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Mrs. Ann Winterton (Congleton): As many hon. Members are aware, the country's main national homelessness charity, Shelter, recently organised a promotional event, Shelter Week, through which it sought to boost awareness of its work and to encourage support and involvement by our constituents. I was asked to record a taped message of support for the promotional campaign and I was delighted to do what I could in a limited way to assist. As a result of that involvement, I decided to seek an opportunity to put on record a number of important points of detail and of principle in an effort to assist in moving the issue of homelessness further up the public, political and parliamentary agenda.
My starting point is simple. In a well organised and affluent society such as ours, it is a tragedy in personal, social and economic terms that homelessness continues to be a major problem. I am anxious to do all that I can to encourage the establishment of a new consensus in finding practical solutions. The more I look at the situation, the more I am convinced that real and lasting solutions will be found only when the problem is tackled by a genuine partnership between national and local government, housing associations, charities, campaigning organisations and individuals. It is against that background that we need, first, to appreciate the sheer scale of the problem, which persists despite the commitment and determination of successive housing Ministers. In February, Shelter published a report which showed that it is helping a record number of homeless and badly housed people--it helped 64,000 households last year--through its national network of housing aid centres which are supported by central and local government grants as well as, of course, by charitable donations. The report also clearly demonstrated how crucial a decent home is to stable family life and how homelessness causes great individual misery and leads to increasing burdens on the taxpayer.
In 1993, some 139,790 households in England were accepted as homeless under the law, although many more sought assistance under the legislation and were not accepted. Although there has been a welcome decline in the number of people accepted as homeless since 1992, research by Shelter published last year showed that many authorities believe that the reduction in numbers was due to a temporary increase in the supply of housing association homes following measures in the 1992 autumn statement.
There remains considerable concern that homelessness will increase once again as the housing association development programme of homes to rent is reduced next year. The output by housing associations of new or rehabilitated homes to rent will be less than a third of what many experts agree is required. The Minister may be interested to learn that the Housing Corporation's assessment of housing needs concluded that about 100,000 low cost homes a year would be needed for the decade up to 2001. Perhaps he will take the opportunity provided by this debate to say whether he agrees with that assessment and what research his Department has carried out on the subject. It is not just that the number of new homes coming on to the market has been reduced. The volume of new lettings of council and housing association homes has
Column 312remained relatively static and in many areas the size or type of housing most commonly available to re-let is all too rarely appropriate for those in most urgent need. The success of the right- to-buy scheme, which I whole-heartedly support, has had the practical effect of allowing 1.5 million council houses to be sold, removing them for ever from the system.
The private rented sector is often financially beyond the means of many people, especially the very young, who cannot afford the necessary deposit or rent in advance. In short, in some areas there is not enough decent housing available at affordable rents. One of the largest factors in the homelessness equation--the breakdown of traditional family life--must also be confronted.
Liberal divorce laws, the encouragement of teenage sexual activity and single parenthood, and the general undermining of the family unit--by which I mean the husband and wife and their children bound together by marriage-- by taxation and other legislation, have been major contributors to changes in our country's demography. Those changes have led to less stable homes and more fragmentation. Successive Governments cannot ignore their responsibility for those social changes.
There is much evidence of disrepair in the existing housing stock. One in six homes needs urgent repairs costing more than £1,000, and they include more than 2 million owner-occupied homes. Some of those who own their homes continue to face real problems of negative equity, although, thankfully, that problem is less acute in the part of the world that I represent in Cheshire. The problem has been exacerbated by rising interest rates and the fears created by the decision of the Secretary of State for Social Security substantially to reduce income support for mortgage interest payments. That move has prompted the Council of Mortgage Lenders, the Building Societies Association, the House-Builders Federation and the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance to warn of an increase in the number of repossessions next year.
My hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who is the chairman of the Manufacturing and Construction Industries Alliance, told the House just a few days ago that, thus far, the house building industry is certainly not participating in the more general economic upturn that we all agree is taking place. That view will be shared by many. Unless the Treasury takes steps to encourage greater confidence in the housing market, there is every prospect that home ownership--participation in the property- owning democracy--will no longer be such a popular option as it has been in the immediate past.
