Previous Section Home Page

Column 726

Finally--I will be very brief--there is the now well-known statement by Sir Leon Brittan. The Lord President will be thankful that I do not propose to regurgitate the subjects that he and I have so often bandied across the Floor of the House. I think, however, that it would be healthy if the Prime Minister were now to come to the House and say, "Yes, Mr. Ingham and Mr. Powell did keep me fully informed about the progress of my quite improper idea to get the Solicitor-General to write a letter and then leak it. They kept me fully informed about the role of Sir Leon Brittan, and when I was under pressure I did tell a self-preserving fib to the House of Commons.'

Parliament really cannot operate properly if Ministers, however senior, get away with lying.

6.45 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone) : I wish to raise three issues, two briefly and one somewhat more thoroughly. The first, touched on briefly by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess), is the problem of itinerants and their proper control.

In my constituency, which has designated sites, we have had persistent trouble with itinerants for many years. We have had outbreaks of trouble in Headcorn, Staplehurst and Hunton, but now we are suffering a serious outbreak in Marden--and I mean trouble in the truest sense of the word. My constituents have been physically threatened, and in one case assaulted, by people who have encamped themselves illegally without permission, and who insist on staying. It is not very surprising that they insist on staying when enforcement procedures are so inadequate for what is required, and when the workings of the law take so long that any itinerant can encamp himself illegally, get connected up to essential services and sit and laugh while the authorities try to remove him, no matter what trouble he may be causing. This is not a new problem ; it is an extremely old one, and is certainly not peculiar to my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon. Yet there is a lack of will to tackle the problem, and I do not believe that we should adjourn until we have examined it in rather more detail. It is not very difficult to make the law easier to enforce. If, in accordance with the recommendations of the Carnross report, we made stop notices applicable to caravans--as they are to other dwellings and constructions--it would be possible to bring about immediate enforcement of the law. If we made it impossible for people to obtain connection to services when illegally encamped, it would be much more uncomfortable for them to stay. Meanwhile, the nuisance continues and there is an absence of will. I find it difficult to face my constituents in Marden when I can deliver them no promise of firm action. The problem has been raised time and again, and I know from experience that action is unlikely to be forthcoming.

Secondly, I should like to raise two issues connected with the aerodrome at Headcorn in my constituency. The first is the nuisance of low-flying aerobatic planes, which have caused considerable problems to neighbours. They certainly appear to have flown lower than they are supposed to, and on one occasion one of them came out of the aerodrome on to a road. I have in my possession a petition signed by hundreds of Headcorn residents.

Almost more serious is the problem of parachuting at Headcorn. I am sure that the House will remember two

Column 727

instances in the past two years of civilian parachutists being killed as a result of collision with aircraft. The first concerned one of my constituents, a young girl making a jump for charity, who fell on to the rotating blades of a helicopter that was on the landing ground. When I raised the issue and asked how landing parachutists and aircraft taking off could possibly have been allowed to mix, I was told, "It was her first jump : she was inexperienced. Had she known what to do, the tragedy might have been averted." The second incident did not involve a constituent, but it happened at Headcorn. This was a very experienced civilian parachutist, again a young girl but in this case on her 35th jump. As she was landing, she fell on to the propellors of an aircraft. It would be very simple, and it would alleviate a great deal of distress both to relatives and to others, to separate completely, by law, the areas where parachutists land and those where aircraft land and take off. I have no idea why that suggestion is being so comprehensively ignored and why such a mountain is being made of what I believe would be a molehill of legislation that could save lives.

It will come as no surprise to my right hon. Friend if I make a plea to him that is in line with the third matter that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon. At this moment, as we propose to adjourn for the spring recess, during which we shall not consider any legislation, there is a law that allows one child in an incubator to be loved and cherished and to have all the resources of medical science put at his or her disposal in an effort to save it while another child, of exactly the same age, at exactly the same level of development and with exactly the same level of sentience, can be dismembered alive in its mother's womb.

If hon. Members can adjourn for the spring recess leaving a law of that sort on the statute book, there is something seriously wrong. I urge my right hon. Friend at least to use the time offered by the spring recess to reflect seriously on the fact that we shall not let this issue rest, that it will not go away and that it is a thoroughly bad law that treats two identical children in such a completely different way.

