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Commons Chamber

Volume 98: debated on Wednesday 4 June 1986

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 4 June 1986

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Oral Answers To Questions

Scotland

Economic Trends

1.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he will next meet the general secretary and general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss economic trends in Scotland.

I am to meet a delegation from the General Council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress on 20 June 1986.

When the Secretary of State meets the general council, will he concede that, from the evidence of the local election results and the results of the System 3 opinion poll that have been made available to us today, the people of Scotland want no part of this Government's policies? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman align himself with members of the Cabinet and some of the senior Conservative Back Benchers who are asking for a change in policy? Is he aware that in Motherwell there is 22 per cent. unemployment? Will he show some compassion for the unemployed in Scotland, and in Motherwell in particular?

I doubt whether the STUC will wish to discuss local elections or the System 3 opinion polls. As to unemployment, since the Conservative Government came into office the regional seletive assistance provided by the Government has helped to create 2,977 new jobs in Motherwell, and the Motherwell project, to which the Government-funded Scottish Development Agency contributes, has helped to create a further 2,000 new jobs. The hon. Gentleman will be fair enough to acknowledge that the Government, both directly and indirectly, have made an important contribution towards job creation in his constituency.

In his discussions with the STUC, will my right hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the problems facing the oil rig construction yards in Scotland? In particular, will he do what he can to ensure an even and fair distribution of work among the yards in Scotland at this anxious time?

My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to the concern that we feel about the possible implications for oil rig construction of the oil companies' plans. I use every opportunity to press on them the fact that any investment made now will be for a return over the next 10 to 15 years, and so they should base their plans on what is likely to happen to oil prices over that time and not indulge in a panic reaction to current short-term fluctuations in the price of oil.

Further to the question from the hon. Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), when the Secretary of State meets the STUC, will he, thinking of my constituency interest and that of the hon. Member's, pay attention to the responsible and constructive efforts that the STUC has been making? Will he ensure that whichever yard, be it Ardersier of Nigg, wins the. Shell Eider contract, the Government will do everything humanly possible to ensure that as much as possible of the subcontracted work associated with the contract goes to the unsuccessful yard? Is he aware that the social impact for the yard that loses will be devastating, given the levels of unemployment in our respective constituencies?

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern to ensure the maximum work for both yards, and the whole House would wish to see that. There are major constraints on any Government in terms of directing individual items of work to a particular yard, but one hopes that the end result will involve a suitable work load for both yards.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the most significant economic trends is that Scotland has moved from being one of the lowest paid to one of the wealthiest areas in the United Kingdom, during which period the United Kingdom has enjoyed five years of continuous economic growth?

My hon. Friend is correct. Outside the south-east of England and East Anglia, Scotland has a higher income and gross domestic product per capita than almost any other part of the United Kingdom, and that is not a claim that could have been made in 1979.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman meets the STUC, the general council will be able to tell him that coal production at some Scottish pits will cease. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman tell us when his Department authorised the South of Scotland Electricity Board to place the Scottish mining industry in this peril?

At no time. The South of Scotland Electricity Board acts under statutory powers and determines what is appropriate in the interests of the consumers whom it is designed to serve. At no time does it either seek or require authorisation from the Scottish Office for any such decisions.

When my right hon. and learned Friend next meets the STUC, will he draw to its attention the fact that inflation is now at its lowest level for many decades and that with inflation standing at 3 per cent. wage increases and demands in excess of that are likely to put more jobs at risk and in peril if we are to remain competitive? Will my right hon. and learned Friend also draw its attention to how popular he personally is north Tayside and to the fact that we are looking forward to his visit on 21 June and that his popularity was probably reflected in the good results that we had in the regional elections?

I am certainly looking forward to my visit to my hon. Friend's constituency on 21 June. I can think of no better way of spending my birthday than in my hon. Friend's constituency. With regard to my forthcoming meeting with the STUC, one of the points that I shall certainly be mentioning to them, in addition to the comments made by my hon. Friend, is that over 50,000 more people are in employment in Scotland today than there were in 1983 at the time of the last general election.

If the Minister is so confident about employment, what does he intend to do about Springburn? The railway works have suffered a terrible blow during the last week. To add insult to injury, there is an apprentice training school on those premises which has machinery and equipment to cater for 110 apprentices. Not one apprentice has been trained there during the past 18 months. The padlock has been put on the door. That is a ridiculous situation in the engineering capital of Scotland. The west of Scotland should be training young engineers if the economy is to take a turn for the better.

