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8. Rev. Martin Smyth : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what discussions he has had with and representations he has received from individuals and organisations in Northern Ireland since the publication of the Government's review of the National Health Service, "Working For Patients."
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Mr. Richard Needham) : I have discussed the White Paper "Working foPatients" with a variety of interests, including representatives of the medical, nursing and management professions and members of health and social services boards, and I will be meeting several more delegations shortly.
Rev. Martin Smyth : Can the Minister name one individual or organisation that has welcomed the proposals unreservedly? Can he throw any light on the impact both on the Health Service and on patients of the recent fracturing of a main sewer in Belvoir, which is polluting the river Lagan?
Mr. Needham : As to the hon. Gentleman's second point, I am keeping a close eye on the situation and will write to him about it. On the first matter, we are involved in a whole series of discussions that are both constructive and sensible. So far, I have spoken to more than 700 senior members of the medical profession. Yesterday, I received a letter from the chairman of the British Medical Association's general medical services committee beginning, "Dear Richard", in which he wrote to express his personal pleasure at our discussions, saying how constructive they were, and how little acrimony there was. A large number of those working in the professions accept that there are many good points in our proposals and wish to work with the Government in implementing them.
Mr. John Marshall : Does my hon. Friend agree that it is high time that the campaign of misinformation and distortion against the White Paper, which is causing great fear among the most vulnerable in the community, was brought to an end?
Ms. Mowlam : Has the Minister received any representations from the plastic surgery unit at the Ulster hospital in Dundonald? If, as the White Paper suggests, the patients at that hospital are among those for whom the Government are meant to be working, why are the Government allowing one third of the 60 beds there to be closed, when there are more than 3,000 people waiting for treatment?
Mr. Needham : As the hon. Lady knows, what happens in the Ulster hospital is a matter for the Eastern health board. Since I have been Minister responsible for health in Northern Ireland, the Government have increased expenditure from £700 million to £950 million. The hon. Lady should go back to her union bosses, with whom she
Column 454is constantly in touch, and suggest that they find more efficient and productive ways of spending the money that we have given them.
9. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will make an estimate of the number of teachers needed to implement the national curriculum ; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Mawhinney : It is not possible at this stage to provide such an estimate, but it is not expected that there will be a substantial increase in teacher numbers to implement the national curriculum ; there will, however, be a need for specific programmes of in-service training for existing teachers in support of it.
Mr. Greenway : When does my hon. Friend expect to start implementing the national curriculum and by what date does he expect the implementation to be completed? What is he doing to recruit and train the additional teachers, whom he mentioned were necessary?
Dr. Mawhinney : We hope to introduce the first programmes of study in September 1990, and £30 million will be set aside over the next three years to support the implementation of the national curriculum-- including the retraining of teachers to which my hon. Friend referred.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Bowden : Will my right hon. Friend take time during her busy day to consider British Rail's proposals for the Channel tunnel rail link? Will she note that British Rail intends to send every passenger and piece of freight through central London, regardless of their ultimate destination in the United Kingdom? In view of the congestion of traffic in London and its impact on the Warwick gardens area of my Dulwich constituency, and the importance of the proposals to the economy of the United Kingdom as a whole, does my right hon. Friend agree that these matters are far too important to be left to the haphazard and ramshackle private Bill procedure, and should be scrutinised by a full public inquiry?
The Prime Minister : I know of my hon. Friend's concern, but it is British Rail's responsibility to decide the best route for international rail passenger and freight traffic. It has no alternative but to proceed by way of the private Bill procedure. I do not accept that such a procedure is inferior to a public inquiry. British Rail will have to convince Parliament that it has taken the right decisions, and it is right that Parliament should consider such a project, not least for the reasons given by my hon. Friend.
Mr. Kinnock : Does the Prime Minister understand that Members on both sides of the House and people throughout the country will regard her decision to force through her identity card scheme to be an offence against common sense and common decency? In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy last Saturday, how can the right hon. Lady put the safety of others second to her own pride?
The Prime Minister : I noted the way in which the right hon. Gentleman asked his questions. I would be grateful to him and the House if I could make one or two points--which are relevant to a decision-- [Interruption.] I am answering the right hon. Gentleman's question, which was put very sharply. May I answer his points? First, the decision we are asked to take is against the background of four decades of problems with crowd safety and two decades of hooliganism--nearly 300 people have died, and we have the worst record in the developed world. To refuse to pass in this Session the Bill to deal with problems which have already been identified, and then leave ourselves with no vehicle by which to respond immediately to the lessons from Hillsborough--including all-seating stadiums--would be a very grave decision for the House. A Bill completed in this Session would still be able to take account of any interim recommendations by Lord Justice Taylor. Not to proceed with the Bill this Session would delay by 12 months any response to these grave problems. The World Cup is coming up in 1990-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : Let me deal with the very important matter of the "membership scheme" part of the Bill. The Bill itself does not provide such a scheme ; it sets up a procedure through which others may propose such a scheme for the Secretary of State's approval. It will then have to be laid before the House. The Bill will not pre-empt any decisions that may be made by Lord Justice Taylor. I do say most earnestly-- [Interruption.]
The Prime Minister : Let me say to the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and others that the question that hon. Members must ask themselves after two decades of hooliganism is whether they wish to take responsibility for doing nothing for another 12 months.
