Mr. Ian Taylor : Will my hon. Friend note the full co-operation of the Surrey police in the various inquiries and the way in which they have certainly gained local support and admiration ? Will he also note that the people who perpetrated the outrage in Guildford have yet to be apprehended ? Would not it be better if some Labour Members worried as much about that as about other aspects of the case ?
Mr. Maclean : My hon. Friend makes an interesting point which will no doubt be heard by those Opposition Members. For my own part, I congratulate Sir John May ; his report is rigorous and searching and all those who care about the quality of our criminal justice system have cause to welcome it.
Mr. Michael : But why has not the Home Secretary taken the opportunity to come to the Dispatch Box to support the view of the Labour party, the Royal Commission on criminal justice, Sir John May and now the Lord Chief Justice that the establishment of a body to investigate miscarriages of justice is now urgent and overdue ? During its remaining time in another place, will the Home Secretary accept an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill aimed at establishing such a body ? If not, will the Minister today give a categorical
Column 444promise of legislation in the next parliamentary Session--no later--to establish a body to investigate miscarriages of justice ?
Mr. Maclean : The hon. Gentleman does not appear to have been listening to what I said. If he thinks that a simple amendment could deal with something as complex and important as the establishment of a criminal cases review authority, he clearly did not listen to the demolition of his arguments in Committee when he proposed a similar unworkable and simplistic system. As I have said, the Government are committed to the establishment of a criminal cases review authority and we are considering the responses that we had to the excellent discussion paper that we launched.
Mr. Brazier : In considering Sir John May's report and the findings of the royal commission, will my hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that with approximately only one crime in 30 resulting in a conviction, for millions of British people the principal source of miscarriages of justice is the courts' inability on many occasions to convict the guilty ?
Mr. Maclean : Sir John makes it clear in his report that the definition of a miscarriage of justice is wider than some of the popular notions of it. My hon. Friend makes a valid point. Miscarriages of justice occur if an innocent person is found guilty, but it is equally important that we should have a system that ensures that those who are guilty are convicted.
13. Mrs. Ewing : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many representations he has received in connection with proposals to alter fees for the issue of firearms and shotgun licences ; and when he expects to be able to make a decision.
Mrs. Ewing : Does the Minister realise that the continuing uncertainty is causing deep-seated feelings among legitimate gun licence holders, particularly in rural constituencies such as my own, where farmers of necessity have to hold such licences ? Therefore, will he give a clear date for the announcement ?
Mr. Wardle : I understand what the hon. Lady says. She will be able to tell her constituents that the aim of the review has been to ensure that the fees reflect the true cost to the police of operating the system. However, as I have already said, the hon. Lady can expect a report shortly.
Mr. Lord : Does my hon. Friend recall that, some time ago, I introduced a private Member's Bill, which became the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1992, which gave the Home Secretary the power to increase the period covered by firearm and shotgun certificates ? Many of us hope that those fees will not be raised, but if they have to be, will he ensure that the period covered by the certificates is also extended ?
Column 445on that occasion will have been noted. He is right to refer to an extension to the life of the certificate because that is one factor that has been considered. I have no doubt that he will look forward to the announcement of the results of that review shortly.
Mr. Martyn Jones : Will the Minister assuage the natural worries of legitimate firearms owners that they may be paying for inefficiencies in the police administration of the system by publishing the Ernst and Young report before he gives his report on the increase of the fees ?
Mr. Wardle : The Ernst and Young report will be published at the same time as the fees are announced. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the point that is of concern to him was also of concern to Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary, which said that in some forces the system was being operated inefficiently. We issued a best practice guidance in order to remedy those errors.
14. Mr. Dalyell : To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what are the responsibilities of the Home Office in relation to the Lockerbie crime involving the destruction of Pan Am 103 ; and if he will make a statement on the co-ordination between the specialist services of the Metropolitan police and Scottish police forces on the investigation and prosecution of those responsible.
Mr. Maclean : My Department has an interest in view of our overall responsibility for counter-terrorist policy in Great Britain. The Metropolitan police, the forensic explosives laboratory of the Defence Research Agency and many other police forces and agencies have provided assistance to the Dumfries and Galloway constabulary during the course of the investigation.
Mr. Maclean : I suggest that the hon. Gentleman, who takes a close interest in this matter, checks again on what happened in the Beirut court. Our understanding is that Chaabane mentioned the Lockerbie bombing only in an outburst. He claimed that, in the face of the interrogation to which he had been subjected in respect of other charges, he would have been willing to confess to anything--even the Lockerbie bombing. In his rigorous researches, the hon. Gentleman must not obscure the central issue, which is that the Libyan Government should fully comply with the United Nations Security Council resolutions without further prevarication, so that those who have been charged can stand trial.