I share the hon. Gentleman's concern about the implications for the Springburn employees. He will be aware that that arises out of decisions that affected a number of similar establishments in various parts of the United Kingdom. With regard to his particular question about the training of the young, he will be aware of the enormous resources that the Government are pouring into youth training. Over £1 billion is being spent on youth training. This is helping to provide very appropriate training, which is enabling more than 60 per cent. of the youngsters who get this training to go immediately into full-time employment at the end of their training period. That is something which no previous Government have done.

Will the Secretary of State say what prospects for long-term economic advance can be expected in Scotland when Scottish universities are faced with closure and redundancies? What action does he intend to take with his right hon. Friend and the English controlled University Grants Commission——

Order. Does this question relate to the general council of the Scottish Trades Union Congress?

It relates to the economic aspects and to the need for improved technology. Will the Minister answer that question?

On the wider economic aspects, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that there is no question of any university facing closure. My right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Education and Science made it clear that the Government were prepared to consider further resources for the university sector. That is a matter that the universities will wish to take into account.

When my right hon. and learned Friend meets the STUC, will he take the opportunity to ask it to condemn the unilateral action taken by the new Socialist administration on the Lothian regional council in reducing dramatically expenditure on Scottish infrastructure by cancelling the Lothian relief road and thus destroying jobs in Scotland?

It is certainly of interest that the first significant decision of the new controlling group on the Lothian regional council was to announce a major cut in public expenditure, which therefore removed the prospect of many jobs being created.

If the Secretary of State is so concerned about levels of public spending, is he in a position to give the STUC a guarantee that the Scottish Office budget will not be affected by the rather primitive and much advertised approach to housing finance of the new Secretary of State for the Environment? Will he also recognise that, despite the somewhat comic opera loyalty of those on the Benches behind him, there is a growing fear in Scotland about the level of unemployment and that the Scottish economy has reached a point of no return? Will he recall that he has had an approach from the Strathclyde regional council, and I think also from the STUC, which supports the initiative, arguing the case for an economic summit where all parts of Scottish life—academic, industrial, and, no doubt, political—can discuss the need for a change of direction to recover the situation? May we have a positive response to that appeal and, if so, when will it come?

I frankly doubt whether proposals for a summit are likely to prove a sensible way forward, but I am always interested to hear any constructive suggestions either from the regional council or the STUC, which will be coming to see me on 20 June, or any other bodies. The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the allocation of resources to the Scottish Office stems directly from a formula system. Indeed, if I recall correctly, that formula system was introduced under the previous Labour Government.

New Town Development Corporations

2.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next expects to meet the chairmen of the new town development corporations; and what subject he hopes to discuss.

My right hon. and learned Friend plans to meet the chairmen on 14 July this year, when he would hope to discuss a range of matters of interest or concern to the new towns.

Does the Minister agree that the most important thing that the Secretary of State could discuss with the chairmen of the new towns is employment, particularly the protection of employment, and job creation in new towns? Does he also agree that the urgency for that is underlined by recent events in my constituency where the largest departmental store, Woolco, is now to close with a loss of 181 jobs? What new initiatives will the Secretary of State announce to the chairmen of the new towns to create jobs in future?

Obviously the provision of jobs is an important matter, and my right hon. and learned Friend will be discussing that issue. However, the hon. Gentleman is less than fair in suggesting that the new towns have done badly. Between May 1979 and April 1986, £110 million has been invested in the new towns, leading to 23,747 new jobs. In Cumbernauld in the hon. Gentleman's constituency over the past year 43 new companies have come about, 19 local firms have expanded and there are 800 new jobs there, with a promise of 800 more to come. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will welcome that.

Is my hon. Friend prepared to follow the excellent example given in England, where there has been a process of winding up the development corporations and returning towns to democratic control? Is he prepared to take that bold step in order to ensure that towns will develop in their own natural way rather than being force fed with public money?

I understand what my hon. Friend says. The present policy envisages new towns in Scotland being wound up when their populations reach a certain figure, but no corporation will begin to wind up before 1 April, 1990 and the position will be reviewed in 1989. Our current policy is that the new towns' remaining housing stock should on wind up be transferred to district councils, but if the new towns come forward with proposals for disposing of that in other ways, we would give those consideration.

When the Secretary of State meets the chairmen of the corporations, will he consider including on the agenda the disastrous results of housing policies which mean that many of my poor constituents' elderly relatives are unable to join their families?

I am not sure to what precise policies the hon. Gentleman is referring, but if he will write to me on that issue I shall reply.

Chapelcross Power Station

3.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what information he has in relation to the design of Chapelcross power station as it relates to the potential danger from earth tremors; what representations he has received on this matter; and if he will make a statement.