One of my greatest concerns is the effect on family life, on the development of children and thus on the future of our society, of placing too many families in relatively insecure temporary accommodation. I remain concerned that too many local authorities place too many such families in bed-and-breakfast accommodation at an extremely high cost to the public purse. Living in such accommodation is surely bad for the health, education and welfare of families, especially those containing young people. Shelter is to be congratulated on at least highlighting the problems and pressing instead for resources for investment in good quality housing. A recent report by the Standing Conference on Public Health estimated that homelessness and poor housing conditions were adding a staggering £2 billion a year to health care costs. More than 50,000 families live in
Column 313temporary accommodation in which disrepair, overcrowding, shared cooking and sanitary facilities, and lack of space for children's play and study lead to higher rates of infection, depression, anxiety and behavioural problems in children, and an increased number of injuries sustained through accidents. Surely it is not, therefore, a case of being unable to afford the resources to tackle the problem; rather it is illogical and counter-productive to allow those problems to continue further.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will indicate a willingness to agree that all changes in housing policy and benefit arrangements should be assessed against the test of whether they will increase or decrease the number of families in unsuitable bed-and-breakfast accommodation. A classic example of just what can go wrong when bringing forward changes in housing policy is revealed when we consider how the funds saved by reducing housing subsidies to housing associations and councils has been offset by more current and future spending on housing benefit as a result of higher rents. Higher rents also contribute to higher wage demands and thus fuel the inflationary spiral.
A recent survey found that 94 per cent. of the public believe that homeless people should be found homes, although that may be slightly idealistic in some ways. We need to build on that consensus to find a real, lasting and practical solution to the problem. We need an adequate supply of affordable homes for people who need them, and those in the greatest need are the homeless.
In addition, we need an owner-occupied sector which is secure and not just a route into homelessness for some people. We need a housing system that offers mobility, flexibility and real choice. Surely we, the Government, charities and individuals need to do everything that we can to extend measures which help people to keep their homes, and to ensure stability in family life, of which housing is an essential part.
I hope that, if nothing else, this short debate has provided the opportunity for my hon. Friend the Minister to respond constructively to what I have said, to avoid polemics, and to rise to the challenge for the Government to redouble their efforts to tackle a problem. In a relatively wealthy, well run society such as ours, there can be little excuse for the continuation of that problem.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Robert B. Jones): The principal aim of the Government's housing policy is that a decent home should be within reach of every family. Relieving homelessness is an important part of our housing policy. Figures collected for my Department each quarter by local authorities show that fewer and fewer households are becoming homeless and requiring local authority help to obtain accommodation.
For the past two and a half years, there has been a reduction every quarter in the year-on-year numbers of households accepted for rehousing under homelessness legislation. The figures show that the Government have been successful in encouraging authorities to move away from using bed and breakfast hotels as temporary accommodation for homeless households. The number of homeless applicants living in bed and breakfast accommodation at the end of September 1994 was only about a third of the number three years previously.
Column 314A number of authorities use short-term leases of privately rented accommodation as a better alternative to provide good quality temporary accommodation for homeless households. To help authorities to continue to provide that accommodation, we shall shortly be laying regulations which will extend for up to a further two years the period for which such leases can be held without the cost scoring as capital expenditure.
Our policies are dealing with the needs of people sleeping rough. The Government's six-year £180 million rough sleepers initiative in central London is widely regarded as having had considerable success in reducing the number of people sleeping on the streets of the capital. A count by voluntary agencies last November found about 290 people sleeping rough in central London, a reduction on estimates of more than 1,000 before the initiative began in 1990. Independent research into the first three years of the initiative also showed that several thousand people had been helped to find accommodation through the initiative, and that many more had been prevented from becoming homeless in the first place.
Many of the people who remain on the streets of central London are the "hard core" of rough sleepers who may have slept out for a number of years. They may suffer from alcohol or drug abuse, or they may have mental health problems. The needs of those people can best be met by focused co-operation by health authorities, social services departments, housing authorities and voluntary sector agencies. We have to accept, however, that some long-term rough sleepers will be resistant to offers of accommodation and that it may take time to persuade them to come inside.
