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Business Of The House

Volume 24: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1982

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That, at this day's sitting, the Motion relating to Adjournment (Spring) may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Boscawen.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Therefore, the message from the workers at Airedale general hospital and from workers throughout the National Health Service is that they will keep pressing, working and agitating for a decent settlement to their claim. That claim of about 12 per cent. will do no more than keep them level with the cost of living.

The House should understand that the vast majority of our people face a difficult struggle week after week to pay the gas, electricity and food bills which increase year after year. Inflation is not falling. It increases year after year. The Government boast about the fact that inflation is at the level that they inherited when they won the general election in 1979. That is still an inflation rate of about 9 to 10 per cent. People are outraged when they are denied a decent wage settlement. The Government are denying them that settlement.

The House should have the opportunity to debate these and other related issues as a matter of urgency in order to see that those people receive justice.

10.1 pm

First, I should like to associate myself with the remarks about the rundown of the railway industry. The British Rail workshops are the largest employers in my constituency. All the workers in the Springburn workshops are worried about the future. Glasgow Members and Members from the surrounding areas are worried because the workshops create employment for people not only in Glasgow but in the surrounding areas.

I wish to bring to the attention of the House a problem which was brought to my attention by a brave young lady who suffers from kidney failure. Normally, those who suffer from kidney failure have to undergo treatment on a kidney dialysis machine which requires them to attend hospital for about four hours a day on three days a week.

The young lady to whom I have referred, Mrs. Grace Tait of Charles Street in my constituency, has informed me that about 800 patients in the United Kingdom undergo a treatment known as CAPD—continuous ambulatory perennial dialysis.

Under CAPD, the patient must connect a bag of liquid four times a day to his or her stomach wall. The treatment allows the patients to go about their daily business. It means that patients are not tied to going to the hospital for treatment on the kidney dialysis machines.

That treatment, while advantageous, is fraught with many dangers, the greatest of which arises when the bag of liquid is being changed. The patient must carry out the operation himself and must ensure beforehand that the room in which he carries it out is free from germs. There is a great danger of the patient contracting peritonitis. A doctor who works at the Wolfson institute in Glasgow, which is a highly respected institute in Scotland, informed me that if he could obtain more money for research he could devise a better method that would ensure that the patient did not run the risk of contracting peritonitis. When I asked the doctor how much money he was talking about I expected him, in these days of inflation and sophisticated medical treatment, to talk in terms of hundreds of thousands of pounds, but he said that he needed about £20,000. It should be within the reach of the Government at least to examine the work of the Wolfson institute. If it can alleviate the suffering that many kidney patients must endure, £20,000 is a small consideration. I do not have all the facts, but I am sure that the Leader of the House will ask Ministers in the Department of Health and Social Security to consider the matter.

Another point that worries me is that when the patient is changing the bag of liquid he must ensure that the area in which he is working is sterilised. Patients are given equipment such as sprays and face masks to ensure that sterilisation takes place and the risk of germs is at a minimum. But just before he changes the bag the patient must insert a syringe with several cc of a drug into the bag. There is a danger that the bag could be punctured, which would mean that the patient would have to leave the sterilised room or area to get another bag. Although it is regarded as a do-it-yourself process, most patients are reluctant to carry out the treatment without a member of the family to help them in case of emergency. It must be borne in mind that, when the old bag is taken away from the connection in the stomach, the stomach is exposed to air and germs.

My constituent, Grace Tait, applied for the attendance allowance that dialysis patients are allowed and she was successful. I am not sure why she received the attendance allowance. I await a reply from the Minister. She suffers from diabetes and has an eyesight problem. She cannot guide the syringe into the hag properly. That could b,; a reason why she got the attendance allowance.

I should like to think that every patient on the treatment, which requires a change of liquid four times per day, will receive an attendance allowance to allow a member of the family or a friend to be present in case an emergency crops up. It would mean that they do not have to leave the sterilised part of the house.

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising this matter. Bearing in mind the problems of Mrs. Tait and her many friends, one could forgive them for not taking on any extra commitments. It says a great deal for the kidney patients that they were able to raise £500 through their own efforts to help with the research of kidney patients. It shows that even people with great problems of their own are prepared to take the initiative to help their fellow human beings. I hope that something can be done for those extremely brave people.

10.11 pm

I should like, first, to thank the Leader of the House for accepting the Opposition amendment. That was the right thing to do. The country would not have understood if we had merely said that we were going away for our Spring Recess and would not bother about whatever might happen. The right hon. Gentleman made the right decision.

