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Column 11London. As I have already said, all being well, London Underground will be introducing a Bill this time next year to make possible one of the lines.
Mr. John Marshall : Is my right hon. Friend aware that a previous chairman of London Transport described the Northern line as "an abomination" on which trains are dirty, infrequent and regularly graffiti- ridden? Will my right hon. Friend speed up investment in the Northern line so that improvements can be made before the mid-1990s?
Mr. Parkinson : London Transport is working hard on those plans. I have just inaugurated the modernisation of Angel station at a cost of £55 million and that work is now in hand. Plans will be introduced for the full modernisation of that entire line and I recognise that the House wants to hear about them as soon as possible.
Mr. Parkinson : As I have recently announced, I have already put a great deal of action in hand on the recommendations of the central and east London rail studies. With my approval London Regional Transport has just deposited a Bill for the extension of the Jubilee line ; subject to the outcome of further work I expect to authorise a Bill for another major new line next year ; and a good start has been made on a major upgrading programme of the existing underground network.
Ms. Ruddock : Has the Secretary of State forgotten that his central London rail study suggested that the extension of the Jubilee line was the least likely option to relieve congestion in central London? Surely his main tool for relieving overcrowding is the increase in fares? Will he acknowledge that his Department is predicting a 46 per cent. increase in fares on the Underground in the next 11 years? Does he agree that that will simply put people on the roads, add to road congestion and lead to further traffic accidents in our capital city?
Mr. Parkinson : I am not sure that the hon. Lady really meant what she said about 46 per cent. over 11 years. If that were so that percentage would represent the lowest increase ever and probably lower than that in any one year under the Labour party. During the past 10 years London Transport fares have not increased in real terms. Investment in the London Underground system is massive and we have already announced the extension of the Jubilee line. I hope that the hon. Lady, whose constituents stand to benefit from that line, will not complain about the fact that south London will get a decent Underground service in the years ahead from the Jubilee line, as will east London. We are coming forward with a proposal for another line. I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Lady, but we are tackling problems which she and her friends just moan about.
Column 12and blind were confirmed at their present level--that is, at no cost to their holders? Can he tell me when pensioners and others can expect an announcement to be made?
Mr. Parkinson : I cannot give the date, but I can repeat the assurance that I gave earlier--that the travel concession is not threatened. The negotiations are simply in hand between the parties. It is not the elderly or the disabled who are the cause of London's congestion-- no one would suggest that. The plain fact is that, in the past five years, the number of people using the Underground has increased by 35 per cent. in the rush hour. and by 85 per cent. at off-peak times. There is a massive demand for the service that Opposition Members say that we should subsidise.
Mr. Atkins : Our plans are set out comprehensively in the document "Transport and Disability--a Statement of Aims and Priorities". I pay great attention to my disablement advisory committee, which represents many disabled organisations that perform excellent and independent work.
Mr. Fearn : Is the Minister aware that 6 million disabled people are potential travellers on public transport and that we should do a great deal for them? No disabled person can travel across London by bus because of the steps, bars or barriers, nor can he go down to the Underground. It is absolutely appalling that no disabled person can be allowed down on the Underground because, I believe, of disasters. Is he also aware that in rural areas, as a result of deregulation, the bus services have gone for the cheapest option and, in the main, they do not cater for disabled persons? In the Minister's answer--
Mr. Atkins : As I said, my Department has a great deal of interest and concern in matters affecting the disabled. There have been many changes to benefit disabled people in all aspects of transport, but there is always room for improvement. As I said, I pay great heed to my advisory committee which is very independent. It tells me exactly what needs to be done, and I endeavour to do it.
Mr. Thurnham : Will the Minister conduct an inquiry into the transport of the disabled to and from day centres? The special bus that collects my constituent Mark Horrocks takes more than three and a half hours each day for a four-mile journey. Will he give guidance to local authorities about how to improve such grossly inadequate services?
Mr. Atkins : I am not familiar with the details of this case. My hon. Friend is known for his concern and interest in these matters. If he will be kind enough to write to me with the details, I shall be more than happy to see what I can do to help.
Column 13grants parking concessions for disabled drivers and passengers? Is any consideration being given to increasing the penalties for abuse?
Mr. Atkins : As the right hon. Gentleman knows, a wide variety of topics related to this issue are being considered. We are endeavouring to prevent abuse so that those who need the orange badge scheme are able to use it, and to do so more effectively. I am considering all the points that he has raised as matters of considerable urgency and I hope to be able to report in the near future.
