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Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : I thank the Government for providing time for this important debate on an issue that clearly unites the House. We have had two education debates this week and we have sharp ideological differences on several issues. There has been substantial criticism of the way in which the Government have handled a range of problems, but, as the Minister rightly said, on this issue we have a common objective. There are limited differences between us about the means of achieving that objective, but we all want to see the problems dealt with effectively.
As the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and the Minister have acknowledged, there are serious difficulties in collecting and interpreting statistics in this area. Some of them are raw, sharp and unpleasant, and others are more difficult to interpret.
Column 657The Minister referred to the work of Mr. John Balding of Exeter university today, and in an Adjournment debate on 4 May. It may be worthwhile quoting his speech to show the extent of the problem. The 1987 figures, based on a survey of more than 18,000 youngsters, revealed that
"over 74 per cent. of fifth-year boys and 65 per cent. of fifth-year girls had consumed alcohol in the past week, with over 10 per cent. of the boys consuming the equivalent of more than 10 pints of beer. The same surveys revealed that up to 12 per cent. of fifth-year boys and 14 per cent. of girls had been offered cannabis or other more harmful drugs at some time during their teens."--[ Official Report, 4 May 1989 ; Vol. 152, c. 453.]
The Minister picked up the important point that the figures show the extent to which youngsters are offered drugs, but not the substantial extent to which they have the courage and common sense to turn down the offer.
It is difficult to interpret the figures on alcohol. Last Christmas I had the rare experience of taking part in a Radio 1 programme called "Rhythm and Booze". It was a serious attempt to discuss alcohol problems among young people, but it was a classic piece of BBC misorganisation. Perhaps I should not have said that because I might never again be invited to take part in a BBC programme. The programme was to be recorded one Friday night in a night club in Manchester. We arrived about one and a half hours before the disc jockey who was to chair the discussion. One of the wonderful features of disc jockeys is that they have a Peter Pan youth which makes us all appear younger. He arrived late and the BBC provided free drinks for our young audience. By the time that the programme was recorded, I suspect that one or two people may have taken advantage of the BBC's generosity, and some of the comments were made out of bravado. The programme showed clearly some of the risks involved.
What was encouraging in the discussion and is shown in the data is that many youngsters are now more likely to drink non-alcholic drinks and to be responsible about consuming alcohol and driving. There is a difference between generations here. Youngsters are much more likely to be sensible and socially mature than many older people. The Minister concentrated mainly on drugs. He made a powerful contribution about the American experience with crack. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that alcohol abuse counts for 10 times as many deaths among young people as drug abuse. That is not to say that one is not a problem, but simply that there is a difference of scale. Both are serious.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the subject of data, does he agree that one of the more alarming pieces of information revealed by the survey was that about 20 per cent. of 13-year- olds have experienced a hangover?
responsibilities is that the major initial source of alcohol for youngsters is the parents. While the initial source of drugs is usually somebody whose is motivated by profit, youngsters are usually introduced to alcohol by parents, who are not maliciously motivated. That is a lesson for us all.
I shall concentrate on alcohol abuse, which illustrates a broad point about the role of schools in fighting drug and alcohol abuse. The Minister rightly said that schools are a
Column 658reflection of society. We cannot expect schools to heal the problems of society, nor do we blame schools for causing them. For many years I have been worried about the image of alcohol that is portrayed and the problems that that causes for young people. The positive image creates expectations in and temptations for young people. One has only to turn on the television or look at the newspapers to see that advertising projects a positive image of the use of alcohol and suggests certain social attributes. It often creates the impression that young men who drink are more likely to be successful with young women and that alcohol increases sexual activity. It is suggested that people need to drink to score and achieve. That damaging and dangerous image tempts many youngsters to drink alcohol.
The working group on young people and alcohol has said that advertising is undoubtedly influential in shaping attitudes, and made serious recommendations about the need to change the images and restrict the breadth of advertising.
A report in The Guardian at the end of last year showed that young people can recognise alcohol advertising at an early age. They know the brands, and can identify with the images that are created. All that creates potential difficulties.
