Previous Section Home Page

Mr. David Amess (Basildon) : I hope that everyone enjoys the Christmas festivities, although this has been a gloomy debate so far, but before the House rises for the Christmas recess I hope that the House will consider the three brief points that I wish to raise. My first point relates to hospital radio. I have the honour of being the unpaid spokesman for the National

Column 423

Association of Hospital Broadcasting Organisations which represents 310 radio stations, serving 700 hospitals throughout the country. We have 11,000 volunteers, making us the largest voluntary organisation in the country without any paid officers. Hospital radio does a magnificent job. Fund raising is always difficult, but, as all hon. Members will agree, the therapeutic benefits of hospital radio are proven.

On Valentine's day, we launched the "I Love Hospital Radio" campaign. We hoped to persuade the Treasury to zero-rate VAT on hospital radio broadcasting equipment. Unfortunately, I am advised by Treasury Ministers that we cannot be treated exactly the same as Talking Books for the Handicapped and that apparently we come under European jurisdiction which makes it difficult to zero-rate the VAT on hospital radio broadcasting equipment. However, many members of NAHBO are concerned that, with the advent of liberalisation, the substantial increase in listener choice will result in patients relying on their own portable radio receivers. Without low-powered radio frequency transmitter facilities, hospital radio will be unable to compete with other services.

I hope that each and every hon. Member will start to become active in lobbying the Home Office to allow hospital radio to have its own frequency. During the summer we had a fruitful meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Renton), who is now the Chief Whip but who then had Home Office responsibilities, and went on to meet the chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority. If we are to achieve our own frequency for hospital radio, it is essential that all hon. Members, who no doubt visit their hospital radio stations from time to time, lobby the Home Office and the IBA so that we are granted our own frequency.

My second point relates to national lotteries. Premium bonds were introduced in November 1956. They are no longer the great attraction that they used to be. Perhaps the change in spending patterns means that the prizes are no longer the great attraction that they used to be. I very much support the idea of a national lottery. I was delighted that this summer the Home Office announced that from 1 September 1989 the limits on maximum prizes would be increased by 100 per cent. However, the Lotteries and Amusements Act 1976 makes no provision for a national lottery. I do not understand why we seem tardy in legislating for a national lottery because, however the funds were distributed, a national lottery would have great benefits for the arts, for the environment and for sporting facilities throughout the country.

We estimate that a national lottery would give an income of £1.08 billion per year. All our EC partners have national lotteries and total EC sales are now £11.6 billion. I fear that several of the most powerful European lotteries are at this moment gleefully anticipating the opportunity to fill Britain's unique void in the European lottery market. In addition, 116 countries on every continent generate $56.3 billion of revenue, contributing to various good causes for the benefit of their people.

I have no doubt that a national lottery would be a tremendous success in this country. I am sure that it is not beyond the design of the media to hold the draws on television. No doubt we could interrupt "Neighbours" or "Coronation Street" and a celebrity could draw the prize in the national lottery

Column 424

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : My hon. Friend could do it himself.

Mr. Amess : My hon. Friend has given us a further suggestion. I have no doubt that a national lottery would be an enormous success. My final point relates to the televising of our proceedings. I voted against the televising of our proceedings, and everything that has happened since has made me even more adamant in the view that I originally held. First, we were told that the lights in the Chamber would be unobtrusive. I advise those who cannot see the lights in the Chamber that they appear to be covered by a cross between mosquito nets and old-fashioned bloomers. That is the first promise that has not been kept.

Secondly, we were told that the television cameras would not be noticeable. As far as I am concerned, they certainly are noticeable. The third and perhaps the most pathetic promise that was made was that the television cameras would bring hon. Members back into the Chamber. I have not seen any examples of hon. Members rushing back into the Chamber, in spite of the televising of our proceedings--

Mr. Winnick : Only for the hon. Gentleman's speech.

Mr. Amess : I repeat that the Chamber is not a television set. Television gives only a certain image of the House. I admit that I noticed about three weeks ago when we were debating a one-and-a-half hour order--a Welsh measure that normally would not have been well attended--there were about 50 Welsh Members on the Opposition Benches, including the Leader of the Opposition. That was certainly geared to whatever was to be shown on Welsh television.

