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Sir Anthony Meyer : We all agree on the importance of small rural schools, particularly for social reasons. Does my hon. Friend share my satisfaction that Clwyd county council will now have to choose between having its cake and eating it?
Mr. Roberts : I am not exactly sure of the implications of the fact that, as I understand it, the Labour party now has a majority of one on Clwyd county council. However, that position carries with it an obligation for Labour members to chair all the committees, which, hitherto, the Labour party has avoided doing.
Mr. Grist : My right hon. Friend and I met the Welsh health authorities' chairmen's committee on 30 November 1988. The main subjects discussed were the NHS review ; resource allocations for 1989-90 ; manpower issues ; and obstacles to efficient management. We are to meet it again on 15 May for a full discussion of the NHS review White Paper "Working for Patients".
Mr. Michael : Does not the Minister consider the topic of 10-year hospital plans of sufficient importance to warrant a special meeting with individual chairmen? Now that he has had more than seven months to consider the South Glamorgan health authority's plan and the Vale of Glamorgan by- election is out of the way, will he reject the plan as it stands, and also the ill-judged closures in it?
Mr. Grist : The hon. Gentleman was one of two Members of Parliament who made representations about the South Glamorgan plan and we know where he stands. As he says, the plan is before the Department and I cannot comment on it, but we have taken careful note of the representations that he made.
Dr. Marek : Will the Minister give the House the figures for hospital waiting lists in 1979 and the latest available figures? Will he give an estimate of how much the figures have been massaged in the Government's favour by the removal of day cases and self-deferred cases during this Government's period in office? Will he remember the promise that he made two years ago that one year ago no person waiting for in- patient treatment in Wales would have to wait more than a month? The waiting list is appalling and has, if anything, become worse. When will he tell the health authority chairmen that the Government are going to carry out that promise?
Mr. Grist : If the hon. Gentleman can contain himself, he will have to wait one more week until the latest statistics are published. However, the general point should be made that the more successful a service is, the bigger its waiting list seems to become, because more people are referred. It is clear that when a new service becomes available more and more people pile in on it and are referred to it by their general practitioners. Twenty years ago there was no waiting list for hip operations ; now, an unprecedented number of people are having them.
Mr. Stern : I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree that however few registered dock workers are left in the ports of south Wales, there will be even fewer if there is a dock strike in the next few weeks? Does he agree that, as a Bristol Member, I am the perfect disinterested party to ask this question, since if there is trouble in the south Wales ports it will inevitably redound to the benefit of Bristol?
Mr. Roberts : I agree that there is really no reason for a strike, and if there is one, it can result only in a further loss of jobs. It would help us all--dockers and the House--if the Opposition declared their attitude to a strike unequivocally. Are they for a strike or against it?
The ports in the scheme in Wales have suffered a reduction in the number of jobs over the years and a decline in trade, whereas the non-scheme port of Neath has experienced an increase of about 60 per cent. in the tonnage that passes through it.
25. Mr. Allen : To ask the Attorney-General if he will make a statement on the White Paper on the reform of civil procedure and progress made to date by the working party on multi-party actions and legal aid and their effects upon work-related personal injury claims.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : The civil justice review, to which the Government gave their response on 6 April 1989, proposes a radical reallocation of business between the High Court and the county court. In addition, the Legal Aid Board has been conducting a detailed study of the opportunity for, and funding of, multi-party actions. It is expected to publish its preliminary conclusions and to go out to general consultation in the very near future.
Mr. Allen : Neither the White Paper nor the working group seems to address the difficult problem of personal injury claims. It is difficult to pursue such claims even when, as often happens, they are legitimate. Will the Minister consider extending the strict liability rule and examine the burden of proof so that legitimate claims can be pursued more effectively?
The Solicitor-General : On the contrary, the civil justice review devotes a great deal of its attention to personal injury claims and brings forward some far-reaching proposals for speeding up justice in this area and for making it less expensive.