We are told that the Brewers Society does not consider the extent of alcohol advertising a serious problem, viewing advertising as being aimed at product differentiation rather than at increasing overall alcohol consumption. In its evidence to the working group, the society said :
"there is no evidence that alcohol advertising increases the consumption of alcohol".
As an outsider in the advertising world, I regard that statement with scepticism and with some contempt. If the brewers are prepared to spend so much on advertising, they must want to sell more of their product and hence increase consumption. At some stage the House and the Government must recognise the need to control alcohol advertising, as it is clear that the voluntary code for brewers and advertisers does not work. The harmful images remain the same.
Mr. Rathbone : This may be going off at a tangent, but, having spent most of my working life in advertising, I feel that I cannot let what the hon. Gentleman has said go unchallenged. The statement that he quoted is absolutely correct. Alcohol consumption cannot be tied to the amount of advertising, for advertising is not tuned to increased consumption : it is a battle between the brands. That is true of almost any well-branded, well- established market. It is just as true of alcohol as it is of cigarettes, cars and cereals.
Mr. Fatchett : I hear what the hon. Gentleman says. May I put an alternative hypothesis to him? I appreciate his interest in such issues, and I am not making a personal criticism. Is it not possible, however, that alcohol advertising, while it may not increase the level of consumption, makes it difficult to lower that level, as it runs counter to the other messages to which the Minister has referred--the "keep healthy" messages? I think that it would be better for our television screens to show that well- known young international athletes, for instance, do not use alcohol as part of the preparation for their feats, for obvious reasons. If some of the time used by the
Column 659brewers to sell their products were used to get that message across, the positive image of health would be much more effective.
Mr. Simon Hughes : This is, I think, an important part of our debate. I speak as the son and grandson of a brewer, but also as a former youth worker. Does the hon. Gentleman accept that there is a problem with the simple analysis that alcohol advertising is a battle of the brands? The reality is that it produces a greater cumulative effect which marks up alcohol as desirable. The amount of investment in alcohol consumption is in no way comparable.
The Government's legislation on broadcasting poses the danger that we shall have a much freer market next year, with more and more competition on radio and television as well as in the press. None of the competitors will want to make their products less socially desirable. There is no guarantee that the Government--for it will have to be the Government--will put up equal amounts to transmit the alternative message, which the hon. Gentleman and others may regard as the most effective solution. Unless that alternative message is broadcast--that people do not need to drink or smoke to be healthy--the competition is not fair and advertising is harmful rather than beneficial.
Mr. Fatchett : The hon. Gentleman has made a good point. I, too, have a confession : my parents were pub landlords, so I have seen the business from the other side of the counter. I will not say that my almost first-hand experience turned me against alcohol, but it confirmed my view that the images presented by the brewers are positive and are deeply ingrained in the minds of young people, who retain them throughout adolescence and into adult life.
Living in a public house, I saw young people who had been badly affected by alcohol. The images that they in turn create are not very positive, and in their more sober moments they would not necessarily wish to convey them to their peers. The hon. Gentleman is right. I do not decry for a moment the £7 million that the Minister has said will be made available in education support grant for 1990 and 1991, but the difference between the scale of expenditure on alcohol advertising and the amount spent on health promotion is such that it is hard to get the positive, healthy images across. I hope that the Minister will talk to the brewers and the advertisers about the persuasive impact of advertising.
Mr. Butcher : General promotion of health images is the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Let me assure the hon. Gentleman, however, that the Under- Secretary of State for Health and I talk regularly about the need to ensure that any programmes that the Department launches in the future will be dovetailed with the health education programmes for schools. We shall aim for consistency in advertising directed at both the general public and the classroom.
Column 660laboured the point somewhat to show that the role of society in general is crucial to the way in which schools perform their task of education.