I very much regret the televising of our proceedings and note that the television companies have certainly not stuck to the guidelines on showing only head-and-shoulder shots. I shall continue to use the television cameras for all they are worth in the hope that eventually I will be offered my own chat show programme, but in the interim I hope that when we have the opportunity through the Leader of the House to vote on the experiment the House will reject it and that we shall enter the next decade camera-free.

7.47 pm

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle) : I shall follow the comments of the hon. Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) in only one respect. I think that televising Parliament has been a great success. "Neil Kinnock and the Labour party" has come across very well and I am not surprised that Conservative Members are still objecting.

I had been dreaming of a green Christmas. We were going to have a green Bill. The so-called green Bill was published today as the Environmental Protection Bill. This morning the Labour party published its alternative entitled "Blue or Green?" We challenged the Government's Bill with a check list. Having looked through our check list and read most of the Bill, I can confirm that it is a blue Bill, not a green Bill, so I shall not have the green Christmas that I had expected.

The Government's legislation will continue to allow sea dumping. The Government are to privatise waste disposal, including that of toxic and chemical wastes. They are to put concern for that fundamental issue into the market place so that profit--not concern for the environment--will determine who deals with our toxic and chemical

Column 425

waste. The British people will oppose the privatisation and commercialisation of the problems of toxic waste, just as they opposed water privatisation.

The so-called "green Bill" does not mention any scheme to deal with the problems of dogs, although they are a major problem everywhere. Entering some of the estates in my constituency is like entering a safari park. I went into a supermarket the other day and a dog came in and had a wee on the South African oranges. One of my constituents said, "What are you going to do about that, Mr. Roberts?" I said, "Buy Australian." The problem of dogs is serious, yet the Government refuse to act on it. They will not introduce a comprehensive dog registration scheme.

Still included in the Bill is an attack on the Nature Conservancy Council-- it will still be decimated. There are additional responsibilities for local authorities, without the additional resources to enable them to do the job. Of course, there is not even a mention of the major environmental issue facing not only this country but the world--the greenhouse gases and global warming effect. There will be a 26 per cent. increase in carbon dioxide emissions in Britain by the year 2005. It is not surprising that the Government refuse to mention carbon dioxide emissions, greenhouse gases and global warming ; they have refused to set targets to reduce carbon dioxide emissions because, under their policies for transport and energy, projections are that carbon dioxide emissions will increase, not reduce.

The Bill does say that we will help the Third world to deal with the problem of deforestation, which would contribute to reducing the greenhouse effect. However, that is not where the major problem lies. Only 8 per cent. of carbon dioxide emissions come from the developing world ; 90-plus per cent. comes from the developed world. Some 50 per cent. of all carbon dioxide comes from Russia, the United States of America, Japan and Britain- -the four major polluters. Britain refuses to do anything about that.

Only yesterday, the Secretary of State for Transport announced that the Government were to cut subsidis to British Rail and therefore to the public transport system. People will not be encouraged to leave their cars at home. About 6,000 new cars a day come on to our roads, half being company cars that receive Government subsidies. How hypocritical of the Government to claim that they are concerned about global warming and carbon dioxide emissions when they are pursuing such transport policies. They should set targets, start reductions, alter their transport and energy policies and spend money on alternative, benign energy research and development.

I had hoped for a green Christmas on Merseyside. I had hoped that the Bill would relieve some of the environmental problems in my constituency, which is fast becoming an environmental disaster area. The port of Liverpool, which I represent, has shifted from traditional cargos to bulk cargoes and it is now importing coal and coal dust. It is like living in a coal mining area. The coal dust comes in ; there are mountains of it--a new skyline for Merseyside. It gets in the cornflakes and in the sugar ; it is everywhere. Because the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board has special development order status, it can do all that without permission. The legislation prevents effective action from being taken because it is not sufficiently strong

Column 426

on the issue of nuisance. We can only take the board and the stevedore companies to the magistrates court, where they receive paltry fines for the pollution that they cause.

