarantees that there would be no tapes until such time as the lawyers reached agreement.

After all, the concert was live and some of the performances were fairly instant and unrehearsed. Some of the artistes might not have wanted their contribution on a live platform preserved for posterity and sold on tape. Many of the performances were quite brilliant and inspired, yet they were not in any way performances designed to be recorded and sold to the world. They were an attempt to encourage people to give of their generosity as the artistes were giving of theirs.

The tapes that are being pirated throughout the world are labelled, “Original”. The bootleg tapes of the Live Aid concert even state on them, “For African famine relief’ in an attempt to convince consumers that they are not only buying good music, but are contributing to a worthy cause. Not a penny of the proceeds of those tapes that are selling in vast quantities throughout the far and middle east, even in Italy—and, who knows, even here—reaches the Band Aid Trust. The proceeds are pocketed by the pirates as private gain.

The International Federation of Phonogram and Videogram Producers has estimated that more than 1·5 million cassettes have now been sold. The figure might even be nearer 2 million. According to Kevin Jenden of the Band Aid Trust, those proceeds would be enough to feed 2 million people for a month. Who has benefited? It is a few Indonesian millionaires.

The Live Aid recordings are currently on sale all over the middle east, especially in Saudi Arabia. As I said, they have even reached Italy. Boxed set LPs have been uncovered in italy, but they were also made in Indonesia. Those buying the cassettes are being led to believe that their money is going towards helping the starving in Africa, whereas in reality it is going into the pockets of the unscrupulous. At least four bootleg editions of the Live aid concert are on the market in the middle east, all manufactured in Indonesia. Some of the cassettes bear Indonesian Government sales tax stickers, which give a unique production number to each recording. The boxed sets of LPs found in Italy also carry those tax stickers.

In Saudi Arabia there are reports that at least 1 million copies of the Live Aid cassettes have been sold directly to that country because of demand. There was a story yesterday of a new tape cassette factory being opened in Indonesia with a production line capability of 6 million cassettes a month. The tax stickers that appear on the Indonesian cassettes show that the Indonesian Government have taken 15 US cents every time one is sold or exported. That means that the Indonesian Government have collected US $300,000 in money which should have gone to Live Aid. That is just a fraction of the money that has been made by the manufacturers of those bootleg tapes. On the other hand, the starving in Africa have received nothing from this industry.

Legal action can be taken in some countries. In Italy the industry is now carrying out nationwide raids on retailers of those bootleg tapes. To date 10,000 bootleg LPs ​ manufactured in Indonesia have been seized in Italy. Meanwhile, in Indonesia, virtually nothing happens. The copyright law protects only local recordings, and an estimated 30 million pirated cassettes are exported every year. The Indonesian Government claim that all exports of cassettes to Saudi Arabia are, according to a letter that I have, either recitals of the holy Koran or Indonesian Arabic music recordings. However, the facts speak for themselves. How can the Indonesian Government claim that the exports are only of the holy Koran w hen the stickers show that they know very well what they are collecting tax upon? The Live Aid bootleg is not a recital of holy works; it is a deliberate rip-off.

The message of international anger at the Live Aid piracy is beginning to embarrass the Indonesians. Mr. Mochtar Kusamaatmandja, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, has announced that he has asked the Justice Ministry to take action against the pirates. That may sound fine, but the problem is how. In response to previous complaints by the record industry, the Indonesians have always replied that piracy is not illegal under Indonesian law as no foreign records are covered by Indonesian copyright, as I explained. Only yesterday it was announced in Indonesia that the bootleggers were donating £22,000 out of the kindness of their hearts to Lye Aid. That was meant to be compensation for the millions of profit that they have made. I do not believe that that is a generous gesture at this Christmas time. It is a penny in a bucket, and one of the most cynical Christmas presents that I have ever heard of.

Live Aid is only one example, albeit perhaps the most despicable of late, of a much wider problem. The American charity record “We are the world” has been widely pirated, and many others, too. In fact, any successful record, whether for charity or not, is likely to be copied by the Indonesians and others within weeks of release.

That is costing the legitimate industry over US $1 billion per year in lost sales. The British music industry alone is losing almost £100 million per year from only six countries—there is more from others. Those countries are Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Nigeria and Malaysia. In Singapore, tape piracy accounts for 85 per cent. of the market. An estimated 10 million pirate cassettes will be sold on the local market and 50 million produced for export in 1985. However, I must give credit to Singapore. Although it has the worst record for copyright infringement of any country in the world, the Government have, as a result of pressure from the USA, announced their intention to enact a new copyright law before July next year. The level of piracy in Singapore is already declining, and if the legislation is enacted it should be down to under 10 per cent. by the end of next year. It is important that the pressure exerted upon Singapore by the USA should be maintained by foreign Governments until that happens.

In Taiwan, tape piracy accounts for 55 per cent. of the market. In Korea, it accounts for 10 per cent. of LPs and 90 per cent. of cassettes. In Malaysia, 85 per cent. of all cassette sales are pirated. There is very little piracy of LPs in Malaysia. In Nigeria, piracy accounts for 27·5 per cent. of LP sales and 83 per cent. of cassette sales. In Saudi Arabia there is little piracy of LPs but 95 per cent. of all cassettes sold are pirated. The only legitimate product available tends to be educational material. It is estimated that in Saudi Arabia 50 million pre-recorded pirate ​ cassettes will be sold in 1985. In addition, an estimated 100 million blank tapes will be sold, 40 per cent. of which will be used by shops for in-store pirate taping. In Indonesia, virtually 100 per cent. of recordings of international repertoires sold are pirated. The lost sales to the United Kingdom music industry are estimated to be as follows: Singapore more than £51 million; Taiwan £1·5 million; Korea £1·5 million; Malaysia £9·3 million; Nigeria £8·8 million; and Indonesia £14·8 million.

In Indonesia alone, record pirates are costing British companies some 15 million unit sales a year. It is time that the Government made a strong call for justice. The copyright law in Indonesia covers only local works. No protection is given to foreign works, whether they be books, sound recordings or films. Throughout Indonesia, foreign sound recordings are pirated extensively and about 30 million international recordings, as well as an Arab repertoire, are exported to Saudi Arabia. The matter has been raised with the Indonesian Government, and the International Intellectual Property Alliance, representing all of the major copyright interests in the United States, recently submitted a report to the United States trade representative on piracy including Indonesia. The report is a staggering indictment of the pirates and a staggering record of the extent of the piracy worldwide.

Like any other, the record business deserves a return on its investment. Only one record in 10 becomes successful and the profits from that 10 per cent. are needed to fund development and rising artistes and to pay for less profitable but culturally valuable recordings such as jazz and classical music. It is not generally known, though it is obvious with a little thought, that there is no other industry in Britain in which young people, perhaps with little education or hope of great success, can succeed in a manner which is beyond most people’s dreams. No other industry enables groups of young people to succeed financially and to rise to popular acclaim so quickly, knowing that their talents will be used for many years to come. The investment in new groups and new recording artistes is one of the most valuable contributions of the record business. It is the marginal profits which help to create extra investment. If the record industry gets the correct return for its services, more groups and more young people will be given a start to see whether the public approve of their musical tastes.

The pirates put nothing into the industry. They discover no talents and take no risks. They copy only the top 10 per cent. and siphon off the money needed to invest in the future. Without that money, fewer artistes are recorded, fewer classical records appear and our culture is weakened. We have institutionalised piracy in the United Kingdom. How many people can honestly say that they do not record records or programmes from the radio or television? It is regrettable that the Government are no longer considering a royalty on blank cassette tapes. I believe that the public would prefer their taping of records and programmes to be legitimised. If, in exchange for that, a royalty of 10p or 20p per blank tape were paid, I am sure that everyone would understand the benefits which would flow from a better funded record business. I am told that that is not to be, and I have registered my regret.

Records are not alone in being attacked. The copiers attack any successful industry—the book trade, software ​ houses and film producers. Counterfeiting strikes at well-known British trade marks, and often with dangerous results. We have all heard of the fake Ferodo brake linings sold in Africa which take six times as long to stop a vehicle as genuine linings and the useless drugs that are sold under well-known names. Fakers are costing the industry millions of pounds and thousands of jobs. When will it end?

The Live Aid piracy puts not only the Government but all of us under a moral obligation to take a firm stand. British works are not protected in Indonesia, yet the Indonesians get the sixth highest amount of British foreign aid in the world. In 1984 we gave them £28 million in trade loans and aid. Is it not time that we imposed a few more conditions when we are so generous? I am not asking that we take money from the starving, or that we withdraw genuine money aid which will be used for those less fortunate than ourselves, but if we are lending money for industrial purposes and bilateral trade arrangements, the conditions should be much stronger.

The old cautious arguments that we must do nothing to upset existing trade are not good enough. The Americans do not think so. Section 301 of their Trade Act allows them to impose sanctions in countries that do not protect United States copyrights, trade marks and patents. Moreover, they have shown that they are prepared to use it. There is even a danger that countries such as Indonesia will seek bilateral deals with the United States to protect only American products. That will allow the pirates to turn their full attention to copying the goods of more cautious countries that will not act to protect themselves.

We know what can be achieved by a strong line. Secretary of State Shultz, during a recent visit to Singapore, laid down the law. When the public in Singapore discovered that they had not bought genuine Live Aid cassettes and that the money had not gone to the starving in Africa, they were livid. The Singapore Government asked the public to seek out the bootleggers. They were discovered within a few days, and are now serving 10 to 15 years imprisonment for what I regard as theft.

