Kenneth Baker – 1986 Statement on Nuclear Waste Disposal

Below is the text of the statement made by Kenneth Baker, the then Secretary of State for the Environment, in the House of Commons on 25 February 1986.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement about the disposal of low and intermediate-level radioactive wastes.

Following the statement made on 24 January last year by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive, NIREX, has now completed its search for available sites to be evaluated for a possible near-surface facility for shorter-lived radioactive wastes. In addition to the site at Elstow already announced, NIREX is today announcing that it wishes to investigate sites near Fulbeck in Lincolnshire, Bradwell in Essex and South Killingholme in South Humberside.
I emphasise that at this stage NIREX will carry out exploratory geological investigations at these sites in sufficient detail only to ascertain whether they might be suitable. No proposal is currently being put forward actually to develop any of these sites. Indeed, if none of the sites is confirmed as suitable, none will be developed.

This exploratory geological work will, however, require planning permission. This will be sought from Parliament by way of a special development order, which my Department is today issuing in draft for consultation with the local authorities and water authorities concerned. A copy has been placed in the Library. We shall also consider comments from any others with an interest. We are not required by statute to consult, but on an issue of this importance and level of concern it is right to do so. I hope to lay the actual order before the House in April and there will, of course, be an opportunity for debate.

The types of work which the order will permit will be strictly limited. The order will cover the test drillings and soil sampling that NIREX will need to evaluate the geology and hydro-geology. It will also control operational matters, such as hours of working, and will require that NIREX makes good the sites once it has finished work upon them.

I understand that the investigation of the four sites could take between 12 and 18 months. If any of the sites prove to be suitable, NIREX would at that time be in a position to decide what proposals it wants to make the subject of a planning application.

I shall call in any such application for my own determination. It will be considered at a public inquiry under an independent inspector at which interested parties will have the opportunity to make their views known. NIREX will also have to prepare a detailed assessment of the likely environmental impact of its proposals for the inquiry. I would hope that the inquiry can begin in 1988.

If planning permission is given, the facility will still need a licence from the nuclear installations inspectorate. Furthermore, waste disposal will require authorisation by my Department and by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

The House will wish to be aware that, if an inland site is selected, it may be necessary to establish a small separate coastal site for disposing of the reactor compartments of decommissioned nuclear powered submarines. These items will be best transported by sea and disposed of to a coastal site. To meet this contingency, ​ my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence intends to authorise exploratory work on MOD land, subject to normal planning procedures.

My right hon. Friend in his statement on 24 January 1985 also asked NIREX to start the search for at least three alternative sites for a deep facility for longer-lived wastes. In addition, the nuclear industry was asked, in consultation with the radiochemical inspectorate and the nuclear installations inspectorate, to seek ways of improving the conditioning of intermediate-level wastes for disposal. In seeking sites for a deep facility, NIREX will take full account of research into methods of containing the radioactivity in the wastes. It will in particular be examining the feasibility of deep-mined cavities for these wastes, possibly under the seabed. Work on conditioning continues. I shall of course keep the House informed on further progress.

I am well aware that people are anxious about the safety of the disposal of any sort of radioactive waste arising from the nuclear industry. These anxieties are, I believe, out of all proportion to the nature of the problems posed by disposal, and we and the nuclear industry must redouble our efforts to ensure that the general public are much better informed about the whole question.

We have a duty to ensure the safe disposal of radioactive wastes that already exist and which will arise in the future. The proposals announced by NIREX today are a necessary step to discharging that responsibility.

Dr. John Cunningham (Copeland)

Will the Secretary of State accept that, whatever policy decisions may be taken in the future about nuclear power, we must recognise that the problem of existing radioactive waste has to be resolved? Bearing that in mind, will the Secretary of State accept that radioactive waste should be accessible and open to control at all times to allow present management policies to be reversed if necessary at some future date? Does the Department of the Environment’s best practical environmental options study show that reversibility of policy can be included in the strategy at little extra cost?

The Government have made six previous statements on this subject and have still not arrived at a final policy position. Why has the Secretary of State made a statement now, when his Department’s study of the best practical environmental options has not been published? Would it not have made more sense for the House and the affected areas to have had that information to hand before he made his statement? It is also true that the impending report from the Select Committee, referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts), could have provided useful information. We are all aware that the Select Committee report will have some strong things to say about this and other aspects of nuclear policy.

While, as the Secretary of State said, the technical problems of dealing with low-level radioactive waste may be easily manageable, the social, economic and political factors are not so easily manageable. The Opposition share the right hon. Gentleman’s views that the nuclear industry must produce a better performance in future. Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that simple exhortations to that industry to produce a better performance may not be enough?

As the statement does not make it clear, will the Secretary of State tell the House the location of the ​ exploratory work to be carried out on Ministry of Defence land? The House is entitled to that information, as are the communities in the affected areas.

Will the use of a special development order and the Secretary of State’s determination to call in any proposal, effectively bypass a proper role for elected local authorities? Will the right hon. Gentleman say how, with the combination of these two circumstances, the local authorities will participate properly in the decision?

The Opposition welcome the point in the statement which makes it clear that, whatever proposal finally emerges, an environmental impact study will be required. Is the Secretary of State also aware that we welcome the commitment in the statement to further research? Does that commitment not underline the foolishness of the Government’s decision, shortly after taking office, to abandon the then existing research programme, especially into the provision of potential deep-mined facilities?

Finally, what are the Secretary of State’s policy intentions towards the existing dump for low-level waste at Drigg? Is it now well established that current and past practices at Drigg are no longer acceptable? Will the Secretary of State ensure that those responsible for the tip at Drigg move as quickly as possible to a properly engineered trench and a far safer, environmentally acceptable means of disposing of the present waste?

Mr. Baker

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his welcome recognition that there is a responsibility which must be discharged by the country in that nuclear wastes arise from a wide variety of activities in hospitals, laboratories, and various factories. There are some 5,000 registered sites where processes involving radioactivity occur. It would be highly irresponsible for any Government not to accept the responsibility to find a satisfactory and safe solution. I echo the points that he made about social and political factors being important.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the best possible environmental option and stressed the importance of the solutions being open and accessible, and possibly even reversible. The best practical environmental options study is a complex and important piece of work. It breaks new ground. It has now been completed. It also involves extensive consultations, especially with the trade unions, which have been completed, as I think he knows. I hope to publish the study within the next two or three weeks. It shows that there is a variety of safe routes.

We had hoped to see the Select Committee report in December or January. I do not criticise the Select Committee in any way, shape or form for the fact that the report is not ready. I think that it has been held up by printing matters. I felt that was right to make a statement today to resolve the rumour and uncertainty which have grown since NIREX wrote to me in early January.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Drigg which is in his constituency. The current arrangement at Drigg poses no risk to the public. Drigg has, however, been operating for a considerable time and there is now room for improvement. Drigg will therefore be upgraded. With effect from 1987, BNFL intends to introduce, first, the compaction of BNFL low-level waste; secondly., the emplacement of waste in trenches rather than tipping as at present; thirdly, the capping of the old trenches to make them impermeable to rainwater; and fourthly the renewal of the site drainage system. The result will be a much improved site. ​ I shall echo the point made by the hon. Gentleman at the end of his remarks. It is no good merely exhorting the nuclear industry to explain the position more clearly; it has a clear responsibility to do so, and so have the Government. The nuclear industry has been somewhat remiss in getting the matter over to the British public and allaying the anxiety over nuclear matters, which I recognise is very real.

Sir Bernard Braine (Castle Point)

I see that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip is present in his seat. He represents a constituency close to mine and I can imagine his feelings about the fact that such an unsuitable site as Bradwell should have been chose for testing. As by convention he cannot say anything at this stage, may I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment first to take note that we in Essex —formerly the major dumping ground for toxic waste originating outside our county—will not tolerate such a site in our county? Secondly, will he give the House an assurance that as soon as NIREX has established, as I am sure it will, that that site is unsuitable, he will make an announcement to the House?

Mr. Baker

There is a well-known precedent, of course, that a Minister may make representations on behalf of his constituents on important planning matters, and I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Chief Whip will do so. I accept what my right hon. Friend has said and appreciate that anxiety is felt in the localities that have been mentioned, along with an anticipated but unnecessary anxiety in some of the locations which have not been mentioned. I stress that at the moment I am proposing exploratory drillings, which will take 12 to 18 months. If, during the course of those exploratory drillings, any of the sites seem patently unsuitable, they will be dropped at that stage.

Mr. D. E. Thomas (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Does the right hon. Gentleman recollect the previous round of drilling programmes for high-level waste disposal? Will he recollect that the Government had to abandon that campaign as a result of the strong public objection by environmental groups in the areas that had been chosen? Does he anticipate the same result for this programme? Will the Secretary of State tell the House why the Government do not declare clearly for a containment rather than a disposal option?

Mr. Baker

Since the Flowers report of 1976 it has been the policy of successive Governments that nuclear waste should not be contained or stored at the site at which it arises but that it should be disposed of at an alternative site. That policy has been confirmed many times and it is the policy that I think is right. The very toxic wastes are contained either on site or at Sellafield. The hon. Gentleman asked about deep-mined facilities, but I would stress to him that we are dealing with low-level or intermediate-level waste where the radio-activity is quite short-lived. I hope that the fact that we are not dealing with very toxic substances in this operation will satisfy and in some way alleviate anxiety.

Sir Trevor Skeet (Bedfordshire, North)

How many lives have been lost in the nuclear industry in the past 30 years? Will my right hon. Friend also give an assurance ​ that the prime consideration of the selection of sites will be public safety? Will my right hon. Friend state the proximity of substantial population to anyone of the sites which have been suggested?

Mr. Baker

That is clearly a matter of significance. I thank my hon. Friend for his past support and for recognising the fact that the Government have to make difficult, and in certain areas unpopular, decisions in discharging their responsibility. I assure my hon. Friend that my role as Secretary of State for the Environment is concerned with the environmental impact, and of course with safety. Safety is crucial in these matters. The standards which apply to new disposal facilities are set out in my Department’s assessment principles, published last year. The overall target is that no individual should be subjected to maximum exposure of more than one tenth of the level set by the international commission on radiological protection.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Is the Secretary of State aware that if there was a geological optimum and suitable site in the West Lothian constituency I would go up and down my constituency and argue for its acceptance —such is my confidence in the British nuclear industry on these issues? Why, why, why talk in terms of a coastal site for decommissioned nuclear unit submarines? Would it not be much simpler also to settle on a coastal site for nuclear waste rather than to raise up a hornet’s nest of inland sites? The choice of an inland site by its very definition in the statement, means that there must be two bites at the proverbial cherry. It would be simpler to eliminate all inland sites and choose a coastal site so that one can overcome the problem not only of Conqueror but other unit submarines.

Mr. Baker

The defence sites require a much smaller area for disposal. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence will, in due course, determine which will be suitable. It will all be done through normal planning procedures. The hon. Member has a reputation for courageous independence and I fully recognise that if a site was selected in his constituency he would campaign for it. The hon. Member recognises that this is a duty that has to be discharged and that it can be discharged safely. I thank him for saying that.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Cleethorpes)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the unanimous and implacable opposition of the people of Humberside to the idea of nuclear waste being dumped anywhere in my constituency? Is he further aware that we shall fight a guerrilla war against the unelected and unaccountable body NIREX, and his Department, to ensure our victory? What must we show during the forthcoming period of consultation on the SDO to persuade him to amend it?

When does he envisage naming one site that will be presented to a public inquiry? Why will the Government not seek alternative methods of disposal? Will my right hon. Friend say whether the NIREX statement on my local radio, that little notice will be taken of public opinion, is his view? Finally, I stand by my remarks in column 611 of Hansard of 21 February.

Mr. Baker

I am aware of my hon. Friend’s strong feelings on these matters, and I can assure him that I have no proposals for a nuclear site in the Chiltern Hundreds. My hon. Friend asked me to consider alternative methods ​ of disposal. In my statement I said that we, together with NIREX, would consider the possibility of deep-mined cavities, especially those extending under the seabed. Sweden has devised that solution under the Baltic. I intend to visit that facility, and the other facilities in Europe, especially that of low-level clay disposal in France. Those options should not be excluded for different levels of waste.

My hon. Friend asked whether the SDO could be altered. Today I published it in draft form so that there could be widespread consultations with local authorities about its details. Once it is laid, it cannot be altered for six weeks.

My hon. Friend asked when one site would be named to go to a public inquiry. Once NIREX has completed its geological investigations in eight to 12 months’ time, it can decide what proposals it wants to make the subject of a planning application. As I told my right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), if, during investigations, any of the sites appears patently unsuitable, NIREX will abandon it, to avoid prolonging uncertainty.

My hon. Friend referred to a radio interview this morning which I did not hear. However, this morning I heard the managing director of NIREX on the radio and he made it clear that, as regards taking public opinion into account, he would have mail shots to every house in each of the localities, and there would be public presentations and mobile exhibitions. It is extremely important that that process should be open and frank.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Is it not the undeniable truth that Parliament treats the issues of nuclear waste as local authorities treat the issue of the Romanies and travelling people? Is it not clear that the British public will not live next to nuclear waste? Why does the Secretary of State not accept my recommendation of three years ago, two years ago and nine months ago that the Government should choose an off-mainland, coastal, island site in the Atlantic or Pacific, where —[Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but we shall not find a site on our mainland. We must consider the issue realistically. We must find a site under international supervision. All the nuclear waste-producing nations should service it, fund it, and provide a bank there for all nuclear waste. Then the problem would no longer exist. That is the solution. In the end, the Secretary of State will have to choose that method, just as he has had to adopt a solution of that nature for the decommissioning of naval vessels.

Mr. Baker

The suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, who is also courageously independent in these matters, should be possible for high-level long-life wastes. Indeed, the feasibility studies on deep sea cavities under the seabed —that is, not dumping on the sea floor—which are in hand with NIREX and with which the Government will be associated, may be an answer for intermediate and high-level wastes.

The wastes that we are talking about are solid—they are not gaseous or liquid. They are such things as come from factory processes—they can be rubber gloves from hospitals, laboratory equipment and pipes or equipment used in any of the 5,000 sites registered for radioactive processes. We cannot just leave this stuff lying around. Much of it is low level, as the hon. Gentleman and the hon. ​ Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) know. It can be dealt with adequately in shallow disposal in clay, as the French have done at Cherbourg.

