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Mr. Ian Bruce : My hon. Friend will know that Dorset local authorities are keen to pick up their responsibilities under the Act. Is he aware that local government councillors are unhappy about the grant given to local councils to fulfil those responsibilities? They believe that it will not be possible properly to fund implementation of the Act or the community care provisions when they come into force in 1991. Can he comment on whether funds will be transferred to the local authorities?
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : The target date for implementation of the Children Act 1989 is October 1991. We are preparing the regulations, rules of court and guidance documents needed. Plans are also being made for a training and dissemination programme for local social services departments, the courts and other agencies.
Mr. Davies : Why, when the Association of Directors of Social Services warned six months ago that record numbers of children are registered as at risk from abuse or neglect, have the Government chosen to delay implementation of the Act by another six months? Does the Minister realise the difficulties that social services departments have with inadequate staff, training and resources? Why do the Government preach the value of the family when they cannot find the money or the time to do something about the matter?
Mrs. Bottomley : In identifying the serious problems of children at risk, the hon. Gentleman is naive about the implications of the Children Act 1989. It is a complex and important Act which co-ordinates the legislation dealing with the protection of children. It is extremely important to ensure that the necessary training is in place in local authorities and in the courts so that a comprehensive, integrated programme can make headway. In conjunction with other agencies we have embarked on plans to ensure that that programme is put in place as swiftly as possible and in time for implementation in 1991.
10. Mr. Couchman : To ask the Secretary of State for Health what provision has been made by his Department to encourage the training of consultants in general management aspects of hospital activities.
Column 735Programmes of training are due to commence in April of this year for 100 consultants from seven National Health Service regions.
Mr. Couchman : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. Does he agree that, aside from the Government committing huge resources to patient services, consultants are playing an increasing part in the management of hospital activities and that training is essential? Does he agree that it would be wise to give general management training to nurses, whose clinical skills are often ahead of their managerial skills?
Mr. Freeman : I shall certainly look at the question of management training for senior nurses. The Government believe that clinical freedom for doctors, which is vital, is perfectly compatible with doctors sharing more responsibility for helping to manage National Health Service resources.
Mr. Robin Cook : While training consultants in management, will the Minister pay some attention to what the consultants are trying to tell him about the future management of their hospitals? Is the Minister aware that there have been a dozen ballots of staff on whether their hospitals should form trusts and that in ever single one the staff have voted to stay in health authority management? Is he further aware that consultants from Plymouth to Aberdeen have recorded votes of 75 per cent. against forming NHS trusts? If the Minister believes in letting local people take local decisions, why does he not try to listen to them and allow them to decide whether their hospitals should opt out?
Mr. Freeman : The Government listen to the medical professions. There is substantial support among consultants for National Health Service trusts. On the point about consultants in management, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in welcoming the resource management initiative, which is about getting doctors involved in the management of the Health Service.
The Prime Minister (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher) : This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Howarth : Does the Prime Minister accept that the rebel cricket tour of South Africa is most certainly a breach of the Gleneagles agreement in spirit and in letter? Does she accept the words of Sebastian Coe, who described the players involved as nothing less than mercenaries? Will the right hon. Lady make contact with those players and tell them to pack their bags and come on home?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend the Minister for Sport put the Government's views to those cricketers before they went on that tour. We had a duty to seek to persuade them not to go and we tried to persuade them not to go. However, their going is not contrary to the
Column 736Gleneagles agreement because it is a voluntary agreement. People were free to choose and to make their own decisions, and that is what they did.
Sir Julian Ridsdale : Is my right hon. Friend aware of how encouraged those who have been organising Expo 90 in Japan have been by the positive help that the Government have recently given to that project? Is my right hon. Friend further aware that Royal Horticultural Society, the horticultural industry and the industrialists who have helped with the project will redouble their efforts to make sure that this important environmental Expo, which will be attended by 40 Asian countries, will be a great success from the British point of view?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend has been assiduous in trying to persuade the Government to take part in the Osaka garden festival as part of Expo 90. Both Expo 90 and the garden festival are mainly for the private sector, but the Japanese have been keen that we should take part. In response to my hon. Friend, we have now agreed that there should be official British participation in the garden show. I understand from our Japanese friends that a commissioner-general is required to be in charge of the British participation in the garden show, and my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary will shortly be writing to my hon. Friend to offer him the post of
The Prime Minister : Of course, there are always some businesses that go out of business and close down, but we have many new ones starting up. May I point out that in 1978, the last year under Labour, there were 6,000-- [Interruption.] --
The Prime Minister : In the last year of the Labour Government, 6, 000 more businesses closed than opened. In 1988, after some eight or nine years of Conservative Government, 64,000 more businesses opened than closed.
Mr. Kinnock : The right hon. Lady appears to be interested in references to the past. Does she recall that under her Government there were a record number of business failures--some 22,000--in 1984? Does she further recall that last year there were in excess of 18, 000? Is she trying to break her own record?
The Prime Minister : The right hon. Gentleman heard what I said. The critical test is how many more businesses open and flourish than go out of business. In Labour's last year in office--its most experienced year--some 6,000 more businesses closed than opened. In 1988, 64,000 more businesses opened than closed. In 1989 over 80,000 more
Column 737businesses opened than closed. That is a good Tory record, and it shows that the Tories are creating more jobs than ever before.