I welcome the Minister's comments about involving the drug education co- ordinators in policy making. Perhaps that involves a broader principle that Ministers could apply in other contexts. Without wishing to make any criticism, I nevertheless consider it essential that those with first-hand knowledge are brought into the policy-making process, and I was glad that the Minister mentioned that.
There is always an opportunity for Oppositions to say that they would like more money to be spent, but I think that it would be foolish and premature to say that in response to the news that £7 million is to be spent in 1990-91. There is a danger of money being wasted because we do not yet fully understand the scale and the nature of the problems, and how best to tackle them. I see the £7 million, and the previous expenditure, very much as a pump-priming mechanism, and I have no doubt that the Government will make more money available if research and experience show directly that it is needed. I am sure that the Minister will not hesitate to give that commitment.
There is also a danger, if we talk about substantial amounts of money being spent, that we shall become alarmist about the statistic and the problems. I think that the Minister stressed that it would be foolish and counterproductive to be alarmist. There are serious problems that have to be tackled, but if one tackles them in an alarmist fashion it becomes difficult to define the targets and to deal effectively with them. The Government's approach has so far allowed a cool appraisal of the difficulties.
The Minister emphasised that to tackle the problem we must not use the shock horror approach and images that were used in the early days. We must use images that present a positive message about health and say no to certain forms of temptation. I think that that is the correct approach.
I was pleased that the Minister said that there would not be a specific anti-crack campaign in schools or more broadly but that the message is to be about the ability to say no, and promoting a positive, healthy image. Health education has to get that message across to young people.
From our experience, as the Minister quite rightly said, we know that the alarmist message is likely to attract youngsters towards particular drugs and practices rather than to deter them. There is always a great temptation to go for an alarmist message. It seems to be a quick way to frighten people off, but it does not work. It is better to have a slow, sure process which will have long-lasting effects. That is the best method and the one that the Minister underlined in his speech.
The Minister also said that we have to give young people hope for the future. Defining hope is always difficult. It does not always depend on material things, although housing in the inner cities and the availability of leisure facilities and of decent employment and education are clearly material. One thinks about young people who are homeless and sleeping rough in our inner cities. The Government's policies must be directed towards such matters. They are extremely relevant when dealing with the problems of drug and alcohol abuse, although the Minister did not mention them. We have to create hope and the
Column 661expectation that life has something worthwhile to offer young people. Then drugs and alcohol are less of a temptation.
The problem is not always material. Drug and alcohol abuse are not limited to one class or to one income bracket. We need to offer hope in personal terms. We must create a positive image. It would have been helpful to the debate if the Minister had talked about some of these broader issues because they have a bearing upon the way in which society helps young people to achieve their full potential and to develop.
The Minister referred to the development of personal and social education, to the role of the drug education co-ordinators and to the impact on the national curriculum. He is right to remind us that the Education Reform Act 1988 imposes certain duties and defines the national curriculum, but he must know that there is concern among drug education co-ordinators, in schools and at local authority level, that the development of the national curriculum will squeeze out the important work that has started in these areas. That is not an argument against the national curriculum, but I think that there must be a balance that allows personal and social education work and the work of the drug education co-ordinators to develop as part of the curriculum in schools.
In his response to the hon. Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes), the Minister referred to the working party. He said that later in the debate he would update us on its timetable. I emphasise to the Minister that we are dealing with important cross-curricula themes, and it is crucial that they are not lost from the national curriculum. There is no reason why that should happen. All we need from Ministers is a commitment to ensure that cross-curricula themes do not disappear from the timetable. If that happens, the money that has been spent on them so far will have been wasted. The Minister will understand our fears about this. In the Southampton university report on the work of the drug eduation co- ordinators, the theory is expressed that, because of falling rolls, competition may force heads to drop drug education programmes as they may be perceived to be an admission that the school has a drug problem. I hope that the developments in the Education Reform Act 1988, some of which we opposed, do not work in that way. It is important that the Minister should stress that the work of the drug education co-ordinators and the broader work of personal and social education should be an activity in all schools and that it is not an indication of a drug problem but shows that the school wants to present its youngsters with a positive health image. That is a natural part of the curriculum for any school.