The Prime Minister (Mr. John Major) : The chief executive of the Coastguard Agency has confirmed that the resources available this year will enable the agency to fulfil its objectives on search and rescue and on oil and chemical spills. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport has given the House an assurance that he will not allow the efficiency gain that he is seeking to prejudice safety at sea.
Mr. Kirkwood : Does the Prime Minister accept that the most efficient way to run the coastguard service would be to provide the existing complement of professional and auxiliary personnel--who know their own coastlines, seas and weather conditions--all the equipment, training and back-up that money can buy ? Will the right hon. Gentleman give the House an assurance that he personally will refuse to sanction further efficiency savings in the coastguard service if there is any suggestion that they would prejudice safety at sea in future ? After all, the Prime Minister himself may need the political equivalent of a breeches buoy before too long.
The Prime Minister : Of course we would not do anything to prejudice safety at sea, which is self-evidently of vital importance. It is right to seek efficiency gains where it is thought that they will be available. The agency's chief executive has joined other Department of Transport executive agencies in submitting proposals on how further efficiency gains may be made. I am sure that that is right. The greater the efficiency gain that can be made across the public service, the greater will be the saving to the taxpayer or the improvement in services elsewhere in the public service.
Mr. Harris : I welcome my right hon. Friend's answer and assurances, but would not it be quite wrong and unthinkable to apply to coastguard front-line services the 20 per cent. across-the-board cuts that are being considered for other aspects of the Department of Transport ? That must be wrong and out of the question. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that that does not happen under any circumstances ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is running two things together. There is no presumption that the coastguard service must achieve a 20 per cent. reduction. What is sought is a 20 per cent. efficiency gain. I believe that that is achievable, and the chief executive is investigating how it may be achieved. As I said to the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood), that will not be at the expense of the security and safety of people at sea.
The Prime Minister : This morning, I presided at a meeting of the Cabinet and had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. In addition to my duties in the House, I shall be having further meetings later today.
Mr. Fatchett : Is the Prime Minister aware that Railtrack board members have introduced a new working practice whereby they are paid £500 additional bonus--three times the basic wage of signal staff-- simply to attend Railtrack meetings ? Will the Prime Minister join me in
Column 447agreeing that those additional payments are obscene ? Will he take this opportunity to condemn Railtrack's board for making those additional payments ?
The Prime Minister : I will certainly make inquiries about what the hon. Gentleman has alleged, and check whether it is true. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also take the interests of the travelling public into account and condemn a strike for an 11 per cent. pay award, which far exceeds what is being paid to anyone else in the public sector. There is no justification for an award of that size at this time. I hope that negotiations will continue and that the strike will be swiftly settled.
Mr. John Greenway : Does my right hon. Friend agree that a new offence of racial harassment--as recommended by the Select Committee on Home Affairs--together with new measures to tackle the publication of racist material, will be major steps forward in the fight against racial attacks ?
The Prime Minister : We abhor any crime in which any element of racial motivation is present. That is precisely why we have added to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill a new offence to tackle that particular mischief. I believe that that is desirable, and will achieve widespread support among all shades of opinion.
Mrs. Beckett : On Tuesday, the Leader of the House rejected doctors' criticisms of the Government's health service changes ; today, the health service ombudsman has published strong criticism from patients. Are they wrong, too ?
The Prime Minister : Like the right hon. Lady, I have not yet had a chance to read the whole of the ombudsman's report. The ombudsman examines a minority of the cases referred to him, and does not comment on the generality of health service treatment. I understand that some of the reports that have been evident earlier today have been repudiated by the commissioner, but, as I said, like the right hon. Lady, I have not yet had a chance to read the full report.
Mrs. Beckett : But the Prime Minister must know, as I do, that it reveals a record number of complaints. Does he not recognise that the ombudsman, doctors, nurses, patients and Opposition Members are all saying the same thing--that the Government's health service changes are making matters worse? When will the Prime Minister drop them ?
The Prime Minister : I think that the whole House will have noted that the right hon. Lady did not say that she had read the report about which she claims to be speaking so authoritatively. Of course we will take the Health Service Commissioner's report seriously : we are anxious to ensure that the health service continues to improve, and, according to the test set out by the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), it is. He said that the test of the reforms was whether more patients were treated. They are--1 million more every year.
