Inside Parliament: Commons 'lost for words' on IRA mortar attacks: MP deplores Home Secretary's 'strange silence' - Receivership move is welcomed - Inquiry into 'racist' housing policy demanded

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The capital's premier international airport suffers three IRA mortar attacks, television and the press devote thousands of words to the ensuing chaos, and yet the Commons is given no report and no opportunity to question the Home Secretary. 'It does seem strange,' observed Terry Dicks, whose Hayes and Harlington constituency includes most of Heathrow airport.

Just as he had done on Friday, Mr Dicks, a Conservative, used a point of order to call for a statement from Michael Howard. The whole country was talking about the busiest airport in the world being under threat, he said.

'There are discussions taking place about the lack of security, which I don't believe, in the press and from Opposition MPs. And yet, as the MP with the airport in his constituency, I have no way of raising it in this House and I find that deplorable.'

His Tory colleague and neighbour, David Wilshire said that Sunday's mortars had taken off in his Spelthorne constituency and landed in it. 'My constituents therefore rightly expect me to inform this House that the last thing they want is a knee-jerk over-reaction,' he said.

'The other thing they would want the House to know is that they have absolutely no intention whatsoever of being bombed into submission by evil psychopaths.'

Mr Wilshire would seem to have little further need of a statement. The Speaker, Betty Boothroyd, said the MPs' views would have been heard by ministers and whips on the Government benches - but the Commons blackout was maintained.

Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, enjoyed the unaccustomed support of all parts of the Commons when he promised early legislation to try to safeguard jobs in firms that go into receivership.

The move follows a Court of Appeal judgment which made it more likely that workers would be dismissed in the first 14 days of receivership.

In a barbed welcome, Robin Cook, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, said it was particularly important to remove the threat to receivers. Bankruptcies were running at one every 90 seconds of the working day and showed no signs of reducing 'despite the promises of recovery'.

Mr Cook hoped the President's praise for the skills of receivers would be made known to ministers responsible for Customs and Excise, who, over the past five years, had achieved 'a staggering four-fold increase' in the number of companies they put into bankruptcy. Would Mr Heseltine remind the tax authorities that 'it is in everybody's interest, including their own, that businesses should be kept as trading enterprises rather than put out of business by government departments'?

Julian Brazier, Conservative MP for Canterbury, complained of the 'bias' in insolvency law towards banks in the way creditors were paid. This provided 'a disincentive for unscrupulous bankers to put companies into receivership and instead simply put them straight into liquidation'.

Mr Heseltine said there were nearly 3,000 receiverships every year, and in nearly half it had proved possible to save all or part of the business. 'This practice will be placed in jeopardy with all that that means for jobs, commercial activity and business confidence.'

Tony Banks, Labour MP for Newham NW, called for a ministerial inquiry into what he termed the 'terrible racist' housing policy of the Liberal Democrat-controlled Tower Hamlets council in east London. He accused the council of 'exporting' its homelessness problem by placing families - mainly Bengalis - in private rented accommodation in other boroughs. Short-hold tenancies were used and the families then became a charge on the receiving authority.

According to the Bengali National Association, up to 400 families had been forced out of Tower Hamlets by the council, Mr Banks said during a debate on housing. 'If one looks at the racism of the BNP . . . you don't need to when you've got the Tower Hamlets Liberals to provide all the racism you actually need in that part of east London.'

Frank Dobson, Labour's spokesman on London, later contrasted the pounds 1.6bn, which he said had been spent in taxpayers' subsidies for the Canary Wharf office development, with the pounds 20m spent on housing for local people.

Speaking during the Second Reading of the London Docklands Development Corporation Bill, a private measure, Mr Dobson tried to explain why the people of the Isle of Dogs were so dissatisified that they elected 'a Nazi' to represent them (a BNP member was elected to Tower Hamlets last September).

He said 16,000 homes had been built in the LDDC area, but only 4,000 for council or housing association tenants at rents local people could afford.

On the Isle of Dogs, 3,055 homes had been built but only 583 at low rents. There were 3,500 people out of work in 1981 and 5,500 in 1993. Housing waiting lists had risen by one-third since the LDDC came into existence and the number of homeless had almost trebled to 4,800, Mr Dobson went on. 'Local people are outraged that billions of taxpayers' money has been poured into the marble halls of the speculators. It is the epitomy of the all that is wrong with this country. When people move into that office block, they will be looking down on the only part of Britain which has, in recent times, voted for a fascist to represent them on the local council.'

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