There are one or two more items that should have been on the agenda and in the Minister's opening speech. I was disappointed that he made no reference to tobacco and cigarette smoking. All the evidence shows that that is still a significant cause of death, of poor health and of people being unable to perform physically and mentally to their full capacity. Perhaps the Minister will comment on that later, but I hope that the work of the drug education units and that personal and social education in schools will place some emphasis on the detrimental effect of tobacco. We know that tobacco is an addictive drug and its cost to the National Health Service and to many thousands of people throughout the country. I hope that the Minister will make some reference to that in his winding-up speech.
Column 662The Minister did not refer--I am not surprised--to a problem that is beginning to develop and may well be an opportunity for alcohol abuse and drug peddling and trafficking. In the Adjournment debate on 4 May, when the Minister replied to the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Thompson), there was a reference to the development of amusement and gaming arcades. I have held the view for some time--there is evidence to support it--that the proliferation of arcades in inner cities has enticed many youngsters into truancy, drinking and drug taking. It does not happen to all youngsters, but it happens to a percentage of them. The Home Office has dismissed the evidence. I think that the case that has been presented in a fairly systematic way by several newspapers and brought together by other researchers shows that there is a real problem and a risk associated with arcades.
Mr. Fatchett : There is a problem, and I will come back to it later. It is unfair to allow Government Whips to open their mouths. Usually they have a much more sophisticated job which involves the use of silence and pressure. Perhaps the intellectual demands are such that it becomes difficult to open one's mouth after such a long period of silence.
Local authorities do not necessarily have the ability to stop the proliferation of gaming and amusement arcades. The regulations in terms of licensing are such that local authorities have little power and their planning controls are limited. It is possible that a local authority, with a wide range of community support, will feel that additional gaming and amusement arcades are not necessary, but it would have little or no power to stop their development.
The hon. Member for Staffordshire, South-East (Mr. Lightbown) said that there is no difficulty if such places are well managed. The industry has said that it would support self-management and self-regulation. I find that unconvincing in practice. The evidence shows that even if there is a code of self-management and self-regulation and the management says that youngsters under the age of 16 will not be admitted, one can usually find such youngsters in virtually all the large amusement arcades.
The House has a clear responsibility not to leave control to the industry. We have not left the control of alcohol, drugs or betting to their respective industries. We must protect our young people. If we do not, they will be exposed to truancy, alcohol and drugs. That may involve only a small number of young people but their lives are being wasted.
I realise that other hon. Members wish to participate in the debate, so I shall conclude. It is important to recognise the scale of the problem. We should not over-estimate it, but we must not become complacent. If we understand the scale of the problem, we can have a cool analysis that will lead towards effective action. We share a common concern and objective to reduce the level of alcohol and drug abuse and to reduce the dependence on tobacco.
The Minister talked about the evil of crack. It would be a foolish person in the House or any other part of the community who did not recognise the problems and the evil they create. We have to stop youngsters wasting their lives and opportunities because of drugs and alcohol. The Government have started to deal with the problem and we will give them our support, as these issues transcend party
Column 663politics and go deep into the lives and well -being of individuals. From time to time we shall encourage the Government to do more, but so far the approach is right and the expenditure is in the right direction.
