Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Nicholls : There is always a problem about employing people of the right calibre. If my hon. Friend is concerned about resources, I can tell him that the Government gave an extra £6.7 million in 1988-89 and for 1989-90 provision will be enhanced by a further £8.8


Column 148

million. That will result in an increase of about 10 per cent. in the number of inspectors employed as construction inspectors.

Mr. Heffer : Why does the Minister have to be so defensive? There is a growing number of deaths and serious injuries in the industry. There were about 157 deaths last year. Is it not clear that the growth of lump labour and self-employment is making a serious contribution to the level of deaths and injuries? Is it not also clear that we are not training the correct people in the industry because of a lack of apprenticeships and so on? Is it not clear that some people put profits before the interests of the workers in the industry? Whatever the Government are doing, it is not enough.-- [Interruption.] I am talking about people dying.

Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman is having a long run.

Mr. Heffer : It might be long, but I am talking about the deaths of ordinary, honest working people who are dying in the industry because of the Government's lack of responsibility towards them.

Mr. Nicholls : The hon. Gentleman started better than he finished. I am not being defensive. When I replied to the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) I said that the prime responsibility for health and safety must remain with those engaged in the industry. The hon. Gentleman suggested that the deaths are being caused by a growth in lump labour. There is more to it than that. It is true--the figures bear it out--that if there is a boom, one sees such figures. If the hon. Gentleman wants a standard of comparison--perhaps he does not--I shall provide it. He rightly referred to the 157 deaths occurring now but in the last boom in 1975--a date that the hon. Gentleman will remember--there were 182 deaths a year. Whether the figure is 182 or 157, I accept that it is too high.

Mr. Strang : Does not the report published last week by the Health and Safety Executive on its construction site safety blitz amply demonstrate that the proposed increase in the number of safety inspectors for the industry from 90 to 100 is inadequate to tackle the widespread dangerous working conditions in the industry? What is the Minister's response to the offer by the Union of Construction and Allied Trades Technicians to put its 160 full-time officials on loan to the Health and Safety Executive for one day a week to act as part-time safety inspectors, with their wages paid by the union?

Mr. Nicholls : The Health and Safety Executive has to consider any offers that it receives and decide how such offers fit in with the task it has to perform. The report, "Blackspot Construction" showed that 90 per cent. of deaths between 1981 and 1985 were preventable and 70 per cent. could have been prevented by positive management action. Information such as that points the way forward.

Employment Training

11. Mr. Anthony Coombs : To ask the Secretary of State for Employment how many people have taken places on the employment training programme in 1988 ; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Fowler : Employment training has made a very successful start. Currently there are about 110,000 people


Column 149

in training with training managers. Unemployed people clearly recognise the benefits the programme has to offer and the opportunity it provides to help them get a job.

Mr. Coombs : I welcome the figures given by my right hon. Friend and the fact that 12,000 people in the west midlands are on the employment training programme. Does he agree that one of the most important aspects of the programme is that it appeals particularly to older workers with large families who were previously on high state benefits? Given the coming demographic trends wth the fall in the number of school leavers, it is that group that British industry most needs to retrain and re-skill.

Mr. Fowler : I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. Unemployment is falling faster in the west midlands than anywhere else in the country. Employment training is a major programme for long-term unemployed people and it has been introduced at a time when there are 700,000 unfilled job vacancies in the economy. That is the opportunity for unemployed people.

Mr. Leighton : Is it not the case that the client group for employment training is 1,147,000 and that the target for the programme is 600,000 in one year, which means that it is 300,000 at any given time? Therefore is it not the case that the programme is reaching one in 10 of the client group and achieving only one third of the Government's target? Does the Secretary of State regard that as a success or failure.

Mr. Fowler : The programme is developing and reaching more long-term unemployed people than before. In addition, there are 700, 000 unfilled vacancies, many of which can be filled without any training whatsoever. Therefore, there is a mixture of unfilled jobs and opportunities through employment training. However, I welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for employment training. I only wish that the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) would do the same.

PRIME MINISTER

Engagements

Q1. Mr. Yeo : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House I shall be having further meetings later today.

Mr. Yeo : Has my right hon. Friend seen today's press reports that the consultants Arthur Young who were commissioned by the Football League recommended that the Government's proposal for football should be welcomed and implemented in the interests of the game? Will she take steps to encourage Arthur Young to publish the full report and make it available to Members of Parliament?