Another major problem in my constituency is scrap metal. There are mountains of it in the port. I have a nice house overlooking the marina in Crosby. It overlooks the beach, which would be lovely were it not for the sewage on it. I can see across the Irish bay and, on a nice day, I can see the Welsh mountains. However, if I look to the left I can see the scrap shredder, which is built next to a nature reserve. Planning permission was not required, so it is there and it causes terrific problems.

The so-called green Bill makes no mention of smells. The Control of Pollution Act does not cover smells. The seed crusher and oil processor in docklands stinks out the whole constituency. There is nothing that anyone can do about it. I admit that the companies are beginning research and hope to take some action, but there is no way that the local authority can take action because there is no legislation to cover that.

The River Mersey is a major problem. The Government claim that they are cleaning it. In fact, they are taking the raw sewage out of the Mersey-- they are spending £3.5 billion on this--and bringing it to a dock in my constituency, where they turn it into sewage sludge, full of heavy metal, put it on boats that take it back into the river estuary ready to dump it in the sea, where it would have been in the first place if they had left it to float down the River Mersey. The only difference is that it has been turned into sludge--but it is only primary treatment.

The Government are not dealing with any of the other pollution problems in the River Mersey, such as heavy metals, PCBs, mercury, cadmium and lead. There are 27 deemed consents for discharges into the River Mersey by factories and chemical factories. They are polluting the river. There were 23 prosecutions in 1987. The average fine for companies such as Shell and ICI was £680. It is not surprising that the PCBs are still there, as are the heavy metals and the chemicals. The Government are simply taking out the raw sewage and then dumping it back as sewage sludge. It is an absolute sham. The Government have no plans to stop the dumping of poisonous sewage sludge into the sea.

Following the remarks of the hon. Member for Basildon, I want to end on a Christmas note and mention a vegetarian pantomime. There is currently an environmental pantomime in London at the Etcetera theatre, above the Oxford Arms in Camden. The baddies are Lord Hailam and Flora Cardham. The Ugly Sisters are Sox and Knox. It is called "Dick Withington and His Amazing Catalytic Converter". Anyone going to see the pantomime would get the message that the Government should be getting. Indeed, if Ministers had been to see the pantomime before they produced the so-called green Bill it might have been a green Bill rather than a blue one.

7.56 pm

Mr. Andrew Mitchell (Gedling) : Time is short and I am conscious that there is another Opposition Member hoping to speak. I shall confine my remarks to three related subjects which I believe should be discussed before the House adjourns. They are conductive education, the Peto Institute in Budapest, Hungary--which is the home

Column 427

of conductive education--and my constituent Dawn Rogers, who has been at the Peto Institute for 27 months and is having great difficulty obtaining public funding.

Conductive education--it is not yet sufficiently well known in this country --is a method of educating children, and also some adults, with motor disorders, which are disorders of the central nervous system. That educational system is based on what I believe is known as a "whole person approach". Its aim is to enable children with a motor disability to participate fully in mainstream education. The professional input comes from one person, the conductor, who incorporates the skills of many different groups including those of physiotherapist, occupational therapist, teacher and nurse. The treatment is intensive and relies upon considerable parental involvement. The children are taught more or less from the time they wake up until they go to bed. The aims are to provide education in a structured and rigorous way so that children can have greater control over their bodies and join in everyday life without artificial aids and appliances.

In a moving article in The Sunday Times written almost two years ago, Rose Shepherd described her visit to the Peto clinic and how the British contingent used to arrive there with what she called all the paraphernalia of handicap. It is a great contrast with the Hungarian approach, which is to get the children on to their own feet and up and about as soon as possible.

Conductive education was developed and devised by Dr. Andreas Peto. His philosophy was very simple--that a motor disorder need not be a sentence of immobility for life, but a learning difficulty that can be overcome by skilled teaching. In other words, skills that are automatic to a normal little child can be taught and acquired. There are no miracle cures, but the Peto Institute can claim a 70 per cent. success rate--defined as "autofunction", or the capability to attend school and eventually live an independent life without the need for special help and equipment.

Such treatment is not generally available in Britain. Anxieties among educationists perhaps prevented an advance until relatively recently, when those anxieties were in part laid to rest. The Government have provided Birmingham university with £326,000 to carry out research into conductive education, and the Departments of Education and Science and of Social Security are jointly funding a survey by the Spastics Society.