94. Mr. Nicholas Bennett : To ask the Attorney-General what percentage of court hearings in 1988 were unable to proceed on the day for which they were listed as a result of (a) prisoners not delivered to the court, (b) police officers not in court to give evidence, (c) probation service reports not available and (d) Crown prosecution service delays.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Nicholas Lyell) : The Crown prosecution service and the Home Office have carried out a number of surveys into causes of delay in the criminal justice system. While the precise statistics sought by my hon. Friend are not available, responsibility for adjournments is spread amongst a variety of agencies in the system and the Crown prosecution service is certainly not the major cause of such requests.
Mr. Bennett : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that there is considerable concern among lawyers and lay people at the delays taking place in hearing cases, and the fact that the administration of justice is being hindered as a result? What action are the Government taking to try to speed up hearings?
The Solicitor-General : The Crown prosecution service tries to liaise with the different agencies--my hon. Friend referred to the police, the probation service and the courts--to ensure that the system speeds ahead as much as possible. Inevitably, its review duties cause some extra time, but the interests of justice make this well worth while.
Mr. Vaz : Does the hon. and learned Gentleman share my concern following last Thursday's publication of a report into the operation of the duty solicitor scheme? Does he accept that the scheme's operation is just as important as the operation of the Crown prosecution service and court delays in terms of the proper administration of justice? What additional resources are the Government prepared to put into the operation of the duty solicitor scheme? Are they prepared to step back and allow the scheme to be destroyed?
The Solicitor-General : My right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor is studying the report with great care. We attach great importance to the proper working of the duty solicitor scheme which, among other things, puts great pressure on solicitors. My right hon. and learned Friend will keep the matter closely under review.
Mr. Hind : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the case of Mr. Lorrain Osman who has been awaiting extradition proceedings while in custody for the past four years? Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that this is
Column 14a great strain on our British justice system? Will he look into the matter with a view to involving the official solicitor so that this man may be released pending proceedings?
The Solicitor-General : I have had the opportunity to look in some considerable detail at the background to Mr. Osman's case. My hon. Friend will wish to bear in mind that Mr. Osman, who is an extremely wealthy man, is entitled to exhaust every one of his legal remedies in this country before my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary can take the decision on whether to extradite him to Hong Kong. Inevitably, those legal remedies take time to pursue, but my hon. Friend should also bear in mind that the question of bail in the interim is a matter for the independent judiciary and has been before it on several occasions.
Mr. Archer : To revert to the original question, is it not false economy to leave these services under-resourced? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that delays involve loss of time for the judiciary, the court service, defence witnesses and the other services involved? Would it not be sensible to fund a proper legal system in the first place?
The Solicitor-General : It can be false economy to leave services under-resourced. The problem faced by the criminal justice system is by no means solely, if indeed largely, due to financial resources. It is also a question of human resources. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know, at the moment the pool of lawyers is seriously overfished by a number of different agencies, such as the City and large firms of solicitors. As I emphasised earlier, it is important that the different agencies work carefully together to make the best use of resources and that we should seek to recruit to bring the Crown prosecution service up to strength.
Mr. Barry Porter : Is my hon. and learned Friend aware that the big company firms do not recruit people who are involved in criminal law? Does he accept that the Crown prosecution service is under-resourced in human and financial terms? Does he agree that it is quite unacceptable that simple shoplifting trials in Merseyside should take between six and nine months to come before the courts? That cannot be right for the law or for the people who are being charged. I am not a great public expenditure man, but it is clear to me that we have to get the proper people in the Crown prosecution service and that they must be properly rewarded and have a proper career structure in a properly funded service.
The Solicitor-General : My hon. Friend has great knowledge of the scene on Merseyside. I urge him to look carefully at the statistics on who is asking for adjournments. In a significant proportion of cases it is the defence that asks for repeated adjournments.
95. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Attorney-General if he will make it his policy to institute criminal proceedings against any civil servant who improperly discloses the advice given by the Law Officers to the Government.
Column 15Ingham quite improperly abused his letter? Why do they remain so powerful in the government of Britain unless, as probably on Rover and certainly in the dismissal of her Chancellor and the nature of the Chancellor's leaving the Government, the Prime Minister did that which if I were so indelicate as to mention it, Mr. Speaker, you would suspend me for five days?
The Attorney-General : I responded to a similar question on 8 May and on subsequent occasions, and there is nothing that I can usefully add to what I said to the hon. Gentleman then. Nothing that I can say will influence the hon. Gentleman, but I question whether there is anything to be gained by sending his pitcher to that well again.