Mr. Franks : Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the hallmark of a free and civilised society is the rule of law? Will she further confirm that the people who have power and authority are subject to that law and that all are equal before the law, no matter how high or how humble? Will she consult her Cabinet colleagues about the apparent assertion by the former Chief Constable of Northern Ireland that a man no longer remains innocent until proven guilty, and the apparent introduction by the chief constable of Greater Manchester of the concept of guilt by association?
Will my right hon. Friend reaffirm that no matter what happens in the rest of the world, in these isles justice and freedom from fear prevail?
The Prime Minister : Of course, I confirm that the rule of law and equality before the law are the hallmarks of a civilised society. They form the cornerstone of our society. My hon. Friend feels especially strongly about this matter. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has already made it clear that he does not consider there to be a case for an inquiry. If Mr. Stalker has information that he thinks affects his case, he should make it available to the appropriate authorities as soon as possible. I do not understand why he has delayed doing that.
Mr. Powell : I warn the Prime Minister that my question has nothing to do with the Labour Government. We all appreciate her sentiments about democracy, which she preaches throughout the world. Is it not time that she considered democracy within her own party? Is it not amazing that within seven or eight weeks of the beginning of this Session of Parliament she was challenged for the leadership of her party? Is it not strange that within a matter of weeks that challenger was deselected in the constituency of Clwyd, North-West?
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman must ask about matters relating to the Prime Minister's ministerial responsibility--[ Hon. Members :-- "Answer!"] Order. I repeat, the hon. Gentleman must ask a question about the Prime Minister's ministerial responsibility.
Mr. Bellingham : Although many small businesses support the new business rate in principle, many in Norfolk would like to see a longer phasing-in period. Does the Prime Minister agree that it would be a complete disaster if we adopted for small firms Labour's proposal to give back to local authorities the power to levy punitive business rates?
Column 738business rates, which frightened many good businesses away from precisely the towns and cities which needed them. I understand that the north wants the transition period to be as fast as possible because it will gain some £900 million, while the south and midlands wish it to be much slower. We have to consider both. The present transition period is five years, but that is not an absolute figure and it could be extended if need be.
Mrs. Margaret Ewing : Has the Prime Minister had the opportunity to read in detail the speech in the House last week by the hon. Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in which he pointed out that the Government had a clear obligation to treat each constituent part of the United Kingdom with parity? If she endorses that view, will she be encouraging the 35 rebels of last Thursday to do the same this Thursday when similar legislation for Scotland is debated, or will she continue to railroad through legislation which has the support of only 16 per cent. of the Scots?
The Prime Minister : If there were parity for each region of the United Kingdom, Scotland would not do anything like as well as it does. It is treated most generously both in regional issues and in general public expenditure per head.
Mr. Cash : Has my right hon. Friend noted from the "Newsnight" poll last week that only 15 per cent. of people want more power shifted from Westminster to Brussels? Furthermore, did she note that in his speech to the European Parliament last week Mr. Delors placed a new and positive emphasis on national parliaments? Does she agree that this is a very welcome move not only in the light of our well-tried parliamentary system in Westminster but for the other countries in eastern and western Europe?
The Prime Minister : I welcome each and every recognition of the part that national parliaments play in democratic accountability in the Community. I noted that in the speech, and it was very welcome. Ministers meeting in the Council of Ministers reach decisions, and they are and must remain accountable to their national parliaments. That is how proper democratic control is exercised in the Community and it must continue that way.
Mr. Sheerman : Is the Prime Minister aware that an ordinary family with a £20,000 mortgage is paying £50 a month more than it was only 18 months ago? Why is she so surprised that her policy of high interest rates leads to claims for higher wage rates?
The Prime Minister : When it comes to wage rates the important thing is to keep an industry competitive. There is no point in taking wage costs way above those of our competitors. The hon. Member will have seen that the average increase in earnings in industry over this time last year is 9.25 per cent. He will also be aware that our unit wage costs are going up much faster than those of our
Column 739competitors. If people are concerned to keep their jobs, as I am sure they are, they must have regard to the future competitiveness of industries.
Sir John Stokes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that I am in favour of the role of women in public and private life? Is she further aware that there is a growing demand for more women in the workplace? Does she agree that, admirable though that is, we must safeguard the institution of marriage and the bringing up of children?
The Prime Minister : Yes. As usual, my hon. Friend puts his finger on the right point. It is vital that we safeguard the institution of family life, and undoubtedly the mother has the most important role in bringing up the children. But we also believe that she, too, must have the chance to work, possibly part time outside the home, or full time in a career, if she wishes, and we try to do our best to accommodate those wishes.
Mr. Bennett : The Prime Minister will be aware that in his last days in office, President Reagan approved legislation to compensate veterans of nuclear tests in the United States who were suffering as a result of being too close to such tests. Does the Prime Minister now agree that British veterans who suffered as a result of being present at Christmas island and elsewhere during the early tests should receive similar compensation? Will she look favourably at the private Bill initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Clay) and give Government support to that measure?
The Prime Minister : The Government are ready to pay appropriate compensation wherever the Crown's legal liability is established and where there is firm evidence to show, on the balance of probabilities, that ex- service men have suffered ill-health as a result of exposure to radiation in the course of their duties as members of the armed forces. In the absence of any such evidence, special compensation arrangements for test veterans could not be justified.
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that current legislation allows for the consideration of the award of a war pension if there is reliable evidence of reasonable doubt that harm may be regarded as attributable to service factors.
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