Several of my hon. Friends mentioned the South Atlantic. That was inevitable as its shadow lies over us all. They put their points of view. It is an appropriate occasion for them to do that.

The other domestic points that were made by hon. Members on both sides of the House were interestingly varied. Listening to them, I found a common theme, to which I shall return.

The majority of hon. Members referred to what might happen with regard to British Rail. My hon. Friends the Members for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster), Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) were all concerned about the complete lack of financing and the fact that, having gone through the traumatic experience of Lord Beeching many years ago, British Rail was apparently to go through another period of emasculation when a massive investment policy was clearly the necessary action.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle), my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (Mr. Cryer) and Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and, in his own way, my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Springburn (Mr. Martin), who told us a moving story about one of his constituents, pinpointed what is happening in the National Health Service. They pointed out that pay is not the only issue, although it is an important factor, especially to the nurses and ancillary workers who are now being denied the justice that the country believes they are entitled to. It is also a question of keeping the National Health Service going, so there is a further factor which also requires funds and investment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) inevitably, and rightly, spoke about his constituency and the need for investment in Yorkshire and Humberside. The theme, again, was the decline of old industries such as the wool industry, the decline of the engineering industries, the decline of industry in general, the overwhelming of our industry by foreign imports, and the need for public investment to put this right.

My hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland) referred to the Manpower Services Commission and a committed project in his constituency. Other hon. Members may have come across the same problem. Again, however, it was a question of investment. That has been the common theme throughout the debate.

The action sought by the hon. Members for North Fylde (Sir W. Clegg) and Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel), when one looks into it, also required some public funds.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central made a very shrewd point. I do not agree with his analysis of events in the South Atlantic, but we are all entitled to our views on that. He made the very shrewd point that, right or wrong—I believe that it is right—when it comes down to it, there is always sufficient money available to mount a great military assault, just as there was in the last war, but that when it comes to doing things that one's own country needs, the money is not available. Only a year ago, money was not available for any of the matters that have been mentioned. Yet suddenly, without asking the cost, the money is available for an expedition 8,000 miles away. As I have said, I happen to think that it is right, although others think that it is wrong. The point is that the funds are available for that but not for the things that our fellow citizens desperately require.

There was once a Latin secretary to a Lord Protector. The Lord Protector did not have a very high reputation in this House, as he closed it down, and he and I might differ on that. The Latin secretary and I, however, would have had much in common in our views when he said:
"Peace hath her victories, No less renown'd than war."
That is the basis of what my hon. Friends have said. They have referred to the requirements and needs and to the great victories that we could win for our own people if only we had the breadth of imagination and vision to see that the funds are available and can be applied, and that they are desperately needed.

With that in mind, I repeat that it was right to tell the House and the country that, if necessary, we are willing to come back next week, Whitsun Recess or not. My own feeling is that events will probably direct that we do. In any event, it was right for the Opposition to table the amendment and for the Government to accept it.

10.18 pm

The right hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin) spoke of the shadow of the Falklands which lies across the Chamber in today's debate and in so many of our other debates. He also very properly observed that the debate has fulfilled its traditional role of allowing a great range of subjects to be raised. I shall try to deal with them briefly but, I hope, as comprehensively as is appropriate.

I begin by assuring the hon. Member for Glasgow, Springburn (Mr. Martin) that I shall certainly see that the problem of securing additional research facilities is brought to the notice of the appropriate Ministers on the Treasury Bench. I use that rather guarded form of words because a Scots Member discussed a Scots situation and has referred to an institute which sounded to me to be gilt-edged Scots. I would not wish to say that it was the Department of Health and Social Security that would have its locus on the matter, but I assure him that it will be examined and referred as appropriate. That goes also for the point about the attendance allowance.

The community enterprise programme as conducted in his constituency was referred to by the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Mr. Holland). I must admit that I lived in the gentrified end of his constituency until recently, sharing that privilege with, as far as I know, a fair slice of the Parliamentary Labour Party. The hon. Gentleman asked whether I would raise the difficulties which he catalogued in a formidable fashion with my right hon. Friends the Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for the Environment. I give him that undertaking. For good measure, I will throw in the chairman of the Manpower Services Commission as well.

The hon. Member for Newport (Mr. Hughes) raised the daunting issue of Welsh water charges. He is a skilled parliamentarian, because, as I understand it, the matter erupted only 24 hours ago, and here he is having a battle on the Floor of the House. He is also a courteous parliamentarian, because he gave me notice that he would raise the issue. I shall refer the matter to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales, because it would be more appropriate that a comprehensive reply should come from him rather than that I should try to be a surrogate Welsh Secretary and answer the points that the hon. Member raised.