Exactly five years ago there was an Adjournment debate about counterfeiting of United Kingdom trade marks in Taiwan, especially in the textile and motor industries. The then Minister for Trade, my right hon. Friend the Minister for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson), made a robust reply. He said:

“The hon. Member said that the way forward is for us to ban the import of products from Taiwan. I must tell the Taiwanese authorities that our patience is wearing extremely thin. We are considering the evidence at our disposal. They have the opportunity to avoid a major incident by taking the strong action that Hong Kong has taken. Unless they do, the Taiwanese authorities must be prepared to accept the consequences”.—[Official Report, 19 December 1980; Vol. 996, c. 730.]

The result was not a trade war, as some timorous souls forecasted, but strong new Taiwanese legislation within months. It can have been no accident that a delegation from the European motor industry shortly afterwards saw that the Taiwanese Trade Minister had a copy of the relevant Hansard on his desk.

In reply to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory), the Government have said that they will make representations to the Indonesian Government about Live Aid piracy. That is a start, but it is not enough. The Government should make it abundantly clear to the Indonesian Government that piracy of any ​ British work will no longer be tolerated, and that unless reciprocal copyright protection is granted to United Kingdom works they must face the consequences.

In a letter of 30 November to the Confederation of Information Communication Industries, my hon. Friend the Minister said that we must have proof of the illegal act. I have proof, which he can see later today—bootlegged cassettes with Indonesian sales tax stamps and individual numbers on them. That is the extent to which the pirates will go.

The anti-counterfeiting unit of the Department of Trade and Industry was doing valuable work which I should like to continue. I am pleased to announce that the copyright industries—the Publishers Association, the record industry, and video and software producers—are now coming together in a new coalition to present to the Government evidence of the damage caused to British companies, and to spell out the case for protection. At this time of Christmas, I call on the Government to heed their call.

Keith Best – 1985 Speech on Drunken Driving

Below is the text of the speech made by Keith Best, the then Conservative MP for Ynys Môn, in the House of Commons on 18 December 1985.

I am pleased that we are having this debate, albeit at this time of the morning. It is therefore incumbent upon me immediately to say to my hon. Friend the Minister of State and to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry), who sits behind her so loyally, that I apologise for giving them such an early start. I hope that they will feel at the end of the debate that it has been fruitful and, indeed, necessary.

There is a ritual about raising the subject of drinking and driving just before Christmas. I make no apology for having sought to do so again, although we had a debate about the same time last year on the same subject. With Mr. Speaker’s indulgence, I intend to continue to seek to raise the matter before Christmas every year, just as the Government feel that it is necessary to launch a campaign every year. It is sad and it should not be necessary to have a campaign every year or for an hon. Member to have to seek to raise the matter to give it greater prominence, but it is necessary because the weak, foolish, unwise and unwary and the ignorant still drink and drive.

One clear message that should go from the Chamber is, “If you drive, don’t drink, and if you drink, don’t drive.” There can be no fetter on that simple message.

The number of drink drive offences over the past decade has gone up dramatically. In 1975 there were 65,000 cases, but by 1980 the number had risen to 78,000. By 1983 the figure was 98,000 and by 1984 it had gone over the 100,000 mark, to 101,000. Nearly half of all injuries to and deaths of drivers, passengers and pedestrians are attributable in part to alcohol, and drink is involved in 45 per cent. of fatal road accidents to young people. Nearly 100,000 people are convicted for drink drive offences each year in England and Wales alone, and the numbers are rising rapidly.

Many people think that there is a legal limit. There is no such thing. It is true that there are offences under section 6(1) of the Road Traffic Act 1972, amended by the Transport Act 1981—offences of driving or attempting to drive or being in charge of a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration above the prescribed limit. Currently that limit is 35 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of breath, 80 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of blood or 107 mg of alcohol in 100 ml of urine. That should not be regarded as the entire law on the matter. That point will be well known to my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury.

There is still the old offence of driving or attempting to drive while unfit to drive through drink or drugs, or to be in charge while unfit. Any amount of alcohol impairs driving ability, and ability definitely deteriorates with more than 50 mg of alcohol. Unfit to drive in law means that the ability to drive is impaired for the time being. It does not mean incapable of driving. People concentrate far too often on the idea of a legal limit below which they are safe and not subject to any prosecution. That is wrong. It should be clear that people with alcohol concentrations far less than the prescribed limit can be prosecuted and convicted of being unfit to drive.

The impairment depends on the concentration of alcohol in the body, not on the amount taken. A person with high natural alcohol concentration is vulnerable. An 11-stone male is put over the 50 mg limit by one and a half pints of ordinary beer or three single whiskies. Driving ​ ability will be impaired. Even at the so-called legal limit under section 6, a person is five times as likely to have an accident than if he had not had a drink. A person could be arrested, charged and convicted under section 5, which is concerned with unfitness to drive, when well below the limit set out in section 6.

It is no good trying to do calculations. Indeed, it is extremely dangerous, because there are so many variables. The 1965 report of the British Medical Association’s special committee said:

“It takes between 15 and 90 minutes for the peak concentration in blood to be reached following a drink of alcohol, and in most cases little more than 30 minutes … In fact, the rate of elimination of alcohol both between different individuals and in the same individuals at different times varies to some extent and an exercise of this kind cannot, in our opinion, be justified.”

The mean elimination rate appears to be between 11 and 21 mg per hour, but numerous recent studies have confirmed the extreme variability of the blood clearance rate. Significant numbers of clearance rates exceed or trail the average by factors of two or four and, in extreme cases, eight.

The law is much tougher after the Transport Act 1981. There is an automatic refusal to issue a driving licence to high-risk offenders or problem drinkers—that means drivers who are convicted twice in 10 years of drink driving offences when, in both cases, the blood alcohol level has been more than two and a half times the prescribed limit or a specimen has been refused, or a combination of the two.

It must be concluded that the public can feel safe only if such people are never allowed to drive again. That might be a hard judgment, especially if driving is necessary for employment or if employment depends on the ability to drive, but we must protect the innocent people who lose their lives or suffer terrible injuries as a result of others taking the risk of drinking and driving.

My hon. Friend has now launched a new campaign. We can but hope that it will be more successful than the disastrous “stay low” campaign last Christmas. Statistics to which I shall refer show it to have been disastrous. I believe that in retrospect, and I say “in retrospect” because my hon. Friend the Minister could say that I welcomed the campaign in the debate on 21 December 1984, as, indeed, I did. She will recall, however, that I also entered some caveats then. “Stay low” was a dangerous slogan which was taken out of context. As I said in that debate, it was wrong to consider the slogan without considering the whole press release of the Department of Transport. I read it in full then and I shall do so again. It stated:

“Don’t drink any alcohol at all if you are going to drive. That’s the only way to be sure you won’t be affected by drink and liable to be convicted of a drink-drive offence. And it’s the best safeguard you can give yourself that you won’t be involved in an accident. Although the ‘breathalyser law’ puts a limit of 35 microgrammes of alcohol per 100 millilitres on drivers’ breath, you can still be prosecuted below that limit if a policeman thinks your driving ability is impaired by alcohol. So the only way to be certain is not to drink. That’s what the Department of Transport means by its advice to drivers this Christmas to stay low—very low.”

If that press release had been reiterated, the campaign would not have been misunderstood. My hon. Friend the Minister, who is an experienced politician, knows only too well that politics is about slogans, and that many ​ comments made by hon. Members are often taken out of context. Indeed, our political history is riddled with slogans and statements taken out of context, which achieve a mythology of reality all of their own. I am thinking of cutting prices at a stroke and getting on bicycles. Many of them are entirely inaccurate as a representation of what was said, and are taken entirely out of context.

My hon. Friend and the Department must realise that with such a campaign people will pick out one aspect as the slogan and refer to it. That is why the slogan “stay low” was dangerous. It conveyed the impression that people could drink and drive, notwithstanding the full press release which said clearly that people should not drink and drive.

Why were there no consultations with the alcohol agencies before this present campaign was launched? Many organisations, particularly Alcohol Concern, feel that they can contribute to the formulation of these campaigns. Why was it felt inappropriate for those agencies to be consulted?

I hope that my hon. Friend will again say unequivocally that there is no legal limit below which a person can be regarded as safe to drive. Under section 5, the test of impairment of driving ability is not linked to any limit. The “stay low” campaign created a misunderstanding of the law because of the slogan rather than the full explanation. I hope that my hon. Friend will say that the only message that must be fully comprehended is that if one drives, one must not drink. That must be stated unequivocally.

The “stay low” campaign cost 1·5 million. How much will this year’s campaign cost? The cost to the nation of drink-drive accidents is estimated to be £100 million a year, so £1·5 million is a small contribution to make to a campaign to try to overcome that tremendous cost. Will my hon. Friend explain to whom the campaign is directed? She said when the campaign was launched that it was especially directed towards the young, but perhaps she would use this opportunity to amplify that statement.

I greatly appreciate the excellent initiative that is taken by some organisations to try to increase public awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving. I am especially mindful of the new campaign by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, aimed at the licensed trade, employers, employees, young people, voluntary groups and operators of coaches, minibuses and taxis. I commend to the House and to the general public the excellent booklets that have been produced to increase public awareness, and especially to the various groups, to each of which is directed a separate booklet produced by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, which is a comprehensive and useful guide.

I am also especially impressed with the society’s pamphlet, which is easily read and very short. It is entitled, “How to beat the Breath Test.” It is one of the interesting leaflets which invites someone to read more, just as the leaflet that was produced by Conservative central office, which stated that “Conservatives admit to cuts”, invited people to read more. That is shrewd advertising material, because it invites people to look more into the contents.
The booklet from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents states:

“Why shouldn’t I drive after I’ve been drinking”?