The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : About 3.3 million cases have been handled by the service since it began. The commitment and professionalism of the staff throughout this early period have impressed me greatly. Understaffing of lawyers in some areas has, from the outset, been a serious handicap. It has imposed heavy burdens on those in post, but staffing levels are now improving following last year's improvements in pay. Independent
acknowledgement of growing strength in the performance of the new service has recently come from the chairman of the Magistrates Association, the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Metropolitan police. This I believe to be well deserved, and it is most welcome.
The Attorney-General : There has certainly been an improvement in recruiting following the increases in pay to which I have just referred. I have, of course, always to remember the need for a satisfactory career structure, and the fact that there is an overall shortage of lawyers nationwide.
Column 550Bow street magistrates, the papers were delivered by the police complaints bureau in May and a decision on prosecution was not taken until December? Could that in part have been due to the fact that the inner London staffing of the Crown prosecution service is still lamentably low?
The Attorney-General : All that it would be right for me to say about a detailed case, following a reply to an open question about the Crown prosecution service, is that in the instance to which the hon. Gentleman refers, matters are more complex than may have been conveyed by press reports.
Mr. Lawrence : Will my right hon. Friend agree that the Bar Council's response to the Green Paper, particularly as it refers to the Crown prosecution service, has been most constructive? Will he confirm that the cost to the Crown prosecution service of instructing solicitors is exactly double the cost to the service of instructing people from the independent Bar?
The Attorney-General : It is certainly true that solicitors' overheads, being higher than those of barristers, have led to a substantial increase in the amount that is paid to solicitors who act as agents for the Crown prosecution service. I am glad to endorse what my hon. and learned Friend says about the quality of the Bar's response to the Green Paper.
Mr. Nellist : Given the increasing number of homeless young people prosecuted in London under the Vagrancy Act 1824 and the fact that the Crown prosecution service appears to prosecute without question, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to explain what purpose is being served? Why are the Crown prosecution service and the police apparently conducting special nightly sweeps of young people and putting them in court the next morning? In view of what has been said about the understaffing of the Crown prosecution service, is not this a wasteful and vindictive use of public resources?
The Attorney-General : No case is prosecuted by the Crown prosecution service without question, to adopt the hon. Gentleman's phraseology. Nor is any sweep carried out by the service in London or anywhere else. The Crown prosecution service is bound by the guidelines established for the conduct of prosecutions, which have statutory authority. I am aware of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this subject and I read the report today in The Guardian.
Mr. Favell : While the Crown prosecution service has had teething problems, is not the service now dealing well with the new time limits for remand cases in the experimental areas set by the Home Secretary, and has not that released a large number of policemen back on to the beat?
The Attorney-General : That is absolutely true. When the matter was brought forward by the Royal Commission, about 600 police officers were estimated to have been released from court work. I have no evidence to suggest that that is not the case and that the police are not back where the public want to see them--on the beat. As for timings, it is an important change that cases must now reach the court within a certain time after committal, and that is being well met by the Crown prosecution service.
Mr. John Morris : Will the Attorney-General take the House into his confidence about the state of morale of the CPS? Is not the pay of those in the Government legal service in a complete mess and are not the comparabilities providing difficulties between one part of the service and another? How many have joined the CPS this year, having resigned as magistrates' clerks, leading to substantial difficulties, including the cancellation of some courts?
The Attorney-General : The right hon. and learned Gentleman will not expect me to give detailed answers to all those questions, but I will look into the matters he raises and write to him about them. Those who serve the Crown prosecution service--after a wide programme of visits since the service began--are deeply committed to its work. Of course they would like to see recruiting up to full establishment, and there has never been any doubt that there is a shortfall ; I have mentioned that today. I believe that pay is competitive now, but it must be kept carefully under review.
