Previous Section Home Page

Column 1435

The focus of occupational therapy on the practical resettlement and integration of a whole range of people is closely linked to the Government's care in the community policy. The emphasis on resettlement and integration has seen a substantial increase in demand for occupational therapy services. This is due to a number of factors, including the reduction of the long-stay hospital populations, reduced length of stay in acute hospitals and improved survival rates for people with often very severe disabilities. Demographic changes, such as the increasing number of elderly people in our population, many of whom have physical or mental difficulties, have also generated increased demand for occupational therapy. Occupational therapists are often the key to the continued independence of the many people who are now rightly living in the community rather than in the various forms of institutional care. The hon. Member for Leicester, East has implicitly endorsed the Government's policy of seeking to care for as many people as possible in their own homes and the community if they do not require medical attention in hospital. That is a fair statement of a commonly agreed policy and aim.

NHS expenditure on occupational therapy services in England increased from £23 million in 1978-79 to £135 million in 1987-88, which represents a real-terms increase of 102 per cent. Expenditure on community occupational therapy services provided by the NHS, although still a small proportion of the total, has grown at an even greater rate than expenditure on the service as a whole. The real-terms increase in that sector since 1978-79 is 543 per cent. The increased expenditure has led to more occupational therapists being employed. The number has doubled in 10 years- -I am now giving NHS figures--from 2,500 whole-time equivalents in 1979 to about 5,000 whole-time equivalents at present. Of course, some are employed on a part-time or temporary basis. There has also been a rapid growth in the number of helpers and technical instructors employed in the NHS. The total number is about 3,500 whole-time equivalents.

Although the local authority occupational therapy service is much smaller than the NHS service, it has grown significantly since 1979. The number of qualified occupational therapists employed by social services departments in England has about doubled from 550 whole-time equivalents in 1979 to more than 1,100 whole-time equivalents now. The hon. Member for Leicester, East might be interested in the figures for Leicestershire social services department. I am informed that in June 1988 there were 57 whole-time qualified occupational therapists in post and in April 1989--I am sorry that I do not have a more up-to-date figure--there were 71 whole-time equivalent qualified occupational therapists. The comparative figures for non-professional qualified staff were 18 in June 1988 and 59 in April 1989. That is a welcome increase in about a year.

Unfortunately, the NHS and local authorities are affected by shortages of qualified occupational therapists. The hon. Gentleman was right to underline the basic problem, which is that we cannot fill the posts available. The NHS has about a 17 per cent. vacancy factor, and the hon. Gentleman mentioned the much higher figure for local authorities. I assure him that we are not complacent about that because we know that it affects the service to patients and results in some people waiting far too long to

Column 1436

see an occupational therapist. We know that that causes particular problems in the local authority service when people are unable to receive the equipment that they need because they are waiting for an assessment by the occupational therapist.

The Department has taken several initiatives to resolve the problem. First, the hon. Member for Leicester, East may be aware that the fees and bursaries for occupational therapy students in England and Wales are currently centrally funded through the Department of Health at a cost of some £8 million. Training to become an occupational therapist can be undertaken in a number of ways. Most of the 17 schools in England and Wales offer the three-year, full-time diploma course, and four-year, day release in-service courses for helpers and technical instructors. In the forthcoming academic year, 1989-90, 60 additional places have been funded. We are therefore on target for a total of at least 160 extra places, funded by us centrally, by 1990-91. We are currently supporting 740 entrants into training each year.

Secondly, in addition to funding bursaries and fees, the Department has provided a great deal of capital--more than £2 million over the past three years--to a number of the schools of occupational therapy which has enabled them not only to increase their intake of students, but to improve their learning environment. That money has enabled two new schools to be opened, in Canterbury and Sheffield. Officials are also exploring possibilities of additional training schools to increase the number of available training places.

Thirdly, the Department has held discussions with local authority representatives about their contribution to the training of occupational therapists. They make a negligible contribution to the three-year diploma courses, although they take 20 per cent. of the available supply of qualified people. I understand that Leicestershire social services department is planning to sponsor two occupational therapy assistants on the proposed in-service course to be held in Derby plus one on the three- year diploma at Northampton. I welcome that and wish that more local authorities would take a positive attitude towards helping to meet the widespread national need for more students to be in training.

Mr. Vaz : Does not the Minister think it a little unfair to expect local authorities to make a larger contribution in view of the expenditure restrictions that have been placed on them by the Secretary of State for the Environment?

Mr. Freeman : I do not accept that argument. As the hon. Gentleman knows, each year there are discussions about centrally provided funds between the Department of the Environment and the local authority associations. The Department of Health is represented at those discussions and an assessment is made of revenue needs, including the cost of providing a local authority occupational therapy service and the cost of training. Training is part and parcel of the supply of services. The Government reach a determination of the central grant available, and it is then for the local authorities--in this case the county council--to decide specifically what the priorities are. The fourth measure addressing the need to increase supply and reduce shortages is that the Department also recognises that imaginative ways are needed to enable suitable recruits to undertake training. While the profession should be congratulated on the work that it has

Column 1437

done so far in this direction, it is felt that there are additional ways in which an increase in student numbers could be achieved. To assist innovative developments in this direction, the Department has provided a total of £135,000 in the current financial year, divided between five of the schools of occupational therapy as pump- priming money. They are to report back in the autumn with options on a variety of topics agreed with us. They include the progression through national vocational qualifications to state registration level, as well as refresher training for those returning to work after a career break.