Mr. Nicholas Lyell (Mid-Bedfordshire)

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that NIREX’s proposals, at least in so far as they relate to inland sites, are based on the concept of absolute containment of the waste? Will he accept that I and my constituents regard it as deeply unwise even to consider putting such waste in such a crowded county as Bedfordshire, or in any other county” Does he agree that there is no site in Europe—neither the site at Centre de la Manche nor the proposed improvements at Drigg—which relies wholly on absolute containment? Both rely, at least in part, on fail-safe drainage to the sea. Will he continue to examine alternative proposals, not least dividing the treatment of low-level waste from intermediate-level waste and the better use of existing facilities, not least at Drigg, before he comes to any conclusions?

Mr. Baker

In 1984, following discussions between the nuclear industry, other waste producers and the Government, the radioactive waste management advisory committee, which advises me on these matters, agreed a classification scheme which was set out in its fifth annual report, copies of which are in the Library. The dividing line between low and intermediate-level wastes is now clearly defined.

As for containment, NIREX is basing its proposals on what is called the multi-barrier concept of disposal. It is designed to minimise the return of radioactivity to man by using several different types of barrier, which include the geology of the site, the construction of the facility and the conditioning and packaging of the waste. The waste is put in steel drums in sand and concrete. The drums are then put in concrete-lined trenches, embedded in clay and covered with sand and concrete and, finally, topsoil. The French are pursuing that method at Cherbourg. As for alternative facilities, I have made it clear today that we shall consider deep-mined facilities, especially for some of the higher and intermediate-level wastes.

Mr. Donald Stewart (Western Isles)

Can the right hon. Gentleman give a categorical assurance that, despite the assistance that he has had from the hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), no sites in Scotland have been or will be considered for the dumping of nuclear waste?

Mr. Baker

NIREX was looking for possible sites for shallow disposal of low-level waste. That is the exercise on which it has been engaged during the past year. It therefore limited its researches to the clay belt of the country. The principal clay belt runs from south Humberside in an arc down to Dorset. That is why the selected sites lie within that area.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)

South Killingholme is only 3½ miles from my constituency. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, if we are to enjoy the abundant fruits of nuclear energy—cheap and plentiful power—low-level waste must go somewhere? Does he agree that it is sheer hypocrisy and humbug to say that it should go anywhere but on one’s own doorstep? Does he agree that not one death has been attributed to the nuclear energy industry? Does he agree that the level of radiation from such sites is less than that which occurs naturally in many geological formations?

Will he reject the emotional claptrap and humbug and, after informed debate, put the site in the best geological position—

Mr. Michael Brown


Mr. Baker

I welcome my hon. Friend’s courage. What he said at the beginning is absolutely right. We generate about 18 per cent. of our electrical power from nuclear energy. France already generates more than 50 per cent. of its electrical power from nuclear energy, and by the end of the century, that will have increased to 75 per cent. That will give France an enormous competitive edge in energy-intensive processing industries such as the chemical industry, heavy industry, food processing industries and paper-making. The cost of energy is vital to such industries. It would be extremely bad news for British industry if we surrendered an enormous advantage in energy costs to our continental competitors.

I welcome what my hon. Friend says. I must emphasise that the process will be subject to a full planning inquiry. As a matter of courtesy, I spoke to the Members of Parliament involved with the sites this morning. My hon. Friend the Member for Grantham (Mr. Hogg) is unable to be in the House, but he raised with me his anxiety for a full planning inquiry—Fulbeck lies in his constituency.

Several Hon. Members rose—

Mr. Speaker

Order. Before I call the next hon. Member, I remind the House that there will be a debate on this matter. I ask hon. Members to ask one question, or two at the most, or we shall get long answers.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one reason why there is not confidence in what is proposed here, when the same is not true for other countries, is the constitution of NIREX? When he goes on his perambulations to other countries, he will find that the equivalent bodies there have on their boards representatives of the trade unions and environmentalists. Environmentalists accept that, even if nuclear power were stopped tomorrow, the waste would have to be disposed of. As for the deep geological disposal of high-level waste, is he aware that every other country identifies a site for experimental purposes to prove that it can be done? An undertaking is given that nuclear waste will not be disposed of at that site, so there is public acceptance. That is not being done here. No site will be accepted unless similar action is taken here.

Mr. Baker

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. It is an interesting point. What he describes does not happen in every country—France for example.

Mr. Dalyell

It is a very good point, though.

Mr. Baker

Well, it does not happen in France, and we cannot dismiss the French Government as indifferent to the safety of the French people in nuclear matters. Each country is beginning to fashion its own policies. Germany, for example, is going for very deep-mined cavities, principally using former salt mines. I shall see other possible means of disposal.

Mrs. Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that we are delighted that he has said that safety will be the crucial factor? In view of what he said about anxiety being aroused out of all proportion to ​ the danger, does he think it regrettable that items in The Sunday Times for two consecutive weeks have given information which Dr. Jakeman now says is not entirely correct? Dr. Jakeman has described the articles as “not particularly helpful”. They have, regrettably, aroused unnecessary public fears.

Mr. Baker

My hon. Friend is right about there being many exaggerated fears, but I can understand them. There is a suspicion of all things nuclear. The country cannot say that it wants the benefits of cheap nuclear power but not be prepared to accept responsibility for dealing with wastes. I confirm what she said about safety being the prime concern. It is my prime concern. It is also clearly set out in NIREX’s third report, in which methods of disposal are discussed. I shall ask NIREX to send copies to all hon. Members.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that his attempt to allay the anxieties of the nation, and especially of the people in the four counties chosen, will be reduced by his being perceived to be proceeding with unseemly haste to follow one option—near-land-level disposal of nuclear waste —when other options are available and there is time in which to make a choice? Why does the Secretary of State not wait and use the sites which already have nuclear installations and the cool-dry storage option until other options can be assessed properly, after all the evidence has been adduced?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, if he had not manipulated the planning procedures by introducing a special development order, there would not be a chance of planning permission being granted in any of the four counties that he has announced?

Mr. Baker

I am not quite sure what the policy of the Liberal party is on this matter. The policy of the Social Democratic party is clear and robust. [An HON. MEMBER: “Dr. David says no.”] That is quite clear. The hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) was saying that this is an occasion when we should examine storage on site. That policy has been rejected by successive Governments since 1976, when it was agreed that there should be disposal away from the sites. The hon. Gentleman’s party has not been in government since 1976 but he will remember that for two years it sustained the Labour Government in office and it was supposed to have a veto on all major policies. Why did it continue to support this dreadful and unacceptable policy for two years?

Mr. John Cartwright (Woolwich)

Is the Secretary of State aware that many people would accept the theory that the nation cannot avoid facing up to the problem of the disposal of nuclear waste but that, when it comes to the practice, it is almost impossible to get any individual area to accept the siting of waste? Will he tell us what criteria led him to the selection of the four sites for further exploratory work?

Mr. Baker

This is not my selection; it is a selection made by NIREX, which is the combined company representing the nuclear industry in this country. It was looking at possible sites for shallow disposal of low-level and intermediate short-lived wastes. That inevitably led them to examine sites in the clay belt.

Mr. Michael McNair-Wilson (Newbury)

Where is the exploratory work on the Ministry of Defence land to ​ take place? Can my right hon. Friend give an assurance that the nuclear establishments in west Berkshire are not being considered?

Mr. Baker

I think that is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence. I will draw my hon. Friend’s comment to his attention.

Dr. M. S. Miller (East Kilbride)

Will the right hon. Gentleman accept that there is a great appreciation of his knowledge and frankness on this subject? His knowledge is very much in contrast with that of his hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown), which is really ignorant posturing on the matter. Will the right hon. Gentleman also accept that part of the problem of public acceptance has been the cavalier attitude of scientists in the past who have not been open, frank and honest about the problem? Will he take steps to ensure that that does not continue?

Mr. Baker

I have great sympathy with the hon. Gentleman’s last point. I think that there is a great gap between the scientists’ perception of the problem and the general public’s perception of the problem. I think that the scientists have felt that this is a minor problem which can be dealt with because they are familiar with the chemistry and the physics of it and in the past I think that they have given scant regard to the social and political problems of dealing with it.

Dr. Michael Clark (Rochford)

Is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State aware that, until a final decision is made, there will be anxiety on all four inland sites under consideration? As my constituency is adjacent to Bradwell, the constituents of Rochford will take a great interest in that decision. In addition, there is a large area of Ministry of Defence land in Rochford—Foulness—which may be a candidate for the exploratory work which the Secretary of State has referred to. Therefore, would he agree to name the sites for exploratory work as quickly as possible, so that anxiety can he reduced?

Mr. Baker

I have put maps in the Library showing the exact delineation of the sites where there will be test drilling. The drilling and the hydrological surveys will take place only in those confined areas.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

The Secretary of State has consistently made references to the French experience. The right hon. Gentleman will not recall, because he was not the Secretary of State at that time—but I am sure that the Minister for Environment, Countryside and Local Government will tell him—the impact of the announcement on Billingham and its effect on property values and on prospective industrial development. Will the Secretary of State tell us whether he has in mind any form of subterfuge à la Francais—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. We conduct our business in English here.

Mr. Cook

—to indemnify the electorate in these areas should they be chosen for such disposal and it goes ahead? Is that to be part of his technique eventually?

Mr. Baker

The French have a way of dealing with these problems which involves certain areas competing to have a nuclear installation or a dump. I have set in hand various examinations as to advantages that could accrue to local areas. Our rating system is such that, when an ​ installation of this nature, which it is difficult for the local community to accept, is running, it adds to the rateable value, but the money is creamed back again. I am looking at ways in which that can be done. [Interruption.] NIREX has already said that it is prepared to consider payments for properties which may be affected by planning rights.

Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

May I first express regret to my right hon. Friend that I was advised by the press six or seven hours ago that Fulbeck was to be considered? That is not very satisfactory, but I do not blame my right hon. Friend. May I advise him that it will be his task and mine to explain to the areas concerned that the methods proposed are safe? In that connection may I strongly suggest that, for the residents of Fulbeck, which is some four or five miles from my constituency boundary, a public relations exercise should be mounted promptly saying whether it will be low-level or intermediate-level waste which will be disposed of there, thereby allaying many of the fears which are naturally aroused?

Mr. Baker

I am sorry that information about the sites was leaked. It did not come from my Department. because several sites were mentioned which were not in the list that I received from NIREX in January. I take to heart the point that my hon. Friend has made that there must be an intensive effort at local level on the part of NIREX, the Government and my hon. Friend to explain the nature of the problem and how it can be resolved, stressing how important it is to deal with the safety aspects. I also understand his point about intermediate and low -level waste.

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

Why is the right hon. Gentleman so arrogantly dismissive of the views of ordinary people and why does he talk to them like children, saying that he will educate them and so on, when everybody knows that, as soon as an accident occurs in the nuclear industry, we get immediate lies to pacify us? Those lies are often remedied by the next speech. We know from Sellafield—a name which came about, God knows why, after Windscale, and there might be a third name yet—that nuclear waste is going into the Irish sea and that it is being dumped, to the fear of people on the coast of Ireland and Britain. We know that such waste is going around the country on the railways and we regularly learn of carriages carrying such waste which have come off the rails, as happened in Leeds on one occasion.

Why does the right hon. Gentleman think that the public’s fears are not legitimate, when they know that if anything goes wrong the first thing the Secretary of State will do is distort the reality and try to convince them that everything is right, using the French experience as an example? Will he tell us the truth and tell British Nuclear Fuels plc and NIREX that it is time that they talked to us like adults and not as children, to try to lull us into a sense of false security?

Mr. Baker

The hon. Gentleman cannot have been listening to what I have been saying. He only wants to listen to things which support his own prejudices. I have made it clear that I am concerned personally and on behalf of the Government about the safety aspects of the matter. When dealing with these matters it does no good to use extravagant and exaggerated language. The nuclear industry is one of the most regulated industries in Britain. ​ Three main inspectorates deal with nuclear matters. The regulations are contained in 15 different Acts of Parliament. There are 145 nuclear inspectors.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury)

Does my right hon. Friend understand that, as one of those who has within his constituency a village that was rumoured to be chosen as a site, I am conscious that, however hard one tries to explain that low-level nuclear waste might be safe, there is still considerable fear about it? Does my right hon. Friend agree that there will be a considerable planning blight, no matter how hard NIREX tries? Will my right hon. Friend make it clear as a matter of natural justice that the House will ensure that those who suffer from the effects of planning blight will receive compensation?

Mr. Baker

Loss through planning blight can be exaggerated. Various studies in the Bedfordshire area do not entirely support that claim. As I have made clear, NIREX has already said that, if property values are affected, it will be prepared to consider payments. I reiterate that it is important to allay anxieties. Some of these matters result from hospital work and from laboratory work. Furniture, gloves and paper towels are among the articles which may be affected by radioactivity. They may register a low level of radioactivity but, nevertheless, they must be dealt with. An understanding of the type of wastes about which we are talking might result in more collective acceptability of the fact that we must deal with this problem.

Mr. Georges Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, as he took the responsibility in his statement for announcing that certain Ministry of Defence coastal sites will be examined with a view to disposing of wastes from decommissioned vessels, he has the responsibility for telling the House where the sites are? If the right hon. Gentleman is not prepared to extend this courtesy to the House, will he at least tell us how those sites will be announced, so that hon. Members and the public know exactly where the sites are?

Mr. Baker

My responsibility, and the responsibility of my predecessors since 1976, has been principally for the disposal of civil nuclear waste. I accept the hon. Gentleman’s comments. I shall undertake to bring them to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence as, clearly, he has responsibility for these matters. I shall stress to my right hon. Friend the importance of deciding as soon as possible.

Mr. John Townend (Bridlington)

I accept that safety is a first priority and that the Government must make a difficult decision. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the opposition to the Killingholme site is not restricted to the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Cleethorpes (Mr. Brown)? There is a great apprehension in my constituency, which is only three miles away as the crow flies. There is a feeling on Humberside that the north suffers enough disadvantages. Perhaps East Anglia, which is a favoured area, might be a more suitable site.

Mr. Baker

I note that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary is not in his place to hear that comment. Humberside contains a large number of industries which are dependent upon a high use of energy. Those very industries would benefit from low-cost energy. ​ I stress again that we are talking not about liquid or gas wastes but about solid wastes. These wastes will be contained in sand and concrete in steel drums which are then embedded in concrete-lined trenches and then surrounded by clay. I hope that my hon. Friend can persuade his constituents that those are adequate safeguards.

Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he has as much chance of inflicting the 300-year blight of this noxious nuclear nuisance on Humberside as he has of putting it in the back garden of Dunroamin in Dulwich. Is this list exactly the same as the one that was presented to the right hon. Gentleman on 8 January, or have changes been made? Is it just a happy coincidence that so many of the best possible sites for nuclear dumps happen to be owned by the Government or the Central Electricity Generating Board, or is it just that NIREX thinks that that will be all that it will be able to get away with after the mauling it received at Billingham? What is the right hon. Gentleman’s real responsibility —is it to act as a messenger boy, using his almost dictatorial powers at the behest of NIREX, or is it to look now to development, planning, environmental and transport needs and to the interests and needs of the population in the areas concerned before it is too late?