Mr. Kinnock : The Prime Minister is right to say that this is a "very important matter". In view of that, she might have done the House the courtesy of saying that she would make a full statement, so that she could be cross-examined. In the absence of such a statement, let me say to the Prime Minister that it is five days since the Hillsborough disaster, four days since she went to the Leppings lane pen and three days since she set up the Taylor inquiry. Now she is already undermining that
Column 456inquiry. Does she not realise that by pressing ahead with her legislation she is effectively putting the vital question of identity cards off limits to Lord Justice Taylor?
The Prime Minister : I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman can quite have heard what I said, or listened to it. The timetable easily permits anything that Lord Justice Taylor may propose to be taken into account, because the Bill does not provide a national membership scheme.
I suggest that the question that the House must ask itself, and on which it must reflect very carefully--that includes the right hon. Gentleman--is whether it positively wishes, in the face of the country's record of hooliganism and its reputation, to delay for 12 months and do nothing when confronted by the deaths that we have recently seen.
Mr. Kinnock : No one is in favour of doing nothing, but what we want is effective action for crowd safety as well as for football security. The Prime Minister does not understand that. Does she not realise that she can have either what she calls an enabling Bill, or a no-holds-barred inquiry, but she cannot have both? Her course is full of utter inconsistency, as well as great vanity.
The Prime Minister : I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman treats this measure with the seriousness that it deserves. The purpose of the Bill is not only to control the admission of spectators by means of a procedure for a national membership scheme ; it also involves licences to admit spectators. I thought that the whole House agreed with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary when we suggested that in future we must have all -seat stadiums. Without a Bill we shall have no possible way of bringing that into effect. The proposals in the Bill were considered by Mr. Justice Popplewell, recommended in this interim report and confirmed in his final report. They are not being rushed. The final report was three years ago. I suggest that the House should not delay a legislative measure to enable us to take advantage of Lord Justice Taylor's recommendations for another 12 months, and that it would be negligent to do so.
Mrs. Roe : Will my right hon. Friend agree that recent inward investment decisions show that foreign companies have a long-term commitment to the United Kingdom and confidence in its economic prospects and in the policies of the Government?
The Prime Minister : Yes. Very recently we have seen three big inward investments in this country, Fujitsu in the north-east, Bosch in Wales and Toyota in Derbyshire. That is very good news. It shows that overseas companies recognise the attractions of doing business in this country. I should also point out that British companies, too, are very active in making overseas investments. We live in a global competitive trading environment and it is important that we, too, invest in other countries. So, in both ways, investment is going very well.
Column 457Army regiments on duty, particularly in frontier areas? This has now been publicly confirmed. Wil she tell the House what steps are now being taken to give adequate protection, along the frontier in particular?
The Prime Minister : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Defence is considering the problems which may arise over recruitment because of the period of demographic change that we will enter when there will be fewer school leavers. The problem is not yet serious. My right hon. Friend is considering measures to increase recruitment, and we are also considering, and hope to be in a position to say something about it shortly, the decision on the Gurkhas. We will keep the needs of Northern Ireland very much in mind.
Mr. Smith : Does my right hon. Friend agree that for many small businesses the single European market will be truly meaningful only when it is as easy to sell into France or Germany as into the United Kingdom but that at the moment the complex customs documentation is a major deterrent? What progress is being made in simplifying or, preferably, eliminating the paper work?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the single European market offers great opportunities for small companies which have often made for themselves a particular niche in the market and should, therefore, be able to sell widely into Europe. As my hon. Friend knows, we have already introduced a single administrative document which should help these companies very considerably, compared with the previous multiplicity of such documents, and we are considering further whether we can eliminate the need for such documents after 1992. That will depend on the arrangements made for that. We will look at it very carefully.
Mr. Wall : Will the Prime Minister recall that some time ago I asked her about the social, economic and family factors behind the rising number of young homeless? Is she aware that many are being charged under section 3 of the Vagrancy Act 1824 which made poverty a crime? Is not the
Column 458most graphic illustration of the inherent sickness of her market-led society the rising trend of calls to the Samaritans, 7 per cent. of which are from under 15s and 25 per cent. are from those aged 16 to 24? Will she not now reverse the policies of cuts in benefits to young people, her introduction of student loans and that family -splitting device, the poll tax?
The Prime Minister : We have made it perfectly clear that where young people are in genuine difficulty with their families interim arrangements will be made. I think that that is right. It was, I think, an amendment brought in after the hon. Gentleman first put the question to me. We are putting bed-and-breakfast accommodation on a par with income support and housing benefit. Previously, benefits selectively went to bed and breakfast. I think that that is reasonably fair. There are, of course, far more houses available than there used to be, and the hon. Gentleman will be aware that in some areas there are more council houses vacant than there are people in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. We must also give attention to that.
Mr. Rhodes James : Will my right hon. Friend consider today the continuing and unhappy dispute over the salaries of university teachers? Is she aware that the tactics of the Association of University Teachers have been widely criticised on both sides of the House and within the profession? None the less, there is a real problem that must be resolved. Will she consider today the machinery for the negotiations so that we may end swiftly this lamentable dispute and ensure that such a dispute is never repeated?
The Prime Minister : I agree with my hon. Friend that the present action by some university teachers is to be deplored. I think that the AUT should have absolutely no public support. People often say that the answer to everything is education, yet here we have the most highly educated section of the community depriving their students of an opportunity that they themselves enjoyed. That could have a fatal effect on the future careers of those students. My hon. Friend suggested that there might be alternative methods and alternative machinery. No convincing proposals have been put forward by the negotiating parties concerned. If they were put forward, we would consider them.
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