The reply is: ​

“Alcohol affects your own judgment of whether you are fit to drive or not—you may genuinely believe yourself to be driving better than you are. Alcohol is a depressant, not a stimulant. It lessens the co-ordination, lengthens reaction time, blurs vision and affects ability to judge speed and distance: all vital skills when it comes to driving. The ability to judge distance between moving objects is lessened when you are only one quarter of the way to the legal limit.”

Another question asked is:

“How quickly does it wear off?”

The answer given is this:

“Rates of absorption vary so much, the only sure way is to allow one hour per half pint of beer (or equivalent)—this can take several hours. Someone who has had a heavy drinking session the night before may still be over the limit going to work at 7 am the next morning!”

All of us in the House know the sort of feeling of going to work at that time. Indeed, we have gone to work half an hour earlier than that this morning. The pamphlet continues:

“There are no tricks for sobering up more quickly—coffee and fresh air may help you feel better, but they don’t reduce the alcohol level.”

Another section asks,

“But I won’t be stopped if I drive carefully, will I?”

To that, the answer is:

“The police can ask you to take a breath test if they suspect you of committing a moving traffic offence, or if you’re involved in an accident, but they can also stop you if they suspect you of having alcohol in your blood. If you’re stopped for any reason, like a broken rear light, and they think you’ve been drinking, they can ask you to take a breath test then as well. You might even be prosecuted if you’re not over the limit if you’re clearly unfit to drive. The ‘legal limit’ just means prosecution is automatic.”

I welcome the hon. Members for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and for Cumbernauld and Kilsyth (Mr. Hogg). It is especially commendable that hon. Members should come to the House at this time of the morning, and it manifests their belief in the importance of this debate, especially before Christmas. I appreciate that the new campaign that has been launched by my hon. Friend is much tougher and that the get-tough policy of the police will be supported, as I understand it, strongly by my hon. Friend and her Department.

I also appreciate the steps that my hon. Friend’s Department has taken over another matter that I have raised during the year—the sale of alcohol through petrol stations. The steps that my hon. Friend has taken in the past year have been welcome. The fact that her Department is collecting statistics to establish the number of petrol station licences in existence is a positive step. This has been reinforced by the fact that the Home Office will, from next year, record such licences as a separate entry on the official statistics. I thank my Friend for what she is doing.

Stopping people from drinking and driving is not just a question of informing the public; there has to be an element of deterrence as well. I feel that still the message has not got across to people that if they drink and drive and are prosecuted and convicted for having an alcohol level beyond what is prescribed, they will lose their licence automatically. However persuasive, even as persuasive as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury, an advocate can do nothing in those circumstances to save a person’s licence. It does not matter whether his job depends on being able to drive—the licence will be lost for 12 months as a minimum. I hope and pray that that message gets across, because it is all part of the concept of deterrence.

I believe, and I suspect and hope that all agree, that the only real deterrence is the certainty of being caught, and at the moment the likelihood of being caught in the United Kingdom is low. The Home Office has stated that only one in 250 drinking drivers has a risk of being caught. That is an appalling statistic, and it must be changed. I accept that I should not be addressing my remarks principally to my hon. Friend the Minister, but I hope that she will convey them to the appropriate quarters, because that needs to be looked at carefully.

I know that my hon. Friend has heard this question before, not least from Mr. Don Steele, of Action on Alcohol Abuse, but I ask her to look again at this suggestion. Bearing in mind that those with provisional driving licences or those who have received their driving licences within the past two years are those most frequently involved in accidents, should there not be an even stronger requirement imposed on those drivers that come within those categories. Perhaps she will say something about that.

I have already referred in parenthesis to the fact that on 21 December last year I initiated a debate similar to this one about drinking and driving. I shall remind the House of what I said on that occasion. Every year 1,200 people die as a result of road traffic accidents in which drink is a contributory factor. During that debate, I asked whether something could be done to include a statement to that effect in the highway code so that at least we could be satisfied that at one point in a driver’s lifetime the message would be brought home clearly in a manner in which he had to learn it before passing the driving test. I appreciate that that is not the answer, but to bring it home to somebody who is learning to drive and having to learn what drink and drive involves, as a matter of its being included in the highway code, would be a useful addition to that document.

I know that my hon. Friend the Minister keeps several copies of the code at home, because she told me so in last year’s debate. She said:

“My Department is reviewing the highway code, as it does from time to time and I shall see what entry in that might he useful in persuading people to do the sensible thing.”

Perhaps she could give me an answer this year to the statement that she made so helpfully in replying to the debate that I initiated last year.

My hon. Friend the Minister of State said something else that I should like her to look at again. At the beginning of her reply to me last year she said:

“In due course my Department is planning to give even wider information than has already been given out in the facts leaflet on drinking and driving from the road research laboratory because it needs to be much more widely available and influential.”

When she replies, I hope that my hon. Friend will say what has been done about that.

I referred also in that debate to a fruit drink called “Alcaway.” It purports to speed up the absorption of alcohol by the body—in simple terms, an antidote. But it cannot be said strongly enough that there is no such thing as an antidote. I pointed out that on 19 November 1984 my hon. Friend, in answer to an inquiry from me, had said:

“The rate at which alcohol is absorbed into the blood stream is affected by a variety of factors. While some products can slow down this process, I am not aware of any evidence which suggests that the elimination of alcohol from the body can be significantly speeded up. My general policy is to warn drivers of ​ the risk involved in driving after drinking under any circumstances”.—[Official Report, 21 December 1984; Vol. 70, c. 713, 716 and 717.]

It is grossly irresponsible, morally indefensible and commercial exploitation of the most obscene kind, resulting in death, injury and misery, to market any such substance. Those who do so should remember that the Christmas present that they will give to families is the death of a father, the mutilation of a mother and the bereavement of loved ones. It was therefore very distressing to me to learn, when listening a few days ago to that excellent radio programme “You and Yours”, of a new substance called “Stay Low”. It is the usual kind of unpleasant tasting, high calorific fruit drink that contains a large amount of glucose syrup.

I learnt yesterday that 500 dozen bottles have been produced by a company in Nottingham. I spoke to a representative of that company on the telephone. I was given the name of the principal company, Stay Low Ltd., which has the manufacturing rights of this substance. I was given the name of a Mr. Hurley. Stay Low Ltd. is registered in Jersey. However, when I telephoned him I was told that he was busy. Furthermore, I was told that he would telephone me, but I received no call from him. The registered office is, I believe, a solicitors’ office. It is merely an address for the registration of that company.

The trail of that company is interesting. Yesterday I tried to track down what this product purports to achieve. I understand that the first reference to it appeared in The Morning Advertiser on 18 December. The claim on behalf of this substance was that

“anyone who drinks 10 whiskies can pass the breathalyser test after drinking two 85p bottles of ‘Stay Low.,”

That claim cannot be attributed to anybody and it may be inaccurate, but it appeared in The Morning Advertiser.

The office is registered in Jersey and is just a holding office, but I was able to contact a company called Crane Barnden that had been engaged by Stay Low Ltd. to produce promotional material. It is a firm of printers. I do not want any opprobrium that might attach to this product in general to attach to this company. It was very helpful to me over the telephone and explained what had been done.

Crane Barnden had received instructions to produce promotional material, but it had been unable to secure detailed information about certain aspects of the product. The firm was told that it was not entitled to disclose the name of the client. It received its original instructions from an individual rather than from a company. The result was that the firm felt obliged to do no more than produce the initial amount of promotional material. That was interesting because the firm clearly believed that insufficient information was available for it to carry on doing any more work for that client.

The firm produced only information. The bottling and mixing was done by a Nottingham company which confirmed to me over the telephone the constituent elements of the drink. It is lime-flavoured with large amounts of glucose and fructose syrups. The initial run was 500 dozen bottles which were marketed by a company called Innserve, a wholesaler to public houses in the south Devon area. The bottlers have no instructions to bottle any more.

I hope that the Minister will use her Department’s resources to look into the product if it is anything like ​ Alcaway. It is extremely dangerous for such a product to be marketed if it purports even indirectly to enable people to drink and drive. That is a cruel deception.

I make it clear now, as I did a year ago in respect of the other product which fortunately we stopped in its tracks, first, that no tests substantiate any claims for the new product. Secondly, increasing the rate at which alcohol is broken down by the body can cause poor judgment. Thirdly, fructose can cause painful side effects.

I do not propose to go into the details of those side effects, but I have a sheet of papers containing medical opinions from learned journals which describe the inadequacy of fructose in speeding up the dissipation of alcohol in the blood, the side effects and the danger of the intake of fructose in such large quantities. Such a product might require a licence under the Medicines Act if it were designed to interfere with the normal operation of a physiological function.

I understand that the label on the product states “Don’t drink and drive.” That is a small concession to it being marketed just before Christmas with the name “Stay Low”. Why is it being marketed now? It has all the hallmarks of a cynical, unprincipled exploitation of people’s fond but foolish desire to find a magic potion which will enable them to drink and drive. There is no such potion, nor can there be. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to investigate the product fully.

If this debate has publicised the criminal negligence of drinking and driving; if it has brought home to people that the only safe way to drive is not to drink, or if one is drinking not to drive, however short the distance: if it has the effect of saving lives this Christmas, children will still have fathers and mothers and parents will still have children at the end of the festive season and we can say to the people whom we have the privilege to represent—as I say to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, to my hon. Friend the Minister and my colleagues have a very happy Christmas, and a safe one, and we shall all meet again in the new year.