It is important that we attract back into the NHS--I am now speaking in a slightly wider context--nurses and midwives, particularly women, who have taken a break for family reasons and who, perhaps in middle age, still have a good deal to offer. Refresher courses are clearly needed, particularly in occupational therapy, but there is no reason why those who leave the NHS in their twenties or early thirties to have a family should not plan to return. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would join me in encouraging the breakdown of any prejudices that may remain, not only in the Health Service but in local authorities.

No doubt the hon. Gentleman expects me to mention rates of pay. He may be aware that NHS pay is determined each year following the recommendations of an independent review body for nursing staff, midwives, health visitors and professions allied to medicine. That includes occupational therapists. In making its recommendations, the review body takes full account of the duties and responsibilities of occupational therapists, reflected in evidence submitted by the health departments, trade unions and professional bodies representing the staff concerned. The Government are committed to implementing the recommendations of the review unless there are clear and compelling reasons not to do so.

I should mention that since the inception of the review body in 1983, the pay of occupational therapists in the NHS has been increased by 24 per cent. in real terms. The hon. Gentleman will know that my Department has no direct influence over the pay of occupational therapists in local authorities.

We recognise that it is very important for health and local authorities to retain qualified staff. That is clearly a more effective use of resources than undue reliance on recruiting new people into the profession. Equally important is the attraction of non-practising occupational therapists back into employment. We know that there are many of them, and some health authorities have been successful in identifying this hitherto largely untapped labour pool, providing refresher opportunities and then offering flexible working hours.

As part of the NHS manpower planning advisory group's national professional manpower initiative, we are currently collecting information about retention and returner patterns and the strategies adopted by authorities to attract people back to work in the NHS and local authority sectors. We intend to disseminate that information to employing authorities, and to use it as a basis for considering what further action can be taken by the Department, the NHS and local authorities to effect an improvement in retention and returner rates of qualified occupational therapists.

Column 1438

It must be recognised, however, that good retention reflects good management. Some authorities have paid notable attention to such issues, and have provided good management support with appropriate training and development opportunities for their staff. That has reaped benefits, and I am sure that some authorities with particularly acute staffing problems could learn from the practice of the best authorities. I am not passing judgment on Leicestershire county council, or on the specific problems of Leicester city ; I am making a general point.

The hon. Gentlemen concentrated on the difficulties in the local authority services particularly those that he has experienced in his constituency. As I think can be understood from my description of the profession's work, the operation of the local authority service cannot be seen in isolation from that of its NHS counterpart.

Mr. Vaz : Has my hon. Friend the Minister any more to tell us about his six-point plan? Assuming that he has not, may I question him on a point that he has raised?

Some of what he said will be welcome to those working in this profession ; my concern, however, is with the backlog and delays in Leicestershire and other authorities. I realise that Leicestershire may be worse off than other areas. Although we have heard that the Minister is pledged to increase the number of training places, it will be three years before we have qualified occupational therapists. Can the Government do anything for local authorities such as Leicestershire in the short term?

Mr. Freeman : It may be convenient for the House and helpful to the hon. Gentleman if I now refer to my information concerning Leicestershire specifically. As I understand it, the hon. Gentleman's constituency covers the city east division of Leicestershire social services. That division has 1.5 occupational therapists in post, with 4.5 vacancies. Most are of more than six months' duration. Four occupational therapy assistants are in post, one of whom is to be sponsored for the three-year diploma course that I mentioned earlier.

Most waiting clients fall into what is described as priority category 2. Category 1 clients are seen within two to three weeks, while category 3 clients are invited to attend a clinic rather than receive a home visit : they are less disabled, and therefore able to travel. Category 2 clients wait for a long time. Most are awaiting assessment for home adaptation.

Leicestershire social services department is discussing with Leicester city council the idea of jointly funding a post just to assess for adaptations to homes. That innovative idea should help to clear much of the backlog. Leicestershire social services is also considering ways of introducing a self-assessment form for clients, so that it can determine who needs an occupational therapist to visit and who could be seen by an assistant. That is not a satisfactory or comprehensive solution ; it is a means of satisfying as much demand as possible from the available resources.

Leicestershire social services' salary scales do not encourage occupational therapists to stay in post. If they wish to be promoted, they go back to the NHS. I understand that the division in the hon. Gentleman's constituency has lost two members of staff in that way recently. Recruitment to the NHS occupational therapy services has been good of late. Pay is clearly a factor in the problem in the hon. Gentleman's constituency. As a health

Column 1439

Minister, I cannot either take direct action or directly advise the local authority concerned--the county council --on the action that it should take. At least the hon. Gentleman and I seem to agree on the diagnosis of the problem.

Clearly, initiatives can be taken jointly by the county and city councils : I have already referred to one. Management is all-important. I do not know the specific circumstances of Leicester, East or, indeed, the city of Leicester, but good management and good direction can help to improve retention, and can encourage staff who have left to return.

Mr. Vaz : The Minister is being very diplomatic. Perhaps I can tease an answer out of him. Does he consider that an

authority--perhaps not Leicestershire county council, but a fictitious county council in exactly the same position--should pay its occupational therapists more than Leicestershire is currently paying?

Mr. Freeman : The hon. Gentleman, with his rapidly acquired parliamentary skill, cannot draw me on that.