The message of a healthy positive image is one that we support and the Government have got it right. On this occasion I can tell the Minister that we wish the Government well and hope that they are successful. That success is one in which our society will share. 10.53 am
It is good that there is a degree of unanimity between both sides of the House on this problem. It is a worrying problem and all hon. Members agree that there is a desperate need for action. Statistics have been quoted by my hon. Friend the Minister and by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett). I find it worrying to read a survey that suggests that 70 per cent. of 15 and 16-year-olds have at least one alcoholic drink every week. On 20 June 1989 The Guardian stated that one person in two starts on alcohol before the age of 18. Another survey said that one in seven 15 and 16-year-olds has been offered cannabis or another drug at some time. In 1986 a survey showed that one in 10 secondary school children smoked regularly and another showed that one in 20 smoked occasionally. I have to admit that when I was at school I also smoked because it was regarded as rather daring. Some other people in the class smoked and I smoked along with them as I wanted to be one of the boys. It shows how old I am that in those days one could buy five Woodbine cigarettes for two old pence. Having invested that money we sat in an air raid shelter and puffed away contentedly feeling grown up and sophisticated. However, when I was in the sixth form I was caught smoking by my mother. She said that if I wanted to smoke, I should do so in the house and not sneak round corners. At that time I made 20 cigarettes last for a full week. Because I persevered I gradually increased my intake until I was smoking 20 cigarettes a day. However, I have good news for my hon. Friend the Minister. In 1978 I saw the warning signals and stopped smoking. The withdrawal symptoms were hard to endure and one of the terrible consequences of giving up smoking was that I piled on weight. Instead of having a cigarette I started to eat all sorts of things which may not have done much for my figure but at least I had stopped using nicotine, which must have improved my health.
It is important that in our schools there should be an emphasis on the maintenance of good health promotion. The curriculum can be used to emphasise the dangers of drug use. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has beside him the great package which contains the valuable "Drugwise" curriculum guide. The pack contains certain drug themes that could be used in the curriculum. It is
Column 664suggested that in English lessons pupils should be asked to read and comprehend various pieces of information on organisations concerned with tobacco, drug and alcohol misuse. They would then be asked to write an appeal letter saying which of the organisations should be the beneficiary of fund-raising events and why. That would satisfy the requirements of an English lesson in terms of comprehension and writing and it would provide information about the help available for drug users. By the pupils' choice of organisation, questions whould be raised about attitudes to drug users. The same theme could be applied to a history lesson. Pupils could discuss drug use in times of stress and lives and conditions in the trenches during the two world wars. In geography lessons pupils could learn of the way in which drugs affect the economy and of the international trade in legal and illegal drugs. For some Third world countries exports of plant-derived drugs to the West are one of the main ways of generating foreign exchange. Similarly, the West exports alcohol and cigarettes to Third world countries. By using those themes teachers could provide interesting lessons and put across the message of how important it is that children at school do not get hooked on drugs.
I realise the importance of the drugs education co-ordinators referred to by my hon. Friend the Minister. I am glad to say that they are now to be found in every English local education authority. I agree with my hon. Friend that they are doing an excellent job in persuading young people to reject drugs. There is a clear relationship between drugs, alcohol and AIDS and that can be used in a co-ordinated health education programme.
As the hon. Member for Leeds, Central said, my hon. Friend the Minister announced in an Adjournment debate on 4 May a £7 million programme for the years 1990-91. A total of £4 million will be used to support a new broadened remit for drugs education co-ordinators who will be responsible for giving information and advice to schools on alcoholism, AIDS and drugs. The other £3 million will go to the local education authority training grants scheme to fund in-service training of teachers. It will cover the same key areas of health education. I am glad that my hon. Friend the Minister talked about further expansion along those lines. I believe that that is a positive step in the right direction. It is all praiseworthy work and I pay tribute to it, but we could do a little more.
For the past four years I have campaigned for the money confiscated from drug barons to be given over entirely to the fight against drugs. When I raised the subject in an Adjournment debate a few months ago, my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Mr. Rathbone) supported me in that aim. He is one of the most knowledgeable people in the House on the issue. My suggestion is carried out with great effect in the United States. Surely it is justice that the money that has been made from that foul trade should be used in the fight against it. If we confiscate the funds--
It being Eleven o'clock, Mr. Speaker-- interrupted the proceedings, pursuant to Standing Order No. 11 (Friday sittings).
Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) (by private notice) : To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the operational problems in the water industry which have left 500,000 homes in south and south-east London without water ; and what steps his Department is taking to avert the impending crisis.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mrs. Virginia Bottomley) : This is an operational matter for ThamesWater. We have been in touch with Thames Water which is doing all it can to maintain and restore water supplies and to improve the provision of emergency supplies to those who have been cut off. Priority is being given to hospitals and to other special cases.