Vivian Bendall – 1985 Speech on Taxis at Heathrow

Below is the text of the speech made by Vivian Bendall, the then Conservative MP for Ilford North, in the House of Commons on 17 December 1985.

I declare an interest in the matter, in that I represent the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. My interest is declared in the Register of Members’ Interests.

Not long ago we had a meeting with the Minister, for which I thank him, when we said that members of the taxi trade have been extremely concerned about the 50p tariff proposed by the British Airports Authority for the feeder park at Heathrow. I have also been in correspondence with Sir Norman Payne of the British Airports Authority to ask him to reconsider his decision about a charge for entrance to the feeder park. Unfortunately, when I wrote to him several weeks ago, he was not prepared to do so.

I should give the House a little background to how this unfortunate situation arose. Some time ago it was realised by the airport authority that there were problems with the taxi ranks at the airport, and taxis were using airport roads and getting in the way of the normal flow of traffic. Perhaps with more forward planning, taking into account the increase of the number of passengers going through the airport, that could have been realised some years ago and adequate provision made for it. However, that was not so and adequate provision was not made.

The airport authority rightly, to try to resolve the problem, suggested that taxis should be put through a feeder park. Some years ago, in conjunction with the licensed trade, talks took place on having a feeder park. General agreement was reached and certain aspects of it were contained in the 1983 byelaws. However, at the outset there was no mention of any charge to be made at that time or in the near future. Now drivers are being penalised by being charged 50p to enter the feeder park.

On the average Heathrow to central London run, depending on what part of London it is, on the present tariff, the taxi driver is likely to get £17 or £18. The problem arises when a cab from the feeder park has to go on a more local call such as in Isleworth or Hounslow, which are quite close to the airport. If the fare is fairly low, 50p for entering the feeder park is a considerable sum. The taxi can come back to the front of the feeder rank after a short journey only after it has been to some specific hotels adjacent to the airport. There will be confusion in the feeder park as cab drivers who have been waiting there for a considerable time will not be too happy about other taxis coming in front of them, even if they have been on a short journey.

The LTDA has informed me that the likely cost to the taxi trade of a feeder park charge of 50p is about £40,000 a month. There have been problems at Heathrow. There has been a boycott of the airport by a number of taxi drivers. The LTDA has supported that boycott. In such a situation, it is the public who are liable to be the losers.

The Minister should be made aware that since the boycott began several anomalies have arisen. Mini-cabs have been exploiting the situation to great effect. Cases have been reported to the LTDA and, in turn, to me of mini-cabs which have in the last few weeks charged tourists and visitors as much as £97 to come to central London from Heathrow. In one case a trip to the Hilton ​ hotel cost £60. Some mini-cab drivers have suggested that if they take more than one passenger to central London the charge will be £20 for each passenger.

The English tourist board has taken an interest in the matter and it wrote to Mr. Feigen of the LTDA on 12 December. That letter pointed out that its infrastructure committee was extremely concerned about the 50p parking charge that was to be levied at the airport. It believed and hoped that it would not result in the deterioration of the taxi service and asked for the LTDA ‘s advice on that. A copy of that letter was forwarded to Mr. Bell of the British Airports Authority.

Although the trade is boycotting Heathrow, it has acted in a proper and responsible manner. In other countries when such a situation has arisen there has been, quite wrongly, the blocking of airports—a ridiculous attitude towards the problem. The LTDA wishes it to be made clear that it would have nothing to do with such action because it would have serious consequences for emergency services in the event of an unfortunate accident.

There have been meetings today between the British Airports Authority and the members of the taxi trade interested in the problem. However, I am afraid that no agreement has been reached. The British Airports Authority’s suggestion was that perhaps charges should be held until the end of January.

That would only put off the situation for a few weeks. I can understand the British Airports Authority’s concern with Christmas coming given the number of passengers going through Heathrow. Naturally it is concerned about the passengers and how they can disperse from the airport and get to it.

Another suggestion is to hold charges until May and in the meantime a committee could be set up to try to find ways of passing the charges on in a combined commercial venture. I do not understand whether that involves the trade because I have not yet had an opportunity to consider the finer points.

A member of the LTDA has asked for a judicial review, and I understand that that has been granted. I should have thought that it would have been prudent and sensible of the British Airports Authority to have held or withdrawn its charges pending the judicial review. That would stop the boycott immediately and would give time for the judicial review to be heard and for a decision to be reached.

I understand that in future legislation the British Airports Authority is liable to be privatised. I support the Minister in that. But what is liable to happen to charges on feeder parks once privatisation takes place? Will there be any control of increases? To some degree that trade has been let down.

Some years ago British Rail tried to introduce charges on taxi ranks outside stations. It decided that it was not practical and withdrew the proposition. Now that the BAA has introduced charges, I can envisage British Rail reconsidering its position. If it introduced charges, that would increase costs to the general public.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport is responsible for the tariffs charged to the public by taxi drivers. It is rather unfair that their tariffs are controlled in one area, but in another area they must face this increase. The Minister was asked to consider an increase in the tariff. I can understand his problem, because how can we separate taxis coming from Heathrow from taxis in London?

The BAA should reconsider the matter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will intervene and will discuss the issue with the BAA. I understand that the original direction may have come from his Department, which is interested in increasing revenue from airports. I do not understand why that increase should be to the detriment of the taxi trade.

The taxi trade in London is an integral part of the transport system of Greater London. It is important because it is properly controlled and properly licensed and its drivers have to pass a knowledge test, unlike many parts of the private car hire system. In those circumstances, it is not fair to penalise those who are running a good service as an integral part of London’s transport system. I hope that the matter will be reconsidered. I believe that it can be resolved—and, I hope, resolved before the continuing boycott at Heathrow really begins to affect the public.

John Major – 1985 Speech on Fuel Poverty

Below is the text of the speech made by John Major, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security, in the House of Commons on 16 December 1985.

I listened with interest to the hon. Members for Ceredigion and ​ Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) and for Gordon (Mr. Bruce). I understand and share many of the concerns which they have expressed and congratulate them on the way in which they have expressed them.

The issues raised by the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North ranged wide and covered both fuel policy and the alleviation of poverty. He spread the net even wider by referring to draught proofing, housing and a variety of allied matters. I propose to refer briefly to energy prices, although strictly speaking they are for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. I propose to devote most of my remarks to the help given to the less well-off through the social security system, but I shall attempt to touch upon the specific issues raised by the hon. Members for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North and for Gordon.

Both hon. Members mentioned the projects that have been undertaken by various neighbourhood energy action groups. There is not a great deal that I can say about them this evening, save that I recognise the good work that has been done by the groups. Decisions have yet to be taken on how they will be funded in future. That is a matter that we are considering. I hope that it will be understood that I can go no further than that this evening.

The hon. Member for Gordon referred to some of the absurdities of the exceptionally severe weather payments and the disapproval last year which that method of making payments received in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman will know that the chief adjudicating officer issued fresh guidance about the payments only recently. We are considering the guidance and the future of that form of assistance with heating bills. The hon. Gentleman will know that last year the payments amounted to only £1·7 million, while administrative costs were £1 million. I mention those figures, not to denigrate the help that was given, but to put them in the context of the £400 million worth of heating addition payments to which the hon. Gentleman referred.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North illustrated the extent to which the cost of fuel is relevant to those on low incomes. I accept that view. It is an important view, and I accept what he had to say on that score. Fuel is clearly a basic necessity, especially for the elderly and the sick. I recognise the concern that is felt by many on low incomes when it comes to paying for fuel. I shall come to what has been done, what is being done and what will be done under our new proposals to try to alleviate that concern.

Reluctant though I am to do so, I must take issue with the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North about the term “fuel poverty”. It is a phrase which is often used these days, and upon examination it is a rather curious concept. The general idea of poverty itself is far from straightforward. We can recognise it, but it is not always easy to define it. The hon. Gentleman will know that the standard rate of supplementary benefit for adults has more than doubled in real terms since 1948 and that this benefit is the primary means of alleviating poverty, and has been so under successive Governments for some years. Yet the hon. Gentleman talks of fuel poverty. We do not hear a great deal about clothes poverty, or food poverty, but fuel poverty appears in a rather curious fashion to have developed a life of its own. Fuel, like clothes, food and all the other necessities for rich or poor alike is paid for out of people’s normal income.

I recognise that individual need for expenditure on fuel can vary, but that is true of other necessities. I do not wish to make too much of what may seem to be a matter of semantics, but it is often misleading to talk about fuel poverty as if it were some special breed of poverty that necessarily requires different measures from those that are generally used to support the less well-off. An effective attack on poverty, which we all wish to see, comes in many guises—for example, benefit rates, control of price increases, economic stability and economic growth. Energy prices are a part of that tapestry, but only a part.

Although the general financial framework within which the gas and electricity industries operate is agreed with the Government, price increases remain a matter for the industries themselves. The Government do not set prices and do not have the power to so. Tariffs must reflect the industries’ costs and provide a proper return on the substantial capital resources that they employ.

They are not a means of indirect taxation. I call in evidence to support my proposition the relatively low level of price rises in recent years, which the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North acknowledged. They have been below the rate of inflation in the past two years and charges have therefore fallen in real terms. After allowing for inflation, the price of gas to the home is roughly what it was in 1970.