Mr. Winnick : I notice that the Attorney-General smiles. Given the remarks of Sir Leon Brittan, is it not now clear that there would have been no leak of the letter which the right hon. and learned Gentleman wrote as Solicitor-General had not "express approval"--I am using the recent words of Sir Leon Brittan--been given by the Prime Minister's chief press secretary and political secretary? In view of the Attorney-General's reply to my main question, did not he feel very much let down by the way in which the No. 10 Downing street staff behaved? How can he be reassured tht such behaviour will not occur again?
The Solicitor-General : The investigation of the affairs of the Gloucester United Schools charity, which has been conducted with the assistance of counsel for my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney- General and for Gloucester county council, is well advanced. My right hon. and learned Friend hopes to be in a position to reach a conclusion in the fairly near future.
Mr. French : I note my hon. and learned Friend's statement, but will he accept that it is now more than six months since the Treasury Solicitor first instituted his part of the inquiry and more than 15 years since the county council first failed to account correctly for its stewardship of the assets of the charity? Does he not feel that the beneficiaries have been patient for long enough?
The Solicitor-General : A careful examination of a period of 15 years is well advanced after six months. That is not bad going. I hope to be able to assist my hon. Friend more fully in the fairly near future.
Mr. Field : Given the great success that the Crown Agents have in arranging training for overseas personnel in various skills such as public administration and legal work, and the fact that the Government have returned an enormous number of training functions to the private sector, is it not time that the Crown Agents were privatised so that the training of overseas students can be performed by the private sector and the functions even expanded?
Mr. Patten : As I made clear last December, our legislative ambitions have to be reconciled with pressures on the legislative timetable. We have now completed the restructuring of the Crown Agents, to which I referred last December, and I have every confidence in their ability to discharge their functions effectively. I am delighted that they have won an extremely important contract from the Japanese aid programme to help with the procurement of Japanese aid in Africa.
Mr. Gow : Knowing my hon. Friend's zeal for the privatisation programme, what injury would be done to those who are now receiving service from the Crown Agents if the Crown Agents were to be privatised?
Mr. Patten : I am ready to concede straight away that my hon. Friend is an expert on my zeal. He is right to refer to my zeal in relation to the Government's privatisation programme. I can assure him that no damage would be done to the excellent work that is done by the Crown Agents were they to be privatised. However, privatisation needs legislation and legislation needs time.
Mr. Chris Patten : I recently approved an allocation of £20 million for phase II of the family welfare project in the state of Orissa. This project is directed towards the health care of mothers and children with special emphasis on poor tribal groups in rural areas. It complements our
Column 553village health care programme in Gujarat and long-standing support for national programmes on leprosy, malaria, blindness, cancer and nutrition.
Miss Widdecombe : I congratulate my hon. Friend on that reply, but will he assure the House that wherever possible health care programmes and direct attacks on poverty are integrated properly with education? Without education the other two factors are superfluous.
Mr. Patten : I am sure that my hon. Friend is right. We try to integrate our health programme in India and elsewhere with other programmes. We are trying to do that with our major education programme in Andrha Pradesh, for example, and to integrate also health care with our slum improvement programmes in Hyderabad, Visak, and elsewhere.
Mr. Chris Patten : Since the outbreak of the civil conflict in Somalia last year, we have provided assistance totalling some £2.45 million for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. We provided a further £2.73 million in support of programmes run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for the benefit both of Sudanese and Somali refugees in Ethiopia.
Ms. Mowlam : I am sure that the Minister is well aware of the level of malnutrition that exists in many refugee camps in Ethiopia. In Hartisheik refugee camp, for example, more than 30 per cent. of children aged under five are defined as malnourished. Will he outline his plans to provide water and food to the camps before malnutrition and disease break out, rather than after?
Mr. Patten : I hope that the hon. Lady will not misunderstand me when I say that I do not think that the immediate problem is lack of resources in the camps in the Ogaden. When I visited those camps a few months ago, they had a considerable number of organisational problems that I took up with Mr. Hocke , the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, when I returned to London. Considerable problems still exist there. Many have been brought to our attention by non-governmental organisations to whom I spoke a couple of weeks ago, and I shall be bringing them to Mr. Hocke 's attention when he visits London later this month.