The Government's announcement last week of a £5 million grant to the Peto Institute over the next four years is extremely welcome. The grant will go towards the capital costs of the new international Peto Institute in Budapest, a commitment that will make available spaces at the institute commensurate with the number of British children able to go there. At present, 11 British people are being trained on a four-year course to be conductors. About 600 children have attended the institute and the United Kingdom makes more use of it than any other country. I welcome the Government's announcement of that additional funding during the Hungarian Prime Minister's visit here this week.

In addition, as part of a programme of exchanges between the Peto Institute and the Birmingham foundation, a small number of British children receive training in Birmingham from Hungarian conductors and United Kingdom trainees.

Column 428

Such exchanges beg the question why we cannot move a little faster towards securing the availability of conductive education in Britain. I accept that conductive education already influences professionals involved in educating handicapped children. I also accept that the introduction into the United Kingdom of the Hungarian model of conductive education on any significant scale will have to await the availability of a group of British conductors trained and taught at the Peto Institute. I applaud the Government's support for the Peto Institute and for conductive education. I urge Ministers to speed up as much as possible the provision of such education in the United Kingdom.

Children who attend the Peto Institute receive funding from several sources. There are no central figures, but I am informed that there are approximately eight long-term students at the Peto Institute, of whom six or seven receive support from their local education authorities. There are no more long-term places available. In the past there has been some uncertainty about whether local education authorities could fund students attending the Peto Institute. That has been cleared up by an amendment to the Children Act 1989. I understand that several education authorities, including Coventry, Devon, Birmingham and Fife have helped such students and there may be others who have done so. Alas, my constituent is one of perhaps only two who are as yet unfunded.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Howarth), the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, and his officials, whom I met earlier this year to discuss whether any additional means of support could be made available to my constituent. I am also grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Social Security, who has taken a considerable interest in the subject as a whole and in my constituent. My right hon. Friend made clear to me in a recent letter that the Government believe that it is right for parents who consider that the Peto Institute offers services to their disabled children which are not available in Britain to seek support from public funds.

The structure of education in Britain inevitably means that parents must appeal to local education authorities for funding. The remaining budget of the Department of Education and Science is tiny, as funds are funnelled through LEAs. Therefore, my constituents must seek support from Nottinghamshire education authority. So far, we have been unable to persuade the authority to assist. I appreciate how difficult it is for the authority to consider such cases and to grant funds, and I understand that such decisions are not easy. Nevertheless, I appeal to it to reconsider, because this is a one-off case.

My constituent's family have remortgaged their home, sold their business, their caravan and many personal assets and taken out bank loans to be in Budapest with my young constituent. Their reward has been to witness the outstanding progress of their nine-year-old daughter. The local community, too, has been extremely generous. I pay tribute to several organisations in my constituency which have sought to help.

I hope that, in reconsidering, Nottinghamshire education authority will bear in mind the following points. I make them in the spirit of this time of year in the hope that it will seriously consider helping. My constituent has already been at the Peto Institute for two years and three months, so no new decision need be made about where she should be educated. At most, she has an estimated 18

Column 429

months to go at the institute. If the local education authority were to assist, it would not open the floodgates. Alas, no new long-term places are available at the Peto Institute. Miss Rogers is one of the lucky ones who has made it there in time.

Since the local authority first considered the case, the Government have changed the law in the way that I outlined earlier. Much else has changed, too, including a greater acceptance of the methods of conductive education. The Government have given their explicit approval, as evidenced by their support for the Peto Institute announced in the past week.

I intend no reflection on the quality of Aspley Wood and Fountaindale in Nottinghamshire and the professionalism of the teachers and staff there. My constituent has attended the Peto Institute for the past two and a quarter years and the length of her stay there is finite. Her family have demonstrated their absolute determination to help their daughter. I believe that the authority should assist. Its education committee must be moved by the examples of dedication and self-help which her family display.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House will remember the case of Sebastion Clarke in Birmingham, his fight for funding and his eventual success. My constituents can look to that example with hope. I hope that the LEA will consider what it can do to assist my constituent during her last 18 months at the Peto Institute.