The Attorney-General : A statute of limitations is a matter for my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, but the statute of limitations has been amended so often that it is almost incomprehensibly complicated as it is.
Mr. John Morris : In terms of criminal proceedings, will the Attorney-General consider the application of the law of corruption and bribery as it may apply to the giving of concealed sweetners on the authority of an ex-Government Minister? Bearing in mind that corruption does not mean dishonesty but merely doing an act which the law forbids as tending to corrupt--including the offering of an inducement for doing or forbearing to do anything in respect of a transaction in which a public body is concerned--and that the Attorney-General's consent is necessary for a prosecution, will he refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions the involvement of any person in the giving of concealed incentives to British Aerospace to ascertain whether there is a prima facie case for prosecution?
The Attorney-General : I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. and learned Gentleman who asked such a carefully prepared and learned question, but it does not arise out of the question on the Order Paper. If it did, I should deny every one of the premises upon which it is based.
Mr. Skinner : When the Attorney-General meets that officer, will he tell him that it is high time that the serious fraud office investigated the sweetner from the Government to British Aerospace in order to get rid of Rover? Will he also say--as the Attorney-General of this country ought to say--that he believes that the Government are guilty of fraud and that they have probably been fiddling certain tax concessions and subsidies? There should be one law which applies to the Government in the same way as it applies to an old lady in the supermarket who might get away with a tin of
Column 16pilchards. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman were a real Attorney-General that is the way that he would address the Director of Public Prosecutions and the serious fraud squad instead of covering up for his friends on the Government Front Bench.
The Attorney-General : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry made a full statement on Thursday and there is nothing that I wish to add to that. I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris)--I will not say shot his fox in his previous question--but slightly peppered it. Questions of this nature are not made any more persuasive, and the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) does not make his case, by yelling.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to answer this question and question No. 113 at the end of Question Time, as you have so advised.
108. Miss Widdecombe : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of whether more funds could be provided to United Kingdom non-governmental organisations for work in the Third world ; and whether any such increase is planned.
Mrs. Chalker : On 26 October I announced an increase in our joint funding scheme, under which we support non-governmental organisations' agreed long-term development projects by 25 per cent. next year to £20 million. I am also increasing support for the United Kingdom volunteer recruiting agencies--most notably the Voluntary Service Overseas--by 10 per cent. to £14.3 million. We will also consider sympathetically requests for assistance from
non-governmental organisations for disaster and emergency relief measures.
Miss Widdecombe : I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for those increases. Has she suggested that special attention should be paid to small projects, which in return for a modest outlay--such as the installation of water tanks--can have tremendous consequences for the welfare of women in the Third world?
Mrs. Chalker : As my hon. Friend knows, we are keen to use not only the joint funding scheme for the non-governmental organisations, but the heads of mission gift scheme and the heads of mission small projects scheme. Those three ways can help women in development, particularly through the provision of water storage, so saving them the awful problem of carting heavy water urns for many miles.
Ms. Armstrong : I recognise the important contribution of VSO. I should like to thank the Minister and ask whether she will have discussions with her right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science to ensure that the implementation of the student loans scheme does not affect the financial ability of young people to work for at least two years in the Third world with VSO and to work when they get back?
Column 17Mrs. Chalker : Yes, Sir.
Sir Charles Morrison : Although the Government have a good record, does my right hon. Friend agree that more should be done to assist NGOs with population programmes? Is it not a fact that at the moment less than 1 per cent. of all aid is used on population programmes? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if that percentage were increased, the effectiveness of the rest of the programme would be greater? Does my right hon. Friend agree that if that percentage were increased the effectiveness of the rest of the programme would be greater?
Mrs. Chalker : I agree with my hon. Friend. At the meeting that we had with Population Concern in Harrogate on 14 November, we agreed on how valuable those contributions that we are already making, and those that we shall make, to Population Concern and other agencies concerned with population planning are in the general development of those countries.
Mrs. Chalker : The hon. Lady knows that the cuts made in the overseas aid programme under the last Labour Government had to go through. We are now increasing our aid programme and intend to go on spending it wisely and getting the best value for money out of every penny of taxpayers' money.
Mr. Soames : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on this welcome increase. Will she join me in paying tribute to the send-a-cow scheme? What further steps can she take to give that excellent organisation and endeavour more money?