The Prime Minister : Like my hon. Friend I have seen reports of the report. Of course it is for those who commissioned the report to decide whether it should be made available to hon. Members. I hope that they will do so. I recall that on 9 November the Government published


Column 150

the report of the working party under my hon. Friend the Minister responsible for sport. I hope that others will follow that advice.

Mr. Kinnock : The police, football supporters, players and administrators are all strongly opposed to the Prime Minister's compulsory identity card scheme. Just for once, why does she not listen to their voices of experience and knowledge, and scrap the idea now?

The Prime Minister : No. I do not accept what the right hon. Gentleman says. When one examines the record of hooliganism and the numbers of arrests which took place last year and during this season, it is time that we accepted the original recommendations of the Popplewell committee and introduced a national membership scheme for designated grounds.

Mr. Kinnock : The Police Federation, whose members, for obvious reasons, are acknowledged experts on this subject, say that "This scheme is not going to work. When it breaks down, it will do so on match days and give rise to the threat of even worse disorder than it seeks to suppress."

Does the Prime Minister not understand that the problem of hooliganism is now not inside the grounds but away from the grounds? In the very course of completely missing that point, her scheme will add to the problems of the police and people living near football grounds and of the genuine fans without touching the thugs.

The Prime Minister : No. The fact that people can easily get into matches without membership cards of any kind attracts a particular type of hooligan to that place, both inside and outside the grounds. We have taken many steps to deal with that. We are now taking up the recommendation in the original Popplewell report that there should be a national membership scheme. Last year there were 6,147 arrests at football league matches and 6,542 ejections from the grounds. The taxpayer has to foot the substantial bill for the extra police presence outside the grounds every Saturday to limit the violence and aggression for which football provides a focus. Clubs that have introduced 100 per cent. local membership cards have had very much better records since they have done so and families can once again watch football in those grounds.

Mr. Kinnock : Anyone who knows anything about football realises that the Prime Minister is talking through the back of her neck. The number of arrests inside football grounds is a fraction of the number she gives. The mere supervision of the scheme that she is trying to introduce will incur, because of police presence and expense, a cost vastly greater than that incurred at present.

The Prime Minister : When it comes to speaking through the back of the neck, I cannot hold a candle to the right hon. Gentleman. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Let us get back to the question.

The Prime Minister : Clubs that have introduced membership cards have a much better record inside their grounds, and find that hooligans are not attracted to the areas outside them. We should observe the enormous improvement that has come about among those clubs and take up the proposals considered by the working party, which were made by Mr. Justice Popplewell when he first addressed the problem.


Column 151

Mr. John Carlisle : Will my right hon. Friend come to Luton Town football club on a Saturday afternoon, accompanied by the Leader of the Opposition? [Interruption.] Would she like to go through the middle of the town which, because of that club's membership scheme, enjoys peace and quiet, and where there is no intimidation of ordinary citizens, and where football hooligans do not exist? The people of Luton and of every town in the United Kingdom look forward to the introduction of the membership scheme.

The Prime Minister : We believe that Luton's example should be followed, to benefit football and its spectators.

Q2. Sir Russell Johnston : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Sir Russell Johnston : Does the Prime Minister accept that her Minister's description of Prime Minister Shamir of Israel as a "reformed terrorist" was not meant as an insult but as a compliment? Will she use her influence to persuade him to talk to the other reformed terrorist, Yasser Arafat, in the interest of both their peoples and of peace in the middle east generally?

The Prime Minister : There has been no change in our middle east policy. Some years ago, we laid down three conditions to be met before we would talk to any PLO members. Those three conditions were met, so we thought it right that the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office should talk to the PLO. I have asked Mr. Shamir to come here so that we can discuss the matter. It will take considerable time for any negotiations to get under way. Nothing can be started before the new United States Administration is well in position and have decided precisely what is their policy. Meanwhile, we believe that the answer to the deep-seated problems of the middle east is negotiations that honour the rights of all parties. It is our purpose to get those negotiations going under the United States' leadership.

Q3. Mr. David Nicholson : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer my hon. Friend to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Nicholson : Is my right hon. Friend aware of the steadily worsening situation in the Sudan and of the resulting suffering and deaths there? Given Britain's historic ties with that country and the excellent administration that existed there in colonial times, will my right hon. Friend tell the House what assistance--whether material supplies or diplomacy--Her Majesty's Government are able to provide in the current emergency?