Every time that an hon. Member raises the plight of the unborn, my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham) gets to his feet and demands to be told why we are not talking about those who have been born. My hon. Friend's interest in handicapped children and his own position with regard to a handicapped child are known and respected. However, when he talks about handicapped children, I do not intervene and demand to be told why he is not talking about old-age pensioners. When another hon. Member is talking about old-age pensioners, I do not ask why he or she is not talking about single parents. If another hon. Member refers to single parents, I do not demand to be told why he or she is not talking about the disabled in general. It is foolish to say that if one is raising the plight of the unborn one cannot therefore possibly care about those who have been born and that one is neglecting one's duty towards them. I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East to reflect on that fact.

An anomaly of our crazy abortion laws is that the Infant Life (Preservation) Act 1929 provides that it is illegal to destroy a child who is capable of being born alive

Column 728

but that it is perfectly legal to poison the foetus before abortion in order to ensure that it is not born alive. A horrific anomaly of that kind requires urgent attention.

Then there are the activities of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service. That service seems to be limited entirely to terminations. We have had endless reports of unsympathetic treatment when those who turn to the service for help say that they do not want terminations. There is the case of the Carlisle baby who was born alive but who is still not registered. The request for an inquest was turned down, although an inquest would normally have been a formality. My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon referred to the fact that the overwhelming majority of hon. Members are in favour of some reform of the abortion law, although I recognise that there is division as to where exactly the line should be drawn. Despite that overwhelming majority, a small group of people, arrogant in their motives, wish to thwart the will of Parliament. Their methods and procedures are impudent and they have consistently frustrated the will of the House.

Why would it be such a major shift in their thinking if the Government decided to deal with this question? If embryology is a fit subject for the Government, if a small baby not yet 14 days old in the womb is a fit subject for the Government, how much more is it a fit subject for them when that baby is fully developed and sentient at 18 weeks? I have asked my right hon. Friend before, and I ask him again now, to say when this matter will receive the attention that Parliament wants it to receive and that the country wants it to receive but that a tiny group of people are determined that it should not have.

7.4 pm

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : My concern is the catastrophic decline in the population of the African elephant, due to illegal ivory poaching, which is becoming more desperate by the day. It has reached the point where I do not believe that the House should adjourn for the spring recess until we have had a full debate on the subject.

Recent reports from conservation groups have produced incontrovertible evidence to show that we are now at a critical point. Ivory poaching activity has increased dramatically over recent months and years. One of the problems is that a number of dirty wars are going on in Africa--civil wars and terrorist activities. Those wars are, in part, being financed by the illegal trade in endangered species--live animals and animal products, especially elephant ivory and black rhino horn. The trade is abominable and immoral and a crime against the living world.

I know that there is considerable sympathy in the House for the plight of the African elephant and that the Leader of the House shares that concern. He answered a question to that effect last week. Words, however, are insufficient. We need political action, which must be immediate and dramatic. Time is not on the side of the African elephant.

The population of African elephants has fallen from 2.3 million in 1970 to around 700,000 today, and 80,000 African elephants a year are being slaughtered. It is believed that by the year 2000, if the current trend continues, the African elephant will be all but extinct. Although it is claimed that there is a 50 : 50 balance between legal and illegal ivory trading, I estimate that

Column 729

perhaps 75 per cent. of all ivory trade is illegal at the outset. That is because certain corrupt African Governments and officials give export permits to illegal ivory.

The convention on international trade in endangered species--an organisation that is supposed to be regulating this

trade--retrospectively legitimises what it knows to be illegal ivory. There have been a number of examples in this country. A recent example involved a shipment of illegal ivory that was landed at Gatwick airport--1,464 kilos from Zaire. After CITES allowed the tusks to be renumbered, the Department of the Environment granted a licence. It appears that that process is about to be repeated again, this time with a cargo of 1,025 kilos of illegal ivory, again from Zaire, which is now at Heathrow airport.

Why is that allowed to happen? Why does CITES accept money from ivory dealers, for example, which must put in question its impartiality? Why does the Department of the Environment retrospectively legalise cargoes of illegally imported ivory? Britain is clearly being used as one of the world's major staging posts for the passage of illegal ivory which then goes to Dubai, Hong Kong and Japan, often with false papers, where it is made into jewellery, billiard balls and snooker balls, carvings and piano keys for export back to Europe and North America.