Mrs. Chalker : British bilateral aid to El Salvador is running at about £40,000 to £50,000 a year. In addition, we contribute to European Community assistance : in 1988 our share was about £240,000. We also provided £300,000 recently in emergency aid--£100,000 through the International Committee of the Red Cross and £200,000 as our share of European Community emergency aid.
Mr. Clarke : In view of those contributions, have the Government responded to the El Salvadorian Government's request that they should provide a specialist commission of inquiry to consider the killings of the six Jesuits, their cook and her daughter? If that commission reaches the conclusion that the Salvadorian military was responsible for this dastardly act, will the Government influence the United States Government to stop military aid to El Salvador forthwith?
Column 18sides. Resolving this problem is very much a political question and one for the Government of El Salvador as well as those in America concerned with the issue.
Mr. Jacques Arnold : Should not the Government be commended for giving emergency assistance to El Salvador, particularly at a time when the democratically elected Government of that country are having to cope with insurgency, which is causing considerable difficulty to the civilian population?
Mrs. Chalker : I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. The Government's position is that the FMLN guerrillas should end their offensive and negotiate. For obvious reasons, we would not be able to add to United Kingdom personnel deployed in El Salvador, but we hope that the task that the Red Cross is undertaking will be facilitated, that the wounded will be evacuated, and that supplies to hospitals and the follow-up of those captured on both sides will now take place.
Mr. Foulkes : It is all very well expressing concern about the horrific murders of the six Jesuit priests, but does the Minister accept that she could have some effect by making British aid conditional on bringing the killers to justice, and on an improvement to human rights in El Salvador?
Mrs. Chalker : The hon. Gentleman is aware that I believe in human rights, wherever they may be at risk across the world. He will also know that humanitarian aid for those who are wounded and those who are without facilities such as medical facilities should not be conditional on such premises.
Mr. Barry Porter : I welcome the aid that has been given to El Salvador, but should we not take into account those countries that are greater friends of the United Kingdom and especially, in west Africa, the small but very friendly country of Sierra Leone?
Mrs. Chalker : We send about 70 per cent. of our bilateral aid to the poorest 50 countries in the world. We help the country that my hon. Friend mentioned and we are doing better than other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development donors in that respect.
Mrs. Chalker : My right hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Major) announced assistance of £25 million over five years for Hungary in October. The programme now being planned gets under way substantively next April.
Mr. Howells : I am grateful to the Minister for that comprehensive reply. Does the Minister envisage neighbouring countries within the eastern bloc applying to Britain for further financial aid? What plan does she have in mind if they do?
Mrs. Chalker : The hon. Gentleman may be right. Countries other than Poland and Hungary may in due time want assistance from western European countries. However, it is not solely Britain which should give that assistance. Discussions with the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are taking place in Washington.
Column 19We are aware of the needs developing in eastern Europe as it moves towards democracy, which we hope will happen with all speed.
The following questions stood on the Order Paper :
107. Mr. David Shaw : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what plans he has to discuss the situation in the Horn of Africa with other Governments and non-governmental organisations.
113. Mrs. Gorman : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in the light of reports of famine in rebel-held areas of Ethiopia, how Her Majesty's Government will ensure that food supplies they provide will get through to those who need them.
As the House is aware, well over 3 million people are threatened by famine in northern Ethiopia. It is estimated that about 600,000 tonnes of food aid will be needed, especially in the early months of next year. The House also knows that this appalling problem is the result of crop failure, worsened by the continuing civil war. The Overseas Development Administration constantly monitors the food situation in Ethiopia. On 31 August I discussed our deep concern with non-governmental organisation and then on 26 October with the Save the Children Fund, by which date it was clear that famine would result from the lack of September rains. I had already announced in August 6,850 tonnes of food aid for Eritrea.
A senior ODA official reported directly to me on 31 October on his return from Ethiopia. Immediately I stepped up our continuing diplomatic efforts with the United States, the Soviet Union our European Community partners, certain Arab countries, the Ethiopian Government and both the Eritrean People's Liberation Front and the Tigre People's Liberation Front.
Our overriding priority is to get food to the starving. To do this we must first persuade the Ethiopian Government to allow the passage of food across the lines. Secondly, we must work for an end to the conflicts in Ethiopia.