Mrs. Beckett : Is the Prime Minister denying that the report shows a record number of complaints this year ? Is he denying that ? I doubt it very much. Only under the present Government would a record number of complaints be regarded as evidence of success. Does the Prime Minister recognise that the health service changes are
Column 448hurting but certainly not working, and that, while he may sack the present Secretary of State for Health, he also needs to scrap the policies and start putting patients first ?
The Prime Minister : The reforms are precisely about putting patients first. That is why the number of patients treated in hospital has grown by record amounts, the quality of care has improved immeasurably and the number of patients waiting, and almost all waiting times, have fallen. That is an improvement in care. As for complaints, it was precisely with the aim of addressing the issues highlighted by the Health Service Commissioner that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State established a committee, under Professor Wilson, to carry out a thorough review of complaints procedure. That report was published for consultation in May. We anticipated concern about the matter, and have already put in hand measures to deal with it.
Miss Emma Nicholson : Does my right hon. Friend agree that bed space is no longer the determinant of a nation's health care policy, and that when a nation has many beds that is likely to be because epidemiology is not the advanced science that it is in the United Kingdom today ?
The Prime Minister : My hon. Friend is entirely right. The proper judgment of how well the health service is performing is based, first, on the number of people who are treated and, secondly, on how satisfactorily they are treated. On both those measures, the health service continues to improve.
Q3. Dr. Godman : To ask the Prime Minister whether he discussed the membership, structure and functions of the Security Council of the United Nations when he last met the leaders of the other member states of the European Union ; and if he will make a statement.
Dr. Godman : President Nelson Mandela said recently that Rwanda is a stern and severe rebuke to us all. That surely holds for the disgracefully inept and irresponsible Security Council. Does not the Prime Minister agree that there is an urgent need for the Council to solve the problems of financing and manning peacekeeping operations so that United Nations resolutions can more effectively and efficiently be implemented ? Given the mess that the Security Council is in, financially and structurally, most UN resolutions are utterly unenforceable.
The Prime Minister : I share the horror and revulsion felt by many people, including the hon. Gentleman, about the terrible suffering in Rwanda. That is undoubtedly the case. I do not entirely share the hon. Gentleman's strictures about the Security Council. It is not practicable for the Security Council--it simply does not have the resources in terms of cash or money, nor is it likely to have in the short term
The Prime Minister : It is not Britain that is behind in its payments to the UN. The hon. Gentleman, as usual, wishes to criticise this country, with a complete absence of the facts when he does so. The Security Council has become increasingly effective over recent years, and many of the measures set down by it, many of the motions passed by it and many of the actions taken by it are far more effective than in previous years. It simply is not practicable for it to become the policeman of every part of the world.
Mr. Viggers : Does my right hon. Friend agree that the sweeping reforms that we carried out in the national health service in 1991 have inevitably led to controversy and criticism, both malevolent and constructive and positive ? Is he aware that, unlike the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett), who leads for the Opposition, I took the trouble to read the report of the health service ombudsman ? I noted in particular paragraph 1, where he summarises the rest of the report, which I have also read, and refers to the number of complaints as being "remarkably small". Does my right hon. Friend agree that our reforms have been extremely successful, with more than 8 million people being treated in hospital this year ? Will he join me in congratulating Portsmouth and South East Hampshire trust, which for the first time achieved the position whereby no one had to wait for more than a year for any operation ?
The Prime Minister : I am delighted to hear about that improvement in waiting lists and about the remarkably small number of complaints. I am interested to see that the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Mrs. Beckett) did not even get as far as the first paragraph in her studies. I share my hon. Friend's view that we have every reason to be proud of what the national health service has achieved. The Labour party takes and deserves the credit for having established the national health service--no one would deny it that--but in the 45 years since the health service
Column 450was established, the Conservative party has been predominantly in government, and that party has put in the resources to build up the health service from its early beginnings to its present excellence.
Mr. Khabra : Does the Prime Minister think it odd that a senior adviser to the Home Office on prison policy is also in the pay of Group 4, which is bidding to win contracts for building private prisons ? Furthermore, does he agree that it is odd that an interest is definitely involved ?
Mr. Duncan Smith : Does my right hon. Friend agree that most of the public are concerned about people who commit crimes while out on bail ? Will he strongly urge prosecutors to take up what we have given them--the right to appeal against bail being imposed on them ?
The Prime Minister : I believe that the vast majority of the public will entirely agree with what my hon. Friend has said. There is an opportunity there to be taken. I very much hope that it will be taken.
The Prime Minister : The hon. Lady will have to wait, as far as any aspect of the defence costs study is concerned, for the Cabinet to consider the matter itself and for a statement subsequently to be made. Until that time, I have nothing to say either in confirmation or denial.
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