The problems of the fishing industry were raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Sir W. Clegg). The common fisheries policy will bring that topic into sharp focus. My hon. Friend might be able to raise this or hear it raised in the debate tomorrow. I would have thought that the terms of that debate would allow discussion of the fisheries policy. I shall bear in mind my hon. Friend's anxiety that there should be a statement on this matter as soon as possible after the recess.

Economic policy in its regional terms—this is understandable, because we speak here with strong constituency experience—was raised by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Attercliffe (Mr. Duffy) and by the hon. Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick). I will ensure that the points made by both hon. Members are referred to the Secretary of State for Industry. The reference to the textile industry in Yorkshire—here I felt that the hon. Member for Attercliffe was probably speaking instinctively for the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Cryer)—underlines the need to monitor the negotiations taking place concerning the multifibre arrangement, where the Commission is acting on behalf of the countries of the Community. We shall be anxious to report back to the House when we have substantive news to announce on this important industry.

The point made by the hon. Member for Attercliffe on the significance of Selby on the older pits in the coal industry should be taken to heart by all of us. The whole problem of industrial renewal and the pace at which it can be pursued, remembering the social dislocations which are inherent, will be waiting to greet us after the operations in the South Atlantic are over and, one hopes, consigned to a satisfactory niche in history. I suspect that none of us in the Chamber, with whatever satisfaction we view the heroism of our Forces in the South Atlantic, will be other than delighted that we can return to the more familiar forms of political contest.

The right hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Mr. Moyle) drew attention to the subject of National Health Service pay. His argument was powerfully reinforced by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton). This is the first opportunity that I have had to address the hon. Member across the Floor since his recent engagement. It was splendid news, and I hope that he has many happy years in which to reflect on that settled state and that he will mellow almost to the point of becoming the Social Democratic establishment. Perhaps that is not the kindest wish, so I withdraw it immediately. I simply say that it was great news, and I am sure that the whole House joins me in my good wishes.

A number of hon. Members spoke on the subject of National Health Service pay. I shall not go into the argument, not because I wish to desist from controversy on the matter but because, as Leader of the House, it is perhaps wise not to be too provocatively controversial. One of the facts which has caused some unease has been the absence of the opportunity for a wider discussion of the matter. I am happy to tell the House that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services will make a statement during the course of the week—and I can say that it will not be made on Friday. I move with great nervous caution in this life, because I know that the House wants to discuss the matter at a time that is appropriate to the magnitude of the subject. I hope that it fulfils the almost atavistic words of the hon. Member for Fife, Central that he wanted to get the Secretary of State "to that Box". Perhaps we shall all go away a little happier—the hon. Gentleman because he has got my right hon. Friend to the Box, and those on the Conservative Benches because my right hon. Friend will have vindicated the Government's policy so signally.

I turn to the major issue of the railway workshop closures. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) raised the matter, and I appreciate his feelings on this subject. Oswestry is not normally thought of as a railway town, except to the cognoscenti who study these matters, but I inherited the constituency when it still had the Cambrian railway workshops and it was still thought of as the headquarters of the Cambrian railway, even though it had been absorbed in reorganisation. The closure left a sharp mark, which has not been totally erased, even a decade after the event.

There were others who took part in the debate, including the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape), who made a powerful contribution, the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), and my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Madel). Clearly, the closure programme is a matter of great controversy, but essentially it is a management decision that has to be taken by British Rail, taking into account future requirements. Naturally, the matter will be debated in the course of time. The right hon. Member for Deptford said that this will always be part of the central economic argument between us, that railway expenditure is one manifestation of it, and, as he said, clearly a massive investment policy would be needed in this respect.

If I could take the right hon. Gentleman quietly out of the Chamber and gently lead him upstairs to the Standing Committee on the Finance Bill, which I agree would be quite a formidable undertaking, he would discover that amendment after amendment is being pressed by the Labour Party to reduce taxation and the resources that will be available to the Government. If that is to be argued upstairs, while on the Floor of the House we are arguing for ever-increasing public spending, I look forward with relish to the debate that must eventually emerge about the prudent conduct of economic policy over the months and years ahead.

The right hon. Gentleman had better be careful. I will send him copies of half a dozen of my speeches; and that will really punish him.

No great cause is there but worthy of sacrifice, and the sacrifice that I would make in the cause of victory at the next election is not merely to read the right hon. Gentleman's speeches but to reproduce them.