My ministerial colleagues and I have paid a number of visits to projects for single homeless people in central London, managed by excellent voluntary sector organisations such as Centrepoint, St. Mungo's, Crisis and the Salvation Army. Many of those are funded by the Department. One cannot fail to be impressed by the way in which those agencies seek to provide assistance for individuals who would otherwise sleep rough.
By March 1996, the rough sleepers initiative will have provided about 5,000 places in a range of permanent and temporary accommodation, as well as outreach and resettlement workers who contact people sleeping on the sheets and help them to start a new life away from the streets. The initiative has shown how voluntary and statutory agencies can work together towards the relief of single homelessness.
Outside central London, it is the responsibility of local authorities to consider the needs of people sleeping rough as part of their overall housing strategy. I commend to local authorities the model of co-operation between statutory and voluntary agencies developed under the rough sleepers initiative. For our part, the Government pay grants under section 73 of the Housing Act 1985 to voluntary agencies which provide direct and practical help for single homeless people. In 1994-95, £6.8 million has been made available to more than 150 projects.
As well as specific action to prevent and relieve homelessness, the Government are pursuing wider policies aimed at expanding the housing options available to everyone. Eighty per cent. of respondents to surveys said that they would prefer to own their own homes. There can no doubting our success in expanding owner-occupation. The right to buy for council tenants has brought home ownership to more than 1.6 million
Column 315families in Great Britain. We are widening the choice for tenants who want to become home owners. The local authority cash incentive schemes and the Housing Corporation's incentive schemes for tenants have helped a further 21,000 people to buy homes. Those schemes have the additional benefit of freeing council or housing association dwellings to house more families in greatest need.
We shall continue to give high priority to bringing the option of owner- occupation within the reach of more people. Since house prices and interest rates are both low, home ownership is more affordable than it has been for years, so now is a good time for people to think about buying.
We recognise, of course, that not everyone will be able to afford to buy a home outright, particularly young people, so our policies also deal with the demand for rented accommodation. In particular, we are keen to expand the role played by the private rented sector in offering accommodation to people in housing need. It is a mistake to assume that private rented accommodation will, by definition, be inadequate. For many families, it is the right and most flexible answer. With several hundred thousand vacant private sector homes in England, scope exists for bringing more homes into private renting to help meet housing demand.
We have introduced a number of initiatives to achieve that. For example, housing associations have become involved in the management of private rented stock. Acting as managing agents, they have brought benefits to tenants, through the provision of a high level of service and security, and to landlords by providing a high quality, hassle-free intermediary. To build on this initiative, a new scheme--HAMA Plus--has been introduced. It will provide an additional £5 million in 1994-95 to housing associations providing management services to bring empty properties back into shape and back into use. Housing associations have also been central to the flats-over-shops initiative, which not only brings unused space back into use but brings new life to abandoned areas of our high streets.
Local authorities themselves have also done a great deal. A number have introduced imaginative schemes to encourage local landlords to co-operate with them in housing families and others in need. One approach that is achieving impressive results is the introduction of rent and deposit guarantee schemes. They give landlords the reassurances that they may require to house low-income tenants and can dramatically increase the chances of such households gaining access to rented accommodation.
There is now some evidence of an increase in private lettings. The number has grown from just over 1.6 million in 1988 to just under 2 million at the end of 1993. It is important that we continue to reinforce that trend in recognition of the vital role that a healthy private sector can play in meeting housing need. But the social rented
Column 316sector also has, and will continue to have, a role to play in providing long-term, settled housing for families who need help. It is difficult to estimate the need for social housing at national level because it depends on how need is defined and short-term fluctuations in factors affecting access to owner-occupation, such as house prices and interest rates. However, many publicly quoted estimates of 100,000 homes a year seem to us to be overstated. We are investing significant sums of money in social housing. Public resources to housing associations--the main providers of new low-cost housing for rent and for sale--are more than £1.5 billion this year, enabling some 60,000 new lettings to be provided. That will bring the total over the three years to 31 March 1995 to more than 180,000, an all-time high level of housing association provision and about 27,000 more homes than we promised in the 1992 Conservative manifesto.Over the next three years--1995-96 to 1997-98-- we expect Housing Corporation and local authority expenditure together, and the private finance that they will attract, to produce a further 180,000 new lettings.