Mr. Baldry : Given that there are Somalian refugees in Ethiopia, Ethiopian refugees in the Sudan, and Sudanese refugees elsewhere in the Horn of Africa, is not the root cause of so many difficulties the eternal strife and civil disturbances within those countries? When will the international community as a whole get a grip on the Horn of Africa and start helping those countries resolve some of their internal difficulties? Otherwise, there will be an endless saga of malnutrition and starvation.
Mr. Patten : My hon. Friend is entirely right in saying that the major cause of distress in the Horn of Africa is civil conflict in the countries he mentioned. I fear that our ability to provide humanitarian relief to those in need is greater than our ability to make that humanitarian relief
Column 554unnecessary in the first place. However, my hon. Friend makes an important point. We make a good deal of effort ourselves--bilaterally, through the Community, and through other channels-- to bring about peace in that region.
33. Mr. Tom Clarke : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what was the level of aid given to Nicaragua by Her Majesty's Government in 1988, expressed as a per capita sum of the population of Nicaragua.
Mr. Clarke : The Minister did not mention bilateral aid. Will he bear in mind that the warmth of the welcome given by the people of Great Britain to President Daniel Ortega at the weekend suggests that we should support positive policies that will assist a country which has been savaged by a war not of its own making, which has lost 60, 000 people, and where there is clearly a need for investment in education, health care, and the rest? Will the Minister take this great opportunity to open a new chapter in the relations between this country and Nicaragua?
Mr. Patten : The hon. Gentleman's account of public joy is somewhat selective. It remains our policy to concentrate bilateral aid programmes on the poorest countries and on Commonwealth countries as much as possible. There are 60 countries in the world poorer than Nicaragua.
Mr. Soames : Does my hon. Friend agree that Nicaragua's thoroughly reprehensible regime is far less deserving of aid than the excellent programme that he is running in Gujarat? Does he agree also that it would be better to concentrate aid in that particular area?
Mr. Patten : I am conscious that countries such as Malawi, Bangladesh and Nepal have per capita GNPs about one fifth of Nicaragua's. As for what my hon. Friend said about the political situation in Nicaragua, I think that the whole House should be looking for action, not just words.
Miss Lestor : No doubt the president has informed the Prime Minister of some of Nicaragua's problems, particularly those arising from the war and other difficulties. Can the Minister give an assurance that when he considers the needs of Nicaragua and its progress--especially on human rights, and education--he will ensure that no aid to Nicaragua or any other country, however poor it may be, will have any connection with the supply of arms by us?
Mr. Patten : There is certainly no connection between defence sales and civil aid. That is made clear in the statute setting up my Department and in my programme, and it remains true, whatever recycled Guardian stories may say to the contrary.
No doubt the president of Nicaragua made a number of interesting observations to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister this morning, and I should be surprised if my
Column 555right hon. Friend the Prime Minister did not make a number of interesting observations to the president of Nicaragua.
Mr. Chris Patten : We are making available to the Government of Nigeria a grant of $100 million for 1989 in support of its economic adjustment programme, which has the backing of the International Monetary Fund.
Mr. Watts : Now that Nigeria is making welcome moves towards economic recovery and stability, would it not be appropriate for the Commonwealth Development Corporation to consider investment in Nigeria in support of the growth of the private sector?
Column 556progress with President Babangida, who is to visit London this week. I am sure that my hon. Friend is right to refer to the Commonwealth Development Corporation, which is indeed exploring the possibility of working in Nigeria and has already visited that country for some initial discussions.
That the draft Magistrates' Courts (Remands in Custody) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the draft Social Security Miscellaneous Provisions Regulations 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.
That the Social Security Benefit (Dependency) (Amendment) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1989 (S.R.(N.I.), 1989, No. 103) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. That the Social Security (Contribution) (Amendment No. 2) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1989 (S.R.(N.I.), 1989, No. 104) be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. John M. Taylor.]
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