The hon. Member for Gordon addressed himself to standing charges. I know that these charges have been a cause of deep concern to many for many years, especially to the elderly. The charges reflect the necessary cost of keeping a supply available to the consumer in his own home for 24 hours a day. They cover the maintenance of the connection, meter reading, accounting, billing and emergency services. The costs arise no matter how much or how little gas or electricity is consumed by the individual householder.

The abolition of standing charges, although self-evidently attractive in some ways, is not an easy option. It would cost the gas and electricity industries more than £1·1 billion a year in lost revenue. Abolition for pensioners alone—if we could determine which pensioners should have abolition, whether it should affect people living on their own and all the other details that must be decided—would cost about £300 million. That lost revenue would have to be recovered by substantial increases in unit prices, which would penalise many of those who, through age, sickness, infirmity or some other reason, need more heat, even though they may be among the least well off.

That raises the question, which may have flashed through the mind of the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North, whether there should be special tariffs or free allowances for people on low incomes. That has been considered in the past, but successive Governments have concluded that it would be an expensive, ill-directed and probably ineffective means of helping those most in need. In 1976, the Labour Government announced that they had reviewed possible help through concessionary or restricted tariffs or free allowances of gas and electricity. Their conclusion—I quote from the report’s foreword which was written by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—was that these did not offer

“a satisfactory way of helping poor consumers with their fuel bills”.

I am sure that the right hon. Member was right, and I suspect that the Liberal party thought so too, because, as far as I am aware, it expressed no contrary view at the time. Successive Governments have therefore taken the view that help is best given through the social security system. That help is considerable.

More than £40 billion is spent on social security—about a third of all Government spending. We have kept the major benefit rates ahead of the rise in prices during the lifetime of the Government and, because of the increases in benefit last month in line with inflation, we increased our spending by a further £2 billion a year. The main help for the less well off with their day-to-day living expenses, including fuel costs, is through the standard weekly rates of supplementary benefit. Those rates increased by 6 per cent. in real terms between November 1978 and November 1984 and were increased again last month in line with inflation. They have doubled in real terms since 1948, and I think that every hon. Member welcomes that.

On top of those benefit rates, we provide extra weekly help for those with special needs. The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North mentioned people with special needs—the elderly, the very young, the sick and the disabled. Each is entitled to heating additions. Last year we spent more than £400 million on those heating additions, which is £140 million more in real terms than any previous Government have spent at any time. Since 1979, we have extended the help available. In November 1979 we introduced a basic rate of heating addition for pensioner householders over 75. Over the years, we have extended the age range so that this now takes in pensioner householder over 65. We have introduced a similar addition for the under-fives. Last November, we introduced a new higher rate of heating addition, worth well over £200 a year—a considerable sum—payable automatically to householders over 85. We have also assisted disabled people. Since 1980, we have paid a higher rate of heating addition automatically to severely disabled people people on supplementary benefit who receive attendance or mobility allowance or its equivalent. Last month, we introduced a further measure—automatic entitlement to a basic rate heating addition for sick and disabled householder claimants on the long-term rate of supplementary benefit. As a result of these changes, we estimate that 60 per cent. of all people on supplementary benefit and 90 per cent. of supplementary benefit pensioners now receive a heating addition. That is a dramatic improvement on the position before 1979 and represents a considerable attack on what the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to as “fuel poverty”.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North referred to the White Paper proposals. I should like to explain why we felt it right to move forward and reform these arrangements, as announced in the White Paper which was published today. The answer is that heating additions are merely a means of giving more help to certain groups of claimants who may have extra heating needs. The additions are better, in our view, than tariff adjustments and certainly better than nothing, but they are not the only, or necessarily the best, form of assistance.

Heating additions are a rather curious mixture. Many are paid automatically on grounds such as age, but others involve detailed questioning on matters such as the claimant’s health. There is a complex array of rates, rules ​ and regulations. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North did not feel that the White Paper would be an improvement on the present rather muddled situation. He asked me whether I was conscious of the need to modify policy to match reality. That is what we believe the White Paper is doing. I hope that, upon reflection, it will be shown that we are right, although I acknowledge that it is a controversial issue at present. In the White Paper we are proposing an income support scheme to replace the current weekly supplementary benefit. Income support will continue to provide set allowances for normal living expenses, including fuel costs. There will also be premium payments for families, pensioners, sick and disabled people and lone parents to help with the extra expenses that those groups tend to have—including extra heating costs. That will mean a system that is simpler than the present one. It will be easier for the public and staff to understand. It will cut out much of the intrusive questioning that now takes place—I think that everyone will welcome that—and it will also effectively direct extra help to groups of people who are likely to face extra expenses.

As I said in the House only a couple of weeks ago, the fact that we shall not call the premiums “heating additions” does not mean that they do not exist, that the cash is not in the claimant’s pocket and that it cannot be used towards fuel costs. We believe that income support will, in future, be a better means of delivering that help and we intend that the money spent on heating additions will be included in the resources available for the new scheme. Nor are we alone in that view. The Social Security Advisory ​ Committee commented similarly on the Green Paper in June. The committee welcomed the idea of premium payments in income support for different groups. Moreover, the Select Committee on Social Services said that it

“broadly accepted the principle of premiums reflecting the additional needs of individual client groups”.

Therefore, I think that a substantial amount has been done, is being done and will continue to be done to meet the needs of people who face difficulties with fuel poverty through poor or low incomes. I hope that the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North will accept that we are sincere in our intention to help those people meet the difficulties that they face.

I also hope that on reflection the hon. Gentleman will see the wisdom of the approach that we set before the House in the White Paper today and that we shall seek to carry through in a Bill early in the new year. I am confident that when the House debates the Bill, it will take that view. I hope that it will carry the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues with it at that time.

I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s concern that people should be able to afford adequate heating. We share that concern and we shall continue to offer substantial assistance to that end, but we shall do so in a way that we regard as simpler and more effective than the current system. We believe that our proposals will meet those criteria and I hope that in due course they will be endorsed by the House and the hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North who raised the subject.

Geraint Howells – 1985 Speech on Fuel Poverty

Below is the text of the speech made by Geraint Howells, the then Liberal MP for Ceredigion and Pembroke North, in the House of Commons on 16 December 1985.

When the unnaturally cold spell hit us in November, many thousands of householders up and down the country were alarmed, for they saw ahead of them yet another long, dreary winter following on a cold and wet summer, with the ever-rising fuel bills that this means. This thought is depressing enough for the moderately affluent among us, but for those on the poverty line, or beneath it, it spells disaster and, for many, the inevitable cutting off of supplies because of the lack of ability to pay.

The Electricity Consumers Council recently issued disconnection figures up to 30 September of this year which show that the number of disconnections in England and Wales is now running at nearly 100,000 a year. The Liberal party commission on poverty in 1982 pointed out that one quarter of all local authority tenants are the victims of fuel poverty, while a further quarter are potential victims.

Age Concern tells us that seven years ago it was estimated that 90 per cent. of elderly people were unable to heat their homes up to the required 70 deg F to keep themselves warm and healthy in the winter months, and there is very little evidence that the position is improving. The consequences of inadequate heating for the elderly are often illness and, in some cases, death. We are all familiar with the sad stories of old people shivering in their poorly heated houses, terrified of the financial consequences of turning up the heat. Fuel costs have risen steeply in the last decade, and although prices have levelled off somewhat during the last two or three years the overall rise in the cost of fuel and light in real terms during the decade was 37·4 per cent., far outstripping other items in the household budget.

The people who have suffered most from the increase in fuel costs are inevitably the poor. They tend to live in bad housing, with inadequate insulation, often with the additional problems of dampness and condensation. They are seldom able to choose the kind of heating that they want and often end up with expensive and inefficient heating systems. This leads to a ridiculous situation, where those who can afford it least have to pay the most to keep themselves moderately warm. It is no wonder, therefore, that this leads to a failure to pay bills and to consequent misery.

We believe, as do the charities, that the White Paper that was published today will do little to help. Indeed, we feel that the difficulties will be even greater, both for the low paid who cannot heat their homes and for those charities that are involved in insulating several thousand homes in Britain.

The abolition of additional payments, including heating allowances for supplementary benefit claimants, will have serious consequences. The replacement of supplementary benefit by a system of income support containing a theoretical heating component may sound reasonable, but in practice it will lead to some very unpleasant choices for many households where budgets are strained to the limit. It could well be a stark choice between eating and keeping warm, with disastrous results for vulnerable groups, particularly the elderly.

I am also extremely alarmed that all other heating benefits to households, with special problems—those with young children or with ill, disabled or elderly people—will be abolished merely as an administrative convenience. It is also obvious that the abolition of single payments will jeopardise the future of insulation projects run by charities such as Neighbourhood Energy Action. In fact, the “Right to Fuel” campaign has said that DHSS single payments account for 80 per cent. of all insulation work carried out by the NEA.

Since 1981, this excellent group has carried out 120,000 jobs and has helped the elderly and disadvantaged to get the benefit of home insulation. At the same time, it has created about 2,500 jobs under the Government’s community programme. Furthermore, it has opened up a new and thriving market for insulation projects. Will that work now be put at risk?

I believe that the present Administration, in their unseemly scramble to save money wherever they can at any cost, are in danger of reinforcing their public image as an uncaring, unsympathetic Government who are so intent on introducing tax cuts before the next election that they are careless of the needs of the most vulnerable in our society.

The White Paper represents a lost opportunity. It should have made an attempt to tackle the problem of fuel poverty, and it should have recognised the crucial role that single payments play in keeping the poor warm. The Government should take positive steps to make resources available for a special fund, as recommended by the Neighbourhood Energy Action movement, to provide a comprehensive and cost-effective approach to the insulation needs of the poor.