Let me emphasise that our policy for care in the community--that is, caring for more elderly people in their own homes if they do not need medical attention in hospital--is one with which I hope all hon. Members agree. The independent Blom-Cooper commission, to which the hon. Gentleman referred, has put valuable effort into looking at the future of the profession. Although its report is not expected until October, I understand that its central theme is likely to be the need for the profession to direct more of its energies, planning and resources towards care in the community, as opposed to care in hospitals or institutions. I fully support that.

I remind the hon. Gentleman and the House that our proposals for the reform of funding for care in the community will mean that local authorities--that includes the social services department of Leicestershire county council-- will in future have resources transferred from central Government. The portion of income support which is the care element will go to the local authorities so that they can make the correct decisions about how to provide support for the elderly in their own homes. That includes occupational therapy services and the provision of a wide range of domiciliary services to enable elderly people to stay in their own homes. The local authority will have continued responsibility and enhanced resources to achieve the laudable aim of providing for disabled people who wish to remain in the community.

Column 1440

Traffic (London)

11 am

Sir Philip Goodhart (Beckenham) : I am grateful for this opportunity to raise the difficult problems of London traffic. Virtually all commuters and travellers in London agree that our transport system is in danger of seizing up. On Wednesday evening, parts of London ground to a halt. On that evening, the problems were accentuated by various public sector strkes, but many of us felt fear as well as frustration. We were fearful that what happened on Wednesday evening could become normal if nothing is done and the inexorable growth of traffic in central London continues. It would be difficult to put a price tag on the irritation that I felt on Wednesday after missing an appointment with the American ambassador. It is also difficult to estimate the cost of the irritation that my commuter constituents feel as their journeys are delayed. However, we can estimate with some precision the amount that traffic congestion adds to the bills of some of the larger companies operating in London. For example, British Telecom has estimated that an improvment in traffic speed of just 1.4 mph inside the M25 circle would save the company £7.25 million. Its fuel savings would come close to £900,000 and the saving on drivers' time would account for more than £6 million.

It is ironic that British Telecom would benefit so greatly from a traffic speed-up because on many occasions its roadworks have slowed my journeys through the capital. Yesterday morning, I went to the AA's new road watch centre at Stanmore, where it can monitor delays and traffic hold-ups throughout a large part of the country. That centre will provide an increasingly valuable service to motorists. I noted at the centre that British Telecom was responsible for 11 of the almost 60 major roadworks in London yesterday.

On the desks of Transport Ministers are many plans for improving the transport infrastructure of London. I should like to pay tribute to the work of the former Secretary of State for Transport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), especially for the paper, "Transport in London", which he prepared and produced earlier this year. But building new railway lines, underground tunnels, light railways and roads takes time as well as hundreds of millions of pounds. While we wait for improvements in the infrastructure, it is vital to make the best use of the roads that we have.

There is general agreement that the basis of any plan to get London moving must be the unclogging of its traffic arteries. Some south London Members-- I am one--including my hon. Friends the Members for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley), for Carshalton and Wallington (Mr. Forman), for Dulwich (Mr. Bowden), for Lewisham, West (Mr. Maples), for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook), for Twickenham (Mr. Jessel) and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who is in his place and who thought up the title, have put forward the "Red Route Plan". It proposes that heavier fines and more traffic warden enforcement should be concentrated on the 300 miles of roads that make up our main arterial system in London. We propose that heavier fines of at least £75 for illegal parking should be levied on those red routes and that there should be five times the normal level of enforcement.

Column 1441

London's traffic warden force is about 500 under strength. There should be 2,000 traffic wardens and there are fewer than 1,500. The extra 500 wardens should be concentrated on those 300 miles of red routes. The red route concept of concentrated enforcement has powerful allies. It is backed by the AA, the CBI and the Institution of Civil Engineers. I cannot speak for the police, but I know that their thinking and our thinking is on the same lines. I hope that the red route proposals will soon be backed by the Government. One of the roads that would obviously be earmarked as a red route is the south circular road, which has been heavily congested for as long as I can remember. Some years ago, the Department of Transport commissioned a comprehensive study of ways to relieve congestion on the south circular. Among the many proposals put forward were two plans for building alternative roads which would have cut through my constituency. Other south London constituencies are affected by similar proposals. If either of those new roads were built, it would cost hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

The drawing of broad brush strokes by the consultants on their planning maps has inadvertently blighted hundreds if not thousands of homes in Beckenham. I do not think that either of those routes will ever be built, and there is no need for them. Once again, I beg the Department of Transport to make an early announcement about that. When I recently drove six miles along the south circular on a Friday afternoon I saw 143 vehicles illegally parked and there was not one traffic warden to be seen. It would be absurd to spend hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers' money to duplicate a road that is so often used as an illegal parking lot.

Apart from greater control of illegal parking, we propose the establishment of a more powerful London traffic management unit within the Department of Transport. We certainly do not want to create a new "son of GLC". We think that the proper place for this unit is within the Department of Transport. Once again, the proposal is backed by the AA and the CBI, although the Institution of Civil Engineers has rather more grandiose plans.