If local authorities are to make the best use of those new lettings and the existing stock, they need fair and rational systems for allocating their housing and their nominations for housing association tenancies. The courts' interpretation of the current homelessness legislation has made that impossible in some areas. At present, households who happen to apply for assistance under the homelessness legislation are automatically placed on a fast track for housing allocations, irrespective of whether they have the greatest need for long-term social housing. Meanwhile, families in need on the housing waiting list are left standing. For that reason, we are committed to reform.
Our proposals would separate the allocation of long-term tenancies from the provision of immediate assistance to the homeless. Quite simply, those who have the greatest need for long-term social housing should get the highest priority, whether or not they have been accepted as homeless by the local authority. At the same time, we are committed to retaining an effective safety net for homeless families and vulnerable people to ensure that those groups have access to suitable accommodation.
The relentless growth in the number of households in this country has presented a formidable challenge for our policies on housing throughout the Government's period in office. I am pleased to say that those policies have withstood the test and are succeeding in dealing with homelessness and increasing the supply of dwellings. We have also expanded the housing options available, so that more people than ever before have the opportunity to own their own homes. 2.23 pm
It being half past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to Order [19 December].
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Yesterday, you were kind enough to respond to a point of order from the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett), when you said that he was correct in his assertion that, when a Bill receives its Second Reading and is referred to Committee, the Committee should reflect the views of the House when it voted. Of course, I agree that that is an important matter and that it should be taken into account, but other important matters should also be given due weight, most particularly the views of hon. Members who spoke in the Second Reading debate. Would you be kind enough to clarify the position?
Madam Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. Like the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman is correct in what he says. Several matters have to be taken into account when hon. Members are nominated to serve on Standing Committees. Standing Order No. 86 embraces them in the words: "the qualifications of those Members nominated and . . . the composition of the House".
The important point for me to emphasise is that the interpretation of Standing Order No. 86 is normally left to the Committee of Selection, which has been nominated and endorsed by the House. That Committee is given the task of making nominations. Strictly speaking, these matters are not for me.
"the Lord Advocate has made it clear that in relation to the Lockerbie case, as in any other case, it is not appropriate for the investigating or prosecuting authorities to give details of investigative steps which have been taken."
My point of order is this. Is the decision a matter for the Table Office, or is it a matter for the Crown Office? The Crown Office's objection to naming individuals other than those already named in previous questions seems an evasion of its responsibilities. My complaint is with the Crown Office, and not with the Table Office.
Madam Speaker: When a question has been refused and the hon. Member concerned wishes to make representations to the Speaker on the matter, the practice is for those to be made privately; they should not be raised by way of a point of order, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman, who is a long- standing Member of the House, realises. However, these questions are covered by Scottish Office answers to other questions in the hon. Gentleman's name. I confirm that the Department's answers preclude the hon. Gentleman from putting further questions of that sort for a particular period.
Column 338I have in my possession a copy of a Select Committee report issued in November--House of Commons document 385--which makes the strongest possible representations to the Government that time on the Floor of the House must be given to discussing the implications of the draft Euro-proposal for a common format of visa, with a Euro-symbol stamped thereon. The Committee thought the issue so important that it published a separate report, reprinting paragraphs and documents, and making it clear to the Government that it believed that the issue had to be debated at an early date in the House. The Committee may take the view, as I do, that a common format visa will lead inevitably to the mutual recognition of Euro- visas.
Only yesterday, the Leader of the House sent the Committee a letter, dated 7 March, relating to the report of 20 November. It said that, although he thought that there was indeed a case for a debate, we could not have it now, although we might have it soon in European Standing Committee B.
However, I have been advised that a specific proposal to establish such visas is to be considered by the Council of Home Affairs Ministers in Brussels tomorrow. It has been reported, rightly or wrongly, that the United Kingdom Home Office Minister will agree to it.
I appreciate that our powers are limited but, if a Select Committee says that we should debate this vital issue and if it issues a special report, is it not scandalous that there is to be a meeting in Brussels tomorrow to decide the issue, especially given the fact that many hon. Members--of, I think, all parties--believe that a common Euro-symbol visa is effectively the beginning of the end of border controls?
