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Column 901Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Chris (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)
Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)
Strang, Dr. Gavin
Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold
Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)
Young, David (Bolton SE)
Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Eric Clarke and Mr. Dennis Turner.
Column 901Question accordingly agreed to.
Mr. Deputy Speaker-- forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.
That this House welcomes the fact that the vast majority of people are significantly better off today than in 1979, and notes, in particular, that the average pensioner is now more than 50 per cent. better off; approves the Government's policy of ensuring that social security spending does not outstrip the nation's ability to pay while focusing resources on those who need it most; applauds the fact that the Government has channelled an extra £1 billion a year to low income families, and an even greater sum to poorer pensioners, since 1988; welcomes the high priority accorded by the Government to education and training; recognises that employment is the best route to higher incomes, and commends the package of work incentives, including the child care disregard and the Back to Work Bonus, which the Government has introduced; applauds the Government's achievement in reducing unemployment by over half a million since 1992 and notes the fact that a national minimum wage would increase unemployment; and deplores the Opposition's failure to reveal the level of their national minimum wage, how they would deal with differentials, their social security policies and their costs.
Statutory Instruments, &c.
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse): I propose to put together the Questions on the 10 rating and valuation motions. Motion made, and Question put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(5) (Standing Committees on Statutory Instruments, &c.),
That the draft Docks and Harbours (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Amendment Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Electricity Distribution Lands (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Electricity Generation Lands (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Electricity Generators (Aluminium) (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Electricity Generators (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Electricity Transmission Lands (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Formula Valuation (Revocations) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved. That the draft Mines and Quarries (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft Water Undertakings (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 18th January, be approved.
That the draft British Gas plc. (Rateable Values) (Scotland) Order 1995, which was laid before this House on 23rd January, be approved.-- [Mr. Bates.]
Question agreed to.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenditure incurred by the Secretary of State under or by virtue of the Act.-- [Mr. Bates]
Mr. David Jamieson (Plymouth, Devonport): I ampleased to be able to speak for a few moments on this money order. I am also pleased that a number of Ministers have seen fit to come here to welcome the order.
The order has come before the House because it is required for my private Member's Bill on safety in activity centres. It demonstrates the commitment of both sides of the House to the measures contained in the Bill. I do not wish to detain the House unduly, but I seek a few reassurances about the funding of the legislation.
Since the Bill's Second Reading on 27 January, a number of further causes for concern have arisen. I hope that the Secretary of State and the Minister will avail themselves, if they have not already done so, of a copy of the Radio 4 programme, "Face the Facts", broadcast last week, which uncovered the activities of Mr. Christopher Reynard and the fact that the literature for his outdoor activity centre was full of bogus claims of accreditation. That is further evidence of the need for the Bill. I am sure that the Minister will be aware of a case that came to light last week of another man who has given out bogus certificates of accreditation for leadership and has now received three months' imprisonment for his criminal activities in that regard.
I make those points because, despite the Lyme bay trial, the considerable publicity that my Bill has had and all that has been said and done, some centres and providers still have a cavalier attitude to decent standards of safety for children in activity centres. The attitude of sales before safety will continue until it is stopped by the Bill.
The funds within the order are required to implement the Bill. The sums needed are modest but extremely important, and I seek one or two assurances from the Minister. Funds are needed to pump-prime the whole scheme, although I accept--I believe that the Government also accept--that, ultimately, the accreditation scheme for safety in outdoor activity centres contained in the Bill should be self-financing. Will the Minister come to the Dispatch Box and say whether sufficient pump-priming money will be available? That money is needed to set up the licensing body and inspection scheme. Some funding will be needed to advertise the accreditation scheme, because accurate information is required by parents and teachers. Most of all, informative and accurate literature, rather than the misleading information currently being distributed by some providers, is needed for consumers.
I hope that the Minister will say tonight that funds will be available in sufficient quantity and over a sufficient period to ensure full implementation of the Bill. The modest funding required by the Bill is a small price to pay for parents' peace of mind.
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Mr. John McFall (Dumbarton): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson) on his private Member's Bill and on the initiative that he has taken. It will affect the position not only in England and Wales but in Scotland, where we face a massive local government reorganisation.