Part of the job of the London traffic management unit would be to ensure that artificial obstructions are not created on our roads. I am in favour of reducing the speed of traffic in residential areas and I am glad that the Department of Transport has made it easier to install road humps. However, I note that a number of councils, notably Hammersmith and Fulham, are going further and closing off side roads so that more and more traffic is forced to use the main trunk roads. I regret to say that Kensington and Chelsea council has recently gone even further and deliberately reduced the width of Kensington high street to one lane at one point, thus creating additional traffic jams on a road which already carries 10 major bus routes, quite apart from the admirable new hoppa buses, the Green Line coach services and the Heathrow buses. That act of traffic vandalism has, absurdly, been approved by the existing London traffic management unit of the Department of Transport, which surely could not have understood what it was doing. We

Column 1442

need a traffic management unit with a remit to keep London's traffic moving, rather than creating artificial traffic jams. One vital role to be played by the traffic management unit would be overseeing the roadworks in central London. The Horn report on roadworks control highlighted the lack of planning of roadworks not only in London but throughout the country. No part of the red route system should be dug up until the work plan has been approved by the traffic management unit. On the new red route, continuous working should be the goal, with a great deal of work being done at night. Spending £10 million per year for 10 years on subsidising quicker roadworks in central London would do more to help London's buses, lorries, taxis and cars than spending £100 million on a new road in Bromley or Barnes.

I hope that a London traffic management unit will also be given a key role in setting a parking policy in central London. In the immediate future, that will provide the best means to control the use of private cars in the central area. I admit that I usually drive to the Palace of Westminster rather than using public transport, because I can be sure of finding a place in our admirable underground car park. It was once said that the House of Commons was the best club in Europe. I doubt whether that is still so, but it certainly provides the best car park in London.

If we are to limit the number of cars in central London, firm central control must be kept on parking policy. At the moment, the responsibility for parking is untidily split between the London boroughs, the police and the Department of Transport. Once an effective London traffic management unit has been established, the lead role in establishing a sensible parking policy for central London must pass to the Department of Transport. I also hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, and my right hon. Friend the new Secretary of State for Transport--whom we wish well--will combine their forces to persuade my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer that money raised by parking fines should be used to recruit and maintain an effective warden force.

Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : I agree with everything that my hon. Friend has said, but should not enforcement of the regulations be transferred to the boroughs, so that it is carried out sensitively and with local knowledge?

Sir Philip Goodhart : There is a strong case for transferring such responsibility to the boroughs in outer London, but inner London parking policy is so important that it should be the responsibility of the Department of Transport.

London's roads are dangerous. I pay tribute to the former Minister for Roads and Traffic, my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley)-- who has now gone to Northern Ireland, the part of the United Kingdom with the worst road safety record of all. Even in the early 1970s, when terrorism was at its worst, the road toll in Northern Ireland far exceeded the toll from terrorism, so there will be much for my hon. Friend to do. In the past three years, he has done a great deal to publicise the cause of road safety.

I am sure that all of us have been moved by the story of Don Kell, the pensioner who was shot while having a go at bank robbers. Mrs. Kell, who saw part of the incident from a distance, thought that she was watching the result of a traffic accident. That is understandable, because last

Column 1443

year 488 Londoners were killed in traffic accidents, while 146 died as a result of criminal violence. In other words, motorists are responsible for three times as many deaths in London as criminals. However, the situation is improving. Thirty years ago, 765 people were killed on London's roads--277 more than died last year. In part, this improvement may be caused by the congestion that we deplore. A car that can travel at only 2 mph will do less damage than a car travelling at 40 mph, if it hits someone. The main causes of the dramatic fall in the number of deaths on London roads, however, have been the drink-driving legislation and the seat belt legislation passed in recent years. The best opportunity that we have to reduce the appalling toll on London's roads would come from passing a new Road Traffic Bill based on the many and sensible recommendations in the North report. Those recommendations will make it much easier for the police to enforce speed limits, and speed is a major killer on our roads.

What is needed from the Government? We need higher parking penalties on our red roads and another 500 traffic wardens, to be concentrated on the red routes. They should be left to the control of the Metropolitan police in inner London, however, and on the main routes, so that there is central direction on parking policy. We need the establishment of a high-powered London traffic management unit with powers to override obstacles placed by some London boroughs and to exercise proper management of roadworks. We need legislation on the Horn report on roadworks and on the North report on traffic law. These steps will not solve our traffic problems but they will provide a desperately needed measure of relief for the travellers of London and people generally.

11.20 am

The Minister of State, Department of Transport (Mr. Michael Portillo) : I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Sir P. Goodhart) most warmly on initiating this Adjournment debate and giving us the opportunity to discuss many matters. He has given a great deal of thought to the subject matter of the debate and the shopping list with which he ended his speech was a clear sign of the way in which he has organised his thinking. He has set the agenda for us to think carefully about the issues to which he has referred, and I pay tribute to him for what he has done.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was fulsome in his tributes, and I thank him for that. He referred especially to my right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West (Mr. Channon), with whom it was a great privilege to work for a year. My right hon. Friend was extremely concerned about all the matters that my hon. Friend has raised, and perhaps especially about the London assessment studies. He understood that, necessary though these studies are, they create tensions and problems in the consituencies of hon. Members on both sides of the House. My right hon. Friend wished to bring the studies to a conclusion as rapidly as possible so as to end some of the uncertainty and the blight. We expect to receive the consultants' reports in the late summer. There will then be a period for public comment before we decide which, if any, of the consultants' ideas should be taken forward. We have said already that we shall not support schemes which do more harm than good.

