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Column 149transplanted, in the development of new forms of transplant and in improving the results of transplants. The Government remain wholly committed to the organ transplant programme.
Mr. Dunn : Although I acknowledge that the United Kingdom's record on transplants is excellent, will the Secretary of State confirm the steps being taken by his Department to overcome the shortage in the supply of donor organs?
Mr. Waldegrave : The main thing that the House can do is to redouble its appeals to people to carry donor cards. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for paying tribute to what has been done. It is an example of a wholly new health service activity--an almost completely new activity--in the past 10 years. There was virtually none of this under the previous Labour Government, which shows the development of services that we have been able to achieve.
Mr. Galbraith : It will come as a disappointment to the House that the Government's only contribution to increasing the number of donor organs is to increase the number of donor cards carried by individuals. Although that is successful to a limited extent, it is not proving sufficient to deal with the continuing problem of the shortage of donor organs. Have the Government no other plans to increase the number of donor organs available for transplantation?
Mr. Waldegrave : As the hon. Gentleman quite likely knows, various other matters are under consideration. The United Kingdom transplant service, which is funded centrally from my Department, will continue to receive our support. We have considered alternative schemes, such as the opting-out proposal, which has been raised in some European countries. It has not found much favour with us and, from the expression on the hon. Gentleman's face, it does not find much favour with him.
Mr. Jones : Will the Minister acknowledge that, despite those efforts, there is still a chronic shortage of properly qualified speech therapists to treat communication-handicapped patients within the health service? Will she further acknowledge that urgent action is needed to increase the recruitment and remuneration in this valuable service and that the way forward is not to establish a tier of partially trained therapists acting as fully trained therapists within the service, but to put all the effort behind fully and properly qualified speech therapists?
Mrs. Bottomley : There has been an 82 per cent. increase in qualified speech therapists over the past 10 years and they are better paid than they used to be. However, I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point that there are rising expectations of the number of tasks that speech therapists can rightly perform. It is important to consider the skill mix and to ensure that qualified speech therapists are used
Column 150for the tasks for which their skills are necessary. We are also carrying forward plans for clinical audit. We have regular discussions with the College of Speech Therapists and we will continue to consider all the points to which the hon. Gentleman has referred.
Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : The NHS Management Executive is to agree tough targets for the reduction of long waits with all 14 regional health authorities. We are also continuing the special waiting list fund to help health authorities reduce the number of patients who wait excessively.
Mr. Wigley : As the ENT in-patient waiting list in my area is 98 weeks and worsening, whereas ophthalmology, which has been given additional resources, has a reducing waiting list, will the Minister accept the general thesis that if more resources were given to hospitals, the waiting lists would lessen?
Mrs. Bottomley : My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales is on the Treasury Bench and I know that he will note the hon. Gentleman's points. The numbers waiting for a long time have reduced. The hon. Gentleman will also be aware that 50 per cent. of hospital admissions are immediate. The average wait for those who come in off the waiting list is six weeks and we have seen great progress on the numbers who have to wait for over a year. We have made it clear that we want to take more time and care over reducing waiting times. At a time of increasing activity, it would be wrong for the hon. Gentleman not to recognise the progress that is being made.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : 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. This evening I hope to have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen.
Column 151Ms. Quin : Is it true that the Prime Minister recommended the creation of a hereditary baronetcy? If that is the case--
Mr. King : Does my right hon. Friend share the enthusiasm of Conservative Members for the European Community's decision to lift sanctions against new investment in South Africa? Does he share my belief that only through that sort of investment can we bring peace and harmony to South Africa? Does he also share the belief of Oliver Tambo, expressed in his statement at the weekend, that the only people who wish to maintain comprehensive sanctions against South Africa are extreme elements of the African National Congress and the British Labour party?
The Prime Minister : The European Council's agreement over the weekend to lift the ban on new investment in South Africa was a positive step for which Britain has been pressing for some time. I hope that other Governments will soon follow the European Community's example. The very great changes that we have seen in South Africa in recent years have been welcome. In due course, I hope that they will be able to continue and that we will be able properly to welcome South Africa back wholeheartedly into the African and world community.
The Prime Minister : I confirm to the right hon. Gentleman that over the recent few years more people have moved into home ownership and we have had a higher quality and standard of housing than ever before.
Mr. Kinnock : I wonder why the Prime Minister is refusing to answer a plain question. I hear what he says, but, as the Government have cut £6 billion from housing investment and imposed the highest mortgage rates in all of history, does he not realise that the Government are responsible for not only the loss of homes but vastly increased homelessness?
The Prime Minister : The hon. Gentleman will find that his facts are incorrect. On the quality, nature and quantity of housing, I am happy to match the record of this Government against that of any previous Government.
Mr. Kinnock : Will the Prime Minister then acknowledge, first, that during the time that he has been Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer and now Prime Minister, the Government have made huge cuts in housing budgets? Will he confirm that under this
Column 152Government mortgage rates have been higher for longer than ever before and that while the Government have halved housing investment they have doubled homelessness?
Mr. Ridley : Is my right hon. Friend aware that the chairman of the Bundesbank, Herr Po"hl, said the other day that interest rates should be set according to monetary conditions and should not be used to affect the exchange rate? Is he aware that many of my hon. Friends agree with that view and that if we use interest rates to maintain the exchange rate, we are likely to have a wider and deeper recession than we need to control inflation?