8.5 pm

Dr. John Cunningham (Copelands) : Inevitably, we have had a wide- ranging debate. I am only sorry that the patience of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, North-East (Mr. Barnes) has not been rewarded and that he has not been able to make his speech. The debate ranged from events in Panama to Romania and general events in eastern Europe. It touched not only on political changes but on educational programmes in eastern Europe-- the Peto Institute has just been mentioned. We heard about the problems of service widows, the poor and the homeless. We have heard, rightly, from my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) that the House will begin the Christmas recess without any resolution in sight of the long-running ambulance workers' dispute. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) made a speech which was perhaps as close to my constituency interests as any other made today. He spoke of the problems in national parks and those faced by hill farmers. A large part of my constituency is in the Lake District national park, and I agree with the views that the hon. Gentleman expressed.

Above all, we have heard about the problems of people on low incomes, young people and unemployed people, particularly from the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood). Several hon. Members who have spoken believe, as I do, that at the end of this decade we face problems in social policy, industrial and economic policy which are a scandal in a country such as Britain. At a time when Europe is undergoing momentous changes, Britain should look forward to playing an influential and dynamic role in those changes. We are poised on the brink

Column 430

of a challenging new decade. After 10 years of a Conservative Government we have not solved the problems of the 1980s.

We participate in this adjournment debate facing many problems for the second or, in some cases, the third time under this Government. They include the problems of economic recession, critically high interest rates, high and rising inflation, homelessness and unemployment. The Conservative Governments of the 1980s will be remembered for their narrow view of individuals' interests, the dogmatic attitude to the market system, their authoritarianism and centralism, the favouritism that they have shown to the well-off and their neglect of the majority of people. We are witnessing the prodigious waste of British people, particularly the unemployed, and of the nation's resources.

We have no choice about whether or not we respond to the changes which will take place in the 1990s. Those changes will happen, and they are happening all around us. However, we have a choice about the manner in which we respond and how we deal with those changes. The question is whether we allow, as we have done in the 1980s, too many of our fellow citizens to be victims of change--poor people, people on low incomes, those who lose their jobs or their homes, people who are left behind--or whether we manage the coming changes in such a way as to involve all our people, with the costs and the benefits being shared evenly, fairly and realistically throughout the community. The most moving speech today was that which commenced the debate, in which the hon. Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley) described the plight of his constituent, Ian Richter. The circumstances in which Mr. Richter and his family find themselves can only be described as appalling. I am sure that everyone present will share the thoughts expressed by the hon. Gentleman towards the family of his constituent. We also share the hope that, somehow, Mr. Richter can be released so that he can regain his freedom and return to the safety and care of his family.

Since the state opening, we have heard much from Ministers about how well the Government have done and how well the economy has been managed. From time to time we have also heard about the so-called economic miracle, but less so since the right hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Lawson) resigned so dramatically. We leave this decade, however, with inflation, interest rates and unemployment levels higher than those of our competitors and European neighbours, and with the largest trade deficit in our history--the highest of the industrial world in relative terms.

We do not leave the 1980s in good shape to face the 1990s. Despite the claims about good management and good economic policies, too many of our people have been treated unfairly in the 1980s. That is true of national insurance pensioners and of those families who rely on benefits such as child benefit. That benefit is another casualty of the decade ; it has been kept down by successive Chancellors and for the past three years it has been frozen. It is time for a change of policy and we believe that it is time for a new Government. It is certainly time for our country and our people to be given the hope and encouragement to believe that we shall see polices in the 1990s which will fit them to face the changes and challenges ahead. Nowhere are those changes so essential and so important as in education and training.

Column 431

It is true that welcome political attention has been paid to education and training in recent years. I also welcome the growth of business interest in such training. We are still shockingly and disgracefully far behind other countries in this respect. That those in business are taking a greater interest in education and training is welcome, if somewhat overdue, but in too many cases it remains a rather narrow self-interest.

Reduced secondary school rolls have become reduced numbers of young workers, and employers are experiencing recruitment difficulties. In effect, training is being privatised : the current development of training and enterprise councils gives private sector employers major responsibility for managing Government funds for young people and adult trainees. It is no wonder that such employers are showing keen concern at recent proposals from the Confederation of British Industry for a skills revolution. It is interesting to reflect that the claim for a need for revolution seems to have crossed the political divide. Revolution used to be construed a threatening word. Now, however, it is more widely recognised than ever before that, if our country is to be fit to compete and to win in the 1990s, a revolution is exactly what we need. Private sector spending on training is low, however, and with certain notable exceptions, the track record is generally poor.