I ask the Leader of the House to put it to his colleagues, because I know that he is on our side, first, that the British Government must impose an immediate ban on the import and export of raw and worked ivory as an example both to the world and, in particular, to the EEC. We must do that as a prelude to establishing a worldwide ban on the ivory trade.

Secondly, there must be a ministerial inquiry into the actions of the Department of the Environment in colluding with CITES in legalising retrospectively the illegal import of ivory. Ivory that is known to have been illegally imported and that is impounded at the port of entry should not be auctioned off or legalised. It should be seized and destroyed. That is the only way to try to stop the trade. Thirdly, the Government should insist that CITES must no longer accept funding from ivory dealers. Fourthly, the Government should give immediate assistance by means of human and material resources to those African countries that are desperately trying to protect their remaining elephant herds from the activities of poachers. In certain cases, the British Government should give military assistance, if that is requested.

The African elephant is one of the largest, most gentle and most intelligent creatures on our planet. It would be a crime against the world if we allowed the African elephant to become extinct. This country, with all its special connections, cannot stand by waiting for someone else to take action. The screams of the slaughtered elephants of Africa should torment our consciences until firm, decisive and, above all, immediate action is taken. The elephants of Africa desperately need action to save them. The country demands action, and the Government should not hesitate to act.

Column 730

7.9 pm

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : I support the motion, because I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will take the opportunity to study care in the community during the short break. We know that the Government are deliberating on their response to the Griffiths report. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House has any part in those deliberations but I hope that, if he has, he will take the opportunity to study some of the reports being prepared in Bolton. Bolton has been described by the district audit committee, in a report produced in September last year, as

"very much to the forefront of developments nationally." Bolton has had a pilot scheme for care in the community since the concept was first heard of in Britain. The town was visited by the Select Committee on Social Services when it was preparing its report. The council has now produced a comprehensive report entitled "A Way to Go : Goal 2000". An active handicap action group has been set up, and it has campaigned and produced reports.

My concern was aroused strongly during the general election campaign when a number of parents came to me and said that they were unable to cope with their problems at home with grown-up children who, because of mental handicap, still had a young mental age. Because of plans to close hospitals, they were left in great doubt about the future for their children. They wanted to know what provision could be made to avoid the development of a two-tier service, in which people coming out of the closed -down hospitals would be provided with adequate dowries, whereas others would be left with a second-rate service, if anything. The tension between the voluntary carers who often have to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week of the year, and people who are employed by the local authority on a nine-to-five day, five days a week with plenty of holidays, became clear.

One of the ladies to whom I spoke said that she could not accept the power that the local authority held over her life in determining what care services should be provided. The worst aspect of the care services is that those in need of care get the least. The report prepared by the council makes that only too clear. When it talks about people who have challenging behaviour--the most difficult to look after--it found that there was virtually no service provision specific to the needs of those people. In other words, the more help people need, the less they get. Is is unrealistic to regard local authorities as the salvation for these problems. I take some exception to the conclusions reached in the Griffiths report, paragraph 30 of which says : "If community care means anything, it is that responsibility is placed as near to the individual and his carers as possible."

Sir Roy Griffiths argues that the priorities should be determined "as local as possible and with the locally elected authority." That does not necessarily follow. I do not see why we cannot set up locally based groups- -they may be called neighbourhood care groups--and follow through the first part of Griffiths recommendation that

"responsibility is placed as near to the individual and his carers as possible"

We should give as much of the budget provision and responsibility as possible to those groups, and let them be run by voluntary carers. That is what people want. That is what the Bolton Handicap Action Group, which is chaired

Column 731

by John Seddon, and which has achieved official recognition as the body which represents handicapped people in Bolton, told me. Leading people, who are known in the town for their concern for the handicapped have written to me. I have had a letter from Mary Kershaw and Barbara Ashman saying :

"We feel that public sector funds could be better used in Bolton if directed by a volunteer care management group.

Could you ask the Government to set up a pilot scheme along these lines in Bolton?"

Perhaps my right hon. Friend will put that argument to his colleagues.

The council says :

"We recommend increasing the involvement of other agencies, voluntary or private, with consideration being given to the development of joint projects between two or more agencies, or setting up consortia of several agencies Parents can be equal members of any such body as long as they see their role as expressing parents' views, and, indirectly, the consumers' voice'."