Mr. Hughes : Is the Minister aware that the direct cause of the problem appears to be the infestation of the Hampton plant in Middlesex, which affects seven London boroughs, Dartford and Sevenoaks--a quarter of the capital's water supply? The infestation of larvae has been common in previous years and could have been dealt with by adequate research and development and investment, but this year Thames Water has reduced research and development by 10 per cent., and it reduced infrastructure investment in the previous full financial year by 25 per cent. Is she aware that people are concerned that after privatisation the consequence of cutting costs and cutting investment will put at risk the water supply in times of crisis? Can she explain why, on every occasion when the temperature goes up, the ability to supply water goes down?
Why is it that cumulatively, over the years, we have left our water supply industry in such a bad state that it cannot deliver the goods? Will the hon. Lady tell the House what on earth is the argument for her and her right hon. and hon. Friends planning to sell off the water industry so that in future, when such problems arise, affecting huge numbers of people, nobody will be accountable in the House to answer questions at times of extreme urgency in the capital city?
Mrs. Bottomley : As the hon. Gentleman is aware, we have had a period of very hot weather and very high demand. He referred to the difficulties at the Hampton treatment works where remedial maintenance work is taking place. The larvae concerned are quite unacceptable, although they are not in themselves a health hazard. The hon. Gentleman referred to the vital importance of investing in the water industry. In the particular circumstances in south-east London, I shall not labour the point that under the last Labour Government investment was cut by 30 per cent., and under this Government investment has increased by 50 per cent. The key point is that under privatisation all the water companies will have to draw up long- term investment plans. They will be free to raise capital and borrow appropriately to ensure that, properly and rightly, they can meet customers' demands.
Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : Is it not astonishing that Thames Water did not launch a public relations campaign two or three days ago, when it was clear that the crisis was looming, to tell the inhabitants of south-east London that it was critically important to save every bit of
Column 666water that they could? Is it not astonishing that Thames Water did not inform my local council about the problem until almost midday yesterday, when it must have known 48 hours before that the crisis was looming?
Mrs. Bottomley : It is important for consumers to act with restraint. A hosepipe ban will be imposed from midnight tonight. We hope that people will take all possible action in the meantime. Thames Water has set up an emergency response centre on 833 6564. Twenty people are manning the service, and consumers who are worried would be well advised to ring the service. Thames Water is taking a great deal of action and is bringing in static tanks, bowsers and stand pipies. Of course, the situation is serious for those concerned and Thames Water is considering what further steps to take.
Mr. John Fraser (Norwood) : We know that the Secretary of State is very doctrinal, but will the Under-Secretary remind him that the diet of worms was a meeting, not a drink? Will she please divert money intended to be spent by Thames Water on floating Thames shares on the watery stock exchange at very great cost to providing a better supply of water in London? Will she confirm that after privatisation there will be no accountability to Members of Parliament if such problems recur?
Mrs. Bottomley : The key point is that, under the privatised arrangements, water companies will be required to have long-term investment plans. Thames Water is already investing heavily in the London ring main. That is well advanced and will lead to a long-term improvement in such difficulties.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : Does my hon. Friend agree that the people of London want water, not political posturing from the Opposition? Does she further agree that something is lacking in the publicity and information being given out by Thames Water? For some time there has been a great deal of confusion in London about where people should be holding back and not using hoses and so on. Is the problem likely to spread to other areas, particularly in south London?
Mrs. Bottomley : I understand that the difficulties may well be largely resolved by the end of the weekend, although some may extend into next week. I am advised that consumers throughout London are required to act with restraint, although the hosepipe ban will apply specifically to south-east London. I shall certainly pass on my hon. Friend's remarks about the need for greater clarification in the information that is provided to customers generally, but I remind him that the emergency response centre, which is well manned, can give immediate advice to anybody with a query.