Column 1444

The assessment studies have the potential for making a major contribution to improving the quality of life in London. I should emphasise that they are not aimed at providing short cuts for motorists through London. Instead, their purpose is to relieve environmental problems and to reduce congestion and casualty rates. I can assure my hon. Friend that there will be no unnecessary road building. Our aim is to ensure that motor vehicles serve the needs of London and do not rule its infrastructure. My right hon. Friend the Member for Southend, West was keen to try to rule out options which could not be carried forward as soon as possible, and I have every reason to believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Parkinson), the new Secretary of State, will see things in much the same terms.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was also fulsome in his tributes to my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Mr. Bottomley), who was for many years the Under-Secretary of State for Transport with responsibilities for roads, and I agree that he did tremendous work, especially on road safety.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham was keen to hear that we were to bring forward legislation to implement the North report recommendations. He will understand the problems in committing myself on that. We welcomed the recommendations, and legislation will be brought forward as soon as parliamentary time can be found. My hon. Friend referred to the events of Wednesday evening, in which I was caught up. I do not know whether that statement provides limited consolation for my hon. Friend. It gives me the opportunity to say that the efforts made by the public to get to work in London during the recent difficulties have been magnificent and are to be applauded. I think that my hon. Friend was witnessing the symptoms of those great efforts. I do not think that there is any distance between the two of us in recognising that time wasted in traffic has a value and that time spent in that way reduces the quality of life for people in London. For both those reasons, we need to do what we can to improve traffic speeds through London.

The thrust of my hon. Friend's remarks was that we can look to build new roads and new railways, but that we must also make good use of what we have already. I could not agree with him more. Perhaps he will be patient with me for a few moments while I sketch the background in terms of some of the big projects that we have in mind. I shall put my remarks in the context of our general approach. My hon. Friend will know from the document on transport in London to which he referred that there are five main elements to our approach. These are, first, to provide through-road traffic with good alternative routes around London and, wherever possible, to avoid the central area. Secondly, we seek to make the best possible use of existing roads throughout London, especially those on the strategic London road network. Thirdly, we wish to ensure that London is linked properly to national and international transport networks. Fourthly, we wish to tackle the worst places and causes of congestion and improve conditions in areas where transport problems are especially severe. That is where the London assessment studies come in. Fifthly, we wish to promote safe, efficient and effective public transport services, including those which will meet the demand for rail services to, from and within central London.

Column 1445

We recognise that different transport modes are particularly suited to different purposes. We recognise, for example, that rail and underground transport are the main means of radial movement into central London, and that the underground system, buses, taxis and walking are the main means of travel in the inner and central areas. We are aware that cars dominate in the outer areas. Our approach is being implemented urgently and large sums are being invested. Our approach is further described in the document on strategic planning guidance for London, which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environmemt will be publishing this afternoon. My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham knows that public transport is my particular concern. British Rail and the London Underground are undertaking major investment programmes to improve the quality of their services and to increase capacity. British Rail is planning to invest more than £1 billion on Network SouthEast in the next five years, the bulk of it on higher capacity and more comfortable and efficient rolling stock. I know that my hon. Friend has a constituency interest in that. London Regional Transport will be investing more than £400 million. Its investment programme includes a wide range of measures to ease congestion at stations and on trains. The Docklands light railway is being enormously upgraded in an attempt to keep pace with development and to provide higher capacity.

We are improving London's trunk roads to take traffic around central London. There are 38 major schemes planned or under construction, with works costing more than £1 billion. Priority is being given to improving orbital movement around the North Circular road and improved access to Docklands and east London. We are aiming also to realise the potential capacity of the present network by removing the worst pinch points and providing environmental relief in inner London and improved links to the M25, the Channel tunnel and Heathrow. My hon. Friend will know of the study on the M25 that was produced yesterday. We shall have to consider the consultants' recommendations extremely carefully.

Mr. Neil Thorne (Ilford, South) : In 1973, for good or ill, the Greater London council abandoned the South Circular road. By the time that it was taken on by the Government in 1974, no attempt had been made to provide for the additional traffic that would clearly need to use the M25. The M25 was originally designed to cater for the estimated amount of traffic on the assumption that a proper South Circular road had been constructed. In the absence of such a road, were not the then Labour Government extremely irresponsible in not providing a much better and larger M25 to take account of the fact that the South Circular road had not been provided?

Mr. Portillo : My hon. Friend has a much better understanding of these matters than I have. If he is suggesting that the Labour Government were irresponsible, I would find that easy to believe. I am happy to agree with my hon. Friend.

One of the problems with the M25 was convincing inspectors at public inquiries that a road of that capacity was needed. There were instances when inspectors were most reluctant to grant planning permission for a six- lane motorway. They thought that a four-lane motorway

Column 1446

would do. I mention that because our perceptions have changed enormously. It is difficult to remember now that there was not then the expectation of continued economic growth of the kind that we have seen throughout the 1980s. There was no shortage of people assuring the Government that economic growth was impossible. Yet they now claim to be the people who saw so clearly that more roads were needed. However, my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, South (Mr. Thorne) leads me to digress.

The majority of roads in London are borough roads, and we are supporting an increasing number of borough road schemes with transport supplementary grant from the Department of Transport. Schemes receiving our support include town centre improvement and bypass schemes which help the movement of traffic and create a safer, more pleasant environment for pedestrians, and schemes which provide better industrial access.