On a wider scale, greater efforts should be made to improve the housing stock and to ensure that building improvements and renovations are not subject to a crippling tax. Age Concern, a leading charity in the care of the elderly, has made many useful recommendations that the Government could well take on board and which would prove beneficial to all impoverished sections of society. It recommends that there should be mandatory payments for special circumstances, such as higher fuel bills in exceptionally severe weather. There should also be payments for draught proofing materials and insulation, repairs to heating appliances and so on.

I also believe that there should be a uniform and humane policy throughout Britain on disconnection procedures and repayment facilities, and that special payments should be made for reconnection. Fuel bills should be paid when disconnection may cause serious risk.

Will the Minister reassure the House that the Government are conscious of the need to modify their policies to fit the realities of life? After all, even the poorest among us are entitled to the basic requirements, including adequate heating. It is wrong that so many in this affluent society must face a miserable existence, and in this season of good will I hope that it will be possible for the Government to show just the smallest glimmer of compassion.

Harvey Proctor – 1985 Speech on St Andrew’s Hospital, Billericay

Below is the text of the speech made by Harvey Proctor, the then Conservative MP for Billericay, in the House of Commons on 13 December 1985.

This is the first occasion upon which I have sought to raise a matter on the Adjournment of the House. I do so now because of its importance and significance to my constituents. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Health replied on 3 December to the Adjournment debate of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess). Both debates have their origin in the decision of the Basildon and Thurrock health authority to reorganise health services in its district. As my right hon. Friend indicated in his reply on 3 December, the health authority’s proposed changes form a wide-ranging package of proposals and are largely interdependent, one upon the other.

The proposals are contained in a document from the health authority that is entitled

“Consultative document for the reorganisation of hospital services, particularly involving the maternity, gynaecology, paediatric, regional plastic surgery/burns and some geriatric services and thereby the closure of in-patient facilities at St. Andrew’s hospital Billericay and changes to Orsett and Basildon hospitals.”

The previous Adjournment debate revolved around the proposal that, for clinical reasons, inpatient maternity services should be centralised on one site, namely Orsett hospital in my constituency. That decision has met with the approval of my constituents in the Thurrock part of my constituency, but understandably it has met with the disapproval of my constituents who live further away from Orsett hospital —in Laindon, Wickford and Billericay.
However, I wish to concentrate today on the proposal of the health authority, contained in its option 5, to close St. Andrew’s hospital in Billericay and transfer the regional specialty units of plastic surgery and burns to Basildon hospital. It is this proposal that has met with universal condemnation not only from my constituents in Billericay but from across Essex and the country.
Several of my colleagues have generously given their support to opposing these proposals. My right hon. Friend will have seen the terms of early-day motion 99. It has been signed by eight other right hon. and hon. Members, including the right hon. Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), who I am glad to see has joined our debate and who, with the agreement of the Minister and you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will say a few words in support.

I have received over 600 personal, individual letters opposing the proposals. That is an enormous mailbag on any one subject. I have received nine petitions, including one from the Federation of Essex Women’s Institutes that is signed by 4,200 people. More than 20 separate organisations have registered their opposition with me. The consultants’ staff committee for the district is also opposed to the recommendations. On Monday I shall help to deliver a petition to the health authority that contains over 80,000 signatures. In total, that represents locally the strongest, unified body of opinion placed before me since first becoming a Member of Parliament in 1979. To that body of opinion I wish to add my support and hence this Adjournment debate.

I have had three separate meetings with county councillor Mrs. Joan Martin and Mr. Richard Taylor, the ​ chairman and the administrator of the health authority. I thank them for their courtesy and frankness. I plan to meet them again after the consultation ends on 21 December —on 13 January. I urge all my constituents who have not already done so to let the health authority know their feelings before the 21 December deadline.

Let me try to explain briefly to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Health why we all feel so strongly, although I appreciate that he will not be able to comment in any detail. St. Andrew’s hospital is old. The oldest part of the site dates back to 1840 and some accommodation is contained in temporary huts erected during the second world war. But it is a well loved local hospital with a deservedly high reputation and, with the plastic surgery and burns unit, a reputation far beyond the bounds of my constituency. However, most of the buildings on the site are in good condition, with the exception of the emergency medical services wards, and a considerable amount of money has been spent on the site and the hospital in recent years.

The hospital is well sited geographically. It is convenient. A recent survey shows that if the services are transferred to Basildon, 57 per cent. of current patients would experience an increase in return travelling time of an extra one hour and 26 minutes every time they visited the hospital. Basildon would be only marginally faster for only 23 per cent. of current patients.

Inevitably, a move will risk the break up of the team of specialists in various disciplines so important to the super specialities which operate at St. Andrew’s. The team includes not just the consultants and surgeons but the physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists and nurses, all of whom have pooled their expertise. A move will inevitably loosen up that team for no good purpose.

On 3 December my right hon. Friend said that we have to achieve a proper balanced judgment which will ensure

“efficient use of resources to the benefit of everyone concerned.”

However, a central plank of the current proposals is the move of a purpose-built burns unit which was opened only three years ago. It is the ideal burns unit format, separate and isolated from other services. I am afraid that my right hon. Friend was wrong on 3 December when he inferred that burns patients would be rehoused

“in modern buildings more suitable for the practice of modem medicine.” —[Official Report, 3 December 1985; Vol. 81, c. 279–-80.]

Option 5 of the health authority report clearly envisages that the burns unit will be placed in existing ward accommodation vacated by the maternity unit. That is completely unacceptable. Cross-infection would be much more difficult to prevent and it would be a wholly backward step.

My right hon. Friend knows well the problems of recruitment for the NHS. Yet the Billericay site, I am pleased and not at all surprised to say, is the easiest site in the district for which to recruit. I am told that Basildon is not good and that the difficulties at Orsett are appalling. That is a fact which must weigh heavily with my right hon. Friend.

Remarkably, option 5 did not take into account another hospital in Billericay, the Mayflower. The 75 long-stay geriatric beds there in an old building must sensibly be considered as must the question of whether the 35 acute ​ geriatric beds at St. Andrew’s hospital should not be placed at an acute hospital as best medical experience advises.

All the consultants at St. Andrew’s hospital have supported an alternative proposal involving the closure of the Mayflower hospital for long-stay geriatric patients, as envisaged in the district strategic plan for 1983–93, the transfer of those beds to a redeveloped St. Andrew’s and the switch of the acute geriatric beds to Basildon hospital, where there is no geriatric provision. The alternative has been submitted to the district health authority for consideration and I believe it to be a well-argued document.

If the proposals go through unamended, there will be a threat to voluntary endeavour. Building the burns unit cost £1·2 million, of which £400,000 was raised by the spectacularly successful burns unit appeal. I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point for all that he did to get the burns unit established and for his help with that spectacular appeal.

Is that endeavour to be wasted? Not only will those who gave their time, effort and money feel hurt, offended and angry, but the goodwill that was generated will disappear. People in Billericay and Essex generally will never again respond to help the NHS and I, for one, would not blame them.

I have said outside the House, and I should repeat for the record, that we are not talking about cuts, although our political opponents will muddy the waters by suggesting that we are. In fact, we are talking about how sensibly to spend increased sums of money on the Health Service locally. We must remember that there is no limit to the amount of money that could be spent. The level is an arbitrary one and a matter of political judgment. Locally, we must get the best deal in the best interests of the patients. They must come first.

As a Government, nationally we have done well. We have 58,000 more nurses and midwives, over 5,000 more hospital doctors and dentists, 3,000 more family doctors and over 13,000 more radiologists, laboratory technicians and other professional staff than were in place in 1978. They are all caring for patients. Government spending on health services has increased by 23 per cent. in real terms. This year, the NHS will receive over double the amount provided by the Labour Government in 1978–79.

We must ensure that the money spent locally by our health authority is well spent. I know that my right hon. Friend the Minister will realise that I mean no disrespect when I say that I hope that these local matters do not come to him for his decision. I hope that cold logic and rational argument will win the day with the health authority. However, the Minister now knows the strength of feeling on the issue; that feeling will not abate until St. Andrew’s hospital and the burns unit are saved.

John Cartwright – 1985 Speech on St Nicholas Hospital, Plumstead

Below is the text of the speech made by John Cartwright, the then SDP MP for Woolwich, in the House of Commons on 12 December 1985.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the issue of the intended closure of St. Nicholas hospital. I am also grateful for the visible support of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). I hope that he will have the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in the course of the debate. If he does, he may speak not only for himself but for his hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath (Mr. Townsend). I appreciate and value the support that the hon. Members have given in the campaign on behalf of St. Nicholas hospital. Their support has demonstrated that this is an all-party campaign, and underlines the fact that the hospital serves not only my constituency but neighbouring areas.

This is the third occasion on which I have raised the question of the future of St. Nicholas hospital on the Adjournment. That illustrates the long-standing campaign waged against it by Health Service officials and the sheer determination of local people to keep it open.

It is worth putting the current problems into perspective. The first formal attack on St. Nicholas came as long ago as 1971 from the former south east regional hospital board. Its plan died with the board’s demise in 1974, but the vendetta against St. Nicholas continued. The new Greenwich and Bexley area health authority issued a formal consultation document in November 1976 proposing the removal of all acute services from St. Nicholas. Despite massive public opposition, the closure of all beds at the hospital was confirmed by the authority in July 1977. The problem then landed on the desk of the Secretary of State the present Lord Ennals. To his credit, he received several deputations, consulted widely and visited Plumstead to see for himself, not just the hospital but the area it serves. As a result he declared in December 1977:

“I do not believe it can be right to close the hospital and I am unwilling to do so.”