On 14 November, in Rome, I discussed our assessment of need with representatives of the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the world food programme, and received their latest estimates from the early warning system of the likely severity of the famine. On 21 November in Brussels I underlined to our Community partners the severity and urgency of the situation, and on 27 November at the Foreign Affairs Council the Commission and our partners agreed to my request to reinforce our diplomatic and humanitarian efforts. The £2 million of relief aid that I announced last week brings to nearly £13 million Britain's help for those in need in Ethiopia this year. The aid that we continue to make available will meet real humanitarian need, but there can be no lasting relief to suffering in Ethiopia unless there is an end to the civil conflict. This requires a negotiated solution involving all parties. We have been, and will continue to be, very active in every possible forum to bring that about. I shall be
Column 20raising the whole issue at the OECD in Paris tomorrow and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will also be doing so with the EC presidency.
Let the House and the nation be in no doubt that we are doing all that we reasonably can to get food to the starving and to bring peace to the people of Ethiopia.
Mr. Shaw : I am sure that the Whole House welcomes my right hon. Friend's statement. I hope that, as a result of it, there will be great relief over the long term for the people of the Horn of Africa, and of Ethiopia in particular. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that she has recently attended talks in Washington on this subject? Can she give us some detail of what was discussed there?
Mrs. Chalker : Last week I met the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Canadian Affairs and the acting Director of United States Aid for International Development, to discuss the problems in Ethiopia. I sought their assistance on contacts with the Soviet Union and anyone else who can bring the right sort of influence to bear on the Ethiopian Government and the rebel movements so that we may get the food supplies which are being donated to the people who need them so urgently. I cannot say that we have yet received the responses we want, but I assure my hon. Friend that we are in constant touch with all those who might be able to bring about a free passage of the food to the people who really need it.
Mrs. Chalker : I would love to be able to give my hon. Friend a positive response to that question. The difficulty is that the Ethiopian Government have refused to discuss the free access of food. To get a corridor such as we all want will obviously take much more diplomatic discussion, in which we are fully engaged.
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett : Does the right hon. Lady agree that the most appalling thing in Ethiopia is the continuing conflict? Would it not be helpful if all of those who supply arms to either side in the dispute were persuaded to stop doing that? What steps are the Government taking to bring pressure to bear on those who supply arms? Is it not appalling that we should be sending arms while humanitarian aid is desperately needed to save lives?
Mrs. Chalker : Those who supply arms know that that can only prolong the conflict. I have no doubt that all the representations being made at a variety of levels across many Governments are to the effect that we need peace in Ethiopia before there can be any long-term solution for the starving people there.
Mr. Campbell-Savours : Does the right hon. Lady agree that the £2 million that was allocated, or so-called allocated, last week is geared towards the open-roads policy, which the Minister herself says is extremely hard to establish? Does she agree that the Government simply ran a high-profile public relations exercise last week, although they have been told about the problem repeatedly this year and have repeatedly refused to go to the Soviet Union, who are the only people capable of moving the Ethiopian Government?
Column 21Mrs. Chalker : I do not think that the hon. Member can have listened to a word of my statement, It is difficult, and it will be difficult, to establish an open-roads policy. The most efficient and direct route to take to provide food for the people of Tigre and Eritrea would be through the established channels of distribution from the Government-held ports, but that will happen only when the Ethiopian Government listen to all those to whom we have made representations, not just in the past week but during the past months. We shall go on making representations. Whether it be to the Soviet Union, the United States or any of our European partners, I hope that the Ethiopian Government will respond so that starvation can be stopped.
Mr. Bowen Wells : In contradistinction to what the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) said, is it not true that my right hon. Friend has taken very early action to try to provide food for the millions of people who are in danger of starvation in Ethiopia, and that she has made real contact with the Soviet Union, which has a great deal of influence in Ethiopia? I am sure that the whole House and the nation join me in congratulating my right hon. Friend on the actions that she has taken.
Has the European Economic Community, which supplied much of the food aid when there was last starvation in Ethiopia, taken adequate and good action to provide food? Is there any chance of getting the Ethiopian Government to agree to open one of the two ports, without which we shall have great difficulty feeding people in the Asmara-Wello corridor?
Mrs. Chalker : My hon. Friend is right. We shall be extremely grateful for the efforts of all our Community partners and, indeed, the European Commission to get food to the people of Ethiopia. So far we have not persuaded the Ethiopian Government to open either of the ports but it is an urgent matter on which we are working.
Mr. Mullin : Given that the overriding priority is to get food to the starving, and in view of the intransigence of the Ethiopian Government, would it not be best to send food by the overland route through the Sudan and to provide aid to the NGOs capable of using that route? Is that not the key?