Mr. Oliver Holt, who is well known for his work with Mencap and others, says that many problems have arisen because

"over those years the people with the power to make decisions were all itinerant' professionals and politicians (local national)) who did not have an absolute commitment to producing a solution. They made their decisions which affected our lives and then passed on to other challenges in other fields.

The parents have at last seen through this charade and must now insist on being genuinely involved in the planning and providing of these services, not just as consultants, but as real partners. I hope you can help to make this happen."

I ask my right hon. Friend to spend a little time during the break considering what can be done to provide more power to the elbow of those who are responsible for keeping the show on the road and providing everyday care.

The value of voluntary carers for the mentally handicapped could be worth nearly £1 billion, but it is not paid for. If anybody thinks that the solution involves paying for care, they should realise that it will cost a lot of money. At the moment, about £1 billion of public money is spent on the care of the mentally handicapped, but the vast majority of that goes on the 60,000 people in residential care. The 100,000 people in domestic care cost the taxpayer only £300 million a year. If they were charged at the same rate as the others, an extra £900 million would have to be provided each year. If the Government want to harness the energies of the voluntary sector, they can use them in the management and direction of these services. It should not be left to local authorities to harness their energies. I am told that in one local authority area, if voluntary drivers brought disabled people to a day centre, they had to discharge them on the perimeter of the premises because only trade union drivers were allowed to come on to the premises, as that was their job. That shows how conflicts between trade union-dominated local authorities and the voluntary sector can lead to unsatisfactory results. I leave that thought with my right hon. Friend and hope that he can give some attention to it over the short break.

7.18 pm

Mr. John Battle (Leeds, West) : Other hon. Members have mentioned the need to tell the truth. I have also heard the phrase, "the right to life". I shall refer to what might seem a small matter of definition but one which I believe

Column 732

is vital to my constituents and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other people. I refer to the definition of poverty. Recently, we have heard Ministers challenge the use of the word "poverty", perhaps with an idea that they can simply define poverty away. This morning, before I came down to the House, I met a young mother of a seven-week-old child. She brought me a letter from the Yorkshire water authority threatening to cut off her water supply. She came to see me because her private landlard had served her notice that he would evict her next month, and as an afterthought she told me about her problem with the water bill, as she could not see how on earth she could pay that bill from her income. I am more than likely to be spending the recess meeting my constituents, many of whom will be asking me how on earth can they cope with their water bills and electricity bills on their limited incomes and reduced housing benefits, which has been referred to earlier. Many people in my constituency are genuinely strugglingg to balance their weekly budgets.

I urge the Leader of the House to take up with his colleague the Secretary of State for Social Security a particular suggestion and invite him to move towards arbitration on the definition of poverty in Britain by re- establishing the Royal Commission on wealth and income distribution in Britain which his Government so readily abolished when they were elected in 1979.

In recent weeks the Secretary of State for Social Services has declared that he believes poverty to be redundant. The title of his recent lecture was, "The End of the Line for Poverty". It seemed to me that he was telling the poor to get off the economic vehicle as they had reached the terminus. One issue that has been and will continue to be highly contentious is the Government's claim that all are sharing in the benefits of booming Britain. That is not true. Every person in our society is not participating in that much-vaunted increase in wealth. Some are not participating, and some are falling into increasing poverty as a result of the Government's tax and social security policies.

The Secretary of State claimed that his Department has set up a comprehensive list of indicators of standards of living. Yet, in a parliamentary reply on 17 March, the Under-Secretary of State for Social Security warned us against using the "Households Below Average Income" statistics. He said :

"It should, however, be noted that the principal objective of the Households Below Average Income' statistics is to measure improvements in living standards in different parts of the income-distribution for the population as a whole. The tables are not designed to measure the living standards of individuals by economic status within each decile of the population."

He went on to suggest that the tables do not provide

"a meaningful guide to improved living standards."-- [Official Report, 17 March 1989 ; vol. 149 c.390-1]

It appears that the Department of Social Security does not have an agreed means of determining the living standards of those on below average incomes.

Last July, the Select Committee on Social Services challenged the statistics on households below average income with the remark : "the new series does not give complete information about the numbers on low incomes."