In my area, Strathclyde regional council, which covers a population of more than 2 million, will be split into 12 or 13 local authorities. At the time of the local government reorganisation, the Government's sentiments were that quality of provision and financial resources would be maintained. Alas, over the past 12 months we have learnt that that guarantee will no longer be provided and the birth of the new unitary authorities will be accompanied by a severity of financial resources.
The need, therefore, for a commitment from the Government to finance for outdoor activity centres in Scotland, as in England and Wales, is urgent and their commitment to the inspection and accreditation schemes is important. The Government have been very good at providing citizens charters in the past. What I would like to see accompanying the Bill would be a safety charter for young people so that it is in writing.
Mr. McFall: I will return to the need for money. If the proper finance is not provided, it will be a hollow Bill. Given the tragedies that have occurred in the past and the initiative from my hon. Friend, it would be a travesty. The need for the Government to be up front and say that finance will accompany the Bill is urgent and important, not just for right hon. and hon. Members but for the thousands of young people who will use the centres in the coming months and years.
The Minister of State, Department for Education (Mr. Eric Forth): I am happy to provide the assurances that the hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Mr. Jamieson), the promoter of Bill, has requested.
We know that the activity centres would have to pay a fee to a licensing authority to cover the cost of licensing and we assume, not unreasonably, that there would be a joining fee and an annual fee. Most of the centres may also have to incur costs by making improvements following the inspections that would be part of the regime in the hon. Gentleman's Bill.
I accept that the Government would incur costs, perhaps at the margin--we do not yet know--in a pump-priming mode, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, in the first two or three years to get the scheme off the ground; after that, however, we hope that it would become self-financing.
The level of fees and the way in which they would be payable would depend on the precise details to be specified in the regulations which would follow if the Bill receives parliamentary approval, following consultation, as we agreed on Second Reading. We would want to consult thoroughly on matters such as appropriate frequency of inspection, the number of inspectors, what
Column 905is to be inspected and how, the activities to be covered, the nature and details of the licensing authority and the mode of inspection.
We envisage that the number of inspectors would be in the tens and not the hundreds, and that fees would be in the low hundreds of pounds, not thousands, to give it a framework or perspective. Subject to consultation on all those matters, we envisage that initial pump-priming moneys would be made available, subject to the details being worked out about the precise nature of the licensing, the fees payable and so on, but at this stage I am happy to give the hon. Gentleman the assurances that he requested in the spirit that he requested them and I hope that the House will be sufficiently assured.
Mr. Anthony Steen (South Hams): My hon. Friend is aware that in the debate concern was expressed by Conservative Members that the fees should not be too high so that some of the smaller excellent activity centres would not be pushed out of business. Could he say something about the Government's awareness of some of those smaller activity centres because considerable concern has been expressed that the bureaucracy and the rules and regulations which will flow from the Bill could result in some of the smaller centres, however good they are, being driven out of business?
We are conscious of the potential for adverse impact of the measure on some of the smaller centres and we want to strike a balance--I think that this was also the hon. Member for Devonport's view--between ensuring as far as possible a safe regime for the young people using the centres and trying to ensure the centres are not unnecessarily driven out of business. That was very much the spirit of the debate on Second Reading. The Committee will provide the opportunity for us to examine the background in proper detail to see whether we can strike the appropriate balance in Committee and beyond.
We may want to consider the nature of the fees that are chargeable, although that matter cannot be finalised until we have completed the very thorough consultations that we envisage will take place following the Third Reading of the Bill. We are sensible of the points that my hon. Friend has raised today and on Second Reading and that sensibility will be carried through the Committee stage and beyond.
Question put and agreed to.
That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Activity Centres (Young Persons' Safety) Bill, it is expedient to authorise-- (a) the charging by the licensing authority of fees under regulations made under the Act; and
(b) the payment of sums into the Consolidated Fund.-- [Mr. Bates.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Bates.]
Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): As chairman of the all-party parliamentary pro-life group and together with colleagues from both sides of the House, I raised during the debates on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 the need for the Secretary of State to ensure that the membership of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority was both balanced and credible.
Some of those who supported me in expressing those views are here tonight. I thank them for their support at this late hour. I welcome in particular the hon. Members for Bootle (Mr. Benton) and for Liverpool, Mossley Hill (Mr. Alton), and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Dame J. Knight), for Maidstone (Miss Widdecombe), for Basildon (Mr. Amess) and for Reading, West (Sir A. Durant).