Mr. Baker

Those last points are the very ones that will be explored in detail by the planning inquiry. As for the public as opposed to private sites, a private site in Billingham, which was owned by ICI—was considered, but the private owner withdrew. NIREX principally examined public sector sites. The hon. Gentleman has asked whether the list I have announced is the same list that NIREX recommended in its January letter. It is exactly the same.

Mr. Richard Hickmet (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

One need only mention the word “nuclear” to raise great fears. Although the nuclear industry is vital in providing energy treatment in hospitals, in research into health care, in industrial processes, and so on, does my right hon. Friend expect the people of north Humberside to accept the announcement in the light of that fear? Is my right hon. Friend aware that 50,000 signatures of people who oppose this proposal have already been collected? Does he agree that he will be flying in the face of reality? Before NIREX proceeds along this course, will we explore alternative solutions, especially the Swedish scheme for disposal under the sea? Why can the waste not be kept at Drigg until all the alternatives have been explored? What will my right hon. Friend do to inform the people of Humberside what this really means?

Mr. Baker

A feasibility study of the deep-mine facility is under way. It is principally concerned with higher-level waste and intermediate-level waste, which have long lives. The third report by NIREX and what is happening in other countries show that that solution is not considered to be necessary for low-level and short-lived intermediate-level wastes. My hon. Friend will be able to emphasise to his constituents that at this stage exploratory geological surveys will be taking place for 12 to 18 months. A decision has not been made on a particular site. I hope that a great deal of effort will be made locally to explain the exact nature of the problem with which we are trying to deal.

​Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Does the statement not demonstrate that, whereas successive Governments were prepared to start on the development of nuclear power, decades later other Governments are finding it increasingly difficult to sell, even to some of their own Members of Parliament, the idea of getting rid of the waste? Why will not the right hon. Gentleman cut the losses in respect of nuclear power? Why does he not take on board the Labour party’s resolution to phase out nuclear power stations? This would at least mean that future generations would not have to deal with the mess the right hon. Gentleman has got into.

Will the right hon. Gentleman not treat Members of Parliament and the people outside with contempt by suggesting that this waste is all right and secure? If the waste is all right, why is he not putting it in Mole Valley? Why is he not recommending the constituency of Finchley? Why is the waste not being put in Whitehall? If the waste were so good and wonderful, the Americans would have submitted a hid for it long ago.

Mr. Baker

I thought that we were doing quite well with the Chief Whip’s constituency. The hon. Gentleman is a well-known opponent of the whole nuclear power industry and of the generation of cheap electricity from nuclear power. If that policy were pursued, British industry would be at a grave competitive disadvantage towards the end of this century. As for safety, may refer the hon. Gentleman to safety in the coal mining industry.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Is the Minister aware that, in response to questions about Elstow, NIREX has shown that it considers it not as a national site, but as a regional site? Is the Minister reluctant to use coastal sites because there are none available on Government property? Does he consider the facility as a national facility or must there be one in each region, especially in relation to Hinckley Point in Somerset, because that is a site shown on a map of original sites handed over to some people by NIREX?

Mr. Baker

The sites that will be selected eventually will be national.

Geoffrey Pattie – 1986 Speech on Systime Plc

Below is the text of the speech made by Geoffrey Pattie, the then Minister for Information Technology, in the House of Commons on 25 February 1986.

As the hon. Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft) has said, Systime was founded in Leeds in the early 1970s. A vigorous and entrepreneurial approach to the market for integrated computer solutions brought it early success and rapid growth. By 1981 it had built up a turnover of more than £30 million and was employing some 1,200 people. Continued growth required expansion, so the company embarked on a major development at Millshaw park in Leeds to provide the room and the facilities to accommodate the very ambitious growth targets it had set itself.

Sadly, the completion of this development coincided with the onset of financial difficulties of the kind which can all too easily beset companies set on rapid growth. In short, the company found itself caught in the bind of a serious financial crisis requiring the injection of substantial new funds to keep it afloat.

Fortunately, such funds were forthcoming from a number of sources, including Control Data Corporation, which took a substantial minority stake in Systime in 1983. It increased this to over 90 per cent. early in 1985 in the face of continuing financial difficulties, exacerbated by the downturn in the computer market generally. Since that time, CDC has continued to stand by the company while plans were put in place for a restructuring to match Systime’s activities more closely to its available resources.

As the hon. Gentleman will know, the broad lines of that restructuring were announced last November. Inevitably, it involves some cutbacks, which I regret as much as anyone else. But I believe that the plan represents a constructive response to the problems of the past few years and I am encouraged that there now appear to be good prospects of Systime continuing as a computer manufacturer in Leeds, with a sound in-house designed and developed product range. The opportunity is there, if all goes according to plan, for Systime to build on its strengths and experience in the market place to become once more a strong and growing force in the United Kingdom computer market.

I would not want to pretend that from this point everything will automatically be plain sailing. There is much work to be done to ensure that the signs of hope for the future which I have just described turn into real results. That will require all the company ‘s energies, and I am sure it is something to which the hon. Gentleman would want to give every support.

In this context, while I fully understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about the grave issues which he has brought before the House tonight, I hope that he will agree that it is very much in Systime’s interest, and the interests of job prospects in Leeds, that we should not let the events of the past become a preoccupation or a drag on the major task that needs to be done to assure the future for the company. The hon. Gentleman must decide whether he will put the interest of his constituents first in this matter.

I turn now to the substance of the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I listened to what he had to say with great care. The hon. Gentleman was kind enough to send me a draft ​ copy of his speech which I very much appreciate. He said at the beginning of his speech that he had been “overwhelmed with evidence”. That is precisely what I want to see. The hon. Gentleman has the right to raise any matter that he chooses in the House and I am perfectly happy to respond to it. I ask him whether he believes—he does not want me to put it in the terms of the best interests of his constituents—that in the best interests of the serious matters he has raised we should be considering them in the 29 minutes and 30 seconds that we have tonight. That is his decision.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that we had a brief conversation in which he said that he would wish to see me about this matter. He will recall that I said that I would be happy to see him, as I am. I must say—this is the most fundamental point that I can make on his speech—that I need evidence. The hon. Gentleman has made serious allegations about an American company, DEC, and about various named officials in the United States Government and about officials and Ministers, unnamed, in the British Government.

I should like to deal in the limited time I have available with DEC and the so-called “Kill Systime campaign”. Systime is not the first company to have got into financial difficulties in going for rapid expansion.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pattie

I cannot give way. I am already taking up time in resisting the intervention. I should be delighted to debate with the hon. Gentleman at any time, but I am trying to respond to the points made by the hon. Member for Leeds, West.

The hon. Member for Leeds, West said that the computer market is not for faint hearts. He would hardly need reminding that the commercial world is a hard and competitive one. Companies fight, and fight hard, to survive, and it should hardly be a cause for surprise if they seek to use every legitimate means to hand to promote their commercial interests. This is the hard practical world of commerce, operating quite justifiably within the law.

The hon. Gentleman makes allegations of improper and unlawful activity to drive home a competitive advantage —indeed, to finish off a competitor altogether. If this is true, it is a very serious matter and if the hon. Gentleman has evidence— not allegation, but evidence— that the law has been broken, I hope he will bring it forward so that appropriate action can be taken. However, I have to say that I have yet to see any evidence of unlawful activity by DEC in relation to Systime.

The hon. Gentleman specifically referred to possible breaches of the treaty of Rome. As he will know, this is a highly complex area, which is essentially the province of the European Commission. On receipt of the appropriate evidence, we shall consider it.

I turn to the subject of United States re-export controls. I begin by emphasising that we fully agree with the United States on the need to prevent the leakage of sensitive technology from the West. We fully support the multilateral controls of COCOM as the United States does. We see eye to eye with the United States on the need for such controls.

However, we object to United States controls on exports from third countries of goods including United States components or United States technology. Such ​ controls are extraterritorial, and the United Kingdom emphatically rejects the implied claim of the United States to jurisdiction in the United Kingdom. The Government have made their position crystal clear on this issue on many occasions. The United States is well aware that we do not accept the validity of its re-export controls, and that we believe the extraterritorial nature of those controls to be an infringement of the sovereignty of the United Kingdom.

We cannot, however, prevent the United States Government from seeking to apply their re-export regulations to United Kingdom companies. Moreover, we have to remember that United States companies may be prohibited from supplying sensitive goods and technology to an overseas company which breaches re-export controls and that such goods and technology are often not available from anywhere else. The United Kingdom’s policy is therefore normally to allow companies to make a commercial decision about whether to comply with United States re-export controls, although we of course, stand ready to take up individual cases with the United States Government, and to do all we can to help in such cases.

When Systime was alleged in 1983 to have breached United States re-export controls by the United States Department of Commerce, the company admitted certain breaches and made it clear that it did not wish the United Kingdom Government to become involved. It preferred to handle the issue itself. This was rightly a factor that weighed heavily with the United Kingdom Government, given that the commercial interests of the company were at stake.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s concern about this issue and his motives in raising it in tonight’s debate, but Government action would, in Systime’s view, not have been in the best interests of the company, which had to live, after all, with the commercial reality of a need for continued supplies from the United States. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman would really claim that he knows better than the company what its interests were. It was Systime’s view that its best course of action lay in negotiating directly with the United States Department of Commerce. The Government would have had to think very seriously before overriding the company’s judgment on a matter which could affect its future.

The hon. Gentleman also made allegations in his speech about Ministers and officials in the Department of Trade and Industry. I entirely reject any suggestion that either Ministers, who were unnamed, or officials, who were named, have behaved improperly, or that the Government have been in any way involved in illegal acts. If the hon. Gentleman has any evidence to the contrary, I will most certainly investigate it. If not, I hope that he will not make any further such allegations.

The hon. Gentleman also made allegations about unauthorised visits by United States officials to Systime. The United States authorities are well aware of the United Kingdom’s view that investigations within the United Kingdom may take place only with the prior approval of the Government and on whatever terms we may lay down. Her Majesty’s Customs is not aware of any visit by United States customs officials to Systime.

To sum up, Mr. Speaker, I recognise and appreciate the concern of the hon. Member about the affairs of Systime. ​ He has made a series of allegations, which I take seriously, including serious allegations of illegal conduct. But if he has evidence of illegal activity he should bring it to the attention of the responsible authorities so that suitable action may be taken.

Mr. Meadowcroft

The Minister said that Systime did no wish the United Kingdom Government to intervene during its problems in 1983. That was the time when the company was trying to negotiate with companies in America which might finance it but which took a different view from Systime about where its future lay. Systime believed that it would be possible to come to a financial arrangement with DEC over alleged infringements, which in the end proved impossible. The result was that at the time Systime believed that it would be better for the Government to keep out.

Regarding the Minister’s point about bringing forward evidence, I shall do so, but the important thing is to air the matter in this way so that the case is on the record. We can go from there with all the various details that may be useful to the Minister in pursuing an important matter.

Mr. Pattie

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the matter is important. It is for him to judge, with his greater local knowledge, the best interests of the company and of his constituents and those of other hon. Members representing Leeds. If he chooses to raise the matter in this way, he is perfectly entitled to do so. I was not seeking to be gratuitously offensive. I was simply making the point that the matter is sufficiently serious to question how the matter should be first raised.

Mr. Ashdown

The Minister asked for evidence in support of the case of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Meadowcroft). Perhaps I can direct him to consider an internal DEC document which states:

“Digital-U.K. must control the movement of the hardware, software and know-how in the U.K., to ensure that DEC remains within U.S. and U.K. laws.”

I also direct the Minister to the Attorney-General’s letter to me, which states that such actions

“are unwarranted encroachments on UK jurisdiction and are contrary to international law.”

That is the legal position, so why are the Government doing nothing about it? What will the Minister do to protect not Systime—because it may be too late for that company—but other British firms to which my hon. Friend has drawn attention, which may be equally suffering from what the Attorney-General considers to be illegal action?

Mr. Pattie

The hon. Gentleman has already heard my view. I do not believe that he would like a series of pyrrhic victories in terms of taking matters to the international court, or whatever international jurisdiction may be available.

However, in the absence of evidence, I believe that the better course is not to continue to dwell on past issues regarding Systime but to concentrate on what has to be done to develop its future. I hope that all hon. Members will co-operate and agree that that is the best way to proceed.

Michael Meadowcroft – 1986 Speech on Systime Plc

Below is the text of the speech made by Michael Meadowcroft, the then Liberal MP for Leeds West, in the House of Commons on 25 February 1986.

I am grateful to have the opportunity to raise the matter of Systime plc of Leeds. I wish to set out at the beginning of my speech what I believe that the Government and the Minister should do. This will be the framework of the story of Systime plc and the Government’s role in that story.

I believe there should be an urgent inquiry, perhaps under section 6 of the Fair Trading Act 1973 or any other appropriate statute, into the key issue of whether Digital Equipment Corporation, known as DEC, the United States Department of Commerce, officials of the Department of Trade and Industry and Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise behaved legitimately in their dealings with Systime plc. The Government must act to make effective the express views of the Attorney-General on extra territoriality abuses by such companies as DEC. Urgent action is also required to enforce articles 30 and 86 of the Treaty of Rome, which refer to the dominant position being abused by a company and of trade restrictions being permissible only if they are approved by the EC countries. These articles are clearly relevant to the Systime case. The law relating to patent and copyright requires urgent review to see whether vexatious legal action which significantly harms the continued viability of a smaller company can be inhibited.

Since I first embarked on this case, I have been overwhelmed with evidence. Indeed, the question has been what to leave out rather what to put in. I have also met briefly with representatives of DEC through the good offices of the hon. Member for Surrey, North-West (Mr. Grylls), who numbers DEC amongst his financial interests. The case that I put before the House has been assembled painstakingly from numerous sources and pieces of evidence.

Within the time constraints of an Adjournment debate I cannot hope to cover every issue. Therefore, I will not deal with the vexed question of the use of legal action on alleged patent or copyright infringements to stop rivals trading. If this legal action is dragged out, it effectively put smaller competitors out of business. I will not deal in detail with the Co-ordinating Committee for Export to Communist Areas issue and the intricate problem of technology and the Eastern bloc countries—both issues are relevant.

I emphasise that I am in no way motivated by any anti-American spirit. In that respect I am at least at one with the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath) and the speech that he made at the weekend. There is a sense in which, in the longer term, what I am arguing for will help the United States and its broader role in the world. I am not motivated by any wish to score party debating points — if the circumstances had been different, the material could have ended up in any hon. Member’s hands.