Once again, the Secretary of State was determined to blame the victims for their plight, and suggested that it was nothing to do with the policies of the Government, but was the fault of the victim. He referred to

Column 733

"the margin for inefficiency of expenditure."

That was a remarkable phrase. He also referred to

"an allowance for unskilled shoppers".

He seems to think that the problem is that people do not do their shopping properly. The problem is that, on £48.60 a week, with a reduction of £2.15 in help with their housing costs and then being short-changed by 2 per cent. on the allowance for inflation in a single pension, those single pensioners cannot buy the same goods in Morrison's supermarket in Bramley this month as they could in March. If that is not a decline in their standard of living, I do not know what is.

When the Secretary of State has the gall to refer to the skills with which families spend their money, he displays a remarkable lack of knowledge. In my experience, those who have to pay the price in society display remarkable arithmetical accuracy as they have to do their weekly shopping on low budgets. I am tempted to challenge the Secretary of State and ask him whether he can remember the price of the last meal that he ate out. I am sure that most of the people that I represent could say exactly how much they paid for the goods in their shopping trolleys.

In another parliamentary answer, the Under-Secretary of State warned us that

"Any suggestion that poverty' can be measured by the distribution of the cake without regard for the changing size of that cake must be questioned." --[ Official Report, 21 April 1989 ; Vol. 151, c. 337.]

I entirely agree. We should take into account the distribution of wealth and income in society instead of focusing only on poverty. In that respect, the return of a royal commission that focused on wealth as well as on income would be welcome. Perhaps that royal commission could do worse than explore the concept of participating in the life of society as a source of the definition of what it means to be poor in modern Britain.

Poverty is not simply a lack of money or physical necessities. It excludes certain people in society from that in which the Prime Minister claims to believe in most of all--the freedom of choice. The freedom to eat as we wish, to go where and when we like is not open to everyone. I certainly do not believe that people choose to be poor when it could be suggested that there are other options. Poverty could best be understood comprehensively as a state of partial citizenship. In the context in which the Prime Minister believes that there is no society, it would be difficult to find a basis for common citizenship. The Government seem determined to wipe out any sense of one community of human beings who can only flourish together ; and when that happens, the deprivation of the poor becomes invisible. They are marginalised and pushed out of the main economic text. The Secretary of State said in his lecture :

"Of course as a Government we must keep a careful eye on what is happening to the numbers and the characteristics of the lower-income households. Of course we will continue to give help to the individuals and families who need it."

I have only to reflect on the caseload in my constituency, which I am sure is repeated elsewhere. If that is the case, we are entitled to ask why all our constituency inquiries to DHSS offices receive replies containing the last sentence, "Sorry that we cannot help, even though we would like to in the circumstances".

The Secretary of State continued :

Column 734

"We cannot do this unless we can identify who they really are and identifying them is not helped by arbitrary and exaggerated estimates of the number of people said to be living in poverty."

I agree with that entirely ; therefore, I invite the Leader of the House to ask the Secretary of State for Social Services to establish a royal commission to settle that definition and to bottom out public information. In every debate in the House on social security and in the economy there has been a deep and divisive dispute about the figures of who are in wealth and who are in poverty in Britain. We end up with discrepancies in statements to the House and in the facts and figures provided by the statistical services of the Library. Last July the "Households Below Average Income," statistics were challenged as not giving an adequate account of the position. I refuse to accept that, as one newspaper put it,

"some are poor because nature has not given them the gift of earning much. Some are poor by ill luck."

Poverty is not misfortune, bad luck or inevitable, or due to laziness, ignorance or lack of development. It is the direct result of political and economic decisions, not least in this House. It is manufactured by particular policies and systems. It is a political problem that needs a political answer, and one way in which we could tackle it is not by targeting the poorest, in the Government's terms, nor by the trickle-down theory of wealth, which certainly seems to dry up before it reaches those who deserve it most. The Government's policies are not delivering economic justice to all in our society. Instead of eulogies on what the Secretary of State called "western material capitalism", the House should strive to deliver public justice. Establishing the royal commission could be an appropriate way of setting the basis for that action.

7.30 pm

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras) : My hon. Friends and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) raised some important issues which the House should address before the spring Adjournment. I shall confine my remarks to the issue raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, West (Mr. Battle)--the extraordinary speech made by the Secretary of State for Social Security on 11 May. I have been asked by some of my colleagues to press the Leader of the House to say whether the Secretary of State's view that poverty in Britain has reached the end of the line is official Government policy.

