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Mr. Paice : Does my right hon. Friend agree that another major competitor is nuclear generation and that if coal prices were increased, which is the Labour party policy, that would change the balance in the figures more closely in favour of nuclear generation which, incidentally, many Conservative Members would welcome?
Mr. Wakeham : I am a strong supporter of nuclear energy. It has a part to play in the diversity of supply which we want. My hon. Friend is right that the significant difference between the nuclear industry and the others is that the nuclear industry must pay the full costs of disposing of its waste, and we know of the difficulties that that produces. That is not necessarily so of fossil fuel generation.
Mr. Barron : What will happen to coal imports this year? It is all very well to quote the figures for 1989, but the Secretary of State is well aware, as I am, that the two new generating companies established by the Bill to privatise the electricity supply industry have so far contracted to import 6 million tonnes of coal to generate electricity
Until now British Coal has lost 5 million tonnes. It signed a contract for 70 million tonnes this year, but it does not know which electricity generators will need the coal. We do not know what our base load generation will be. As a consequence, there is low morale in the British coal industry from top to bottom. The Secretary of State does not know where the coal flows will come from, from pits to generating stations, and we do not know what the industry's future will be until we hear answers to these questions.
Mr. Wakeham : The hon. Gentleman makes many remarks. If he had listened to the original answer he would have heard that we do not produce estimates for future years. He should understand that coal must be imported if we are to use a great deal of United Kingdom coal which has a high sulphur content. It is necessary for the mix. I should have thought that in a balanced prospectus of the position, he would say something about the fact that this is the first time that British Coal has had a long-term contract to supply the British generating industry. I should have thought that that was a good thing.
Column 12practice programme. We are also discussing some joint promotional activities with the Combined Heat and Power Association.
Mr. Key : To what extent is the private sector involved in combined heat and power schemes? Can my hon. Friend tell me--if he cannot do so today, perhaps he will write to me--whether the energy technology support unit is involved in work with straw burning, in support of farmers who face a ban on straw burning from 1992?
Mr. Morrison : The private sector is quite substantially involved in combined heat and power schemes. There are 120 such schemes in industry and 300 in buildings. I hope that such involvement will continue to expand. I shall write to my hon. Friend giving him precise details about the energy technology support unit. It is the sort of area in which it is becoming involved, and in which it has an important role to play.
Mr. Allen : Is the Minister aware that one of the most coal- efficient, energy-efficient proposed plants is the Bilsthorpe plant in central Nottinghamshire? Is he further aware that, despite the efforts of the Member of the European Parliament, the county council and its chairman of finance, Mr. Paddy Tipping, to obtain planning permission for the plant, The Independent on Sunday yesterday said that Mr. Edwards, the commercial director of British Coal, intends to shelve that plant? Will the Minister reassure the miners in central Nottinghamshire, many of whom travel from my constituency, that that plant will go ahead?
Mr. Morrison : My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart), whose constituency includes the site of the proposed plant, will no doubt bring these matters to my attention, and my right hon. Friend and I shall consider them.
The Attorney-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew) : Since 1 February 1989, when this power took effect, I have applied for leave to refer the sentencing in nine cases to the Court of Appeal. I have withdrawn two cases in the light of further information. Leave has been granted in the remaining seven cases and sentences have been increased in six of the cases. I have referred one case to the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland ; the sentence in that case was also increased.
Mr. Marshall : I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his use of that power, which has led to more sensible sentences, and, even more important, a more rigorous climate of sentencing in the courts. Is he aware that many believe that stronger sentences are the most effective way to deal with the problem of crime?
The Attorney-General : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. Very occasionally--and I emphasise that it is very occasionally--a sentence is passed by the courts that is manifestly unduly lenient. When that happens, the
Column 13effect on public confidence is entirely disproportionately damaging. The new power that Parliament has provided, and which I exercise with great care, is valuable.
58. Mr. Simon Hughes : To ask the Attorney-General how many private prosecutions, in number and percentage figures have been (a) taken over by the Director of Public Prosecutions and (b) thereafter discontinued, in each of the years 1985 to 1989, inclusive.