I therefore ask you, Madam Speaker, whether any step can be taken to ensure an emergency debate before tomorrow, so that the House may express an opinion. What is the point of having Select Committees to establish a unanimous opinion if we cannot discuss the issue, and if the Government are to go to Brussels tomorrow and agree to the proposal?
Several hon. Members rose --
As the hon. Gentleman realises, the issue that he has raised has to do with the arrangement of business; it is not a matter for the Speaker. The arrangement of business is one of the responsibilities of the Leader of the House. I suggest that, as soon as he can, the hon. Gentleman attempts to raise the matter with him, to see whether there can be a change of business.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. There is no doubt that you are a doughty champion of the rights of the House. If my right hon. or hon. Friend goes to Brussels tomorrow and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East
Column 339(Sir T. Taylor) said, stitches up an arrangement with other European Ministers, what can the House then do about it? What can you do to help the House today to sustain its position, powers and influence?
Madam Speaker: If I had received a request for a private notice question or for a debate under Standing Order No. 20 by midday today, there could perhaps have been changes in the business. The hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) raised the issue, which is barely a point of order, with me at precisely 3.20 pm, 10 minutes before he raised it on the Floor of the House.
Madam Speaker: The hon. Gentleman may not have known before, but I cannot change the business of the House unless the proper procedures agreed by the House are followed at the correct time. Much as I might be sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman and perhaps others are seeking to do, I have to uphold the procedures of the House.
Sir Teddy Taylor: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. In case I appeared discourteous, I must point out that the letter was sent yesterday and arrived this morning, but that I received it only at 3.15 pm. The meeting is tomorrow; what the blazes are we to do?
Madam Speaker: I cannot give any account of Paddington Bear the postman or why, if the letter was posted yesterday, it was received only late today, as presumably it was posted in the same building. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has done his best to raise the matter, but I repeat that I have to follow the procedures of the House and cannot accept what he is saying at this stage. Had it been raised with me by midday, I could perhaps have done something about it.
Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Leeds, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Have you had a request from the Secretary of State for Health for an opportunity to explain to us how it was that Leeds general infirmary proved to have the nearest bed for a brain-damaged patient in Kent?
The patient had to be flown by helicopter from Sussex to Leeds, necessitating a 12-hour delay in treatment following a road accident. After a seven-hour operation, his condition is clearly still critical. Has the Secretary of State asked for an opportunity to explain to us why more than half the country was without beds for a brain-damaged patient? Surely that represents a serious emergency nationally for the health service.
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. As the Home Secretary has been in his place and has heard the exchanges between several hon. Members and yourself, if, bearing in mind what has
Column 340been said, he is anxious to make a statement to the House, perhaps at 7 o'clock, would you view such a request sympathetically?
Madam Speaker: I do not have to give sympathetic consideration to a statement. I am informed by the Minister concerned that he will make a statement. I have made this point to the House on several occasions. That is the procedure of the House. If a Minister wishes to make a statement at any time, I have to hear that statement.
Mr. Marlow: Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. Do you agree that if, as my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir T,. Taylor) says, the letter was written yesterday and arrived today, bearing in mind that the Government may make a decision tomorrow and that the House will debate the matter at a later stage, that is a totally unacceptable situation? What powers do you have to force Ministers to take proper account of the wishes of the House, so that matters can be properly and publicly debated before the people of this country?
Madam Speaker: I have no powers whatever in that respect. If the House at some time wishes to give me such powers, that point may be considered by the Procedure Committee. At present, I have no powers or authority in that respect.
Rev. Ian Paisley (Antrim, North): Further to that point of order, Madam Speaker. The delay from the time of publication of the report to the answer received points to the fact that the Government do not want a debate on the matter. Surely the House should not be manipulated by Ministers, who have ensured that there is no opportunity at the proper time in the House today to move that there be a change of business. I suggest that you should have some powers to inform the Government that this is totally unacceptable, and to defend the rights of Members of the House.
Madam Speaker: Order. I think that we have had enough points of order now. The whole House understands what has taken place. All I can say is that there are Ministers on the Treasury Bench at present who have been here throughout the exchanges. I expect that those Ministers have taken note of the strong feelings in the House on the matter.