He justified that decision by producing what is arguably the most quoted statement about the hospital in its long and distinguished history. He said:

“St. Nicholas is a valued hospital, well situated to service a community whose population is growing. It is in Plumstead where social conditions are poor and there are many old people living in bad housing. It is also central for Thamesmead, a locality of industrial development.”

In May 1978 after further detailed discussions and some deliberation, the Secretary of State announced his final decision. He endorsed the plan put forward by the South East Thames regional health authority. It was intended to turn St. Nicholas from a district general hospital into a community hospital. The blueprint for the transformation was clear and detailed. In its new role, the hospital was to provide, in the words of the then Secretary of State,

“out-patient and minor casuality facilities; theatre and supporting services for minor surgery with about 20 beds; 20 to 25 general practitioner medical beds; and the present 41 geriatric beds with perhaps the addition of some further geriatric beds. Consideration should also be given to the establishment of a psycho-geriatric day centre.”

I admit that I was disappointed and somewhat cynical about that outcome. To me, trusting St. Nicholas to the ​ tender mercies of those Health Service mandarins who had always wanted to close it was about as sensible as trusting Little Red Riding Hood to the wolf.

Lord Ennals did his best to reassure me. In a personal letter dated 10 July 1978, he wrote:

“I really do not think it right to contend that the change of use of St. Nicholas hospital means its eventual closure. I told the health authorities that I am not willing to agree to closure and I know that they will make every effort to develop practicable arrangements which will enable the hospital to continue. I cannot believe that the inevitable transitional problems cannot be solved and I am sure that St. Nicholas can become a viable community hospital which will complement the District General Hospitals in the Area and give valuable service to the people of Plumstead and Thamesmead.”

Unfortunately, my pessimistic forecast turned out to be more accurate than Lord Ennals’ optimistic predictions. It was only four years after his decision that the health authority once again recommended total closure of the hospital. In the meantime, it had never allowed the hospital even to try to carry out the tasks that the Secretary of State had mapped out for it. It starved it of resources, refused to let it provide the range of services included in the 1978 decision, and, far from developing the hospital, pursued a policy of systematically removing one after another of the vital elements of the 1978 package.

First came the closure of a minor surgery department. Then the number of general practitioner beds was cut. A continued rundown of out-patient facilities culminated in the transfer of two ear, nose and throat clinics to the Brook hospital. Then came the abrupt closure of the “walking wounded” accident department. In none of those cases was there any public consultation. The closures were regarded as temporary, and not therefore subject to the formal procedures. In act, they were widely seen for what they were—a deliberate campaign by the Greenwich health authority to run down St. Nicholas by back-door cuts and thus to achieve the total closure that it had been denied in 1978.

In 1982 people in the authority finally took their courage in both hands and once again started the formal procedure to shut down the hospital. Then they became embroiled in a complex argument with the Bexley health authority over the division of the financial spoils expected to result from closure. That arose because between 60 and 66 Bexley patients are being cared for in geriatric beds in Greenwich hospitals. Bexley wants to provide for them in its own area, but it cannot do so until it gets its hands on a substantial slice of cash from Greenwich. The Bexley plan was to provide extra geriatric beds at Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup and to create 26 new beds at Erith and district hospital, originally by 1988–89. However, we now hear that the Erith scheme is being put back, apparently as far into the future as 1993–94. Bexley is therefore left with a maximum of 34 geriatric beds at Queen Mary’s in Sidcup in which to accommodate some 60 to 66 patients now in Greenwich.
Most people would regard that as too much of a tight squeeze, but Bexley health authority officials apparently believe that it is possible because what they charmingly call their throughput is considerably higher than that of Greenwich. That seems a somewhat insensitive approach to the care of the elderly and a rather doubtful proposition. It also totally ignores the fact that many of those elderly folk come from Erith, Belvedere and Welling in the ​ northern part of the borough, an area which is far better served by the nearby St. Nicholas hospital than by one in faraway Sidcup. In fact, I understand that some elderly people discharged from Queen Mary’s hospital in Sidcup find their way into private nursing homes, and as a result are even further away from their homes and relatives than in Sidcup.

The Bexley patients are vital to the future of St. Nicholas hospital. If beds cannot be found for the old folk who are now cared for in the Brook and Memorial hospitals in Greenwich, the space that is needed will not be released to accommodate the Greenwich patients who now occupy St. Nicholas hospital beds.

The negotiations between the two district health authorities have been a long and drawn out affair. As long ago as 17 December 1984 the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Mr. Patten), in his role as a Department of Health and Social Security Minister, wrote to me and said:

“I am concerned that there should not be any further delay in making the decision on the future of St. Nicholas. It is important that Greenwich and Bexley health authorities agree between themselves at an early date on the amount of revenue to be transferred for geriatric services currently provided to Bexley residents from St. Nicholas. I will ensure that South East Thames Regional Health Authority is ready to arbitrate between the two authorities if agreement is not reached soon.”

I understand that the negotiations are still not complete. The Minister gave that assurance over a year ago. Nobody can accuse the authorities concerned of intemperate haste.

May I offer what I hope will be a sensible and helpful suggestion to the Minister. Given that the Erith provision will not be available until 1993–94, is it not possible to provide funds to enable the Bexley health authority to take over beds in St. Nicholas? There is plenty of accommodation in St. Nicholas. Could not some of the beds there be allocated to Bexley to provide for those old folk who will otherwise have to be accommodated at Queen Mary’s hospital?

I very much welcome the action that the Minister has taken so far. He has not rubber stamped the closure decision; he has asked serious questions about the future of patient care if St. Nicholas is closed. It is not just geriatric patients who will be affected. In its comments upon the closure proposal, the Greenwich and Bexley family practitioner committee questioned the sense of spending considerable capital sums upon providing extra outpatient and paramedical facilities in other hospitals if St. Nicholas was closed, particularly if this would involve patients in long and difficult journeys. The family practitioner committee supported at the very least the retention of full outpatient and diagnostic services at St. Nicholas.

It is also worth recalling that 54 local general practitioners who had used the general practitioner beds at St. Nicholas oppose both the closure and the resulting transfer of those beds to Greenwich district hospital. Their comment was revealing. They said that there was a crying need for beds for the elderly, whose primary need was care rather than high technology medicine or surgery. St. Nicholas could play that complementary, supportive role, with great benefit to the two district general hospitals. Many of the routine, minor accident cases could be dealt with at St. Nicholas instead of lengthening the queues at the Brook or the Greenwich district hospitals. The pressure on beds at the two big general hospitals could be eased if none acute cases and care were available at St. Nicholas.

My constituents are incensed by the fact that St. Nicholas is not being allowed to fill this role. They want to know what on earth the point is of lengthy and detailed public consultation if a health authority can then ignore its results as blatantly as the Greenwich health authority has done in this case. St. Nicholas is ideally sited to serve not just my constituents in Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Thamesmead but many more people in the neighbouring areas of Belvedere, Welling and Erith. It is ridiculous that these potential patients and their families should be forced to undertake costly and difficult journeys to Sidcup, just because of the bureaucracy of health service boundaries.
We are not asking for the hospital to be retained in its present form. We understand that the nature of the site makes it extremely expensive to run, but it should be possible to use some of the buildings and some of the land to provide the basic essentials that are needed by a viable and effective community hospital. That would release a substantial area of land to help with the funding of the necessary capital expenditure.

None of the factors that led Lord Ennals to rule against the closure in 1978 has been removed. The population is still growing, particularly in Thamesmead. There are still large numbers of elderly people. There are still substantial areas of old housing. And growing unemployment has done absolutely nothing to improve the social deprivation in the area. If anything, the case for St. Nicholas is stronger today than it was in 1978.

I applaud the Minister for the action that he has taken so far. I urge him to follow the example of his distinguished predecessor and come and see for himself. He will find that the case for St. Nicholas rests not on loyalty to a much loved local institution, powerful though that is, but on the sheer hard fact of the need for health care in the area that St. Nicholas has served for so long and that it should be able to serve in the future.

John Butcher – 1985 Speech on English Sewing Ltd

Below is the text of the speech made by John Butcher, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, in the House of Commons on 11 December 1985.

I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) and for Amber Valley (Mr. Oppenheim) for raising this subject. This is the fourth time that this issue has been raised on the Floor of the House. Congratulating my hon. Friends on their tenacity and persistence is very much in order.

I shall try to deal with the issues that my hon. Friends have raised in the context of regional policy as amended by our review of 12 months ago. I shall go as far as I can within the bounds of commercial confidentiality. This issue has always posed excruciating dilemmas for successive Governments during the past 25 years. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West mentioned the strategic industrial point about what a Government do when they are posed with a choice between losing a facility from the United Kingdom entirely by not giving support and using regional policy lo retain work in the United Kingdom. I would welcome a discussion of that, perhaps on the Floor of the House, depending on what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House does for us soon. The issue preoccupies the Department of Trade and Industry.

I am grateful to my hon. Friends for providing this opportunity to reply to what they said about assistance to English Sewing Ltd. Perhaps I should start by setting out the facts in so far as I am able within the bounds of commercial confidentiality.

The basis of the company’s application has been that it has made a commercial decision that it must rationalize ​ its activities in England and Scotland and move to a purpose-built factory if it is to retain its operation within the United Kingdom. I listened carefully to my hon. Friend’s explanation of the company’s view that it was a serious proposition. After long deliberation, the company decided that the most efficient solution would be to extend and improve its existing operations at Newton Mearns and Neilston in Scotland.