We believe that safer and smoother traffic flows will result from effective parking controls, the extension of advanced and responsive traffic light control systems and the development of in-car route guidance and driver information systems. All those are receiving high priority. My hon. Friend will know of the Road Traffic (Driver Licensing Information Systems) Act 1989, which makes it possible to introduce an Autoguide. That is an example of using the latest developments in technology to help ease traffic congestion. The United Kingdom Transport and Road Research Laboratory has estimated that in London, Autoguide could cut average journey times by about 10 per cent. and mileage by about 6 per cent. The Department is about to enter into negotiations with GEC on a licence for a large scale Autoguide pilot scheme in the London area. We expect the private sector to finance the development and operation of the system. The pilot scheme could be in operation by the early 1990s and the Department of Transport will monitor the results. If the pilot scheme is successful, a full commercial scheme could be available to the public by the early to mid-1990s. The development of the Radio data system by the BBC could also be important as it has the potential to relay specific traffic messages to people through their car radios, giving information on traffic conditions. The information will be fast, reliable and local rather than nationwide. That could be of considerable significance in combating unpredictable congestion caused by accidents or by burst water mains.

We are constantly looking for new ideas for practical and more radical solutions to London's traffic problems. In that context, I should like to thank my hon. Friends for their constructive proposals for improving the management of traffic in London by means of a "red routes" system for London roads. The proposals for a network of priority routes have received considerable support and certainly merit the most careful consideration. I confirm to my hon. Friend that we are giving them urgent and serious attention. I should perhaps explain that a network of priority routes already exists in London, although not in the form that my hon. Friend envisages. This is the strategic London road network, which consists of 550 miles of trunk and borough roads forming the most important routes in London. Although it comprises only 7 per cent. of London's roads, it carries 35 per cent. of London's traffic, including more than half its bus traffic and 45 per cent. of its freight traffic. Its importance is emphasised in the traffic management guidance that my right hon. Friend has issued to the London boroughs. This

Column 1447

guidance seeks a coherent approach to the management of traffic on the network and encourages improved safety and smoother traffic flows through improved junction controls and strict control of waiting and parking.

It will not surprise my hon. Friend to hear that there are bound to be some potential difficulties with parts of what he and other hon. Friends have suggested. The idea of a London traffic management unit is interesting, but we would not wish to create more bureaucracy where that could be avoided. We believe that the concept of strategic priority routes is a good one, however, so we are giving careful thought to how to overcome the potential bureaucratic pitfalls. I can give my hon. Friend more immediate encouragement on his call for the greater co-ordination of street works. This matter will be addressed in the legislative changes that we are proposing for the reform of the Public Utilities Street Works Act 1950. Under our proposals, highway authorities will be given a power to designate as "traffic sensitive" streets where works are likely to cause severe disruption and to prescribe hours of working. In addition, the authorities will be under a duty to co-ordinate excavations with a view to minimising disruption and undesirable combinations of excavations. That duty will apply to utility services' excavations, the highway authorities' own works and works carried out under licence by others, such as builders. The proposed computerised street works register should also be a valuable aid to co-ordinating works. It is envisaged that all utilities and highway authorities will be linked to the register, which will provide a cheaper and faster system for notification of works than the present system of paper notices. I am sure that all that will be welcome.

I have acquired considerable experience in Docklands of seeking to co- ordinate the activities of all the various undertakings and public bodies which have the power to dig up our roads and the potential to cause disruption. I am mindful of the importance of co-ordination, because I understand that there is nothing more frustrating to the motorist than to be held up because of the poor co-ordination and management of these activities.

I hope that my hon. Friend will be reassured that the Government welcome his work on how to deal with traffic in London. The Government's mind is certainly not closed to considering constructive proposals such as those that my hon. Friend has put forward. We need to place substantial emphasis on the ways in which the existing road network can be fully utilised. To a large extent, that may be the product of new technology through radio data systems, better signing and better information, but the proposals that my hon. Friend has put forward deserve the fullest consideration.

My hon. Friend's proposals have broad implications for the respective roles of the Secretary of State, the London boroughs and the Metropolitan police. The proposals therefore need very careful study and I am in no position to announce any conclusions today. Nevertheless, my hon. Friends have given us much food for thought, and, typically, have shown their deep concern to improve the quality of life in London. I take this opportunity to thank my hon. Friend for raising the subject, to wish him a very happy summer break and safe motoring. May his way be ever free of jams throughout the summer period.

Column 1448

Rural Development (Borders)

11.37 am

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire) : Let me take the House away from the dusty highways and byways of the traffic problems in central London to a wonderland north of the border--to my constituency, where we nevertheless have problems of our own. I would not wish London's congestion problems on anywhere, but we have different problems, and I am grateful for the opportunity to raise them in the House. I hope that I have not detained the Minister too late and kept him from his holidays. In any case, if he were flying from Gatwick he would have transport problems, which I hope to avoid when I go on holiday later next week.

I seek to raise the matter of rural development in my constituency. I should like to make one or two general points, but the main thrust of my speech today is that there is a need to develop an overall coherent strategy for rural planning in south-east and south-west Scotland. Over the past 10 years, rural areas have been neglected. They have not been in the forefront of the minds of Government policymakers. The needs of rural areas are different, but they are nonetheless just as great and deserve just as much attention as the needs of places in inner London suffering from traffic congestion. I accept that, in the past, the neglect of rural policy making has been defensible to some extent. In the past 20 years, a large amount of agricultural support was guaranteed from the Exchequer and, subsequently, from European Community funds. I know that the Minister has a deep interest in matters relating to the countryside and I pay credit to him for that. All of us with experience of rural areas recognise that agriculture has been an effective mechanism to allow resources devoted from the Exchequer or the EC to trickle down through the many support and ancillary industries. Although agriculture has never provided any local luxury as far as I have been able to discover, it has been the floor of local economies in rural areas.