Mr. Secretary Lilley, supported by Mr. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mrs. Secretary Bottomley, Mr. Secretary Lang, Mr. Secretary Redwood, Secretary Sir Patrick Mayhew, Mr. John M. Taylor and Mr. Alistair Burt, presented a Bill to make provision with respect to child support maintenance and other maintenance; and to provide for a child maintenance bonus: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow, and to be printed. [Bill 71.]
Mr. Gordon McMaster, supported by Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Adam Ingram,
Column 341Mrs. Irene Adams, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Mr. Archy Kirkwood, Mr. Thomas Graham, Mr. Norman Hogg, Mr. Michael J. Martin, Mr. Jimmy Wray and Dr. Norman A. Godman, presented a Bill to make it unlawful in Scotland to discriminate against disabled persons in respect of employment and in other circumstances, and to establish a Disability Rights Commission for Scotland; to make provision for access to polling stations and voting by disabled persons in Scotland; to place certain duties on local authorities, education authorities and other bodies in Scotland in relation to disabled persons; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 17 March, and to be printed. [Bill 73.]
Ms Mildred Gordon, supported by Mr. Harry Cohen, Ms Tessa Jowell, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Tony Benn, Mr. Alan Simpson, Ms Jean Corston, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Mrs. Anne Campbell and Mrs. Irene Adams, presented a Bill to require government departments and other public bodies to include in the production of statistics relating to the gross domestic product and satellite accounts a calculation of the quantity and value of the unwaged work of women: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 14 July, and to be printed. [Bill 74.]
Mrs. Jane Kennedy, supported by Ms Rachel Squire, Ms Glenda Jackson, Ms Ann Coffey, Ms Angela Eagle, Mr. Geoffrey Hoon, Mr. Kevin Hughes, Mr. Derek Enright, Mr. Peter Kilfoyle and Mr. Kevin Barron, presented a Bill to make it unlawful for any person who
Column 342has been convicted of prescribed sexual offences or offences of violence against the person to drive any taxi, minicab or private hire vehicle; to place appropriate duties upon licensing authorities; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 24 March, and to be printed. [Bill 75.]
Ms Dawn Primarolo, supported by Mrs. Helen Jackson, Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Ms Jean Corston, Ms Harriet Harman, Ms Clare Short, Mr. Alan Simpson, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Ms Mildred Gordon, Mr. John Austin-Walker and Mr. David Hinchliffe, presented a Bill to make provision for tampon packaging and advertisements for tampons to carry certain warnings and information, and to require the Secretary of State to make regulations for these purposes; to lay upon the Secretary of State duties with respect to research into, and publicity for, tampons and health; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 28 April, and to be printed. [Bill 76.]
Ms Jean Corston, supported by Ms Clare Short, Mrs. Helen Jackson, Mrs. Maria Fyfe, Ms Dawn Primarolo, Ms Glenda Jackson, Ms Angela Eagle, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Ms Joan Ruddock, Ms Diane Abbott, Mrs. Barbara Roche and Mrs. Alice Mahon, presented a Bill to place duties upon Her Majesty's Government both to undertake a publicity campaign to call public attention to the criminality of domestic violence and to the opportunities for redress, and to co-ordinate policy for refuge provision for victims of domestic violence: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon 28 April, and to be printed. [Bill 77.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a national body to promote the health advantages of vegetarianism.
I declare my interests. I am the parliamentary adviser to the London Beekeepers Association, and I am a vegetarian. However, I am nobody's turnip. I came to vegetarianism fairly late in my somewhat dissolute life; it has been a journey of discovery. My decision was based partly on health grounds, and partly on animal welfare considerations.
I am, however, no food fascist. If people wish to eat meat and run the risk of dying a horrible, lingering, hormone-induced death after sprouting extra breasts and large amounts of hair, it is, of course, entirely up to them. I would not even hold such ill-advised people personally responsible for the appalling cruelty inflicted on countless millions of living creatures to satisfy the desire for meat. All I ask is that everyone should be fully aware of the consequences of their own habits and the healthy eating alternatives available.
I am just old enough to remember the second world war. Alas, I played no heroic part in that great struggle, but I note with some interest that, at the end of the war, because of rationing and constant advice from the Department of Health, the civilian population emerged healthier than ever before. "Dig for Victory" was a most apposite entreaty.