I refer the hon. Gentleman to the replies given by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Energy, the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. Goodlad), to the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) on 18 March 1986, which dealt with this issue in detail. My right hon. and learned Friend has had no representations about this matter.

Is the Under-Secretary aware that in 1983 a report from structural engineers to British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. said that Chapelcross, one of the oldest power stations in the United Kingdom, was vulnerable to relatively minor earth tremors and should be closed down? Will he confirm that the reason why nothing was done about that was that Chapelcross produces tritium for British, and, perhaps, American warheads and bombs? If the hon. Gentleman believes what his colleagues say, that Britain is far more open and honest on this issue than the Soviet Union, will he agree to publish all the documents relating to safety at Chapelcross?

Once again the hon. Gentleman is trying to create scares with no foundation. I remind him of what my hon. Friend said in the answer to which I referred. He explained that he was

"advised by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate that the seismic structural assessments carried out by the BNFL for the Calder Hall and Chapelcross reactor demonstrate that the reactor could be safely shut down and maintained in a safe condition following an earthquake with a peak field horizontal acceleration of 0·11g although some damage to non-essential service buildings would occur".—[Official Report, 18 March 1986; Vol. 94, c. 124.]
The NII has required the operators of Magnox stations to carry out a long-term safety review at about 20 years' operating life to confirm that they are safe for continued operation, to identify any factors which may limit the safe operation of the plant and to assess safety standards to determine whether any improvements are appropriate. The conclusion of these reviews will in future be published.

Irvine New Town

4.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make an official visit to Irvine new town.

That answer will be a disappointment to my constituents, who had hoped that the Secretary of State would visit Irvine to look into the affairs of Co-Star Ltd., a computer company which has three directors, one Scot and two Americans, one of whom, according to a Sunday newspaper, is on the run from the FBI in the United States.

Is the Minister aware that Co-Star Ltd. disappeared after receiving a financial package to set up in Irvine, and that two of the directors formed a new company called Muir-Anderson Associates Ltd., which received help from a local enterprise trust, Asset, to set up another company in Stevenson? Is the Minister further aware that these two directors have now formed a new company which has moved to Cumnock, where they are receiving a further financial package prepared by the local enterprise trust, Cadet, NCB (Enterprises) Ltd. and the Scottish Development Agency under the new name of Comerbeams? When will the Minister——

When will the Minister investigate the affairs of this company and ensure that the grants are withdrawn and that those responsible are prosecuted?

I appreciate that the people of Irvine will be disappointed that my right hon. and learned Friend is not to visit them, as are communites in other parts of Scotland which my right hon. and learned Friend has not yet been able to visit. As for the hon. Gentleman's supplementary question, I can say that grant was paid and that first steps have already been taken towards recovering the full amount of grant from Co-Star. In view of what has happened, the new company will be subject to particularly careful scrutiny.

Electricity Generation

5.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what is the total capacity of the generation stations of the two Scottish electricity boards; and what is the maximum recorded demand for electricity in Scotland.

I am advised by the Scottish electricity boards that, excluding oil-fired capacity held in reserve, the maximum available sent-out capacity of the Scottish generation system is 8,839 MW. The maximum simultaneous demand ever recorded was 6,341 MW during the severe winter of 1981–82.

As we now have such massive excess generating capacity in Scotland, and as serious concern is being expressed about the Chernobyl disaster, why are the Government in such haste to commission a further 1,400 MW of nuclear generating capacity at Torness ahead of schedule? Will the Secretary of State halt the fuelling of the reactors at Torness, at least until such time as the environmental, safety and economic consequences of the commissioning of that power station can be considered properly?

The Government are in no haste to do anything — [Interruption.] A well-known phrase or saying is "act in haste and repent at leisure", which I am happy to confirm. The hon. Gentleman should realise that the British nuclear industry has a superb safety record. He should appreciate that in the past 30 years there has not been one significant incident anywhere in the United Kingdom involving danger to the health or life of the public. If I remember correctly, the hon. Gentleman advocated the construction of the Torness nuclear power station when he first sought to represent his constituency in this place. It is somewhat odd that he is now trying to pretend that he has different views.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that Scotland has a great deal of knowledge and practical experience of nuclear energy — indeed, as much as anyone—and that it has been put to very good use by the South of Scotland Electricity Board in the construction of the station at Torness, not least with regard to public safety? However, will my right hon. and learned Friend take steps to counter the current unease about nuclear power, following the disaster in Russia, by tapping that knowledge and experience in Scotland, not just in the SSEB, but among industrialists and academics, so that they may better inform the public and put aside some of the fears that people feel at this time?

