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Mr. Michael Spicer : The CEGB announced in February the award of the contract for retrofitting flue gas desulphurisation equipment to Drax power station. The board is currently considering which station should be retrofitted next.
Mr. Archer : Has the Minister grasped that it is not only the international relations of this country that are threatened by acid rain, but every industry and every activity that depends upon pure water, and that those waters that have not yet acidified are depending on their buffering effect, which is by definition a diminishing asset? Does he have no sense of urgency about this?
Mr. Spicer : We have a very great sense of urgency. That is why we will comply, and will make sure that our industry complies with the regulations under which there must be a 60 per cent. reduction in SO emissions by the year 2003.
Mr. John Evans : Is the Minister aware that there is growing concern in the Warrington and St. Helens area that the CEGB is backtracking on the proposal to install a gas scrubber in the Fiddlers Ferry power station? Will he give an undertaking that, notwithstanding privatisation,
Column 566the CEGB, or the privatised company, will go ahead with that scrubber, which is essential if acid rain in the Warrington and St. Helens area is to be reduced?
Mr. Spicer : I cannot say that Fiddlers Ferry will get the next scrubber, because that will be the responsibility of the successor company, PowerGen. However, I can give the hon. Gentleman an assurance--the assurance that I have just given the right hon. and learned Member for Warley, West (Mr. Archer)--that the regulation requiring a 60 per cent. cut in SO emissions by the year 2003 will be complied with by the industry. Which existing power stations it decides to retrofit will be a matter for the industry. However, I repeat that the 60 per cent. reduction regulation will have to be complied with.
17. Mr. Allen : To ask the Secretary of State for Energy how many miners there were in 1979 ; how many there are at present ; and what information he has of British Coal's estimate of long-term trends in future numbers working in the industry.
Mr. Michael Spicer : At the end of British Coal's 1988-89 financial year there were 81,739 men on colliery books compared with 233,163 at the end of 1979-80. Numbers for future years will depend on the performance of individual collieries and the success of British Coal in meeting the requirements of its customers.
Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware that those numbers will decline even further unless the Government take action to prevent major imports of coal? Will he look at the possibility of subsidising exported coal to the same extent as nations such as Russia, South Africa, many South American countries, Poland and Australia, subsidise their exports to this country? Will he introduce some balance into subsidy?
Mr. Spicer : First, I must draw the hon. Gentleman's attention to the fact that those reductions in manpower from 233,000 to 81,000, which are considerable, have been accompanied by an almost static production rate, which shows a tremendous, fantastic increase in productivity. Secondly, I remind him of the Government's policy to ensure that that improved performance will continue in future. That continuation will be sufficient to beat off imports. We shall not introduce either increased subsidies on the present levels, which are considerable--we have spent £9 billion of taxpayers' money in recent years, and the hon. Gentleman should remember that when he talks about coal subsidies--or import controls, because that would not be in the best interest of consumers, particularly of electricity.
60. Mr. Allen : To ask the Attorney-General how many local advisory committees on the appointment of magistrates (a) have and (b) have not made their membership publicly known ; and what further steps he is taking to encourage an end to secrecy in the appointment of magistrates.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : About half the 95 advisory committees had made the identity of their members public by the end of 1988. All committees are required to do so by the end of 1992. The Lord Chancellor and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster are encouraging committees to make the identity of their members public immediately.
Mr. Allen : Is the Solicitor-General concerned about the secrecy involved in these local advisory committees? Will he encourage the committees that have not yet responded, so that the local community is properly reflected by sex, ethnic origin and class? Will he also ensure that he finds out how many freemasons are on the committees, so that they, too, have a fair share of local magistrates?
The Solicitor-General : As I have said, the Lord Chancellor is encouraging the local advisory committees to publish their composition without delay. He is anxious that they should be broadly based and reflect the nature of the local community, as should the broad base of the magistracy itself.
Mr. Harry Greenway : Can my hon. and learned Friend give the age of the youngest magistrate? Could more and younger magistrates be appointed? That would have the obvious advantages that they would serve for a long time and gain in experience, as well as being useful on appointment.
The Solicitor-General : I cannot tell my hon. Friend the exact age of the youngest magistrate, but certainly the Lord Chancellor seeks to procure magistrates from a wide age range, including younger ones, who are more difficult to get because they tend to be more involved in their work. He will certainly take note of my hon. Friend's suggestion.
Mr. Archer : While thanking the Attorney-General for that informative reply, may I ask whether he has now grasped that the Green Papers have succeeded in uniting opposition from a diverse spectrum of opinion? Is he aware that some of us are troubled not because the proposals are too radical, but because it has not become apparent how Manchester school of economics principles will achieve the stated objective of making effective legal services avalable to the wider public?
The Attorney-General : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have observed, perhaps, that in another place on Friday, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said that it was part of the purpose of the Green Papers to stimulate debate and that they had certainly succeeded in that objective. The purpose of the Government's provisonal proposals is to ensure that the public are provided with the most efficient and effective network of legal services at the most economical price.