The Attorney-General : Between 1987 and 1989, 10 private prosecutions out of at least 28 taken over by the Crown prosecution service were discontinued. It is not possible to obtain information about cases before that date or to express the numbers as a percentage of all private prosecutions, except at disproportionate cost.
Mr. Hughes : Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reflect on whether cases where the Director of Public Prosecutions took over a prosecution and then sustained it might have been cases where the original prosecuting authority should have continued to prosecute--and often cases which were considered for public prosecution in the first place? Can he also assure the House that when matters come directly to the DPP or indirectly through another prosecuting agency, in those cases that involve transport safety or safety at work corporate manslaughter is always one of the options now considered by the DPP?
The Attorney-General : We always consider every possible course consistent with the interests of justice. On the hon. Gentleman's first point, the director usually takes over a case when he considers it to be in the interests of justice to do so. Normally he will do so for that reason only. But where a prosecution has been brought by, for example, a body with prosecuting power, that body will normally pursue the prosecution. Only in a case where, for example, it is necessary to combine prosecutions that the director himself has brought with cases that have been brought by a prosecuting authority will the director take over and continue the prosecution.
The Attorney-General : As my hon. Friend is aware, prosecutions under the Shops Act 1950 are brought by local authorities, and I have no information on the number of prosecutions brought since last November.
Mr. Stanbrook : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that there is widespread evasion of the Sunday trading law by big multiple retailers and that certain local authorities find it impossible to cope, even though the position has recently been clarified by the European Court? How can we justify preaching the rule of law to the meek when we fail to enforce it against the mighty? When will my right hon. and learned Friend take action against wrongdoers?
Column 14from a local authority that finds it impossible to do so. Local authorities have powers of prosecution. In addition, the Local Government Act 1972 empowers them to claim injunctions to prevent flouting of the law, including the Shops Act, in their areas when they think that such action would be in the interests of the inhabitants. I think that, generally, a local authority is in the best position to judge that matter in respect of its own area. Indeed, that has been recognised in the framing of the legislation. Anyone who has a direct and individual concern has the means, in law, to bring an authority to account by seeking judicial review or by seeking my consent to relator action. Therefore I do not think that it would be appropriate for me to take an initiative, either nationally or locally, at this juncture.
Mr. Ray Powell : Having listened to the Attorney-General's explanation, may I ask him to read the Prime Minister's reply last Thursday, as recorded in column 1050 of the Official Report, when she referred to upholding a law once it had been passed by Parliament? It is high time that the Shops Act 1950 was given some special attention by the Attorney-General and was implemented fully in respect of those who blatantly refuse to abide by it.
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman has not given due weight to the fact that section 71 of the Shops Act conferred upon local authorities a duty to enforce the law in their areas. I commend to the hon. Gentleman what I said in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook).
Mr. Raison : Does not my right hon. and learned Friend accept that the Shops Act is so perverse that evasion and defiance of it are inevitable? Does he agree that the only rational course is to go back to the legislation that was brought forward, admittedly unsuccessfully, in the last Parliament? Does not he agree that total reform is the only way out of this mess?
The Attorney-General : Tempting though it is to acept that invitation, it would be wrong for me to answer a question relating to a matter that is the responsibility of my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary.
Mr. Fraser : Does not the Attorney-General think that there is something wrong when the law is enforced unpredictably between one local authority area and another, sometimes in a quite contrary fashion? Would not it be helpful if the Attorney-General were to publish some guidelines on prosecutions, in order to eliminate unnecessary small cases and to give the same kind of guidance to local authorities as has been given to police authorities in relation to other offences?
The Attorney-General : I do not think that it is necessary for me to give guidance to local authorities when the two statutory provisions that apply to them in this context are clear. For example, it is a matter for them, when they are deciding to seek or not to seek an injunction, to consider whether to do so would be in the interests of the inhabitants of their area. That is the language of the section.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it would give credence to the Church of England's campaign against sensible reform of the Shops Act 1950 if cathedral shops stopped opening on Sundays in defiance of that legislation?
Column 15The Attorney-General : I note my hon. Friend's remarks, which will no doubt be heeded in high places.
61. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Attorney-General, pursuant to his answer of 8 January, Official Report, column 701, what consideration he has now given to the position of Coopers and Lybrand regarding those who have been commissioned to write a report for the Government on the privatisation of the Property Services Agency-Crown Suppliers becoming involved in a potential management buy-out.
The Attorney-General : I have inquired into this matter. None of the information available to me indicates any improper or unlawful conduct by any of those involved, as I believe the hon. Member has very fairly indicated upstairs that he now accepts.
Mr. Dalyell : Without going into the case of Mr. Etherington, to whom Mr. Brendan Gough, chairman of Coopers and Lybrand, wrote a long and courteous letter, does not the right hon. and learned Gentleman think that he ought to examine the principle of those who have been asked to produce objective reports that are paid for by the taxpayer--as Coopers and Lybrand are--being involved in management buy-outs? Is not that sailing a little close to the wind?
The Attorney-General : The hon. Gentleman made that point upstairs. Every case that is brought to the attention of the Law Officers is examined on its merits and in the light of the surrounding circumstances.
71. Mr. Steen : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will arrange to visit Nepal to discuss further funding of family planning through the International Planned Parenthood Federation.
The Minister for Overseas Development (Mrs. Lynda Chalker) : I have no current plans to visit Nepal, but I am always very ready to consider viable proposals for family planning and in the related area of mother and child health.
Mr. Steen : Is my right hon. Friend aware that great economic pressure has been put on Nepal as a consequence of the closure of its borders with India? Will she indicate to both Indian and Nepalese Governments the importance that the British Government attach to opening those borders, to allow free trade between those two countries? In view of the pressure on the Nepalese Government, will she consider making a one-off grant direct to the Nepalese family planning association, so that its important work can continue even though the Nepalese Government may reduce its grant to that association to make pressing economic savings?
Mrs. Chalker : We are hopeful that there will be a settlement soon between India and Nepal. We have given support during the trade dispute, and we expect to increase aid in the current year by almost £3 million over the last
Column 16year. That will help to accommodate new projects and the additional costs of development projects. I am glad to tell the House that last week the Nepalese Government agreed to a primary health care programme that will assist women and families in urgent need of family planning advice. We need to give sumultaneous attention to mother and child health, which we are doing in a number of ways.
72. Mr. Harry Greenway : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs how much is being spent in the current year on food-growing schemes in Ethiopia, the Sudan, Bangladesh and other Third world countries ; and if he will make a statement.
Mrs. Chalker : We accord high priority to food production, both in our bilateral support and in our contributions to multilateral programmes. Current year expenditure from our bilateral programme on food-growing schemes is some £1.8 million in Bangladesh, £2.9 million in Sudan and £0.7 million in Ethiopia.
Mr. Greenway : I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the direct food aid being given to Bangladesh, Sudan and Ethiopia. Does she agree that until those countries are assisted in growing their own food, they will be unable to feed their populations in the long term? Will she use her imminent visit to Bangladesh to impress on that country's Government the urgent need for Bangladesh to grow its own food--with help, when it is needed?
Mrs. Chalker : The most important thing of all for those three countries, but particularly for Ethiopia and Sudan, is that they should enjoy peace. Without it, there is no chance of achieving the right policy environment, to ensure that farmers have the inputs that they require to produce food on time. Those farmers should also get the right prices for their produce. We must ensure that farmers are able to grow produce in all those countries, but that cannot be done at a time of civil war. I shall be talking to the Bangladesh Government about a number of food-growing programmes, including fish farming, to help supply the people of that country with the necessary vitamins.
Mrs. Clwyd : Given the Minister's emphasis on peace--with which we would all agree--does she accept that if they followed the lead of the United States in cutting defence spending her Government would be able to be far more generous to the Third world? In the light of the conflicting views that we are told exist in the Cabinet, will she tell us exactly where she stands on the issue? Is she in favour of defence cuts that would enable the Third world to obtain more money from the Government?
Mrs. Chalker : I am certainly in favour of helping the developing world ; I am also in favour of multilateral disarmament. I am not, however, in favour of putting the country's defences at risk. No Government could have been more active than ours in seeking to persuade the Ethiopian Government to establish a peace and get food to the starving people who need it so badly.