Clearly the pressure must be kept up on the private sector not only to contribute time and expertise to education and training, but to expand in- service education and training opportunities for employees. All that said, however, there can be no escape for Government in the 1990s from undertaking their proper functions. If education and training are the bedrock of the human resources on which a sound and growing economy depends, the Government must ultimately be responsible and take on board, ungrudgingly and unhesitatingly, the expensive business of investing in the people.

At present, a miserable 15 per cent. of our 18-year-olds go on to higher education--the proportion sinks to as low as 4 per cent. in some inner- London areas--compared with 35 per cent. in France and 30 per cent. in Germany. Only about half our 16-year-old school leavers go on to further education, compared with more than 90 per cent. in the United States and more than 70 per cent. in France. According to a recent survey, just over half our work force received no formal in-work training in 1987, rising to two thirds of the work force in manufacturing.

In the early 1980s, we frequently heard from Conservative Members that problems could not be solved by throwing money at them. I am pleased to say that we have not heard that argument even once today. Time and again this decade, a great deal of money has been thrown at a large number of high- income earners. In the coming decade, we want to see more fairness. The people want to see a new social as well as a new economic agenda for Britain. A number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick), have rightly said that our people want to see a new international agenda in the 1990s. Above all, they want to see more fairness in our society.

The shadow Leader of the House should note

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives) : The Leader of the House.

Dr. Cunningham : I beg the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pardon --he has suffered enough already. I

Column 432

wonder whether he has received his Christmas card from the Prime Minister yet, if she caught up with his change of address. On behalf of my hon. Friends, and on behalf of the House, I wish the right hon. and learned Gentleman a merry Christmas and a happy, prosperous and peaceful new year. It will not be very peaceful for people on low incomes facing the poll tax in 1990 and it will not be peaceful or prosperous for too many of our fellow citizens who are still looking for an opportunity to get their first job. Above all, the new year will not be peaceful for the ambulance workers of Britain who are entering the Christmas period in a long-running and unnecessary dispute. The Government should seek to solve that dispute before the House rises for the Christmas recess.

8.18 pm

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Sir Geoffrey Howe) : I reciprocate the Christmas good wisheof the hon. Member for Copeland (Dr. Cunningham), coupled with my confident expectation that he will long remain a shadow. We would like to keep him like that.

I should like to raise the slightly dismal tone that the hon. Gentleman managed to convey in his speech by reminding the House that, compared with the situation that we faced 10 years ago when our economic performance was lamentable and almost everything was to be deplored in comparison with our international competitors, our gross domestic product is at its highest ever level, having risen by more than 4 per cent. in the past two years. We have had eight years of successive growth averaging more than 3 per cent.-- a strong economic performance not matched since the war. It is that which enables us to address a number of social issues with confidence, and I shall try to do that when I take up a number of points made by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

I join the hon. Member for Copeland in expressing deep concern at the plight of Ian Richter, so eloquently brought to our attention by my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond and Barnes (Mr. Hanley). We admire the courage of Ian Richter and his family. We shall continue to press at every opportunity for his release on the strongest possible humanitarian grounds. We accept no linkage between Ian Richter's case and that of Salim Hassan, the murderer to whom my hon. Friend referred. I have frequently raised the matter with the Iraqi Foreign Minister, Tariq Aziz, and I take this opportunity to renew that candid and useful dialogue and urge him to secure the release of Ian Richter as soon as possible.

The right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) rightly drew attention to some of the social problems to which we should pay attention at this and every other time. The Government share his concern for the homeless, but the thrust of our housing policies is aimed at helping those in greatest need by extending the role of housing associations, by expanding the private rented sector and, most recently, by targeting resources--£250 million in London and the south-east--to that issue during the next two years. I share his admiration for the role of voluntary organisations in preventing and relieving homelessness. That is why funding is to be increased in 1990-91 from £680,000 to £2 million.