I have sought the debate tonight because it is clear that those calls were not heeded, and that there are fundamental flaws in the structure, the membership, the partisanship and the funding of the authority. In recent months, it has displayed a breathtaking superficiality of understanding and paucity of logic in its work. Our criticisms of the authority were set out in some detail in a document entitled "A Response from the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-life Group to the Report of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority on Donated Ovarian Tissue in Embryology Research and Assisted Conception", copies of which have been widely circulated and have also been deposited in the Library.
That document followed the success of my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston in bringing forward an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill in the last Session to prevent the use in infertility treatment of eggs scavenged from the ovaries of aborted baby girls.
The public rightly viewed such proposed practices with considerable repugnance and ethical outrage. The House and another place debated carefully the proposals of my hon. Friend and enacted them. Yet the then chairman of the HFEA, at a press conference to launch its own pronouncements on the matter, accused my hon. Friend of seeking to "rush a clause into a piece of legislation where it clearly does not belong".
I believe that such a suggestion is an affront to the House, and I hope that the Secretary of State will remind the new chairman of the HFEA that she derives her authority from Parliament and is answerable to it--not the other way around.
When the HFEA undertook what was immediately exposed as a charade of a consultation exercise on that matter and on the use of eggs from adult cadavers, it demonstrated not only its predisposition to allow such practices to go ahead, but a total lack of understanding of the moral views opposed to such techniques, which are held by the majority of people in this country and by the majority of hon. Members.
Column 907The report of the HFEA on the matters made it clear that it was merely the existence of an unfavourable "social attitude" that dissuaded it from approving such practices. That conclusion is reinforced by the authority's statement that it has "no objection in principle" to the use of eggs from cadavers, and that it "will reconsider" the licensing of such treatment at a later date. The objections to the practice overlap to a large extent with the objections to using eggs from foetuses. The authority has no real objection "in principle" to either practice, and there is no reason to doubt that the authority's apparently less equivocal rejection of the use of foetal eggs is only as a result of the practice already having been made illegal. I hazard the assumption that the authority is biding its time only until public opinion can be massaged and swayed in favour of those repugnant practices.
The report of the HFEA demonstrates that the authority is fundamentally out of touch with the moral concerns of the people of this country, and that the dominant philosophy of those on the authority is that of the technocrat who sees scientific progress as the source of all human happiness, and is blind to any greater moral consideration. The authority was patronising in its clear indication that moral objections cannot possibly constitute a genuine reason for not doing something, and that they are merely irrational superstitions which must be smiled at in the short term and defeated in the long term by extolling the benefits of technology. As we said in our report, that such a body should have been put in charge of regulating reproductive technology is a manifest case of the fox acting as gamekeeper, and confirms the view, set out in the previous Session, in early-day motion 1244, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Mossley Hill and myself, that the authority is "in need of urgent reform and that its membership is not the `broad cross section of society' claimed by the Secretary of State for Health; notes that not one of its 21 members believes in the protection of the human embryo from destructive experiments and that among the inspectors it has appointed are employees of hospitals with a direct financial interest in fertility treatments involving the abuse of the human embryo; and believes that last year's staff cost of £ million, operating payments of £ million, and rules which require 50 per cent. of funding to come from licensing, build an intolerable system of financial inducements into the sales of licences, rather than a sound system of ethics."
Even if we were to accept as inevitable the bias in the membership and the views of the authority, and the fundamental financial pressures to permit ever more abuse of the human embryo, we would have hoped that we could at least look to it to monitor effectively the health effects on children conceived through the techniques that it licenses.
When considering perinatal mortality, it has always been accepted that, for every baby who dies, others live on suffering from some abnormality. It is an alarming dereliction of its duties, therefore, that the HFEA has not initiated or encouraged any research revealing the rates of malformation or long-term medical problems of children conceived by in vitro fertilisation.
Figures in the authority's third annual report, in 1994, show a perinatal death rate of 25.8 per 1,000 babies born from the most popular IVF technique. Although the authority, somewhat glibly, says that that is due to the high rate of multiple pregnancies, even singleton IVF pregnancies end in a perinatal death rate of 15.6 per 1,000, which is more than double the overall perinatal death rate