Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of ever-increasing incursions by Albanian or Kosovo Liberation Army forces into southern Macedonia and southern Serbia and of the apprehension of KLA personnel by British personnel and their handing over not to KFOR but to the Americans at Camp Bond Steel, have you had any request from the Ministry of Defence to comment on those important events?

Mr. Speaker: No.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will remember that the Leader of the House of Commons promised on Thursday that there would be a statement from the Deputy Prime Minister when his talks with the commissioner for transport in London had reached a refined stage. Are not the travelling public in London facing a crisis at a refined stage of misery because of the political strike on the London underground? Have Transport Ministers suggested to you that they should face up to their responsibilities by making a statement to the House?

Mr. Speaker: There is a further point of order.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the lack of investment in the tube over the past four years, the clear deterioration of the tube and today's dreadful strike, and because of the statement made by the Deputy Prime Minister on Friday--a humiliating climbdown for him and a clear change in Government policy--do not the Government owe the House the courtesy of an explanation and a statement?

Mr. Speaker: Both hon. Gentlemen have raised that matter as a point of order, but it has nothing to do with the Chair.

Mr. Michael Fabricant (Lichfield): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. A few moments ago, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), said that a question was "meaningless". Is it not up to the Clerks and the Table Office to determine whether a question is meaningless? Was it not discourteous to the Table Office to say so?

Mr. Speaker: I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should worry too much about the Table Office, which can handle itself.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York): Further to the point of order made by my hon. Friend the Member for North Essex (Mr. Jenkin), Mr. Speaker. In what circumstances can we expect the Deputy Prime Minister to make a statement to the House? Is it not a normal courtesy to make statements to the House rather than at a press conference?

Mr. Speaker: That is up to the Deputy Prime Minister.

5 Feb 2001 : Column 662

Opposition Day

[4th Allotted Day]

Poverty (Wales)

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.33 pm

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I beg to move,

The term "social exclusion" conjures up many images and has been subject to a great deal of academic debate. It appears to be a moot point whether social exclusion must include poverty, but it seems to me that wherever there is an example of social exclusion, poverty is there or thereabouts.

Social exclusion is not confined to urban areas--far from it; it also exists in rural areas where public transport is poor, where village shops and post offices are closing and where the infrastructure of rural life is under threat. All of that is exacerbated by the crisis in agriculture, which has had a huge impact on the rural economy. Throughout Wales, once-bustling market towns are now quiet; the effects of out-of-town shopping and the current crisis cast a dark shadow on them. The rural post office is in danger of becoming merely a fond memory. Again, that affects people in the greatest need and those most at risk of exclusion--the elderly, the poor, the unemployed and those for whom public transport is the only means of transport.

Since taking office, the Government have stood by as one in eight of our sub-post offices have closed. Every month, Members receive a pro forma letter from Post Office Counters Ltd. about proposed closures, asking whether we know of anyone who would be interested in taking over such businesses. The advertising campaign mounted by Post Office Counters is a joke. Typically, it consists of putting up one sheet of A4 in the shop window of the nearest sub-post office for six or seven days. One would have thought that this Labour Government--of all Governments--would realise that such publicity was not very effective.

The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs has made some useful suggestions on the matter. It recommends that the Post Office should appoint a network development officer and officers in rural and socially deprived areas to ensure that unnecessary post office closures are avoided.

5 Feb 2001 : Column 663

The Committee recommends that, when it is known that a manager is about to retire, Post Office Counters should immediately initiate an active campaign to find a replacement on terms favourable to a prospective applicant.

The Select Committee calls for full implementation of the performance and innovation unit report. Let us not forget, however, that it was the Labour Government who initiated the Horizon project and who will, I fear, deprive us of our rural post offices--40 per cent. of their income is under threat and 60 per cent. of the existing network is estimated to be at risk.

Freudian slips are being made by Post Office Counters. When a decision is taken to close a given sub-post office, reference is made only to the nearest sub-post office that remains open. I have no doubt that the agenda of Post Office Counters is that of so-called rationalisation. An excellent candidate in my constituency--with an already flourishing business and an extremely good track record--was told by a Post Office Counters operative that taking over the post office was a waste of his time and "not worth it". How do we counter that?

Last Thursday, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry spoke in the House about job losses at Corus. I share the right hon. Gentleman's genuine concern at the behaviour of Corus and its chairman, but the Government must face up to the fact that they have done little over the past 18 months to two years. It should have been obvious that Corus was in some difficulty--18 months ago, the company's accounts showed a loss of £1 billion. That should have rung some alarm bells among the Government.

I do not accept that it is good enough for a Minister to claim that Corus would not speak to the Government about that or that a Minister could have remained in ignorance--in the strictest sense--of what was going on. I always thought that Governments had certain economic levers available to them; after all, they have an interest in our communities and in maintaining a good manufacturing sector. Unfortunately, it appears that they have done nothing. During Labour's time in office--more than three years--16,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost in Wales alone.

Mr. Huw Edwards (Monmouth): The hon. Gentleman mentions discussions between Corus and Ministers. I should be interested to know whether he has held discussions with the chief executive and chairman of Corus. I assure him that, on the Monday before the announcement, my Labour colleagues held discussions with the chief executive and chairman, who told us categorically that no decision had been made on any plant. If he was telling the truth, it shows that the decisions were made in only two days; if he was not telling the truth, it shows both deceit and the contempt in which he holds the work force, Parliament and the Government. Does the hon. Gentleman agree?

Mr. Llwyd: I certainly partly agree, but I agree most definitely about last week's behaviour. I was making the point that it has been known that the industry was in difficulty for more than 18 months, and that operating aids could have been offered. We should be considering better regional policies, given the disparity between the south-east and the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom.

5 Feb 2001 : Column 664

I take the point made by the hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. Edwards) and I certainly could not condone such behaviour, but the risks have been known for some time and the Government have been inactive. Until I hear differently, that is my view. During Thursday's statement, I specifically asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what help had been offered to Corus. His answer was that I should find out what the National Assembly had done. With respect, his reply did not take the matter much further, and it tends to support my view that very little has been done. We can think about what happened to Rover.

Next Section

IndexHome Page