Column 433

The right hon. Member for Wythenshawe asked about the likely outcome of our disability review. We intend soon to announce our proposals on the reconsideration of the balance and structure of benefits for the disabled. During the 10 years that this Government have been in office, the total of resources for the benefit of disabled people has increased in real terms by 90 per cent. Even in the difficult days of my early Budgets, the improvement of prospects for the disabled was a subject to which we never failed to pay attention.

A number of detailed points were raised by hon. Members on both sides of the House. I shall not try to deal with them in detail now. My hon. Friend the Member for Gosport (Mr. Viggers) raised the problem of women who had been widowed, remarried and risked sacrificing the pension they received from their first husband. I shall ensure that he receives a letter from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Security about that.

In a characteristically wide-ranging contribution, even in this short debate, the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) referred to the problem of the trigger for cold weather benefit payments. We must have a trigger of some kind for those benefits. If necessary, the Department of Social Security will do all it can to ensure that those entitled to payment know when they have to make their claims.

The hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), who has the honour of representing my Scottish grandfather's birthplace at Newcastleton, drew attention, in technical detail, to the impact of changes in unemployment benefit. I shall draw his remarks to the attention of my hon. Friend the Secretary of State. It has never been our intention that unemployment benefit should provide support for those in part-time work. I appreciate the role of part-time workers in the two industries of which he spoke, but the rules have always provided that only small amounts may be earned while unemployment benefit is being received. The idea is to introduce a more objective test to reinforce that principle.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale (Sir F. Montgomery) raised three different topics. The first was the state of the Health Service in his part of the country and I shall bring his remarks to the attention of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health. Secondly, he commented on the difficult balance arrived at in the Government's judgment on the Barlow Clowes case and evoked some sympathy from the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks). He reminded me of a quotation from, I think, Spenser that I often drew on when I was the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs. This makes the point that, if we set out to protect everyone from the consequences of his or her own folly, we shall end up with a world peopled entirely by fools. It is difficult to make the right judgment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale also referred to the long -running baggage handlers' strike at Manchester airport. I join him in his admiration of the importance of Manchester airport. I was also struck by the contribution of the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). Speaking from my recollection of my representation of a Merseyside constituency, I wonder why we often have two regional airports in different places when one in the middle would have been much better. I

Column 434

think of Tyneside and Teesside, and even Glasgow and Edinburgh. The airports at Liverpool and Manchester provide another example. The continuation of the strike at Manchester is regrettable, particularly as it arises from the reasons given by my hon. Friend. We hope that negotiations will lead to a return to work as soon as possible. The hon. Member for Barnsley, West and Penistone (Mr. McKay) was one of a number of hon. Members who spoke about the ambulance dispute. There will be a chance to discuss that in the Adjournment debate some time after midnight tonight, at the suit of the hon. Member for Coventry, South- East (Mr. Nellist).

My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) raised more than one topic. The one to which he quite rightly attached most importance was an eloquent plea for those constituents who suffered job losses as a result of the closure to which he referred. I should remind the House that overall unemployment has fallen for 40 consecutive months and is at its lowest level for nine years. My hon. Friend drew attention to the fact that some of his constituents have already found work in other enterprises on the Isle of Wight. I shall certainly bring to the attention of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport the exclusion of the company to which my hon. Friend referred from the tender list for British Rail orders.

A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Newham, North- West, in conjunction with his hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North, were critical about what has happened in Panama. I find profoundly disagreeable the contemptuous relish with which both those hon. Members spoke of the actions of a country which they claim to regard as a friend. We welcome, without qualification, the establishment of democratic government in Panama. Action to remove General Noriega has been undertaken with the agreement of those who won the elections held last May. General Noriega has been adjudged by the world to have stolen an election from the people of his country. That is the right basis on which to approach the matter.

My hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Ward) drew our attention to an aspect of the fishing industry which has received less attention than others during the past week or so. We had a debate on it last week and a statement on it this afternoon, and will have another debate during the night. My hon. Friend drew attention to the case for the extension of the limit from two to six miles, the spread of aggregate dredging, and the impact of sewage pollution. There will be a debate on that tonight, led by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace). The debate may not cover as much as my hon. Friend would like the problems of the inshore fishing industry, so he was right to draw them to our attention.