Sir Bernard Braine : All hon. Members on both sides of the House will endorse my right hon. Friend's statement that it is not much use talking about agricultural development in an area where bitter civil war still rages. Is she aware that recent reports show an increasing flow of
Column 17Ethiopian refugees into the southern Sudan, and that the situation is critical? What efforts are being made to ensure that relief food reaches Port Sudan and Khartoum in time to save lives?
Mrs. Chalker : I assure my right hon. Friend that we are doing all that we can to get food to the various areas that need it. Furthermore, now that we have successfully persuaded the Ethiopian Government that they should allow the food through the joint relief programme to those in need, I hope that the rebels will also agree to do so. I am pleased to tell my right hon. Friend that I shall be announcing a further £2.6 million of food aid for Ethiopia, and a further £1 million of emergency relief.
Mr. Simon Hughes : I welcome the news that the Minister is going to Bangladesh next week. While she is there, will she take the opportunity to consider two issues? First, will she look at the apparent imbalance in the geographical distribution of aid? Some districts seem to receive less support than others. Secondly, will she consider the back-up mechanisms that might be available to Bangladesh through aid from Britain, allowing training and educational opportunities to Bangladeshi school-leavers so that they can help the agriculture industry and develop new technologies in the future? It is not just a matter of agriculture ; it is also a matter of education.
Mrs. Chalker : The hon. Gentleman is right. Let me point out, however, that our aid to Bangladesh last year, at £56.8 million, was the highest ever. We have been giving awards for training in the United Kingdom, and about 300 new awards are currently being provided each year. We are also trying to help with natural resources, energy, communications, health and education, particularly education and health projects for women. It is a very full programme that I shall be discussing next week.
Mrs. Chalker : We provided over £7 million in non-financial assistance to Nepal in 1988-89, the last full financial year for which figures are available. This covered training awards in Britain, and technical co-operation which included assistance with forestry, agriculture, education, water and sanitation and roads.
Dr. Clark : Is my right hon. Friend aware that, owing to the trade and transit dispute between Nepal and India, there is a considerable shortage of fuel for cooking and heating? Is she aware that, without petroleum products, there is a great danger of an acceleration in the deforestation which is already a cause of concern? What can we do to help to ensure that Nepal receives more petroleum products in the short term?
Column 18that their stocks of fuel are adequate for the time being. We are watching the position. As for Nepal's environmental needs, we share its concern over the deforestation of the hills. That is why we are providing £2.9 million to accelerate research that will lead to the introduction of new species of trees to assist the area. A further £3.9 million is to be made available for the improvement and management of community forest areas.
79. Mr. Paice : To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, further to the reply given on 8 January, Official Report , column 552, what subjects will be discussed during the Minister for Overseas Development's forthcoming visit to Bangladesh.
Mrs. Chalker : I shall pay my first visit to Bangladesh from 6 to 9 February and will have general discussions on our aid programme with a number of Bangladesh Government Ministers. I expect to discuss the follow- up to the successful flood control conference which Her Majesty's Government hosted in London last month. I look forward to visiting some of our current aid projects.
Mr. Kirkhope : Will my right hon. Friend say a little more about the progress that has been made with flood control projects in Bangladesh, and in particular what role the United Kingdom is playing in those projects?
Mrs. Chalker : The British Government were one of the first to respond to the worst floods in living memory in Bangladesh in August 1988. We provided £8 million in emergency relief and a further £17 million for rehabilitation. We have now embarked on establishing a longer- term flood control strategy. That began at last month's international conference in London. I am glad to say that all the projects have had donor pledges. There will be a full programme of flood prevention measures.
Mr. Paice : Will my right hon. Friend talk to the Bangladeshis about the role of the non-governmental organisations? Will she also consider providing help to Bangladesh for reforestation to create the soil stability that is needed to prevent flood damage and improve food production?
Mrs. Chalker : To my knowledge, we are supporting CARE, Save the Children Fund, Action Aid, Oxfam and especially a local Bangladeshi non- governmental organisation. I shall consider further possible roles for non- governmental organisations through our joint funding scheme. We are already considering the possibility of providing help for reforestation. We have carried out a study in the Sundarbans area on the coast. That is essential if we are to prevent cyclones from causing damage inland.
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