In the past, therefore, the needs of those rural areas have not been as great. By and large, the Ministry of Agriculture, supported by the Scottish Development Agency and the local authorities, has managed to support a tolerable standard of living in our landward areas. I do not believe that that is necessarily so now, and it will not be the case automatically in the future. The Minister will appreciate that there have been substantial changes in the type of EC farm support and on the quantity of money that we can expect from support mechanisms aimed at maintaining agricultural life in the future. The Government must recognise that.

We know that, now, the Commission has plans that are much more concerned to support income via diversification and other schemes than to subsidise primary farm produce as in the past. That significant change will have a substantial impact on the countryside. The Minister will also appreciate that, increasingly, our countryside is being fought over by competing conservation and development interests. The casualties tend to be local people. Young local people, for example, trying to enter the local housing market for the first time are unable to compete with incoming commuters. The shift inwards to the towns from villages and peripheral valleys is accelerating at an alarming rate in my area. Such problems are not unique to

Column 1449

the Borders, but there are special circumstances in south-east and south-west Scotland. In the Borders, in particular, we have a very narrow range of employment opportunities provided by the existing economic base. That narrow range, taken together with the changes to agricultural funding, means that the future could be bleak for the Borders.

A great deal of effort has gone into supporting and stimulating social and economic activity to provide jobs and housing for people in the inner cities. I do not criticise that, as it is necessary and such Government work as has been undertaken is welcome. A great deal of work has gone into stimulating economic and social activity to provide jobs and other facilities for those who live in the Highlands and Islands Development Board area. I do not want to criticise the excellent development work undertaken by that board, but nothing has been done in south-east or south- west Scotland and that situation cannot be allowed to continue any longer. Those areas, that are outside the remit of the HIDB and outside the central industrial belt, are areas whose time has come for some attention.

In the Borders, textiles, together with farming, forestry, fishing and tourism will continue to be the main elements in the local economic mix. If Lord Plumb's recent statements are to be believed--he should know, as a former President of the European Parliament--the EC expects to save some £2.8 billion on agriculture in the next four years. My constituents want to know how much of that saving will be devoted to other developments outside agriculture in the rural areas.

In the next two or three years, the multi-fibre arrangement will be renegotiated in Europe. That will largely determine the continued future viability of a large section of the local textile industry--45 per cent. of employment in Hawick in my constituency is directly or indirectly derived from that industry. Those workers believe that they are under a potential threat from a renegotiated or an abandoned multi-fibre arrangement.

My hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) is present. He would agree with me that the fishing industry provides a substantial proportion of jobs in our constituencies, in towns such as Eyemouth in Berwickshire. Quota restrictions, the lack of any sensible long-term policy for restructuring the fleet, and high interest rates are putting the catching sector under severe short-term and middle-term financial strain. Worse than that, the onshore processing industry in my area is suffering great financial difficulties and possible closure because of the lack of raw material being landed by the fleets as a result of restrictions on total allowable catches and the quotas.

Forestry is also passing through a troubled period. Of my constituency, 15 per cent. is already dedicated to afforestation and, increasingly, contractors are being used who do not follow the old-style practices of the Forestry Commission. That change is causing problems and distress, because such forests are replacing viable farming, particularly sheep units, in some of the remote valleys of my constituency.

Tourism is underdeveloped because of the lack of resources available to local authorities and to private contractors to renovate and to keep in good repair the

Column 1450

buildings and environment of some of the local border towns. In the Borders, the inescapable signs of potential financial distress are there for all to see. The emergent feeling is that the economic base is extremely fragile, and that is a cause of concern. I have reached the inescapable conclusion that the Government must now develop a coherent policy to enable some of the deep-seated structural problems to be tackled. There is no shortage of ideas or methods for tackling them. The precondition of everything is for the Government to recognise the need for a coherent strategy to approach some of those problems.

I believe that the Borders should be designated a rural development area--I have put that argument at great length in the past. Since 1983, when I was elected, I have been arguing that case on the basis that the funding need not be enormous sums from the Exchequer. I believe that modest amounts of central Government finance could unlock and seed-fund development in the Borders. Such investment would repay handsome dividends at every level.

During the past few years, we in the Borders have been discriminated against by a series of Government decisions that have excluded the region from any access to external funding sources. That is now causing us increasing problems, and our region is at a consistent disadvantage in comparison with others, such as Tayside, west Scotland and the central industrial belt. This is also prejudicial to us compared with some rural areas south of the border, which have been earmarked for rural development assistance status. The Government withdrew assisted area status from the region in August 1982, so that the Border area was no longer eligible for EEC regional development funds. That was a considerable blow, and we still feel its force. In April 1985, the Borders lost priority status for European social fund assistance, thereby limiting the finance available for, for example, vocational training. Recently, the Commission has reviewed the structural funds provided under the European regional development fund, the social fund and FEOGA--the European Agricultural Guidance and Guarantee Fund--and brought them together under five objectives.

In May 1987, the Borders regional council made an urgent plea to the Scottish Office to set up a rural development fund in the region. The request was considered, but no action was taken, so we lost by default. The area gets no help through urban aid. Lynwood in Hawick has been designated for urban aid, which it certainly needs. However, I believe that the Government could make a case for urban aid to be a substantial contributor in more than just one street.