We all accept and share the mood in which the right hon. Gentleman is engaging, but there is one aspect of taxation that he has not mentioned. Does not he consider that it is wrong—I described it as vindictive—that 1¼ million unemployed people will not pay income tax because their income is too low whilst the 5 per cent. that was taken off their unemployment benefit in lieu of taxation by his Government in 1980 is not being restored?

No. Given the occasion I would defend those actions. As a Treasury Minister I was a party to them. I am certain that that, along with all the other considerations, will be properly and fully debated. As I say, I look forward to that proceeding in the months ahead.

May I make one final point on the question of the railway workshops? The hon. Member for Derby, North spoke as though it were a debate by proxy for one that might have been. I was sensitive to the comments that he made. I hope that when we return from the recess the pressures on debating time that have inevitably resulted from the Falkland crisis will be eased so that there will be some early allocation of Supply time for the debating of those issues that are of rising concern on the Opposition Benches.

We have had a traditional debate, ranging from the personal questions of Mrs. Tait and the important general proposition that can be deduced from such individual circumstances to the railway workshops and the National Health Service. However, the Falkland issue is the one that overshadows all others.

The speech made by the hon. Member for Walsall, North on the Falkland issue was challenging, radical and, broadly speaking, aggressive. That is as it should be. It was always intended that in Parliament, even in circumstances such as this, the voice of dissent should never be snuffed out. If the hon. Gentleman believes that there is a scheme for a snap election which could be exploited to the benefit of the Treasury Bench, one flippant reply is that I simply do not believe that the Conservative Central Office could seize the opportunity even if it were pressed firmly into its hands.

A more serious reply is that that kind of analysis really derives from British society as it was two generations ago. Perhaps in the spirit of Mafeking, the Boer War and so on, such an analysis could be made. It could be said that a certain pattern of political behaviour could then be traced. It is unthinkable that there could be any attempt to politicise the South Atlantic conflict by trying to secure some quick electoral advantage. May we lay that ghost, because there are many more real things that we can argue about?

Perhaps the most damning comment that I can make to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) is that he made a speech that was characteristically thoughtful and absolutely in the spirit of dissent that must be accepted and accommodated within our society. I shall certainly ensure that all of his points are put to the Foreign Office. He mentioned the problems of political instability in Argentina, and they are just the type of issues that deserve the consideration of the House.

The hon. Member for West Lothian will probably still have opportunities to contribute to debates on this issue in the weeks ahead. I shall try to secure opportunities for him to conduct his campaign of dissent, but—to invert Voltaire—I would defend to the death my right to disagree with him.

Would it not clear the air and be better from every point of view if the Government came clean—[Interruption.] Perhaps that is not the right phrase, but would it not be better if the Government cleared up the question whether there have been operations on the South American mainland? Allegations have been made. Although I am one of those who dissent, I understand that if there must be a task force there may have been overwhelming reasons—that are not dishonourable—for SAS operations. After all, the Exocet and the Super Etendard pose a serious threat. Should there not be a short statement or a private notice question tomorrow to clear up the issue one way or the other? There would be nothing dishonourable in telling the truth.

I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and I heard the exchanges at Question Time today. I have said that I shall draw the Foreign Secretary's attention to the hon. Gentleman's speech. The matter might reasonably rest there. Therefore, I commend the motion, as amended, in the hope—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for West Lothian wishes to intervene, I shall gladly give way, although it is highly inconvenient to do so just as one is reaching one's faltering peroration. Nevertheless——

I simply wish to point out that the Secretary of State for Defence should make a statement one way or the other on whether the article on the front page of today's edition of the Daily Mail is accurate. If it is accurate, there should be a statement telling us why. If it is inaccurate, it should be completely dismissed. However, we can be certain that it creates grave problems for many States in Latin America.

The hon. Gentleman had his chance during defence questions this afternoon. I cannot go beyond what I have said. I have made a generous response to the hon. Gentleman's argument.

However, there is a very good case for adjourning for the time specified in the motion. I very much hope that events in the South Atlantic will not require us to reconvene. When we eventually return to the House, I hope that we can proceed in the same workmanlike way as in recent weeks.

Question, That the amendment be made, put and agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.


That this House at its rising on Friday do adjourn until Tuesday 8 June, but that, pursuant to Standing Order No. 122 (Earlier meeting of House in certain circumstances) should the public interest so require, Her Majesty's Ministers of their own volition or following representations from Her Majesty's Opposition shall represent to Mr. Speaker that the House should meet at a time earlier than that to which the House stands adjourned.