The Prime Minister : As my right hon. Friend knows, there is a clear relationship between interest rate and exchange rate policy. My right hon. Friend referred to the governor of the Bundesbank. The deutschmark is also part of the exchange rate mechanism and Germany has done rather well as a result of that.
Mr. Ashdown : Did the Prime Minister read the comments made at the weekend by the Governor of the Bank of England? He said that the Prime Minister's decision, when Chancellor, to cut interest rates in advance of the Tory party conference meant that his party gained a political dividend too early, for which jobs and industry are now paying.
Sir Marcus Fox : Is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister aware that there is a huge demand among shoppers and traders alike and an urgent need to allow people to shop on Sundays? Does he agree that the present law should be reformed?
The Prime Minister : The present law on Sunday trading is widely felt to be unsatisfactory, as my hon. Friend made clear. We tried to reform the law, but on that occasion our proposals did not find favour with the House. I can well understand the impatience of hon. Members about the state of the Sunday trading law.
The Prime Minister : A great deal of the Sunday trading law is bizarre and the time may well be approaching when the Sunday observance lobby should sit down with the retail trade to see whether an acceptable compromise can be reached. As the House knows, there is an acceptable law in Scotland which has not wrecked the special significance of Sunday. I should welcome such a law in England.
Column 153Q3. Mr. Pike : To ask the Prime Minister if he will list his official engagements for Tuesday 18 December.
Mr. Pike : Does the Prime Minister recognise at this time of seasonal goodwill the mortgage misery of millions of people who are paying considerably more than would otherwise be the case because of the Government's financial mismanagement during the past few years? Does he recognise that in the north-west an average mortgage of £34, 800 is costing £110 a month more than it would have done two and a half years ago?
The Prime Minister : I understand clearly the problems faced by many people with high mortgage rates. The underlying necessity is to get the inflation rate down, and interest rate policy is a necessary part of that.
Mr. Andrew Bowden : Is my right hon. Friend aware that every week many thousands of British animals are sent to antiquated European slaughterhouses and that they arrive hungary and thirsty, battered and damaged? Will he please take steps to stop this needless cruelty to and suffering of animals?
Mr. Janner : What comfort can the Prime Minister give to my 89-year- old constituent, Mrs. Phyllis Smith, who, like thousands of other elderly people who live in rest homes, can no longer get free incontinence aids from the national health service? What would he advise her to do with bills for £179, such as this one, when she is on income support and cannot afford to buy these aids which are basic essentials of human dignity?
The Prime Minister : The hon. and learned Gentleman is as aware as anyone in the House that both the general level of provision and the specific level of income support are higher today than at any previous time.
Mr. Robert G. Hughes : Is my right hon. Friend aware that his calm and intelligent approach to the European summit and the negotiations has aroused widespread admiration in my constituency and across the country? My constituents recognise, as he recognises, that we have everything to gain from the negotiations, working out together with our European partners solutions to the many problems that face the European Community.
The Prime Minister : I am certainly grateful to my hon. Friend. It is clear within the EC that on some matters we have a distinct view and we shall sustain it. On those occasions we shall in future, as so often in the past, win the arguments.
Mr. Hughes : The Prime Minister has spoken of creating a classless society. What sort of classless society will it be if, as forecast, unemployment once again goes beyond the 2 million mark? Why does he not at least take the advice of the Confederation of British Industry and reduce interest rates without delay?
Mr. Stewart : Recently, the chairman of British Coal announced record financial profits--the best for 13 years. Recently, our miners produced an all-time productivity record of more than 5 tonnes per man- shift. Recently, the mineworkers' pension scheme announced an increase in pensions of more than 15 per cent. Will my right hon. Friend take this opportunity to congratulate all those people on making those records attainable?
The Prime Minister : I am certainly happy to do so. British Coal and its work force deserve great credit for their achievements, particularly for their recent record level of productivity. It will provide a firm foundation for the future of the coal industry.
Mr. Mallon : Nobody can fail to have been impressed by the Prime Minister's stated conviction that everyone in this country has a right to his or her place in the sun and to equal opportunity. As we approach Christmas, will the right hon. Gentleman ponder on the plight of the Birmingham Six, who face their 16th year in prison for a crime that many believe they have not committed? When he ponders on that, will he join with me in my anger at the words of an Appeal Court judge yesterday--
Mr. Couchman : During his busy day, will my right hon. Friend contact the commander of the British Forces in the Gulf and convey to him the best wishes and prayers of hon. Members in all parts of the House for all our troops as we rise for Christmas? Will he assure General de la Billie re that our hopes remain high that Saddam Hussein will withdraw his forces from Kuwait without the need for further bloodshed?
The Prime Minister : I am happy to join my hon. Friend in those wishes. We owe a tremendous debt to our forces in the Gulf and I am sure that, without exception, we wish them a happy Christmas. I look forward to going out to visit them very shortly after Christmas. As for the solution of the Gulf crisis, that rests squarely with Saddam Hussein. Time is running out for him. The international community has made it clear that force will be used if Iraq has not withdrawn totally and unconditionally from Kuwait by 15 January. I hope that Saddam Hussein will take that very seriously indeed.
Column 156unemployment, may I ask the right hon. Gentleman to ask his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment to ensure that more money is made available under the revenue support grant settlement for areas such as mine, where unemployment is already at double national average levels? Will he ensure that more money is made available in January by that means to alleviate some of the problems of that degree of unemployment?
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