The hon. Member for Meironnydd Nant Conwy (Dr. Thomas) reminded me of my youthful, and sometimes not so youthful, associations with Snowdonia national park. I am always glad to be reminded of that admirable park in the Principality. He drew attention to the need to retain the balance between the amenities of the national park and the livelihood of those who live there. I remember a conversation that I had not long ago with the French Prime Minister, Mr. Rocard, in which I tested even his fluent knowledge of the English language by referring to the role of sheep in upland, touristic areas as four-legged lawn mowers. That concept did not easily translate into

Column 435

the French language. That illustrates the role of agricultural activity as part of the means of preserving the rural amenity.

Dr. Cunningham : Perhaps it is like being savaged by a four-legged dead lawn mower.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : The changes in the hill livestock compensation scheme agreed at the Agriculture Council will not take effect until 1991, so decisions on the consequential effects on national arrangements have yet to be taken. I hope that there will be an announcement early next year on that scheme.

My hon. Friend the Member for Basildon (Mr. Amess) raised three topics, including hospital radio. On that I hope that he will be content with a benediction from the Government and me. We hope that the negotiations will bring a satisfactory outcome. His plea for a change in the law to allow major lotteries, while being kept under review, has not yet led to plans for legislation. My hon. Friend was advocating two progressive ideas, and I suppose that it was only appropriate that, to maintain the balance of his personality, he closed on a profoundly reactionary note about the impact of television on the House. It is an experiment ; I take a less jaundiced view than he does.

My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Mitchell), in an eloquent plea, described the importance and impact of the Peto Institute and the work that has been done by it in Hungary. My wife and I, since our visits, have taken a close interest in the institute, and, by good fortune, one of my former private secretaries recently came back from a stint as ambassador there. The institute is not often absent from our minds. I had the opportunity to talk to the Hungarian Prime Minister about it last week and to give him an advance intimation of the substantial amount of money that has been made available and to which my hon. Friend referred. We regard it as an important institute, and we regard its impact in this country as of great value.

I noticed my hon. Friend's particularly eloquent plea for his constituent Miss Rogers. We certainly admire the way in which her family have done what they have to keep her at the institute. I shall certainly do what I can to draw my hon. Friend's plea to the attention of the Nottinghamshire education authority, but I cannot give an undertaking beyond that.

Column 436

It was encouraging that my hon. Friend's speech should have been the last that we heard on the events in eastern Europe, because it was made on a hopeful note. It was striking that many hon. Members spoke about the entire sequence of events taking place in eastern Europe, and I was grateful to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire for the tribute he paid to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Bowis), who, in a speech of the utmost bevity, dealt with all the key points about eastern Europe. We share his delight at the historic developments taking place there. We want to see the countries of eastern Europe joining the democratic mainstream. We applaud the courage of the new Polish Government in tackling radical economic reform. We are delighted that the longer process of reform in Hungary has culminated in the first free election in eastern Europe for more than 40 years.

We agree with my hon. Friend that progress in the future needs to be gradual and step by step. We welcome the first signs of liberalisation in Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic and Bulgaria, and we are keen to help in whatever ways we can to build up democratic societies and market place economies in those countries. This is what makes so much the more tragic what has been happening in Romania. My hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, the hon. Members for Walsall, North and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea all expressed their views about that. We condemn in the strongest terms the attitude of a regime which, turning its back on all the commitments concerning human rights to which it subscribed under the Conference on Security and Co- operation in Europe framework, is apparently capable of repressing only by force the legitimate aspirations to freedom of the Romanian people. That view was also expressed on Monday in the European Community in Brussels, and we shall hear it echoed in the debate later tonight in which I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, West (Mr. Waldegrave), the Minister of State, will have a chance to take part. Question put and agreed to.


That this House at its rising on Thursday 21st December do adjourn until Monday 8th January.

Column 437

Orders of the Day


Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Second time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, pursuant to Standing Order No. 54(1) (Consolidated Fund Bills), That this House do now adjourn.-- [Sir Geoffrey Howe.]

Rights of the Child

8.34 pm

Next Section

  Home Page