Ms. Joan Ruddock (Lewisham, Deptford) : Does the Minister accept that what she has said this morning is of no comfort whatsoever to my constituents, who are absolutely fed up with the fact that they have been drinking below-standard water for some time and that there have been pollution incidents which, frankly, are extremely worrying? This is the last straw for people who live in a somewhat inadequate environment.
Will the hon. Lady answer the question about accountability, and will she acknowledge that the events of
Column 667the past few days have made a farce of the £30 million advertising campaign by the water companies on the merits of their system?
Mrs. Bottomley : I would not seek to deny that all those years of under-investment by the Opposition have long-term consequences. Inevitably, when water is in public ownership, it is one of the easiest places to cut back on investment in times of difficulty. Privatisation will ensure that there are proper plans for long-term investment in the water industry. That is the crucial point. However, I would not seek to minimise the difficulty for people in the hon. Lady's constituency, and in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister for Roads and Traffic, the hon. Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley). I make it clear that Thames Water is taking all steps possible to ensure that supplies are brought in by tanker, static tanks, bowsers and stand pipes. The hon. Lady will be reassured to know that hospitals are being given priority.
Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne) : I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) what is becoming the dubious privilege of having treatment works in our constituencies that supply much of London's water : he has the Hampton works, and I have the Ashford works. Will my hon. Friend confirm that larvae's enthusiasm for breeding has everything to do with the hot weather and nothing to do with the Water Act 1989? Will she confirm that, far from doing what Opposition Members suggest, the Water Act 1989 will require the implementation of higher standards and more investment in the future?
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right. The key point about the privatisation of the water industry is that in future it will be independently and effectively regulated and information will be made widely available to the public. The difficulty at the Hampton treatment works is unacceptable, but it is not a health risk. It is important to reassure people about that, following the alarmist fears that have been expressed about larvae. Action is being taken and I understand that remedial and maintenance work will be completed before long.
Mr. Paul Boateng (Brent, South) : Is the Minister aware that the problem has spread to north London? At nine o'clock this morning, numerous instances in the Sudbury hill area of my constituency were reported to me by telephone and in person of the supply being cut off.
Is the Minister aware that the reason why Thames Water is in such a state of complete confusion, without contingency plans or the means to set the minds of the public at rest, is that its senior management and management have spent all their time recently preparing for privatisation? They have been so busy ordering helicopters, executive jets and all the other paraphernalia of big-business management that they have forgotten the consumer. Is the Minister satisfied that those people are fit to manage a privatised industry? The consumers of London think differently. Will she call in the chairman of Thames Water and give him a dressing-down about his failure to meet the water needs of London? Does she recognise the enormous harm and damage being done to communities affected by this disastrous situation?
Mrs. Bottomley : If the present situation is so bad, why cannot the Labour party understand why we are so anxious to change? We are quite convinced that the future regime will make substantial improvements. The water industry will be free to invest and will be required to make long- term investment plans. It will improve investment, regulation and the availability of information. Those are the crucial advantages of privatisation.
Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North) : May I invite my hon. Friend to send a message of comfort to those who fear for the future? While not being complacent, may I say that most of my constituents have had no problems with their water supply or its condition because they are supplied by Rickmansworth water company, which has always been a private--
Mr. Greenway : I represent a small part of Sudbury and must express my concern about possible damage to its supply from Thames Water. Perhaps the supply will be better when it is run in the same way as Rickmansworth water company.
Mrs. Bottomley : My hon. Friend is right to remind the House of the long-standing existence of many private water companies. About 25 per cent. of the water supplied in this country is supplied by private statutory water companies. Although my hon. Friend's constituents have not been affected so far, I remind him and others that in one hour a hosepipe uses the same amount of water as a family of four uses in a week. With this hot weather, many people would be well advised to be cautious about their use of water. The current difficulties are long standing ; in times of high demand and hot weather, difficulties of supply are not unprecedented. I recognise that the problem is quite worrying for hon. Members' constituents in south London. Thames Water is taking all possible steps to remedy it at the earliest possible opportunity.
Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Is the Minister aware that the water supply in some parts of London is so polluted that it can be chewed rather than drunk? I am surprised that the Secretary of State has not told Thames Water to charge for the extra rations that are being delivered.
Will the Minister explain why, when we have a heavy downpour in London, the sewers break, but that when we have a bit of sun we have a drought on our hands? Is that not an indictment of the Government's 10 years of under- investment in the water industry in London and the rest of the country? Would it not be better if Thames Water diverted the money that it is wasting on its ridiculous advertising campaign on behalf of the Tory party to the infrastructure of the industry, which is what the people of London want and deserve?
Mrs. Bottomley : Only the hon. Gentleman, with his quaint attitude to figures, could regard an increase of 50 per cent. in investment as a cut. We have an answer to the problem--the Water Act 1989. Several Hon. Members rose --
Column 669the Labour party and the Minister. I remind hon. Members that we are discussing a problem in south London, not a general matter.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Has not the Labour party completely missed the point about Thames Water, the present difficulties and the Water Act 1989? Under the Water Act, because standards of service matter, there will be a consumers' charter. The consumer will be offered a discount on his bill every time the water companies fail in their responsibility to connect services to the consumer. That will give the water companies every incentive to get their act together and provide the consumer with a comprehensive service. Far from the Water Act and privatisation making matters more difficult, it will be very much to the advantage of the consumer if it is implemented as quickly as possible.
Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) : Will the Minister answer the question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes) and the hon. Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), which she has so far avoided? Will she confirm that, once the water industry is in private hands, Ministers will not be accountable to hon. Members when a crisis such as this arises? Will she confirm that the Government are running away from accountability?
Mrs. Bottomley : Ministers will not be responsible for the day-to- day management of the water industry. Rightly and properly, that will be a matter for the water companies. Local authorities will have power to check on drinking water quality. A drinking water inspectorate will be created, the findings of which will be publicly available. We think that that is the proper and most appropriate way of supplying water.
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central) : Does the Minister realise that the only consolation in her statement for water consumers in south London is that it was not made by the Secretary of State? Does she recognise that the problems facing consumers in south London stem from an operational failure by the management of Thames Water? Whatever she says, it is clear from the information that she has provided that Thames Water's management has failed the consumers of south London. How in future can those consumers have any confidence in water when it is privatised because it will have exactly the same management and there will be no accountability to the
Column 670House? Ministers will be unable to answer about problems such as those that consumers are facing in south London this morning. The Minister tried to obfuscate about investment figures, but the reality is that Thames Water has had a lower level of investment over the past few years. Consumers in south London are now suffering as a result of that lack of investment. Surely there is no confidence in the management of Thames Water or the stewardship of Ministers. Water consumers in south London and the rest of the country have made it abundantly clear that privatisation will only make the problems worse.
Mrs. Bottomley : On the contrary, it is clear that the difficulties have occurred while the water supply is in the public sector. The long-term investment plan and the ability to raise money independently are fundamental to the proposals in the Water Act 1989. We believe strongly that the consumer will benefit greatly from having a separate provision of water services and water regulation. I regret that Opposition Members must exploit the present very hot weather and high demand in addition to acknowledged maintenance and remedial difficulties at Hampton to make petty party political points. It is clear that the consumers in south-east London are most affected. They need to know that an emergency line is available and that Thames Water is doing all it can to restore supplies and to provide interim supplies. We are confident that moving the water industry into the private sector will be for the long-term benefit of the users of water. That move will ensure high standards, long-term investment and regular supplies.
Parking Act 1989
Control of Smoke Pollution Act 1989
Common Land (Rectification of Registers) Act 1989
International Parliamentary Organisations (Registration) Act 1989 Licensing (Amendment) Act 1989
Antarctic Minerals Act 1989
Road Traffic (Driver Licensing and Information Systems) Act 1989 Transport (Scotland) Act 1989
Social Security Act 1989
London Docklands Railway (Beckton) Act 1989