The net effect of the project on employment would be to safeguard a substantial number of the jobs of the company’s employees. My hon. Friends voiced their concern that we in the Department may not have been fully in tune with the workings of the application vis-a-vis our criteria and the subsequent measures adopted by our colleagues in the Scottish Office in their attempt to safeguard jobs within the United Kingdom — but, of course, meaning within Scotland. I can assure my hon. Friends that my Department was consulted throughout the discussions with the company and it may be helpful if I give some further details of the sequence of events.

The company had approached that Department, having already made a commercial decision that, if it was to retain its operation in the United Kingdom, it would have to rationalise its activities in England and Scotland and move to a purpose-built factory. In fact, at the time when those discussions took place, the United Kingdom’s textile industry as a whole was facing severe difficulties. The British Textile Confederation announced in its annual report for 1982 that the industry’s performance that year, together with that of the previous year, was very depressed. The industry’s production was down by a further 6 per cent. from 1981 levels, and employment fell by 21,000, bringing the cumulative fall in the textile industry alone, excluding clothing, since 1979 to 163,000.

Many options were seriously considered by the company. After long deliberation, it decided that the most efficient solution would be to extend and improve its existing operations at Newton Mearns and Neilston in Scotland, taking advantage of a building already available in the group close to existing facilities and ideally suited to the project. That decision was not taken lightly by the company, which has an excellent industrial relations record in Derbyshire and a low labour turnover.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friends in that, having met their constituents only briefly, they gave a clear impression of a work force that was reasonable and highly motivated to do its best for the company and, therefore, for the well-being of the local community. Like my hon. Friends, I was very impressed by the motivation of the representatives of the company who we met this afternoon.

The company judged it essential, in a fiercely competitive market, to remain cost-competitive if it was to compete effectively with rising imports. The Department of Trade and Industry accepted the company’s view that the project was an industrially and commercially viable solution. To achieve the rationalisation, the company requested financial assistance towards the costs. Without the rationalisation, there was judged to be a very real danger that all the jobs in the company throughout the country would ultimately be lost abroad.

The application — as are all applications for assistance, but especially those where redundancies are involved—was subjected to the closest scrutiny of its merits, including its contribution to regional development ​ and the national economy. Because of the English job losses involved, my Department was consulted at each stage of the proceedings.

An offer was made—not as much as the company had asked for, but was negotiated as the minimum necessary for the project to go ahead. I should stress that the decision to offer assistance was considered by the Scottish Industrial Development Board, an advisory body composed of senior industrialists with wide commercial experience, with the specific task of considering, among other things, whether the assistance proposed was necessary to safeguard jobs.

As my hon. Friends are aware, the Government are committed to maintaining an effective regional policy and a more cost-effective policy to ease the process of change in areas of particularly high unemployment and to encourage new businesses in those areas. In fact, my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley recently argued that his constituency should be designated as an assisted area. It is perhaps to his constituency’s advantage that it does not have high enough long-term unemployment to qualify for that form of assistance. I am sure that he would share my rather mixed feelings if it did.

Unfortunately, and despite my hon. Friend’s admirable advocacy, his representations of that time were not successful. However, I assure him that the most careful consideration went into the decision as to which parts of the country should benefit from regional incentives, the main criterion being the relative annual average unemployment rate.

Inevitably, the existence of special incentives in the assisted areas means that other areas will be at a comparative disadvantage in the availability of Government assistance. But, as I said earlier, we judged that without the assistance which was offered, those same jobs in Derbyshire would still have been lost. In addition, jobs would ultimately have been lost in several other areas, including special development areas. The company believes that the project was in the best long-term interests of its United Kingdom work force, safeguarding a total of 1,400 jobs.

It is not the Government’s policy to use public funds simply to shuffle job opportunities round the country, with one area gaining at another’s expense. But especially in areas such as textiles, which must adjust to new circumstances, multi-plant enterprises will inevitably at times carry out rationalisation programmes to enable them to survive in the longer term. It is the task of regional assistance, if it can, to mitigate the effects of such rationalisations on the assisted areas and the country as a whole. The precise scale of plant rationalistation has been and remains a matter for decision by the company. I assure my hon. Friends that I shall ensure that the points they raised in the debate are brought immediately to the attention of English Sewing Ltd.

It is for the company, having received an offer, to decide whether, if there are new circumstances, it wishes to proceed with the project as originally conceived; but the offer has been made and evaluated. On balance, those who evaluated the offer came to the view that there was a threat that all the jobs available in the company may have been lost to the United Kingdom.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West asked whether the company might have moved anyway. The advice that I have been given is that the Scottish Industrial Development Board accepted the advice of ​ officials in the Industry Department in Scotland that assistance was needed to make the investment proceed in the United Kingdom rather than overseas.

My hon. Friend also asked about the net creation of new jobs. I have done my best to extract as much information as I can within the restraints of commercial confidentiality, but the company has undertaken to provide a substantial number of new jobs at the new plant in Scotland and to safeguard more jobs. I cannot reveal the exact number. It is believed that jobs in England are at risk whether or not the new Scottish jobs are created. The information that is in the public domain was printed in the magazine British Business on 29 November, and that information on the grant and the company is all that I can reveal tonight.

I hope that my hon. Friends, having fulfilled their obligations to their constituents, will at least be reassured that we have considered the matter thoroughly. I repeat my acceptance of their invitation to spend some time in Derbyshire to take a close look at the local economy and to see whether any of the Department’s national schemes can be deployed to tackle some of the economic difficulties of a below average number of unemployed constituents, but which nonetheless are worth an airing in their constituencies.

Phillip Oppenheim – 1985 Speech on English Sewing Ltd

Below is the text of the speech made by Phillip Oppenheim, the then Conservative MP for Amber Valley, in the House of Commons on 11 December 1985.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Parris) for allowing me to take part in the debate, and I echo my hon. Friend’s gratitude to my hon. Friend the Minister concerning the meeting earlier today. I wish to take part in the debate because although the mills in question are just outside my constituency just over half the work force lives in it. Most people probably agree with the principle of regional assistance as an acceptable form of public expenditure if the money is properly spent, but today we must question whether the money is being properly spent.

I visit many companies in my constituency and I see many hopeful signs such as new factories and some companies expanding quite rapidly. Unfailingly, however, companies ask me whether they should not go elsewhere to take advantage of the grants on offer. I am told about Department of Trade and Industry regional assistance, the Scottish and Welsh Development Agencies and a plethora of local authority incentives, often in mutual competition.

That might be all very well if Amber Valley were in the south, but it is not and it has an unemployment problem. The overall rate is 12 per cent. and although in Belper there is slightly less than 10 per cent. unemployment, half the work force at English Sewing comes from my constituency, in parts of which unemployment is more than 16 per cent. I do not blame the Government for that high unemployment as there are many reasons for it, not least the huge growth in the work force in the past three or four years. Moreover, the area is still trying to recover from the loss of 15,000 jobs due to the closure of so many pits by the Labour Government in the 1960s. More recently, new technology has led to job losses in the textile sector and it is clear that there are substantial structural problems.

All this is made worse and, indeed, almost unbearable by the fact that we are surrounded by areas receiving substantial regional aid—south Yorkshire to the north, Gainsborough to the east, Corby to the south and the west midlands, which qualify for EEC assistance, to the west, all beavering away trying to entice jobs away from the east midlands. It is thus especially galling to see such a blatant case of poaching as English Sewing. The work force has been sold down the river helped on its way by Department of Trade and Industry regional assistance grants. The situation is all the worse in that the work force has been noted for its loyalty. It is a good work force which for many years accepted low wage rises and gave high productivity in return. Moreover, the work force was backed by a responsible trade union which was more interested in the success of the company than in changing the face of society. In return for that loyalty and good service, their jobs are simply being shunted to areas where there is a tradition of militancy. What makes this all the more stupid is that, as a result of this Government expenditure, there will be no net increase in the numbers employed.

The decision may surprise hon. Members, but it must come as a surprise to my right hon. and learned Friend the ​ Secretary of State for Trade and Industry who, two weeks ago, told my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West in Trade and Industry Questions:

“my hon. Friend will be aware that the policy is normally to give assistance only where there is a net increase in jobs.”

—[Official Report, 27 November 1985; Vol. 87, c. 871.] That is precisely what is not happening with English Sewing Ltd. The pack is merely being reshuffled at the taxpayers’ expense —£1 million of regional assistance grants to be precise. To make matters worse, only a couple of years ago, English Sewing Ltd. was given £300,000 in grants to modernise its mill. On top of all of that, the Government will have to contribute £100,000 towards redundancy costs. How can such expenditure—well in excess of £1 million of taxpayers’ money—be justified, and what is the benefit?

The area has the advantage of one of the best and most loyal work forces in the country. What assurance can they have that this type of nonsense will not happen again? I blame the last Labour Government to some extent for the anomalies in the legislation, but I have to blame the present Government for not repealing the worst of those anomalies. Local people and taxpayers have got a rotten deal. When the subject was debated one and a half years ago, Ministers assured the House that such nonsense would not be allowed again.

Well, it is happening. People in Amber Valley can probably survive fairly well without Government grants and handouts, but when their taxes are wasted by financing other areas to take away what jobs we have, they have a right to be extremely angry. I suspect that, in his heart of hearts. my hon. Friend the Minister realises that his Department’s position is untenable and wrong. I therefore urge him to prevent this misdemeanour.