Column 568On the constitutional issue raised by the Lord Chief Justice, will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that the Government will do all that is necessary to ensure the long-term future independence of judges, never forgetting that the Left would dearly like to bring the judiciary within the long arm of the state?
The Attorney-General : The legal profession is certainly not one which expects, requires or seeks to be immune from change. As to the constitutional requirement of the independence of the judiciary in this country, I can give, on behalf of the Government and of the Lord Chancellor, the most categorical assurance that they hold firmly to that principle, which is absolutely central to the rule of law.
Mr. Winnick : Will the Attorney-General ensure that, whatever may be the final outcome regarding the future of legal services in this country, there will be adequate provision for the confidentiality of letters written by Law Officers about matters related to Cabinet affairs? Does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider that he was the fall guy in the Westland affair? Does he not feel deeply resentful and angry at the way in which he was used by No. 10?
Mr. Ashby : Will my right hon. and learned Friend accept from me that the Green Papers have stimulated necessary debate and that we should be looking for changes in the legal profession only where those are necessary? In the course of seeking advice on the Green Papers, will my right hon. and learned Friend also institute inquiries into the way in which estate agents up and down the country are insisting that people go to them for legal services and for mortgages as well as for the purchase of houses? Will he consider the effect of that policy on small town solicitors throughout the country who are the backbone of legal advice?
The Attorney-General : I am grateful for what my hon. Friend said at the beginning of his question with which, of course, I fully agree. It is the key to the Government's provisional proposals that they should stimulate competition, because the Government's belief in competition being very much in the interests of the ordinary citizen, in whatever area with which we are concerned, lies behind these provisional proposals. I believe that what my hon. Friend has said would form the basis of a very proper submission to the Lord Chancellor in response to the Green Papers.
Column 569members of the Bar whose future careers are involved in this matter, and not give undue credence to the aged opponents of reform in the other place, who are no more representative of the Bar than the other place is of the general public?
The Attorney-General : My hon. Friend asks that the Lord Chancellor in particular, and the Government in general, shall not give undue credence to any particular expression of opinion. It would not be the purpose of my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor to be undue in any response to what is put to him.
What is required in response to the Green Papers is, as my noble Friend has so often made clear, the fullest and the most frank and uninhibited discussion possible. At the end of the period that has been set aside for consideration of the proposals the Government will consider what the next step forward should be.
"let's kill all the lawyers"
gets the largest cheer from the audience? Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware just how unpopular lawyers are--perhaps even more unpopular than Members of Parliament? Therefore, will he ensure that they are brought to heel and that when we have a vote in this House it will be a free one?
The Attorney-General : I have just come back from a visit to the People's Republic of China where quite a large number of lawyers were killed not long ago. That country is now trying to recruit about half a million lawyers.
Mr. Shepherd : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that, despite an increase in staff, the Land Registry has admitted that there is no prospect of an immediate reduction in the unacceptable delay in handling transactions? Is my hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the current policy of compulsory registration by 1990 is sustainable? Should the time scale be extended, the backlog cleared and then calls for voluntary registration, where appropriate, made?
The Solicitor-General : My hon. Friend may know that, last year, the complement of staff was increased by more than 2,100 and as a result the Land Registry's throughput has increased considerably. Last year, some 6.4 million pre-completion, pre-contract transactions were dealt with--90 per cent. within four days and the remaining 10 per cent. within six to seven days. The problem arises with the post-completion, substantive applications where there has been an average delay of four months. With the increase in staff, those applications are now being worked off quite fast at the rate of about 112,000 since the beginning of this year, over and above the speed at which those applications are coming in. It is reckoned that the Land Registry is on course to achieve a satisfactory standard by March next year.
69. Mr. Adley : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement about the aid programmes to the Yemen Arab Republic and to the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mr. Chris Patten) : Our aid to the Yemen Arab Republic came to about £6.9 million in the financial year just ended. The programme comprises assistance for technical co- operation projects, notably in natural resources, and English language teaching, together with training. Assistance has also been provided under the aid and trade provision. In the case of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen, our aid came to just under £1 million last year, including emergency relief, colonial pension payments and a small technical co-operation programme concentrating on training and English language teaching.
Mr. Adley : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does my hon. Friend accept that in north Yemen, due to the lack of longstanding links between that country and our own, our aid programme is substantially less than that of most of our European Community partners and that in south Yemen, the needs are great, but, due to the unhappy ending of our previous relations in 1967, our assistance is extremely small? In the light of the Foreign Secretary's recent visit will my hon. Friend consider reassessing our relationship in terms of aid with those countries?
Mr. Patten : We looked at our aid programme in the Yemen Arab Republic and in its next door neighbour before my right hon. and learned Friend's visit and that is one reason why, during that visit, he announced an increase of about £500,000 in the technical assistance programmes to the YAR.
The development of our aid partnership with the People's Republic of Yemen has been held back not only by political factors, but by the lack of a memorandum of understanding on technical co-operation. That has posed administrative problems, but there is a draft memorandum with that country's Government and I hope that they will return it to us as soon as possible.