In his speech, the Secretary of State said that what he described as the stark Dickensian poverty of 100 years ago was no longer widespread. He said that no one could properly be described as poor and that, compared with the standard of poverty set by Booth and Rowntree at the end of the century, people were now living in affluence beyond their wildest dreams. That tells us more about the poverty of the Secretary of State's imagination than about the condition of many poor people. It also tells us about his poverty of knowledge of the subject.

The modern Tory party claims to be the intellectual offspring of Adam Smith. The trouble is that it either does not know or conveniently forgets a great deal of what its father figure said. The Secretary of State's narrow definition of poverty was explicitly rejected by Adam Smith who, referring to what he called the "necessities of life", included

Column 735

"not only the commodities which are indispensably necessary for the support of life, but also whatever the custom of the country renders it indecent for creditable people, even of the lowest order, to be without."

In those circumstances, it is clear that Adam Smith would have disowned the Secretary of State's ludicrous speech of 11 May. All matters to do with poverty are clearly relative to time and place. I would go further and say that the Secretary of State was wrong and that there are indeed people living in conditions of abject poverty to which Booth and Rowntree would have objected. In his speech, the Secretary of State quoted from Booth's description of Shelton street, which is on the edge of my constituency in Covent Garden. He accepts as "poverty" Booth's description of the conditions prevailing in Shelton street where, as Booth said, whole families occupied one room and in such rooms life at night was unbearable. The Secretary of State did not need to go back to the 1890s to find families living in one room or whose lives were unbearable during the night. His Department must have copies of the reports on the housing conditions of homeless families in bed and breakfast accommodation within a mile or a mile and a half of this Chamber. I will quote from a report about the circumstances--in 1987, not 1887--in which some of our fellow citizens are required to live. It says :

"Even if hotel accommodation is in good order it is rarely appropriate to the needs of young children. It is difficult to maintain hygiene while washing, eating and sleeping in one overcrowded room. High levels of gastro -enteritis, skin disorders and chest infections have been reported. Kitchen facilities are often absent or inadequate, so people are forced to rely on food from cafes and take-aways, which is expensive and may be nutritionally unsatisfactory. The stress of hotel life undermines parents' relationships with each other and their children. Normal child development is impaired through lack of space for safe play and exploration. High rates of accidents to children have been reported, probably due to a combination of lack of space and hazards such as kettles at floor level. There have been difficulties in providing primary health care services to homeless families, including problems in registering with general practitioners leading to lack of continuity of care."

That is not Shelton street in the 1890s, but my constituency and many other parts of central London in the 1980s. It is not Calcutta, but our own capital city.

I will quote from a further report on the conditions in which some people are asked to live. If this is not poverty, I do not know what is. Bloomsbury district health authority's report states : "In October 1988 in just the Camden part of Bloomsbury there were over 500 families in bed and breakfast accommodation. The Health Visiting Service knew of approximately 200 Risk to health in bed and breakfast is well above that of the domiciled population. These risks stem from shared, or lack of amenities, overcrowding and unsafe properties. Infection, accidents, malnutrition, sleep disturbances, low birth weight babies, eating problems, behavioural problems and depression and even death can result."

Those are just some examples of the circumstances in which our fellow citizens are expected to live.

The report goes on to say :

"A woman was found seven days after a caesarian section with no follow-up care, no cot in the room, a seven inch scar, no pain relief. The toilet was two floors down that there was a shared bathroom. The woman's breasts were blistered and she had no idea how to make up bottle feeds or sterilise equipment. This woman was found whilst the Health Visitor was looking for another baby."

In another case the report says :

Column 736

"Two year old twins were found by chance in a hotel room. They had recently been diagnosed as diabetic."

There were three children in one room with the mother. There was nowhere to store insulin, which needs a refrigerator, and there was nowhere safe to keep syringes or needles because there were drug abusers in the hotel. Cooking facilities were limited, although a controlled diet is essential for diabetics. There was a

"High risk of accident and infection, all of which are particularly hard to resolve in diabetics".

There was also stress. All those things make diabetes harder to control.

There were other cases that health visitors had "stumbled across" while visiting bed-and-breakfast families. One included

"a baby three weeks old, who was failing to thrive, and needed three weeks in hospital. Soon after discharge the family moved on and could not be followed up."