The Government campaign during the previous war should have been continued, because the greatest killer in our society is ignorance about our own bodies. Indeed, a quick look around the Chamber probably makes my point better than I can in these few words. I see overweight, under-exercised, stressed-out bodies, many of which are daily stuffed with cholesterol-rich food, nicotine and alcohol. A Department of Health report published last week revealed that English men and women are getting fatter and smoking and drinking too much. Regrettably, in that respect we are very much in step with those we represent. Among those surveyed, it was felt that stress was adversely affecting people's health, and that many of them were clearly swallowing their anxieties in the type of food they ate. Stress, which probably affects most Members of Parliament, often leads to a poor dietary regime, which in turn leads to major health problems. The link between stress and a poor diet is undeniable. "The Health of the Nation" urges the British population to increase their consumption of fruit, vegetables and fibre. All mention of meat products, especially red meat, is played down. Evidence from bodies such as the World Health Organisation points conclusively to the fact that a vegetarian diet closely matches healthy eating guidelines. There is a mass of statistical evidence, especially from the United States of America, to prove that a vegetarian diet saves not only lives but vast amounts of money in fewer demands on health services. The total annual direct medical costs savings from avoiding meat and tobacco are estimated in the States to be as high as $80 billion a year.
Studies show that twice as many non-vegetarians as vegetarians have been hospitalised during the past year, and that the use of prescription drugs has also about
Column 344doubled. Several other studies have shown that the prevalence of hypertension among vegetarians is about a third to a half of that of non-vegetarians, even when alcohol, tobacco and caffeinated beverage use is controlled.
Cancer, as we all know, is one of the western society's greatest killers. One in three Americans develop cancer each year, more than 1 million cases are reported and diagnosed each year, and medical costs total around $35 billion each year. According to the National Research Council, 30 to 60 per cent. of cancers are attributable to diet. A study in Germany found that vegetarian men faced less than half the risk of a cancer death, and vegetarian women about a 25 per cent. lower risk compared with non- vegetarians.
It is now accepted in all quarters that vegetarians suffer 30 per cent. less heart disease, which is the biggest killer in the United Kingdom, and 40 per cent. less cancer, which is the second biggest killer. There are fewer cases of vegetarians suffering from arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney failure and so on--the list goes on and on.
A vegetarian is likely to save the national health service an average of £40,000 during a lifetime. Of all food poisoning cases, 95 per cent. occur in animal foods, and as a result, meat eaters suffer many more days off work because of food poisoning. An old joke in the east end is: "When the bottom has fallen out of your world, eat one of Harry's hamburgers and let the world fall out of your bottom". There are more than 2.5 million cases of salmonella, listeria and e-coli 157 each year. That represents an enormous real cost to what is left of British industry.
Not only do veggies live longer: they look better. Vegetarians are 10 per cent. leaner than omnivores. When omnivores kick the meat habit, they lose an average of 10 to 22 lb. Ministers should bear that in mind, given that a target has been set to reduce obesity in this country to no more than 6 per cent. in men and 8 per cent. in women by 2005.
Persuasive though the health reasons are, there are other reasons for vegetarianism, too. Meat production involves several serious environmental problems. Many of the most serious water pollution incidents reported to the National Rivers Authority every year are due to slurry and sewage from livestock, and slurry being spread on land contributes to acid rain. Moreover, livestock create the single largest source of methane emissions in the United Kingdom, adding to the greenhouse effect.
Meat production also uses far more fossil fuels than the production of fruit and vegetables. Although 85 per cent. of Britain's agricultural land is used for meat production, getting protein from meat is monstrously inefficient: 10 kg of vegetable protein fed to livestock will supply only 1 kg of meat protein, and while meat protein produced on 10 hectares of land will feed only two people, soya protein grown on the same area would feed 61 people. Millions of people all over the world are dying of starvation, while the world feeds 38 per cent. of all crops to animals rather than to human beings, so as to produce meat, most of which is consumed in the industrialised countries. Add to that the impact of over-grazing, which produces deserts and deforestation, and the price of meat becomes too high for the world to pay.