Dr. Marek : Does the Minister agree that now is a good time to improve relations with the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen? If he does, will he give careful consideration to making a generous donation to the PDRY to alleviate the floods and destruction that have just occurred there?
Mr. Patten : Following the recent floods we have been able to give help of £190,000 to the PDRY for the purchase of two Land Rovers, shelter materials and water purification tablets. I repeat what I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) ; it would help us to develop our technical assistance programme with the PDRY if it would agree a memorandum of understanding with us.
Mr. Chris Patten : I have now carried out such a review and introduced a number of improvements in our operations. These include more staff and disaster management training in the Overseas Development Administration and better co-ordination with other Departments and voluntary agencies in this country involved in disaster relief.
At the international level I have put proposals to the United Nations disaster relief office for improving the co-ordination of the response to disasters.
Mr. Moss : While recognising that this country and many others responded extremely generously, should not the international community do more to prepare in a better way for such disasters, so that it can respond in a more professional and organised manner?
Mr. Patten : I agree with what my hon. Friend said. It is important that, at the outset of the United Nations natural disaster reduction decade, we should put forward initiatives for better co-ordinating our assistance. We have proposed to the United Nations that the disaster relief office should hold an international register of pledges of specific assistance that could be cashed whenever a disaster occurred. I have also told the UNDRO that we are prepared to host a ministerial conference to take forward those ideas. I hope that that will be possible in the next few months.
Mr. Hanley : Is it not true that the British Government and people are extremely generous with emergency aid? Is it not also true that we are greatly respected throughout the world for our quick and positive response to such circumstances?
Mr. Patten : The propositions of my hon. Friend are true. I particularly commend our experienced international charities such as the Red Cross and Oxfam. We have lessons to learn from those charities and-- without requiring an excess of Christian humility on their part--they occasionally have lessons to learn from us.
Mr. Chris Patten : The United Kingdom continues to be a major supporter of Ghana's economic recovery programme, for which we announced on 1 March a pledge of a further £20 million of balance of payments finance. This brings the total of our balance of payments support to Ghana since 1983 to £92.5 million.
Mr. Knight : Does my hon. Friend agree that those figures show that the Government's record of aid to Ghana is excellent? However, does not the success in Ghana show that African countries that follow a sensible reform programme--for example, that suggested by the World Bank or the United Nations--do better than those which do not?
Mr. Patten : Yes. The World Bank and the United Nations development programme have just issued an encouraging report underlining the point made by my hon. Friend. I hope that other countries will draw confidence and inspiration from what Ghana has achieved in the past few years. I hope that they will also follow Ghana in attempting to design good social programmes to accompany the economic reform programmes.
Mr. Boateng : Given the outstanding success of the British Council library and reading rooms in Ghana, will the Minister consider extending aid and assistance to the British Council so that it can open similar libraries and reading rooms in southern Africa, particularly in Namibia, where they are much needed in the run-up to independence?
Mr. Patten : I endorse what the hon. Gentleman said about the important role played by the British Council. I am delighted that the amount that it can do in developing countries will have increased during this year. It has an important job to do in countries in the front line in southern Africa, as the hon. Gentleman said, and I am sure that we particularly need to go on training, teaching the English language and providing as much assistance as possible in Namibia as it moves towards independence.
Mr. Barron : Will the Minister reconsider that answer in view of the fact that the United States of America not only discloses its voting record in the World Bank but encourages other countries to do so? It seems to me and many others essential that people who ask for help from the World Bank should know what decisions are being taken, because that will help them to put their case.
Mr. Patten : I note what the hon. Gentleman says about the advocacy of the United States in the World Bank. It has not been as successful there as elsewhere, as we do exactly the same as everyone else in the organisation, with the exception of the United States.
It is important to remember that votes in the World Bank board are extremely rare. Our main interest is that the World Bank should be as effective as possible, but, as a matter of course, we consult widely on controversial matters that come before the board--for example, with interested environmental groups.
Mr. Patten : We are doing a good deal to encourage the World Bank and other multilateral organisations to do more environmentally. The World Bank has learnt a good number of lessons in the past few years. We also intend to do more through our bilateral programme in this extremely important area.
Miss Lestor : Will the Minister reconsider his answer about the World Bank, bearing in mind that the Canadian Government have expressed concern that matters should not be shrouded in secrecy and that more information should be available? The United States Treasury Secretary, Mr. Brady, has written to the president of the World Bank about the same issue. Remembering that things that are kept secret by the Government tend to be leaked at the end of the day, is it not important that taxpayers should know how we behave on these important matters in the World Bank, and should not the information be made available?
We should not get this out of perspective. It seems to me that, as the recent controversy over the power sector loan for Brazil has shown, when matters of controversy arise there is a good and open debate about them. The members of the Overseas Development Administration who are at present answering the thousands of letters about the proposed loan to Brazil, which I think is unlikely to go forward in the shape originally suggested, would not think that matters had been shrouded in secrecy.
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