I am anxious to protect what jobs remain at Systime plc and I would urge the Government to use every means possible to assist the company’s future. I do not wish to pretend that one side is all pure and the other entirely evil. Systime plc has its faults. The computer business is not for the faint hearts and no doubt there is some sharp practice in virtually every major deal. The regular movement of skilled managers and entrepreneurs between companies ​ makes the control of legitimate business confidentiality impossible. My case is simply that the odds are stacked against United Kingdom industry when it is under threat from the United States. The Government alone have the power to even up the balance and defend British industry.

I bring before the House the grave matter of Systime plc, at one time this country’s second largest computer maker. That company, based in Leeds and drawing staff from all constituencies of Leeds, has reduced its payroll from 1,200 in 1984 to about 400 today. Those 400 jobs and the fate of a major high technology manufacturer and exporter are now in jeopardy. I have a series of sworn affidavits, letters from the American Embassy in London, and other documents which show that Systime’s plight is mainly due to the illegal, improper and indecisive activities of three parties. Those parties are Digital Equipment Corporation — Systime’s major American supplier and competitor — a number of American Government officials — some based at the London Embassy whom I shall name—and a number of officials and Ministers at the Department of Trade and Industry.

The matter of Systime plc is not, as the Westland affair was, a matter of disclosure but rather a matter of law. Laws have been broken on a significant scale and frequently by those charged with upholding the law. It is not solely a commercial matter but rather of a question of legality. It involves a sustained breach of United Kingdom sovereignty, condoned by the Government—if only by default — and used as a weapon to destroy Systime. Within six years we have witnessed the destruction of a company.

I will describe Systime and its rival and supplier, DEC. Systime plc was an entrepreneurial company founded in Leeds by Mr. John Gow and others in the mid-seventies. Its major business developed around retailing of equipment purchased mainly from Digital Equipment Corporation, with additional parts and software. DEC, as Digital is known, is the second largest computer company in the world, based near Boston, Massachusetts. It built up its huge sales mainly by wholesaling equipment to companies, such as Systime, which then sold the equipment to end users.

In 1979, Systime’s management discovered that it was about 25 per cent. cheaper to buy equipment direct from DEC in the United States than from DEC’s subsidiary in the United Kingdom. DEC UK objected to the loss of profit that that implied, and persuaded DEC US to insist that equipment could be bought only from the subsidiary. Subsequently, when DEC US tried to break its contract with the Systime subsidiary in the United States, Systime’s management commenced an anti-trust action in which the British Government took an amicus curiae position. DEC drew back and agreed to a partial continuation of supply. Systime appeared to have won a breathing space, but it was only temporary. That is apparently the only time that the British Government have openly defended Systime, and, significantly, the only time that DEC has drawn back.

In 1979, DEC UK, under its American manager, Mr. Darryl Barbé launched a formal campaign known as the “Kill Systime” campaign. He had the full support of the American management. The DEC president, Mr. Ken Olsen, was subsequently overheard leaving a board-level meeting with another company, declaring that he wished to see Systime out of business. Mr. Pier-Carlo Falotti, European vice-president of DEC, said to DEC staff:

“I want you guys to go out and kill Systime.”

DEC’s most senior vice-president, Mr. Jack Shields, was regularly in the United Kingdom, supervising the events that I shall set out. Between 1980 and 1983, Systime grew rapidly, making sales to the British and United States Governments, and commencing the manufacture of ruggadised computers for the Ministry of Defence. Exports also grew to the benefit of the United Kingdom.

The British Technology Group, the Government’s investment arm, and others invested heavily in Systime. By the end of 1982 the need for new cash to support the now rapid growth of the company became urgent. That was well known to DEC, which took unique and wholly improper advantage to destroy Systime.

Besides the openly declared “Kill Systime” campaign, there was a secret investigation conducted on DEC’s behalf by a private detective agency, Network Security Services. I was told by one ex-DEC employee that Network Security Services “have contacts everywhere.”

Recalling that we are dealing with a publicly funded company, I come next to a meeting between Systime, its bankers, Kleinwort, Benson, and representatives of the Government, including the Department of Trade and Industry and others, which took place on 19 January 1983 at Kleinwort, Benson’s premises in London. Prior to the meeting, DEC’s legal representative, Mr. Harry Small, of the solicitors, Linklaters and Nines, made, among others, the following allegations based on a report from Network Security Services.

First, that Systime was illegally pirating DEC software on a large scale. Secondly, that Systime had exported no fewer than 400 DEC computers to the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc disguised as juke boxes. Thirdly, that Systime was involved in a series of other breaches of United States export regulations. Present at the meeting were all the Systime directors, Mr. Geoffrey Sterling, representing 10 Downing street and the Department of Trade and Industry, Mr. Stuart Bloc, representing the NEB and British Technology Group, and Mr. Bill Wigglesworth for the Department of Trade and Industry.

The DEC representatives made it plain that they intended to inform the United States Government of those matters. The implication was clear to intending investors and purchasers. The flotation effort failed, and a would-be takeover by STC failed which, no doubt, DEC intended should happen to any attempt to keep Systime going.

John Gow was concerned that there may have been some minor infringements, and so DEC was subsequently allowed to audit Systime’s books, at Systime’s invitation and expense. It was unable to produce any evidence for its more extravagant claims, and only a minor under-accounting for the key one. But Systime was doomed, though not adequately from DEC’s point of view. The “Kill Systime” campaign continued.

Between 1983 and July 1984, DEC obtained Systime’s crucial customer list, and it is alleged that Systime’s offices in Washington DC were broken into or that staff were bribed. In Leeds, Systime’s own shipping files were apparently raided and documents removed. Those two sets of documents, together with the report used in the 19 January 1983 meeting, were given to the United States department of commerce in Washington, which began an investigation of Systime. The Prime Minister wrote concerning the missing Leeds documents to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown). She said that British Customs ​

“were not aware of any documents which would be of assistance to them being removed from other companies by US Customs”.

Note the use of the word “other”. The Prime Minister refused to exonerate United States Customs from having illegally acquired documents. I assume that she refused to do so because she had good reason to believe that it was indeed United States Customs, or its agents, which raided Systime for the missing documents.

In July 1984, on advice from the United States Government, the United Kingdom Government instructed United Kingdom Customs to raid Systime in Leeds. It was United Kingdom Customs which discovered that the key shipping documents were not there. It took a little longer to discover that the key documents were in the United States being used as evidence against Systime by the Department of Commerce.

There were two American officials in the United Kingdom working with diplomatic status at the embassy who, according to letters in my possession, were involved in the case against Systime. The first is Mr. Jack Lacey, the head of a Customs team at the United States embassy, responsible for the de facto direction and supervision of the United Kingdom’s own campaign against the export of high technology. The second was Mr. Timothy Deal, who was directly involved in the subsequent blacklisting of Mr. John Gow, the founder of Systime. Those two officials were, I believe, involved with DEC in the Systime case.

Based on DEC’s report on the various illegally obtained documents, the United States Government found Systime guilty of violations of United States export laws. Systime was found guilty of exporting computer equipment from the United Kingdom to Pakistan, Iraq, South Africa and other destinations, without the permission of the American Government. Amazingly, it is now, and has been for some considerable time, an offence to ship high technology goods from the United Kingdom without United States Government export licences.

Systime was fined $400,000 and has had its domestic and export sales put under the direct control of the United States Department of Commerce. More important, and having a direct bearing on its fate, the company found it almost impossible to obtain supplies of equipment from any American supplier. It began to fall behind on orders. In the last eight weeks alone Systime, having waited months, has been refused United States Government permission to supply a multi-million pound computer order to West Germany from the United Kingdom.

In furtherance of this effort to eliminate Systime, DEC’s private detectives have followed Systime personnel and placed their homes under surveillance.

There are allegations in my possession of phone tapping, of breakins, and of pressure which directly or indirectly led, alas, to at least one suicide. Certainly, it would appear that Systime engineers have been followed to their customers’ offices by DEC agents. Subsequently, those sites have been visited by DEC personnel under the guise of wishing to quote for a maintenance contract. The serial numbers of machines were then noted and the original American supplier to Systime was then pressured to discontinue supply.

In the same context, DEC has made use of improperly obtained Systime customer lists to canvass Systime’s customers with, in DEC’s words, a “rubber order book”. What has the United States Commerce Department to say ​ about all this? Mr. Frank Deliberti, the manager of the compliance division of the United States Commerce Department said:

“I am going to shut Systime down. I am going to issue an (export) denial order and shut them down.”

In an internal document relating to exports from the United Kingdom, DEC states:

“Digital UK must control the movement of the hardware, software and know-how”—

presumably people—

“in the United Kingdom to ensure that DEC remains within the US and UK laws.”

There is no United Kingdom law that requires anyone to control the movement of computers, software or the know-how in people’s minds within the United Kingdom, but the fact that DEC can say it is the measure of the position we are now in the United Kingdom, as a result of the Government’s failure to act to end the monstrous imposition of United States law on United Kingdom exports and even on United Kingdom citizens—a failure that has doomed Systime and many other less well known United Kingdom companies.

In the case of Systime I allege that, first, the company has been fatally damaged as the result of a sustained campaign, much of it illegal, by DEC, Secondly, that the most damaging facet of that campaign was the move by the United States Government against Systime based on laws that, according to our Attorney-General, are:

“an infringement of United Kingdom jurisdiction and contrary to international law.”

Thirdly, based on the Prime Minister’s letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil, and correspondence between Systime, the United States embassy and the Department of Trade and Industry, I further allege that the Government had specific knowledge of the illegal removal of documents from Systime in Leeds to the United States, the spurious charges against Systime by DEC’s representatives prior to the 19 January 1983 meeting and the fact that those charges were being conveyed to the United States Government, the improper interference in United Kingdom domestic affairs of the two United States embassy officials, Mr. Jack Lacey and Mr. Timothy Deal and the fact that DEC’s application against Systime of its internal export rules demonstrates prima facie evidence of multiple breaches of at least two articles of the Treaty of Rome, which the Government are legally bound to uphold — article 86, the abuse of a dominant position, and article 30, which prohibits barriers to trade other than those agreed by the EEC.

In a real sense, the Systime case is virtually closed. DEC has achieved its major objective and now owns Systime’s lucrative maintenance contracts and, in a sense, has brought the evidence. The rest of the company, under CDC parentage, will depend on the success or otherwise of its S series computers. I wish it well. Ironically, even that success can be affected by DEC future policy.

The significance of this story is in its lessons. Why depend on a crystal ball for Westland, British Leyland or for other United Kingdom computer companies when the record exists? Virtually 20 years ago, Servan Schreiber wrote in his book “The American Challenge”:

“Current disjointed, nearsighted attempts at competition by individual European governments are inexcusable, and doomed to failure. Not only can we succeed, we must succeed. No area of industry can ever be independent if we rely on others for computers, hardware and software. If there is a battle for the future, it is the battle of computing.”

Successive Governments have allowed battle after battle to the be lost. Whether the war is lost I know not, but I am sure that the Government must act as if there is still time. What are the Government going to do to protect our future and Europe’s future?

David Mellor – 1986 Speech on Dennis Foskett

Below is the text of the speech made by David Mellor, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the House of Commons on 24 February 1986.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Bendall) has spoken eloquently of his constituents’ anxieties in this matter. Let me say at once that I think it perfectly understandable that this matter should have given rise to genuine concern. I want to set out the facts of the case as I understand them, and hope that there will be some reassurance for my hon. Friend.

Prior to the tragic events of 17 May 1985, Dennis Foskett had lived peacefully with his wife for more than 20 years. Statements before the court describe him and his wife as a devoted couple. He had no convictions but did have a history of depression which started after a bout of influenza in 1970. The depression recurred periodically over the intervening years, and his most recent illness began in April 1985, following another attack of influenza. It was so severe that he was forced to give up work because he suffered from anxiety to such an extent that he spontaneously broke down in tears.

A few days before the tragedy he consulted his family doctor, Dr. Glickman. She prescribed some drugs, which he thought made him worse, and on Friday 17 May Mrs. Foskett asked Dr. Glickman to visit her husband at home because his condition had deteriorated. Dr. Glickman agreed to visit him on her way home after she finished surgery.

At 7.12 pm the same evening neighbours saw Mr. Foskett run out of his front door shouting for help. He had ​ a hammer in his hand which he put on a dustbin lid and he kept repeating that he had killed his wife. The police and an ambulance were called and several passers by went to his assistance. He returned to the house to fetch a glass of water and some tablets which he immediately took. Mrs. Foskett was found to be already dead and Dr. Glickman died shortly afterwards in hospital, the cause of death in both cases being a fractured skull. Mr. Foskett was also taken to hospital for a stomach washout. He made a second suicide attempt three days later, which was also unsuccessful.

When Mr. Foskett appeared at the Central Criminal Court on 22 November 1985—six months later—he was convicted of two offences of manslaughter, both by reason of diminished responsibility. The court had before it three medical reports—one from Dr. Paul Bowden in his capacity as consultant forensic psychiatrist to Her Majesty’s prison, Brixton, where Mr. Foskett had been held on remand, one from Dr. Patrick Galloway, consultant forensic psychiatrist at St. George’s hospital and one from Dr. Hirst, consultant psychiatrist at Goodmayes hospital. All three doctors agreed that Mr. Foskett was suffering from a severe depressive illness at the time of the offence and that he continued to need treatment for his depression. However, they also agreed that in the six months since his offence, during which time he had received appropriate treatment for his condition, there had been a marked improvement in his mental state. In their view, so long as Mr. Foskett continued to receive the appropriate treatment for his illness, he was unlikely to pose a significant danger to other people and did not require conditions of security. It was their unanimous recommendation that treatment could safety be administered at Goodmayes hospital.

The court accepted the psychiatrists’ recommendations, making a hospital order under section 37 of the Mental Health Act 1983 placing Mr. Foskett in Goodmayes hospital, together with a restriction order under section 41 of the Act. The latter order ensures that Mr. Foskett cannot be set at liberty without the consent of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary or a decision by a mental health review tribunal.

Mr. Bendall

Will my hon. Friend say where Mr. Foskett received his treatment while he was in custody before trial?

Mr. Mellor

He was treated in Brixton prison while on remand. All that followed flowed from the judge’s order, which directed that Mr. Foskett be placed at a specific hospital. It was not a special hospital order that provided for any form of security. The evidence before the judge was that Mr. Foskett did not require any security. I stress that, because many of the powers that might have flowed from a special hospital order do not arise in this case.