The Prime Minister : For the reasons that my hon. Friend gave, we are very much aware of the conditions in the Sudan. It has been very difficult to conduct relief operations there, particularly in the southern part of the country, although we have contributed to the world food programme's airlift into Juba in the southern part, and the recent International Red Cross operation. We provided £15.4 million in emergency assistance to Sudan last year, and are ready to give further help in 1989. [Interruption.]


Column 152

I would have thought that Opposition Members would be quite pleased that we had provided £15.4 million in emergency assistance. Not in the least : they could not care less.

Q4. Mr. Robertson : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Thursday 17 January.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Robertson : The Prime Minister referred to three conditions laid down for talks with the PLO. As the Government have now agreed in principle to a human rights conference in Moscow to be held in 1992, can we assume that when President Gorbachev comes to Britain--at the end of this month or next month--Mr. Bernard Ingham will be giving a different impression to the press about a possible royal visit to the Soviet Union?

The Prime Minister : I am not quite sure which point the hon. Gentleman expects me to take up from that somewhat muddled question, which started in the middle east and went on to the human rights conference. We have agreed in principle to a human rights conference in Moscow, but only provided that our demands for certain improvements are fully met, not only in particular cases but in Soviet law and in relation to basic guarantees of freedom. I believe that it was right to take that stance.

When Mr. Gorbachev comes here the arrangements that we had before will persist, under which, of course, Her Majesty the Queen has graciously agreed to receive him. We do not answer hypothetical questions about invitations before they have been received--not on this side of the House.

Mrs. Currie : Has my right hon. Friend read the remarks made by Mr. John Hickey of the Civil and Public Services Association, who has said that claimants will receive a worse service when social security jobs are moved out of London? Apart from the fact that the service could not be much worse in London anyway, does my right hon. Friend accept that my constituents are insulted at the notion that a job has to be done in London to be done well? Will she reassure us that the Government will make every effort to move public sector jobs out of the capital into the rest of the country, particularly the midlands, where they will be very welcome?

The Prime Minister : I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. I am frequently asked at this Dispatch Box whether we will make arrangements to move jobs from London and the south-east to areas where they are more needed. It is not always easy to do so, and it is very disappointing that when we make such arrangements to have those jobs the better carried out, the unions oppose us. I hope that they will reconsider the attitude that they have taken.

5. Mr. Bradley : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 Janury.

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Bradley : Has the Prime Minister read the report in today's Daily Express that her Agriculture Minister has met farmers 37 times and consumer representatives only twice? Will she now sack him and replace him with someone who represents consumer interests seriously?


Column 153

The Prime Minister : I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that my right hon. Friend the Minister will receive representatives of consumer interests who wish to make representations to him. We must also remember that it is in the interests of farmers, and those of the entire food industry, for them to strive to produce food of the highest possible quality. Of course, farmers too are consumers.

Mr. Boswell : Has my right hon. Friend noticed the suppression of democratic opinion in Prague that took place at the weekend? Does she agree that it has made no contribution to either the image or the reality of the common European house?

The Prime Minister : I expect that many of us saw scenes on television in which peaceful demonstrations in Prague in memory of a student who had taken his own life were forcibly broken up, and were somewhat dismayed. I think that that fully justifies the approach that we took--that we would not attend a human rights conference in Moscow unless certain strict criteria were met. Although much is said and many improvements have been made, such things are still going on, and we could not possibly attend a human rights conference in Moscow unless we observed improvements in what actually happens, as distinct from good speeches.

Q7. Mr. Nigel Griffiths : To ask the Prime Minister if she will list her official engagements for Tuesday 17 January.


Column 154

The Prime Minister : I refer the hon. Gentleman to the reply that I gave some moments ago.

Mr. Griffiths : Does the Prime Minister think it is fair that cleaners in hospitals in Edinburgh should be robbed of their pension rights and of all sick pay because of her policies?

The Prime Minister : I do not accept that that is the case. Those who work in the National Health Service have had a far better deal under this Government, because of increased resources, than they have ever had before.

Mrs. Maureen Hicks : As a representative of an inner-city area, could I have the reassurance of my right hon. Friend that in view of the worsening problem of the availability of cocaine, and in particular crack, the Government have taken every possible step to eradicate the problem in its infancy before it is allowed to increase to the state it has in America, where it is proving impossible to curtail?

The Prime Minister : Yes, of course that is our aim. It is indeed a very dangerous drug and we shall do everything possible to see it does not get the kind of hold here that it did in America. Of course, that is more easily said than done. We shall strive to do everything possible to achieve that objective.


Next Section (Debates)

  Home Page