Our battle with the Scottish Office has recently focused on the question whether the Borders should be included in, or excluded from, the list of areas that are to receive help under the Commission's five new objectives. I am aware that there is an opportunity under objective 3 to get money for the region for vocational training for the long-term unemployed, although it is a restricted category. The potential exists also to help people between 18 and 25 under objective 4. The Government must understand that it is essential that we have access to objective 5b funds. I understand that the areas eligible for those funds are regularly reviewed and that the Government argued the case for the inclusion of the Borders. Although we were refused last time, I hope that the Government will give a

Column 1451

fair wind to everything that the regional authority and others are doing in the Borders to sustain their case so that we are eligible next time for objective 5b funds.

There are a number of different ways in which a rural development agency or rural development fund could underpin the economy of the Borders. A number of obvious things could be done on the economic development front. On the rural housing front, there is a crying need for housing associations agencies and local authorities to stimulate much more activity. On the transport and community project fronts, there are many proposed methods of making progress that could be adopted if they were co-ordinated by a local planning authority that had access to rural development fund money. A rural development agency could select from a shopping list of issues that need attention.

I should like to consider some specific matters of urgent concern in the Borders. I hope that the Minister will comment on the status of the Borders in terms of the crucial matter of objective 5b eligibility. I hope also that he will say something about the progress made on the application by the Eyemouth harbour trustees for the expansion of Eyemouth harbour. The fishing industry is in a state of flux. I have referred to the short-term difficulties which are causing some distress in the area. Unemployment in the Eyemouth area is marginally higher than the Scottish national average. The fishing industry is important in providing jobs. If the industry is not underpinned in the long-term, the employment prospects will be bleak.

Much work has gone into putting together the expansion plan for Eyemouth harbour. This work has brought together, uniquely, the regional authority, the Scottish Development Agency and the trustees, and the proposal has the support of everyone with any part to play in the economic life of the Borders. We are 100 per cent. behind it. A substantial sum is involved, but the trustees will make a major contribution. However, the local feeling is that the Government are going slightly cold on the application. What is the Government's view on the proposed expansion of Eyemouth harbour?

Although this matter does not come within the departmental responsibilities of the Minister, I hope that Scottish Office Ministers will take a keen and continuing interest in the multi-fibre arrangement negotiations, because the textile industry is important to the employment base in Roxburghshire. I understand that, in the current Uruguay round of talks on the general agreement on tariffs and trade, the Government are prepared to accept some linkage between expanded access by developing countries to our markets if we can get liberalisation of our export trade in some other parts of the world. My local textile industry is prepared to contemplate that kind of protection, as opposed to continuation of the MFA, only if it gets cast- iron guarantees that, if it yields its markets to the textile industries in developing countries, in return other countries must yield when we try to sell our goods in the developing markets of the middle east and far east. The Scottish Office must play a role in the negotiations.

I am worried about the stance taken by the European Commission in terms of its mandate for Ministers in the GATT talks. This gives away too much too soon. The guarantees in the recently published document on this matter are not sufficient to satisfy my local textile industry

Column 1452

that its interests will be protected. It is important to the textile industry and to my constituency that the Government should put up a strenuous fight to get either cast-iron guarantees under GATT or a renegotiated MFA that protects the local industry. It is not that I favour protectionism, but we want to establish a system of fair trade whereby we have the same opportunities to make inroads into export markets in developing countries as they have into ours. Another major anxiety facing the Borders is the maintenance of our road network. I know that the Minister is about to give birth to a policy review of trunk roads south of Edinburgh ; it is expected at the end of this month or early next. He will recognise the importance of that study to the Borders region. I should like an assurance from him that the regional authority will be fully consulted and be given every opportunity to make its views known before administrative or ministerial decisions are taken.

As for subsidiary and minor roads, the Minister will know that, in the process of extracting timber from the forests, an inordinate amount of damage can be done to rural side roads. Formerly, the local authority had access to European assistance to make good the damage, but that is no longer so, and the result is a high cost. I know that the Department has made some concessions in terms of environmental improvement schemes and has managed to channel extra capital allocations in the direction of the regional council. Will that level of funding continue and increase?

We in the Borders are prepared to give the new Government initiative on Scottish Enterprise a fair wind--I understand that an agency is due to be set up in the Borders. Local people are prepared to give it their best shot and try to make it a vehicle of development, both under the amalgamated SDA and under the new powers that Scottish Homes has. It presents an opportunity to use the new framework of Scottish Enterprise to help to develop the Borders in future.

I hope that the Government will look carefully at the DRAW initiative which ended in 1987--a system which developed rural area workshops. The initiative was a great success, but unfortunately funding was withdrawn in 1987, so it produced no continuing benefits. The PRIDE scheme unfortunately had a poor response, but both short-lived projects contained the germ of an idea which could in future provide great benefits for the region--if it is given a little finance to speed it on its way.

I know that the local authority is worried about the provision of green field industrial sites on which to put up factories for incoming industry. Much puzzlement followed the Secretary of State's recent decision on the planning application for the Appletree Hall site in Hawick. Against the background of the problems that I have explained--the narrow base of manufacturing industry in the Borders--the local authority thought that it had identified a place that was ripe for development as a major green field site for incoming industry.

After a local inquiry, the Secretary of State saw fit to refuse a compulsory purchase provision for the local authority, which left it with an area earmarked for development under its local plan but with no major greenfield site within the precincts of Hawick or other major Borders towns. That has stymied many of the authority's best efforts to provide locations for incoming industry and, on the face of it, it looks like the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. I hope that if the

Next Section

  Home Page