As my hon. Friend realises, I cannot comment on the court’s decision. it is fundamental that the Government do not seek to interfere in the decisions of the judiciary or to question the exercise of its discretion. Parliament provides the courts with powers to deal appropriately with all types of offender, but it is for the court to decide in an individual case what the appropriate sentence should be. I can say, however, that judges at the Central Criminal Court are very experienced in dealing with cases like this one.

It is, of course, essential that courts should have full information on which to base their decisions, and that was ​ so in this case. The court had the three reports from psychiatrists, which I have mentioned, which were able to take account of the period Mr. Foskett had spent on remand, not just the few horrifying moments in which the dreadful killings took place. It also had a full description of the facilities and accommodation available at Goodmayes hospital, so that it knew precisely in what circumstances Mr. Foskett would be held and how he would be treated. If the court had been dissatisfied or worried, it could have called for further reports or made a different disposal, but it did not do so. I am sure the court thought very carefully about these matters and took the decision which seemed proper on the evidence before it.

It is normal practice for my Department, when receiving a court order, to call for copies of any medical reports which may have been made and to confirm that the placement is an appropriate one. If there seems to be any reason to think that the placement is inappropriate—for example, if we are not sure that it is sufficiently secure —we consult the responsible medical officer, but —I stress this point, as it is relevant to my hon. Friend’s anxiety—the Home Secretary has no power in such circumstances to direct that a particular patient should be transferred. Accordingly, if the patient’s responsible medical officer And the hospital managers are satisfied that the placement is appropriate, there is no action which the Home Secretary—or the Secretary of State for Social Services—can take to effect that patient’s transfer to a different hospital. That is the rub of my hon. Friend’s anxiety.

My hon. Friend has been punctilious in carrying out his obligations on behalf of his constituents, and he wrote a letter expressing his worry. That letter reached the Home Office before Goodmayes had sent details of Mr. Foskett’s reception. I immediately arranged for Dr. Knapman, Mr. Foskett’s responsible medical officer, to be consulted urgently on the suitability of Mr. Foskett’s placement at Goodmayes hospital. My noble Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security similarly arranged for my hon. Friend’s concern to be drawn to the attention of the health authority.

I am sorry that as a result of those steps being taken there was a longer delay in replying to my hon. Friend’s letter than I should have wished. I hope he understands that inquiries needed to be made. I regret that that time elapsed.

I sought to explain the position in my letter of 5 February, and further on 17 February, when I was able to tell my hon. Friend that Dr. Knapman has confirmed that in his opinion Mr. Foskett remains free of any symptoms of mental disorder and poses no risk of any sort to anyone at present and that there is no case for transferring him from Goodmayes hospital. That being the responsible medical officer’s view, there is nothing that I can do about the matter. It is for the responsible medical officer to make his decision.

That is the case at the moment, but I can certainly give my hon. Friend the assurance which he seeks, which is that I shall ensure that Mr. Foskett’s case is kept under close scrutiny, and if there is any evidence of any deterioration in his mental state or general behaviour I can assure my hon. Friend that I shall not hesitate to take up with the responsible medical officer once again the question of Mr. Foskett’s placement at Goodmayes hospital.

Although, as I have explained, the Home Secretary has no power to order the transfer of a restricted patient from one hospital to another against the advice of the ​ responsible medical officer, such a patient cannot be given permission to leave the hospital, even for a short period, without my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary’s consent. I can assure my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend’s consent would not be given unless he was ​ satisfied that the patient could re-enter the community without danger to the public. I very much hope that my hon. Friend and his constituents will have been reassured by what I have been able to tell him this evening.

Vivian Bendell – 1986 Speech on Dennis Foskett

Below is the text of the speech made by Vivian Bendell, the then Conservative MP for Ilford North, in the House of Commons on 24 February 1986.

This matter is worrying and causing considerable problems for some of my constituents. It concerns Dennis Foskett, who last November was committed for trial at the Old Bailey, having committed a double murder in May 1985.

In many respects this is a tragic case, as the two people killed were the man’s doctor and the man’s wife, who tried to intervene. The real and urgent problem that is causing my constituents and myself concern is that the court recommended that Mr. Foskett be put in an open hospital — Goodmayes hospital — which is an open mental hospital in my constituency. Obviously my constituents are concerned that this person, having committed a double murder, should be in a hospital which is generally open. It means that he has fairly easy access to the grounds of the hospital and to areas outside the grounds.

I accept that much of the problem relates to the Mental Health Act 1983, but I feel, as do many of my constituents, that a period of six months between May 1985 and November 1985, when he came to trial, is rather a short time in which to assess an individual who has committed two horrific crimes, one against his doctor and the other against his wife. Therefore, I understand the concern of my constituents. I have many letters written by my constituents concerning this matter.

One of the other concerns is that the grounds of the hospital and the gates to the grounds are open, as are the buildings of the hospital. Therefore, anybody can walk freely from the hospital building or the grounds in virtually any part of the day or night. It means that there is an element of risk to children at an adjacent primary school. Can anyone with any certainty and with any guarantee say sincerely, even with the best professional experience and advice available, that an individual who has committed such crimes may not on another occasion take it upon himself to find a way out of the mental institution, which is completely open, and commit a further crime? That is the essence of the problem which faces my constituents. I have some sympathy with them.

Others have also expressed concern about the placing of Mr. Foskett in this mental hospital. The Confederation of Health Service employees has lodged complaints with the local hospital management committee. I have also received verbal complaints from members of staff at the hospital.

I have been in correspondence with the Department of Health and Social Security and the Home Office. I am a little perturbed at the time that it has taken to receive certain answers. I originally wrote to the DHSS on 30 December and received an acknowledgement on 9 January. I then heard nothing from the DHSS or the Home Office, the DHSS having informed me that the matter was the responsibility of the Home Office. I wrote to the Home Office again on 20 January, and did not receive a reply until 5 February. This matter has caused a great deal of local concern. It has been well reported in local newspapers and on Essex Radio. There has been much local concern.

I shall give an example to the House of how easy it is to gain access to Goodmayes hospital. A reporter of a national Sunday newspaper was able to go to Goodmayes hospital quite openly. He went to the reception desk and asked which ward Dennis Foskett was in. He was directed to the ward concerned, and when he arrived at the ward he asked a doctor or nurse where Mr. Foskett was. He was pointed out to him at the end of the ward. The reporter then took a photograph and left the building. I do not condone such an attitude or such irresponsibility by a national newspaper, but it emphasises how easy it is to enter some of these mental hospitals and, therefore, how easy it would be for a patient to get out of such a hospital.

I understand the problems of my hon. Friend the Minister with regard to the 1983 Act, but I challenge that Act. I do not doubt that sooner or later someone will walk out of a free hospital and commit another such offence. Society generally wants to avoid that, and it is right that society is concerned about this issue.

I firmly believe that a period of six months is not long enough to assess someone who has committed such a crime. That person should be kept in an establishment for rather longer, so that a fuller assessment can be made. Perhaps, after a period of time, if the person is seen to be of stable nature, it might be appropriate to consider moving him to a place with more freedom.

I understand the concern felt by my constituents. I thank the House for the opportunity to bring the matter before it tonight. I hope that my hon. Friend will give some assurance that such cases in open hospitals will be closely monitored, and also that he receives regular reports from the local hospital management committee or other responsible bodies about the progress of individuals put into those institutions for the sort of offence committed by Mr. Foskett.

Roger Sims – 1986 Speech on Tobacco Advertising in Sport

Below is the text of the speech made by Roger Sims, the then Conservative MP for Chislehurst, in the House of Commons on 21 February 1986.

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am not an anti-smoking fanatic. I am a non-smoker, but I accept that many people, including members of my family and friends, find pleasure in smoking. However, I confess that I sometimes wish that smokers would be more considerate about where and how they smoke. I do not pursue a vendetta against smokers, although smokers are now in a minority in our community.

The evidence is massive and incontrovertible on the extent to which smoking is responsible for disease and death. Smoking is the largest avoidable cause of illness and death in Britain.

I commend to hon. Members the publication “The Big Kill” which analyses the figures for deaths from smoking-related diseases, the illnesses caused by smoking and how hospital beds are occupied unnecessarily. The figures are analysed district by district and give food for thought.

The chief medical officer at the Department of Health and Social Security estimates that 100,000 premature deaths per year are caused by smoking. It is a sobering figure. This very week 2,000 people died earlier than they might have done because of smoking-related diseases. If tobacco had just been discovered and had been subjected to the tests to which new products are subjected it would never have been allowed on the market. However, I accept that smoking is now well established and that prohibition would be neither practicable nor even desirable. It is certainly not practicable and I do not advocate it. However, it is the duty of Government and Parliament to ensure that the population is informed and educated about the effects of smoking. It is our duty to encourage smokers, if they will not cease smoking, to reduce the number of cigarettes they smoke. We have a special duty to dissuade the young from taking up smoking in the first place.

The Health Education Council and Action on Smoking and Health both receive some financial aid from the DHSS and they both mount energetic campaigns. However, their resources are pitifully small compared to the enormous sums spent by the tobacco industry in promoting and advertising its products. Some of that promotion is carried out by sponsorship. There are restrictions on the extent to which tobacco products may be advertised. There are health warnings on packets and on advertisements and one cannot advertise cigarettes on television.

My specific concern is the sponsorship by tobacco companies of sporting events. The purpose of sponsorship of such events is quite clearly to publicise the company and its products and services with a view to selling them. That is a perfectly proper activity and one that is carried out by banks, insurance companies and a number of commercial concerns for the purpose of getting their names across to the target audience. They may well feel that by spending their funds sponsoring a concert or a cricket match or some similar activity, they are getting to that audience more effectively than by advertising in a newspaper.

Mr. Neil Macfarlane (Sutton and Cheam)

I do not want to interrupt my hon. Friend’s train of thought and I ​ certainly agree with him that nobody in the House would accept for one moment that the tobacco companies are benevolent organisations. They are there for a commercial and presentational role. No doubt my hon. Friend will talk the House through the first three clauses in his Bill. The fourth clause is fairly straightforward. Clause 1(1) says:

“The Secretary of State may by Order make provision for the prohibition of expenditure on sponsorship by tobacco companies of sporting events,”

Is my hon. Friend able to rest easy with that, because many hon. Members on the Government side feel it is more akin to the sentiments of the Opposition? Is my hon. Friend happy and are his constituents happy with that phraseology? Which Secretary of State does it mean?

Mr. Sims

I am perfectly content with that. That is the object of my Bill and precisely the argument that I am seeking to develop, about why a Secretary of State should be given that power. I think it will be the Secretary of State for Social Services, but to the extent that we are dealing with sports matters it may be a matter for the Secretary of State for the Environment. My hon. Friend the Minister with responsibility for sport is replying to the debate so it would appear to fall within the ambit of the Secretary of State for the Environment.

I am not critical of sponsorship as a form of advertising, and cigarette companies sponsor sports events for exactly the same purpose as any other commercial concern, to sell their products and to get their names known. At some sporting functions sponsored by cigarette companies, the companies sell or even give away their products. The object is quite clearly to promote the product and get new customers for it. My objection to tobacco companies sponsoring sporting events is that it gives the impression that there is some connection, some correlation between sport, which is a good healthy activity, and smoking. The companies hope that smoking will be perceived as a healthy activity, when we all know that it is precisely the reverse.

During the past few years, general sponsorship has grown substantially. Between 1981 and 1984, the number of companies involved in sports sponsorship doubled from more than 700 to more than 1,400. The estimated expenditure on that sponsorship increased from £50 million to about £112 million. Of the 1,400 companies involved in this sponsorship, only 22 are tobacco companies, but it is noticeable that they are especially involved in the events that receive much media coverage. To their credit, sports such as swimming and athletics do not accept sponsorship from tobacco companies, and the Football Association has said that it will not accept sponsorship from tobacco companies because it does not believe that it would be appropriate to do so.

There are two important aspects of the media coverage of such events. The first is the extent to which a sponsored sport appears on television. It is estimated that, in one year, about 365 hours of sport sponsored by tobacco companies is seen on television. By far the largest is snooker, which occupies about 176 hours. Cricket occupies 65 hours and many other sports, including tennis, golf and darts, are seen for many hours on television. In all of them, the product name is seen frequently and displayed in large, unavoidable terms. Indeed, in some cases, the participants can be seen on television smoking cigarettes.

That raises the question whether the BBC is allowing its charter to be contravened, because it states specifically ​ that there shall be no advertising. The ITV rules are that there should be no advertising of tobacco products, especially cigarettes. But that is frequently done in breach of the advertising industry’s code of practice. The voluntary code of practice on tobacco products states:

“Advertisements should not imply that smoking is associated with success in sport. They should not depict people participating in any active sporting pursuit or obviously about to do so or just having done so, or spectators at any organised sporting occasion.”

Anyone who watches television for any time will draw his own conclusion as to the extent to which the code is being complied with.

One clause of the sports sponsorship agreement requires that static signs displaying the name of the sponsor or the product should be placed so as to minimise the possibility of freeze frame shots having the signs in view for long periods. Sometimes they seem to be placed so as to maximise that. Another part of the code provides that:

“House brand names or symbols on participants or their equipment or on officials of tobacco sponsored events, must not come within camera range.”

How often does one see on sports cars and on people’s clothing the name clearly shown? Hon. Members can judge for themselves the effectiveness of those agreements and codes.

What worries me especially is the effect on children. It has been estimated that a quarter of all children under the age of 16 watch Embassy snooker. It must have some effect on them. Dr. Frank Ledwith, research fellow at the department of education, university of Manchester, has carried out some very interesting research. He states:

“A representative survey of 880 children in first, third and fifth years was carried out in five secondary schools in one education authority using an anonymous questionnaire. It was found that children were most aware of the cigarette brands which are most frequently associated with sponsored sporting events on TV. Children’s ‘TV viewing of a recent snooker championship sponsored by one cigarette manufacturer was positively correlated with the proportion of children associating that brand, and other brands used in TV sponsorship, with sport. Following a snooker championship sponsored by another cigarette manufacturer, a second survey was carried out on a new sample showing that awareness of this brand, and the proportion of children associating it with sport, had increased from the first survey.”

There cannot be much clearer proof than that of the effect of television sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies.

One could ask whether all this matters, whether it is important and whether it has any effect. The fact is that children are a very good market for tobacco products. Recent figures show that 41 per cent. of children are smoking at the age of 16. This is a horrifying figure. It has also been demonstrated that between the ages of 11 and 16, children spend about £70 million on cigarettes.

This is illegal and must be a reflection upon tobacco retailers. Somebody is selling the product to children. But that is very much to the advantage of the tobacco companies. It is a lucrative market for them. There is also a good chance that if children begin to smoke at that age they will be cigarette smokers for life. It is no wonder therefore that tobacco companies believe it to be particularly worthwhile to sponsor sporting events.