Another case involved the mother of a 15-month-old baby. She was illiterate and educationally subnormal but cared for her child very well. Because she had come from another borough, the back-up services had not been able to follow her.

I do not want to get into a dispute about relativities of poverty. The people whom I have just described live in circumstances which Charles Booth, on visiting Shelton street in 1891, would have recognised and described as "poverty stricken". By his Victorian values, thousands of families are living in abject poverty in bed and breakfast accommodation. However, there is a difference between Charles Booth and the Secretary of State ; Charles Booth did not travel from a house with a swimming pool in a chauffeur-driven car to a luxury office in Whitehall. He went out and looked at where the poor lived. He checked and logged their circumstances and began to do something about them. He thought that it was wrong for a family to live in one room, and by God he was right.

In contrast, the Secretary of State pretends that such conditions do not exist. He says that poverty is at an end, but it is not. As an elected Member of Parliament, representing hundreds of such families, I find it humiliating that they have to live in such circumstances and that I can do nothing about it. It should also be humiliating for Ministers. The Secretary of State for Health would spend his time better looking after such people than in harassing doctors. It would be better if the Secretary of State for Social Security helped such people. It would be better if the Secretary of State for the Environment built them some houses. It would cost only half as much for them to have a decent house as it costs to keep them in bed-and-breakfast accommodation.

Those are the circumstances that prevail at the end of the Thatcher economic miracle. They are a disgrace, and we shall debate them tomorrow in the debate on inner cities. Conservative Members who spend their time opting out and enjoying themselves in South Africa should not laugh at the circumstances in which some people live. We need a Government who are concerned and committed to doing something. We do not have one, but we shall continue to press until we have. 7.41 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham) : Although right hon. and hon. Members have raised many matters that concern them, to which I shall reply in a moment, it appears that the general wish of the House is to adjourn

Column 737

for the proposed dates of the spring recess. In the seven weeks since the House returned from the Easter recess, eight Bills have been given a Second Reading and further progress has been made on a wide range of others. We can safely adjourn for about 10 days before returning with renewed vigour to tackle more of the Government's far- reaching legislative programme.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen) spoke of his concern, and that of his constituents, about the closure of two cottage hospitals in Oswestry and Newport. I listened to a radio programme the other day when the BBC was on strike--some of the programmes are much better when it is on strike--about cottage hospitals in Shropshire. Anyone who listened to that programme would have been impressed by the voluntary effort that is made in those hospitals, which I hope will be channelled into new sectors. My right hon. Friend is aware of the proposals to rationalise the hospitals as a consequence of the new district hospital at Telford.

The right hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who told me that, unfortunately, he would have to leave the Chamber, raised the case of nuclear test veterans. The Government's policy is based on the report published in January 1988 by the independent expert advisers on radiological matters of the National Radiological Protection Board. The board's report did not establish any causal relation between increased incidence of any cancer and participation in the United Kingdom's nuclear test programmes of the 1950s and 1960s. The policy of the Ministry of Defence is to pay appropriate compensation wherever Crown liability is established. As there is no firm evidence to show that the health of British test veterans was affected by exposure to radiation during the United Kingdom's test programmes--a view supported by the board's findings- -the Government have taken the view, following legal advice, that the Crown cannot be held liable for any ill health suffered by those who participated and that it would not, therefore, be appropriate to pay compensation. I know that that will disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, who campaigns hard for the causes about which he is concerned. My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir. F. Montgomery) made, as he sometimes does on these occasions, a number of interesting points. He mentioned confiscated drug money being used to fight drugs. The Government are well aware that the vital work of combating all types of serious crime makes heavy demands on the police. However, difficulties of principle and practice weigh against passing confiscated funds directly to law enforcement work. Resources must be allocated according to an assessment of overall priorities and needs, to which all public services must be subject. Such income would vary and would be unreliable, and no well-planned initiative could afford to depend on it. Nevertheless, we are discussing the matter with the Association of Chief Police Officers to see whether there are practical options which may help to resolve funding difficulties.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale and the hon. Member for Newham, NorthWest (Mr. Banks) mentioned the plight of the African elephant. I recognise how concerned people are, but I cannot give the hon. Member for Newham, North-West the answers that

Next Section

  Home Page