My Bill proposes to prevent that kind of sponsorship. It will not stop it immediately but it will be stopped over a period of three years. It is argued that if sponsorship is banned, sporting events will collapse.

Mr. K. Harvey Proctor (Billericay)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Sims

I suspect that I am about to answer my hon. Friend’s question, but I shall allow him, nevertheless, to make his point.

Mr. Proctor

I am not sure that my hon. Friend intends to deal with it. Therefore, I should like to put my question to him before he deals with the next stage of his argument. My hon. Friend is a distinguished parliamentary adviser to the Scotch Whisky Association. Would my hon. Friend extend the principle of his Bill to whisky companies and prevent them from sponsoring sporting events?

Mr. Sims

No, I would not. My hon. Friend is right to point out the position which I occupy, but I find no difficulty in reconciling the two kinds of sponsorship. There is a clear difference between alcohol and cigarette products. If it is used in moderation, alcohol can do one good. Most of us enjoy a little alcohol. The problem arises when the use of alcohol is abused—

Mr. Proctor rose—

Mr. Sims

Let me finish my sentence. I am as concerned as anybody about the abuse of alcohol. I am involved with various committees that seek to educate and inform people about that problem. It has been proved beyond doubt that cigarettes are harmful per se. Therefore, alcohol and cigarettes cannot be compared. I have no difficulty in reconciling my views on these two products.

Mr. Proctor rose—

Mr. Sims

I do not wish to be drawn into an argument, because I want other hon. Members to have the opportunity to speak in the debate. However, I shall allow my hon. Friend to get in again because he is obviously worried about this point.

Mr. Proctor

My hon. Friend said that some people believe that alcohol does one good. Therefore he says that people should be allowed to make a choice. A number of my constituents—though not me, because I am a nonsmoker —believe that it is therapeutic to smoke cigarettes. Why does he take a different view in principle about alcohol compared with tobacco?

Mr. Sims

The short answer is that I have ample medical evidence in respect of both. The spirits industry takes it upon itself not to advertise on television. I do not think that a precise comparison can be made, but I do not blame my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mr. Proctor) for trying it on.

Some of my colleagues might suggest that the sports would collapse without the sponsorship of tobacco companies. That is hard to believe. I have said that about £112 million a year is spent on sports sponsorship. Of that, about £8 million is estimated to come from the tobacco companies. One can hardly suggest that losing £8 million would make all that much difference and that it could not be replaced. A large number of companies would be happy to take over the sponsorship. When the sponsorship by a tobacco products company was withdrawn from a London orchestra, other sponsors quickly stepped in. The statistics show that, if one sponsor withdraws, another is usually arranged within two or three months.

I am sure that the sports will find no difficulty, especially as the provisions will be phased in over a three-year period, in finding other sponsors. This applies ​ particularly to those companies I have mentioned that enjoy a great deal of television coverage. I understand that there is a waiting list of companies interested in sponsoring certain sports. One imagines that some of the up and coming companies in the electronics business would welcome such exposure.
I suggest that the Bill will not be any danger to sports. I gently point out to Ministers that the Government raised £4·5 billion a year in taxes on tobacco and that a further tax of 0·25p on 20 cigarettes would produce enough money to cover all sports sponsorship money at present received from tobacco companies.

I appreciate that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment—the hon. Member for Surbiton (Mr. Tracey) —who has responsibility for sport, will tell me that, until now, this matter has been handled by voluntary agreement and that he is negotiating a further voluntary agreement and would like to continue along that course. I understand that, but I am bound to say that experience suggests that any such voluntary agreement is likely to be breached in as many respects as the existing voluntary agreement. I suggest that the fact that a new agreement is pending does not prevent my hon. Friend from accepting the Bill. My legislation will not become active until the Secretary of State makes an order to implement it. It will be enforced over a three-year period.

Smoking is dangerous to health—it says so on every packet. Our duty is to discourage smoking. One of the best ways of doing this is by supporting my Bill, which will curtail and eventually eliminate sponsorship of sporting events by tobacco companies. I hope that the Bill has the support of the House.

Geoffrey Pattie – 1986 Speech on Sub-Post Offices

Below is the text of the speech made  by Geoffrey Pattie, the then Minister for Information Technology, in the House of Commons on 21 February 1986.

I am pleased to be able to reply to this debate and I welcome the opportunity to reassure the House, and the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) in particular, about the Government’s policy towards the sub-post office network. I am sure that he can distinguish between matters properly within the purview of the Government and matters belonging to the Post Office in its capacity as a manager.

I can well understand that the combination of a number of developments in recent years has given rise to concern among many sub-postmasters about their future in the counters business. The developments are first the urban closure programme, secondly the advent of changes in the method of paying social security benefits, and thirdly the Post Office’s current intention to move to annual revision of sub-postmasters’ remuneration. I recognise the understandable fears of sub-postmasters about the implications of those developments, and I want to take this opportunity to reassure them that the Government appreciate their concern, and to explain why it is important to keep the developments in perspective.

First, the House will recollect that the urban closure programme was debated at length in January last year. For that reason I do not propose to take time this afternoon to go over the same ground again. Suffice it to say that the Post Office was implementing a programme to reduce the size of the urban network by closing offices that were in excess of the long-standing criterion of providing offices at intervals of not less than a mile in towns. The programme was decided on for good commercial reasons, and the Government were satisfied that the proposed closures were not inconsistent with our commitment to the maintenance of an adequate post office network, or with ​ the Post Office’s statutory duty to have regard both to economy, efficiency and the social needs of the United Kingdom.

Although the debate last year was focused on the urban network, the hon. Gentleman took an active part in it, and he may recall the comments that I made on that occasion about rural post offices. In particular, I explained that the Post Office did not have any plans to reduce the size of the rural network.

That is not to say that some rural post offices do not close, and will not close in the future. I understand that there is a net loss of between 80 and 90 rural offices each year because, although new offices may open in rural areas, their number is exceeded by cases where a sub-postmaster retires or resigns and the Post Office cannot find a suitable replacement to take on the office. That has been the position for many years, and I have no reason to suppose that it will not continue.

The Post Office is well aware of the impact that the loss of a village sub-post office can have on rural communities, and is always ready to consider the possibility of arrangements to retain a post office facility in a village, albeit on a limited basis. The scope for doing so increased last year when, as part of its efforts to preserve the rural network, the Post Office agreed with the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters that some post offices could move to part-time opening.

The second development in recent years which I believe has given sub-postmasters a sense of concern has been the advent of changes in the payment of social security benefits. These included the option for people to have their benefits paid direct into their bank or building society account by automated credit transfer, or ACT, rather than collect them every week at their local post office. More recently, concern has been aroused by the suggestion that inducements should be offered to people to switch to ACT. Indeed, I regret that, whether by accident or design, the position with regard to the payment of social security payments by automated credit transfer seems to be the subject of rather widespread misapprehension. To judge from letters that I have received that topic has prompted undue and unnecessary concern among many subpostmasters and their customers. To the extent that that is the result of genuine misunderstanding, it is unfortunate. But in a small number of cases it seems to me likely that pensioners and others using sub-post offices have been deliberately misinformed and caused to worry quite unnecessarily. If that has indeed been the case, it is most irresponsible.

Therefore, I welcome the opportunity today to make the position clear.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the origin of the matter is the scrutiny that a team, reporting to my noble Friend Lord Rayner, then Sir Derek Rayner, undertook in 1979 on the arrangements for paying social security benefits. The scrutiny team recommended, among other things, the introduction of direct crediting and a reduction in the frequency of benefit payments. Those measures, together with the simplification of administration, were forecast to produce significant savings in DHSS costs.

The Social Services Select Committee substantially endorsed the recommendations, with some modifications. Following careful consideration of their implications, and after widespread consultation, the Government accepted the modified proposals, but with some important changes. In particular, the Government considered the impact of changes in payment arrangements on the Post Office network and on beneficiaries. It should be noted that the ​ Government did not take up the Committee’s recommendation that, as an incentive for beneficiaries to move to direct crediting, benefit payments should be paid two weeks in advance and two weeks in arrears.

In May 1981, my right hon. Friend, the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), the then Secretary of State for Social Services, announced that the Government had decided that most beneficiaries should have the option—I stress that this was an option, with no element of compulsion—to have their benefits paid direct into hank or other accounts. He also announced that it was the Government’s intention to move to a position where, for mothers claiming child benefit for the first time, four-weekly payment would be the norm. Mothers already receiving child benefit would have the choice of switching to four-weekly rather than weekly payment.

It was recognised that those changes would lead to a fall in Department of Health and Social Security business over post office counters, but it was forecast that this would be more than compensated for by additional business from new and existing customers. It was also recognised that within this overall picture there would be variations and in order to provide a further safeguard it was announced that the Government would make available up to £2 million over five years to help smaller sub-post offices adversely affected if the new business did not grow at the same rate as DHSS business reduced. Following discussions with the Post Office and the National Federation of Sub-postmasters, agreement on the details of the fund was announced in May 1983.

It might be noted that, so far, payments from the fund have been far less than were expected. In part this reflects the effects of the industrial dispute at the DHSS computer centre in Newcastle in 1984 but in large measure it reflects the upward trend in the volume of counters business since the announcement in May 1981.

The forecasts of new business included the effect of provisions that were subsequently enacted in the British Telecommunications Act 1981 enabling the Post Office to provide counter services for a wider range of public sector customers. Within these provisions the Post Office has been able to win a range of business including the sale of bus and train tickets and cards, which has contributed to an overall increase in the volume of counters business since 1981. For example there was an increase of 3·5 per cent. in 1984–85.

A further factor has been the lower than expected take-up of the option of payment by ACT with, as a consequence, lower than forecast savings in DHSS costs. This point was noted in a report that the Comptroller and Auditor-General prepared and published in February last year, following an investigation by the National Audit Office. The report was subsequently considered by the Public Accounts Committee which, after examining the DHSS, published its conclusions and recommendations last June in its 20th report in the 1984–85 Session.

Among its recommendations, the Committee expressed its surprise that, when the shortfall in expected savings became apparent, the DHSS did not give fresh consideration to offering direct financial inducements. The Committee recommended that early consideration be given to targeting inducements towards those most likely to be receptive to the idea. I should stress that this is a recommendation made by the PAC, not a decision made ​ by the Government. The Committee also welcomed a survey being undertaken by the DHSS of public attitudes towards methods and frequency of payment of benefits.

Together with a number of other reports from the PAC the 20th report was debated in the House on 24 October. This was shortly after the Government had published their response to the report in a Treasury minute in which we noted that the DHSS would give further consideration to the issue of inducements to accept payments by ACT in the light of the survey of public attitudes.

In response to representations we have received about the PAC’s recommendations on inducements, both I and my colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and the DHSS have made it clear that any consideration of the way in which benefits are to be paid will have regard to the effect that any changes will have on the post office network. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan) gave the hon. Gentleman that assurance when he wrote to him last September and I am happy to repeat it today.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services is therefore considering the PAC’s recommendations in the light of the outcome of the survey of public attitudes and the representations that have been received on this matter. I understand that my right hon. Friend is hoping to make an announcement on this subject shortly.

Although I cannot anticipate that announcement, I want to emphasise that the Government have always made it clear that payment by ACT is an option that is open to people to choose freely, without compulsion or coercion. We have no intention of depriving pensioners and others of the option to continue to collect their payments in cash from the local post office. We recognise that for many people, even those who have bank accounts, the weekly visit to the post office can be both an incentive to gel out of the house and a valued social occasion.

Mr. Ashdown

I am grateful for those reassuring words. I may want to intervene again, so I will try to be brief. The Minister accused certain elements of irresponsibility. I think he must recognise that if there were to be a bribe, of whatever sum—if it is as high as £50 it makes the matter worse —it would have a devastating effect. If the Government are going through the process of making up their minds, bearing in mind the considerations the Minister has mentioned, I am sure that he must realise that those who have the best interests of the sub-post office network at heart will naturally want to mobilise public opinion to impress that fact upon the Government. That is in no sense irresponsible. It seems to me to be very responsible in the best interests of the network.

Mr. Pattie

I shall move to the third development which has, in my view, given rise to concern among sub-postmasters. This debate is on a very important subject and we have limited time so I shall press on.

I want to deal with the frequency with which sub-postmasters’ remuneration is assessed. That is, of course, a matter between the Post Office and the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, and the Government are not directly involved. But, given the importance that the Post Office attaches to this issue the Post Office chairman felt that I should be aware of the background and it may be helpful to the House if I describe this as he has explained it to me. The Post Office has, since last April, ​ been involved in negotiations with the National Federation of Sub-postmasters on the sub-postmasters’ 1985 pay settlement. However, the main point at issue has not been directly one of pay, although it is related to pay. The pay offer itself that the Post Office made was in line with settlements the Post Office has secured with other pay groups within the corporation.

The issue in dispute is the frequency with which individual remuneration levels are assessed. A sub-postmaster is not an employee but an agent of the Post Office, engaged on a contract for services, and his remuneration is governed by the amount of business transacted at his office. Under the system currently in force —which dates back to 1908 —each office’s business levels and hence remuneration are re-assessed every three years. If the new level of business is higher than the old, at least 12 months’ arrears are paid to the sub-postmaster when his remuneration is increased, but there is no similar retrospective device for the Post Office if business declines. In addition, sub-postmasters have the opportunity to call for a special upward revision of their remuneration between triennial revisions if they feel that their business has increased by more than a small amount. But there is no similar opportunity for the Post Office to seek a reciprocal reduction when work falls.

The Post Office has therefore required, as part of the 1985 pay settlement, a change to a system of annual revisions. Although I understand that both sides have worked hard to try to reach a negotiated settlement there is no prospect of agreement on the sticking point of a change to annual revision. The Post Office has therefore informed the federation that it will introduce annual revision from next September and is now taking the measures necessary to put this into effect. I understand that the federation has reluctantly noted the position. The Post Office chairman has told me that compensation for the change of, on average, £90 will be paid to sub-postmasters.

Earlier in my speech I referred to the £2 million fund which was set up in 1983. I would like to tell the House ​ that Mr. Alban Morgan, the general secretary of the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, has been in touch with my officials to inquire whether there is any possibility of extending the life of the fund beyond its present closing date of 30 April 1987. Mr. Morgan has been told that the Government would be willing to consider any proposals which the federation might wish to put to us. I am happy to have the opportunity today to confirm this.

The hon. Gentleman has rightly drawn attention to the importance of the sub-post office network in this country.

Mr. Ashdown rose

Mr. Pattie

We are about to conclude and I would like to summarise.

There should be no doubt about the Government’s recognition and appreciation of the important and valuable role that sub-post offices play in the communities they serve. This is true of the local post office in the town. In rural areas the village post office very often plays a key role in the quality of village life, and the Government wholeheartedly support the efforts the Post Office is making to arrest the erosion of the rural network. Indeed, the £2 million fund for sub-postmasters was tangible evidence of our genuine concern about the network, in particular the smaller sub-offices, many of which are of course in rural areas.

But the detailed operation of the counters business is the responsibility of the Post Office board and counter management—not the Government—and this includes negotiations with sub-postmasters on their remuneration and conditions. However, it remains the Government’s policy to encourage and support the counters business in its efforts to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of its operations. It is through success in those efforts that the business can achieve success in the market place to ensure its long-term viability and preservation of the rural network.

Paddy Ashdown – 1986 Speech on Sub-Post Offices

Below is the text of the speech made by Paddy Ashdown, the then Liberal MP for Yeovil, in the House of Commons on 21 February 1986.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise the problems of the sub-post office network in Great Britain. I am grateful to the Minister for Information Technology, who has come to reply to the debate. I hope that we can take some comfort from the fact that the Minister’s responsibilities are primarily to do with new technologies. Perhaps he will have something to say about the application of new technologies to the sub-post office network in Great Britain.

There are in Britain today some 20,000 sub-post offices, a little less than half of which are in towns, and the remainder in rural areas. They comprise an essential part of the social fabric of Britain. They are also a part of our small business network, the network which the Government seek to encourage, since many employ people in their own right. All of them represent the livelihood of at least one family, frequently a couple in middle age who have sunk their life savings into the enterprise.

More importantly, every sub-post office in Britain is an essential part of the community in which it exists. For many, especially the poorer in our society who do not have cars, the local sub-post office is also the local shop upon which they rely for their groceries and essentials.

Sub-post offices are also an essential part of the system of government in Britain. They are responsible, among other things, for 70 per cent. of all Department of Health and Social Security payments. That bald figure does not express their true worth in the welfare system. For many, the local sub-postmaster provides the human face for what is otherwise a cold and insensitive bureaucratic welfare system. As we saw during the Post Office’s recent programme to close down some town sub-post offices, many people regard their local sub-post office as an essential element of their community, at least as important and valuable as the local pub, church or school.

The value of sub-post offices in not to be measured just in their contribution to Britain’s social fabric. As the chairman of the Post Office, Sir Ronald Dearing, recently admitted to me in a letter commenting on the Post Office’s profit last year of £133·7 million—incidentally, up 15 per cent. on the previous year’s figure—the contribution made by sub-post offices to the corporation’s profits is actually greater than that which derives from the main Crown offices of the Post Office Corporation. In short, the sub-postmaster and the office he runs are not only socially invaluable but also, apparently from the figures which the Post Office has collected, highly efficient.

Yet this invaluable network, this national asset, is now under threat from the Government, like so many of our other national assets. In the last three years, no fewer than 624 sub-post offices have closed and gone out of business. The number of vacancies for sub-postmasters advertised by the Post Office for which no applications have been received has risen by almost 20 per cent. in the last year alone. That is an increase of one fifth in the number of people who do not think it worth while to apply for subpostmaster vacancies.

Clearly, something is wrong. In blunt terms, running a sub-post office has recently become increasingly ​ difficult and for many downright impossible. Being a sub-postmaster was never an easy job. It requires a degree of social concern, long hours of work, a desire to serve the public and a great deal of commitment. However, the recent changes in the remuneration offered to the sub-postmaster, together with a squeeze on costs and Government threats about the withdrawal of business, are now seriously undermining the economic viability of much of our sub-post office network. For instance, between 1982 and 1985, whilst the work of sub-post offices has increased, according to the Post Office’s calculations, by nearly 4 per cent. Sub-postmasters’ pay has not even kept pace with the rate of inflation. I shall explain those figures in more detail later.

I shall give a few facts about sub-postmasters’ pay and conditions. Sub-postmasters are not employed in the accepted sense of the word. They are contracted by the Post Office to provide a service. They have no right to annual leave, although they receive a limited substitution allowance. They do not receive sick pay, although, again, there are limited substitution provisions.

They have no right of access to ACAS in the event of a dispute with the Post Office, such as is now occurring, and no arbitration agreement with the Post Office on matters directly related to pay and conditions.

In addition, sub-postmasters are required to meet the full cost of their premises and staff out of their own pockets. That last point is important, because it accounts for one of the pay anomalies which has allowed the Post Office to pretend that it is providing more remuneration to the sub-postmasters than is the case. The Post Office claims that sub-postmasters have a further income from their private business. That is correct, but such private business as they conduct shares the cost of the premises with the post office section and so saves the corporation money by reducing the costs of its element of that service.

The Post Office lumps together the remuneration for sub-postmasters, the cost of employees and the sub-postmasters’ expenses. The result is that, since 1983, sub-postmasters have been subjected to a reduced net pay improvement because they have had to supplement higher expenses. In the latest pay offer, for example, the Post Office claims to be offering a 5·5 per cent. gross improvement. In fact, that amounts to 4·5 per cent. in the sub-postmaster’s pocket because of the inclusion of expenses in the overall sum. It is 4·5 per cent., when inflation was running a full percentage point higher last year. at 5·7 per cent. Once again, it is the sub-postmaster who ends up paying out of his own pocket to cover expenses which should properly be incurred by the Post Office.

That all adds up to the fact that many sub-postmasters find it impossible to survive. I shall quote the example of a sub-postmistress in my constituency. She receives gross pay of £410 per month. That is a great deal of money, but after she has paid her expenses she is left with £300 per month for a 44-hour week, which does not include the substantial extra hours that she has to spend on paperwork. Her hourly rate is thus substantially less than that of the cleaner she must employ to keep her premises in order.

I recently asked the chairman of the Post Office, Sir Ronald Dearing, to give me the figures for remuneration paid to sub-postmasters over the past three years. On the face of it, the figures that he supplied showed an 18 per cent pay increase. However, that figure does not take ​ account of the £60 million of additional business done by the sub-postmasters in 1984–85 as a result of the DHSS dispute.

As sub-postmasters are paid strictly according to the work they do, that sum must be accounted for separately, leaving a real increase over the three years of 16·22 per cent. —a full 3 per cent. below the prevailing rate of inflation, which measured 19·3 per cent. over the same period.

All that is happening at a time when sub-postmasters’ work has increased overall by nearly 4 per cent, leaving individuals almost 7 per cent. below what they should have received merely to stand still over the same period.
That brings us to the position as it stands this year. The National Federation of Sub-Postmasters—the recognised body in these matters—has refused to accept the current offer on the grounds that I have explained. The Post Office is now free to, and probably will, impose that agreement on the sub-postmasters. There is no action no arbitration; sub-postmasters can do nothing—they can either like it or lump it. I have no doubt that the majority of them will accept it. It will place even further burdens upon them and undermine further their economic capacity to survive. It will threaten once again the overall integrity of a vital network.

At the same time, the Post Office has also imposed new conditions for pay review. As part of the last remuneration agreement, a new system of reviews of work was instituted —or rather, required. This system requires annual rather than triennial checks of work. Many sub-postmasters find this unfair. For nearly 80 years, while the volume of business has been steadily increasing through the sub-post offices, the Post Office has been content to have triennial reviews, taking advantage of the fact that the sub-postmaster remained largely unrewarded for increases in work in the periods in between.

The future business of the sub-post office network will drop because of the withdrawal of Government work. The Post Office insists on having the opportunity to cut pay as frequently as possible.

Sub-postmasters face yet another threat. The Public Accounts Committee recently recommended that pensioners and others should be offered an inducement, possibly as much as £50, to go over to the automatic credit transfer system for the payment of their welfare and pension benefits. Thus, welfare payments will bypass the sub-post office and go straight into the banks—for those lucky enough to have a bank account.

If the Government decide to implement this bribe—I call it a bribe advisedly — it will have the most devastating effect on the whole sub-post office network. It will endanger the viability of literally thousands of sub-post offices, leaving those who do not have bank accounts without a local office from which to receive their benefits. No doubt, in cold economic terms, some money will be saved for the Government, but the cost will be more than paid for by those who are among the most disadvantaged in our society and who rely on the sub-post offices as a source for their shopping, as a point of human contact and as an essential ingredient in their own community.

This amounts to a serious attack on a vital part of Britain’s social fabric. If the sub-post office network is further reduced, the number of our small retail outlets, already in serious decline, will be drastically reduced; the quality of life in many communities, especially the isolated ones, will be further diminished; the livelihood of ​ several thousand small businesses will be seriously endangered; an important and efficient contributor to the Post Offices profits will be threatened, and an important element of the British way of life in our towns and villages will be diminished.

I hope the Government will recognise the importance of what is at stake. I hope they will make it clear to the Post Office that they regard the sub-post office network as an important national asset which should not be further reduced. I hope the Minister for Information Technology will agree with me that, whatever the reasons for the Government placing a financial squeeze on the Post Office through increased external financing limits, the pressures that this creates should not simply be passed down the line for the sub-postmaster to carry. I hope that he will take this opportunity to state clearly that the Government recognises that the bribe proposed by the PAC would do terrible damage to the sub-post office network. I hope that he will, finally, make it clear that the sub-postmaster should be appropriately rewarded in this year’s pay negotiations.

What we need is a positive policy to retain our vital sub-post office network. At the very least, this must include a requirement on the Post Office to make good the deficiencies in sub-postmasters’ pay, rather than seeking to use their muscle to impose another inadequate pay deal on those who have served the Post Office and our society so well.

Denis Healey – 1986 Speech on the Strategic Defence Initiative

Below is the text of the speech made by Denis Healey, the then Labour MP for Leeds East, in the House of Commons on 19 February 1986.

I beg to move,

That this House regrets Her Majesty’s Government’s support for the Strategic Defence Initiative.

In some ways the strategic defence initiative is probably the most important issue in the field of foreign and defence policy, disarmament and high technology that the House has discussed for many years. Its supporters and opponents will at least agree on that.

On 23 March 1983, President Reagan made a speech in which he asked for a fundamental change in the basic policy upon which western security has been built since the second world war. He made this speech without any consultation with any of his allies, although NATO’s nuclear planning group was meeting at that time. He said that the

“human spirit must be capable of rising above dealing with other nations by threatening their existence … peace could not rest much longer on the threat of mutual suicide.”

The President dedicated himself to produce a defence against nuclear ballistic missiles which would make:

“nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.”

Later in Baltimore, he told schoolchildren that “the hand of providence” inspired that speech.

The President never explained how ballistic missile defence would protect the world against nuclear bombs which were carried on aircraft, such as those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, by cruise missiles, by individuals or in the hold of ships. He never explained how abolishing nuclear weapons would control conventional forces, which in an all-out war could inflict horrific damage, or how he could achieve any of his objectives without reducing the political tensions that have been the cause of the arms race. However, we can all agree that at least it was a noble vision, which has been endorsed by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

The strategic defence initiative that we are now discussing is very different from what President Reagan proposed nearly three years ago. The American Administration now say that the purpose of research is not to replace nuclear deterrence but to enhance it—to make the mutual suicide pact even more binding than it is today, and to threaten the survival of other nations more effectively. It is already clear that the Administration’s aim for the next 30 years at least will be to protect not the peoples of the world, but American land-based missiles, which are one of the components in America’s strategic nuclear triad.

“For the foreseeable future,”

the official American apologia for SDI now recounts,

“offensive nuclear forces, and the prospect of nuclear retaliation will remain the key element of deterrence.”

Therefore, simultaneously with SDI, the United States Government are beginning to deploy a whole arsenal of ​ new strategic nuclear weapons—the MX missile, the D5 submarine-launched missile and the Midgetman mobile missile. They foresee an immense increase in funding for research and development into what they call advanced strategic missile systems, which are a new arsenal of weapons that will enter service in the late 1990s when the first strategic defence is planned to be available. That must mean a stupendous acceleration of the arms race, greatly increasing the risk of nuclear war and making disarmament more difficult.

Indeed, the case against the President’s present proposals was made most eloquently by the President in his original speech when he said:

“If defensive systems were paired with offensive systems they could be regarded as fostering an aggressive policy, and nobody really wants that.”

The point that the combination of defence and offensive forces would appear to increase the possibility of a first strike against an enemy was repeated by him in his interview with Soviet journalists only last October, when he pointed out that it would make a first strike more feasible. The point was put most dramatically by ex-President Nixon when he said of the SDI:

“Such systems would be destabilising if they provided a shield so that you could use the sword.”

That is the basic case against the attempt to produce a ballistic missile defence, which is the purpose of the SDI.

It is not surprising that the SDI has been opposed in a somewhat coded way, not only by our Foreign Secretary in his remarkable speech in the middle of last year, for which I paid him tribute, but by two of the past three American Presidents—Presidents Carter and Ford—three of the past four American Defence Secretaries —Secretaries Brown, Schlesinger and McNamara—and all six of the surviving American Defence Secretaries who are opposed to breaking the ABM treaty, which would be necessary if a star wars system were to be deployed.

Faced with that threat which, to use President Reagan’s words, could make a first strike by the United States more likely, it is not surprising that the Soviet Government have made it clear that they will not sit on their hands. If SDI proceeds, they will increase the number of offensive missiles in the hope of swamping American defences, as the United Stated did by introducing multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles when the Russians first began deploying ballistic missile defences in the late 1960s, and, as Secretary Schlesinger, in a powerful. article attacking SDI, pointed out, as any Western Government would do in similar circumstances. Indeed, the Chevaline programme, which was introduced by the Conservative Government in the early 1970s, was introduced as a response to the Soviet deployment of an ABM system around Moscow.

That is not the only Soviet response. The Soviet Government will also seek to develop weapons which would either put the American space-based system out of action—the most likely weapon for that would be some sort of space bomb which would circle the world permanently—or make the system ineffective, for example by introducing fast burn into their intercontinental missiles so that the boost phase, which is the first target of the American system, would be reduced from five minutes to 50 seconds, and would take place entirely in the atmosphere, which it is much more difficult for the ​ proposed American laser weapons to penetrate. Finally, the Russians have made it clear that they would plan to develop their own space-based defensive systems.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead)

I have listened carefully to the right hon. Gentleman and I agree with him. But he has not mentioned the time scale for the development of the SDI by the Americans.

Mr. Healey

From discussions with General Abrahamson and others I understand that the Americans hope to start deploying some sort of ballistic missile defence within about 10 years, although the first system may be based on land rather than in space. The fact that the Americans are known to be researching into such systems makes it sensible for the Russians to start preparing against them now, just as western countries, faced with the possibility of Soviet systems, immediately started taking action either to swamp them or copy them.

Mr. James Couchman (Gillingham) rose—

Sir Antony Buck (Colchester, North) rose—

Mr. Healey

I shall give way from time to time, but I do not wish to conduct a seminar. I have no doubt that you, Mr. Speaker, will note the anxiety of hon. Members to speak.

American official sources have made it clear that in the next 10 years, if the arms race proceeds, the Soviet Union will be able to increase the number of its missiles much faster than the United States simply by keeping existing production lines open. Indeed, it could increase the number of its warheads from about 9,000 to 30,000 within 10 years, especially if the United States abandons the SALT II agreement, which would restrict the number of missiles, as the American Defence Department has asked the President to do.

Even that is not the full horror of the prospect before us. The United States has now admitted that it is examining the possibility of putting nuclear weapons into orbit to use as pumps for X-ray lasers. It has already carried out many tests for that purpose on its testing grounds in Nevada. It is already exploring nuclear weapons as an element in its SDI, although earlier it always said that the SDI would be an entirely conventional system.

We must never lose sight of the fact that the technologies that are now under examination could be used for offensive as well as defensive purposes. In response to papers produced by several American university teams, a spokesman for the American strategic defence initiative has already admitted that any laser weapon powerful enough to destroy a missile in the atmosphere could, with some redesigning, be used to incinerate a city. Even the non-nuclear lasers contemplated by the United States could produce climatic effects as horrific and catastrophic to humanity as the nuclear winter—a concept with which people are now becoming familiar.

Faced with that terrifying prospect, any European Government should be using all their efforts to stop the arms race from entering that new phase while there is still time. Despite the publicly expressed hostility of the French Government to the SDI, and despite the deep and public divisions in the German Government about the SDI, the ​ British Prime Minister decided to jump the gun on all her European allies and not only to endorse the programme but to offer to put British scientists at its disposal.

The Prime Minister sought to justify that sell-out by two arguments. First, she told us that the President gave her satisfactory undertakings at their meeting in December 1984 on the deployment of a space-based system. The second argument was that it was impossible to monitor an agreement to ban research into such a system. However, it is already clear that the American Administration have not the slightest intention of honouring three out of the four undertakings that they gave to the Prime Minister in Washington 14 months ago.

The first condition was that America would seek not to achieve superiority but to maintain the balance of strategic forces. On 1 February 1984, Secretary Weinberger told Congress:

“If we get a system … which we know can render their weapons impotent, we would be back in a situation we were in, for example, when we were the only nation with the nuclear weapon.”

He considered SDI as effectively giving the United States the monopoly that it had in 1945. That is not maintaining a balance in strategic forces.

Secondly, the President undertook that the deployment of a system related to the SDI— in view of the obligations that America accepted under the ABM treaty —would have to be a matter for negotiation with the Soviet Government as a fellow signatory of the ABM treaty, and with America’s allies. President Reagan was clear about the matter. On 6 November last year, in answer to questions, he said that if Russia did not agree to amend the ABM treaty to permit the deployment of a space-based defence system, he would go ahead and deploy it anyway. When asked by journalists whether he would permit the Soviet Government a veto on deployment, he said, “Hell, no.”

Mr. Weinberger made the same point in less colourful language. A year ago he stated:

“I am ruling out the possibility of giving up on strategic defence, either in the research stage or if it becomes feasible in the deployment stage.”

He refused to give up the possibility of deploying SDI under any circumstances if it proved feasible.

As the House will recall, it was that refusal even to consider negotiations that blocked all progress at the recent Geneva summit on disarmament of strategic nuclear forces. That in turn makes nonsense of the fourth undertaking, that East-West negotiations should aim to achieve security with reduced levels of offensive systems on both sides.

Both sides are now planning to increase greatly the number of their offensive systems and to increase new types of defensive weapons. There is no chance of progress on strategic nuclear disarmament unless the United States is prepared to negotiate about the abandonment of the strategic defence initiative. The tragedy is that that has become clear just at the time when the new Soviet proposals for disarmament—perhaps engendered to some extent by the fear of the SDI deployment—represent major concessions in the Soviet position, not least on intermediate nuclear forces, where the Soviets have accepted the zero option, which was first put to the Russians by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Foot) and myself when we met Mr. Brezhnev in 1981. It was also put forward by President Reagan on behalf of NATO in discussions with ​ the Soviet Union about a year later. Since the war there has never been a time when the prospects for progress on disarmament have been more propitious. There is now a real chance of doing that to which the American and Soviet Governments committed themselves when Mr. Shultz and Mr. Gromyko agreed a year ago to end the arms race on earth and to prevent an arms race in space.

The Prime Minister’s excuse for supporting the SDI as a research programme is that it is impossible to monitor or verify a ban on research and that the Soviet Union is carrying out research into ballistic missile defence in any case.

As I pointed out when we previously debated this subject during the debate on the Queen’s Speech in November, although research carried on inside people’s heads or inside laboratories is impossible to monitor without access to those laboratories, such research cannot go far without physical tests, or “demonstrations” as the Americans call them. Tests of components in a possible system that take place outside laboratories can be monitored by satellite photography and other means and are continuously monitored by the American and Soviet Governments at present. The Russians have at last offered to draw a distinction between research in laboratories and brains and the type of tests outside laboratories that can be monitored, without which such research cannot proceed very far.

The Americans have listed such tests as having been carried out by the Russians. They have described some of the preparations that they say the Russians are making to produce a ballistic missile defence. However, I understand that their interpretation of the Krasnoyarsk radar—their prime exhibit—is not shared by the British Government. I hope that the Secretary of State will come clean on that matter in his reply. Evidence given to the Defence Committee by some officials made it clear that we do not endorse the American interpretation of Krasnoyarsk. The Russians have agreed to dismantle the Krasnoyarsk system if Britain dismantles similar systems at Fylingdales and Thule. Many people believe that they are as contrary to the ABM system as is the Krasnoyarsk radar.

Mr. Michael Heseltine (Henley)

The right hon. Gentleman was responsible for many years for Fylingdales. Was it part of an ABM system?

Mr. Healey

No, it was not then, but the right hon. Gentleman and his Government agreed to develop Fylingdales as a phased array radar of a type very similar to that at Krasnoyarsk. That is a new development which the Russians have already claimed is contrary to the ABM treaty, on exactly the same grounds as the Americans claim that Krasnoyarsk is contrary to the treaty. I am glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman does not dispute that fact.

Mr. Heseltine

Perhaps I would if the right hon. Gentleman gave me the chance. I was deeply involved in the matter. The purpose of the modernised Fylingdales is no different from the purpose over which the right hon. Gentleman presided.

Mr. Healey

That is precisely what the Russians argue about Krasnoyarsk: that its purpose is to track objects in space, not to—[Interruption.] Mr. Deputy Speaker, I would love to conduct a seminar because I know that education and instruction is widely required by Conservative Members.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood) rose—

​Mr. Healey

No, I have dealt with the question of the right hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Heseltine)—

Mr. Heseltine

The right hon. Gentleman is getting carried away. The essential difference is that Fylingdales existed before the ABM treaty and Krasnoyarsk did not.

Mr. Healey

Of course Fylingdales existed before the treaty, but it is being developed in a way that is incompatible with the treaty. That is precisely the complaint made by the Soviet Government. If the right hon. Gentleman is sensitive about his complicity in the matter, and if he believes, like the Americans, that the Krasnoyarsk radar violates the treaty, let the British Government agree to the Soviet proposal to cease development at Fylingdales, Krasnoyarsk and Thule, which seem to be a perfectly sensible proposal that would not harm Western security and would relieve many people of what I believe to be legitimate anxieties.

If the West is really worried about Soviet research into ballistic missile defence or anti-satellite systems, where in some respects the Soviet Union is further advanced than the United States, it could kill those systems stone dead by accepting a ban on observable tests. None of the Government’s excuses for supporting such tests hold the slightest amount of water, since they are fully capable of being monitored.

The strategic defence initiative has become the major obstacle to stopping the arms race. It is widely agreed that it would be possible with existing means to monitor a comprehensive test ban, especially since the Soviet Government have agreed to on-site inspection. But the SDI requires nuclear tests underground of X-ray laser bombs, some of which have already been carried out in Nevada. Mr. Miller, a top scientist at Livermore, has argued in public that even the non-nuclear components of the proposed SDI require testing in a nuclear environment which can be produced only by the explosion of nuclear weapons.

The tragedy is that this opportunity to stop the arms race may be the last unless we can pop this genie back in the bottle now. What must worry many hon. Members is that the major obstacle to a reduction in strategic weapons is the American attachment to the SDI, just as the major obstacle to accepting the Soviet proposal for the zero option on intermediate nuclear forces is the British Government’s determination to go ahead with the Trident programme, although there is growing opposition even in the services to continuing that programme, since, as the right hon. Member for Henley will recall, one reason why our forces cannot afford helicopters produced by Westland is that, in a few years’ time, 30 per cent. of the new equipment budget will be taken up by Trident.

Her Majesty’s Government and the American Government together have erected a massive road block on the way to peace. All this has been compounded during the past few months by the grubby conspiracy of the British Government to encourage British scientists to leave vital British programmes of civilian research, such as the Alvey programme, and work instead on SDI research for the American Government. It is yet another sell-out to American pressure— one of vital importance to the future of British industry.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Mr. Davies) will deal at greater length with some problems surrounding the agreement made by the Secretary of State ​ for Defence, which General Abrahamson was pursuing during his recent visit to London. I hope that he will tell us a little more about the agreement, since I understand that he met General Abrahamson yesterday.

The memorandum of understanding that the Government signed with America on this matter is scarcely worth the paper on which it is written, because such memoranda can be overridden at any time by the American Congress, as Congress overrode the wartime agreement to share nuclear technology when it passed the McMahon Act, and as the Americans overrode another agreement when they cancelled the Skybolt project on which an earlier Conservative Government were relying to replace the aging V bombers. As the right hon. Member for Henley may remember, a few years ago, the Americans unilaterally broke the memorandum of understanding to produce an airfield attack weapon, the JP233. Indeed, it may have been before his time. That memorandum was signed by his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East (Mr. Pym) whom he has joined on the Government Back Benches. They seem to be a depository for former Defence Ministers.

But even if the memorandum of understanding is not overridden by the United States, it is vital that the House should know what its provisions are. We know only one thing about the memorandum: that the former Secretary of State completely failed in his stated objective to guarantee $1,500 million-worth of work for Britain. We must rely entirely on leaks, most of which are coming from the United States. However, some have come from the familiar source—the Department of Trade and Industry —which let it be known during the negotiation of the agreement that it was unhappy about the right hon. Gentleman’s failure to obtain satisfactory assurances on intellectual property rights and on technology transfer.

Connoisseurs of British politics will be intrigued by the fact that there was what psychologists call role-reversal on that occasion. The right hon. Member for Henley was trying to sell out to the Americans, and his comrade in adversity, the former Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, was trying to protect European technology. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that circumstances alter cases, although I found his posing as a great European odd when I considered his record on the memorandum of understanding on the SDI and his position on the purchase of the Trident missile.

We have been told by leaks that the Department of Trade and Industry was immensely unhappy about the provision to enable British scientists to use the knowledge which they acquire in this research and to produce products which can be transferred to other countries in commercial sale.

No information is available to the House about the provisions. There are no military security grounds for denying the House this information, and there is every reason for its having the information. Is it the case, as one of the American leaks has claimed, that intellectual property rights and technology transfer will have to be settled case by case in company-to-company contracts, and therefore the British Government have acquired no guarantees whatever in this field which will protect British interests?

The Government of the Federal Republic of Germany have said in advance— they have not yet signed the ​ memorandum of understanding—that they will not cough up any of their own money. One of the leaks I have read says that Her Majesty’s Government have agreed to provide one third of the money for any Government-to-Government contracts from the British Treasury. That is a matter of immense importance to the House. Hon. Members have every reason to be told the truth, yet we are denied it.

We are also told that there are penal cancellation clauses in this agreement in an attempt to bind any future Government to implement its provisions. I am certain that any future House of Commons will demand the same right as the American Congress has often exercised, to override a memorandum of understanding about which it has been given no information whatever.

The central issue on this agreement is a general and simple one. We all know that Britain has a substantial lead over the United States in some of the new technologies, particularly those relating to fifth and sixth generation computers which, it is hoped, will have artificial intelligence and be capable of learning. It is essential—I hope the right hon. Member for Henley agrees, in the light of his recent speeches—that we should use this unique advantage in high technology to build a European base so that Europe can compete on equal terms in these areas with the United States and Japan.

We should not sell out to the United States, and particularly to American defence interests from which there will be only a small commercial spin-off, even if we are allowed under the agreement to make use of the spin-off. I noticed the other day that the assistant head of research at IBM, who can be regarded as a fairly independent authority on these matters, says that the right word is not “spin-off’, but “drip-off.” The amount of commercial advantage which even the Americans will get out of this diversion of research and development from civilian to military research will be small compared to the colossal resources which it is planned to invest in it.

In an earlier debate my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) said that to make these points is not to be anti-American; it is anti-British not to make them. It is time that this Government got off their hind legs and started putting Britain first. The Prime Minister and the Government as a whole have shown a feckless indifference to British interests. That has characterised the whole of their industrial policy, which we have been debating at length in recent weeks, and it threatens the very survival of the manufacturing side of our economy. Feckless indifference to the interests of peace by supporting the SDI is even more dangerous.

I ask the House to vote for the motion. At least it is one means of stopping the sell-out to American pressure which is corrupting every area of our public life, both at home and abroad.

Jeremy Corbyn – 1986 Point of Order about Child Pornography and Abuse

Below is the text of the point of order made by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour MP for Islington North, in the House of Commons on 17 February 1986.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I wish to refer to the behaviour of the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) last week. Was it in order for him to pass on information which he had received privately about allegations of child sex and pornography on a council estate in my constituency? I raise this point of order because he received a letter from a constituent of mine, as I did, making allegations about a large number of people in my constituency, involving child pornography and abuse.

I wholly deplore child pornography or abuse, and I think that the best way to deal with these matters is through proper and sensitive investigation, which was going on at the time. The hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth chose, last Thursday, to make a statement to the Press Association, which appeared later in The London Standard. The effect was to make any inquiries difficult to follow, and the estate was besieged by the media, seeking salacious gossip and stories.

Through you, Mr. Speaker, I should like to ask whether the hon. Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth will, in the light of the investigations that have taken place, withdraw the statement that he made, visit that estate and apologise in person to the tenants, to whom he has caused a great deal of personal insult and hurt in the past few days.

I have raised this point of order because constituents of mine are extremely upset by the fact that an hon. Member from another part of the country should behave in such an irresponsible and disgraceful manner, which is not in the best interests of the tenants of that estate, or of the cause that he purports to support.