Of course, my hon. Friend is absolutely correct. Understandable concern has arisen out of the Chernobyl incident. I believe that the correct policy to pursue, which the Scottish Office and the Government as a whole pursue, is the maximum disclosure of all information and the maximum utilisation of any new information that is available, which will enhance even further the extremely high safety standards that we already have. That is an ongoing process. It is right and proper that everything possible should be done to ensure that the public are aware that the maximum safety standards are available, and that all information which is relevant is always disclosed, so that the public can come to a considered judgment on those matters.

Does the Secretary of State accept that Chernobyl has changed matters and that there is an overwhelming view in Scotland that we should reduce our dependence on civil nuclear power? If the Government are not prepared to do that, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that the Government will not prevent the next Government from doing so, by closing down coal production capacity? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give an assurance that there will be no reduction in coal production in Scotland over the next few years?

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the level of coal production will depend on several factors, including demand. The SSEB may have a requirement for increased coal consumption over the years to come, irrespective of what happens to the existing nuclear power stations. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues often press upon the Government the need to help industry. He must be aware that if we ceased to use civil nuclear power in Scotland, the electricity tariffs for industry in Scotland, as well as for consumers, would go up dramatically. It has been suggested that increases of between 25 and 30 per cent. in the electricity tariffs would be required if we ceased to use all civil nuclear power in Scotland.

Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept that that gross overcapacity of electricity in Scotland, arising partly from nuclear power, might cause further embarrassment shortly if the French dump cheap electricity in England, which would do away with 1,000 MW currently being exported from Scotland to England? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman accept the consequences for Scottish mining, where demand has been cut almost to one quarter in recent years? Does he further accept the view of most people in Scotland that there is not the slightest rational ground for going ahead with Torness?

If the right hon. Gentleman is concerned about the capacity of the French to export their electicity on a competitive basis, he might like to reflect that France has a higher level of civil nuclear power than almost any other European country. That emphasises the point that I made earlier, that if we are interested in cheap power for the benefit of the public as a whole and of industry, it is essential to use those resources when they are available.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make every effort to make it clear to the people of Scotland that the Opposition's policies on nuclear power would result in higher electricity bills for consumers, making it more difficult for pensioners to heat their homes? Are there not double standards, through the Opposition exaggerating the dangers of nuclear power and imposing higher costs on the elderly to suit their own political ideology?

Not only are there double standards, but there appears to be a deep gulf between the representations that have been made today and the reported comments of the leader of the Labour party, who indicated an assumption that Torness would go ahead, and that it would be unwise or unreasonable to assume anything to the contrary. I suggest that Opposition Members and their Leader ought to get their act together.

Like the Minister, I accept that the first and overriding priority in this matter must be public safety. Does the Secretary of State recognise that there are fears about the implications of the expansion of nuclear power in Scotland? That point has been made by a number of his own Back Benchers during Question Time. Will he consider making available a document setting out the Government's best estimate of the impact on other forms of energy and on the industries that produce them, especially the impact on coal and the SSEB coal burn? Will he also consider whether he should at rather more length deploy the arguments which support the figure of an increase of 25 or 30 per cent. in electricity costs if we were to reduce our dependency on nuclear power, which some of us think is a surprisingly high figure? In such a paper, will he deal with the arguments that many people will take from the figures that he gave at the beginning of this exchange about capacity, the peak of demand last winter and the apparent sufficiency of the present levels of nuclear generating capacity in Scotland?

The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that responsibility for energy policy rests with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Energy. The Government are willing that all the relevant information should be available to the general public so that people can come to their own considered judgment about a sensible policy to pursue. I note that the hon. Gentleman has not associated himself with the views of some of his more enthusiastic colleagues who are calling either for Torness not to be commissioned or for civil nuclear power not to be utilised. We wait with interest to hear the hon. Gentleman's views on these matters. So far he has been silent about them.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House something about the figures for the comparative prices of generating electricity by nuclear and by coal-fired methods and the amount of pollution that each method produces? Does he agree that there has been no significant change about whether or not Torness should have been built since the time when the Labour Government were in office and authorised it, except that the Government have changed and some Opposition Members are being opportunistic?

I think that there is a degree of opportunism here. However, I accept that, inevitably, many members of the public who do not choose to have access to scientific information may be uncertain as to whether there is some association between the events at Chernobyl and their relevance for the United Kingdom. I hope that hon. Members who take an interest in these matters will be objective rather than scare-mongering in their public comments and accept that the factors which led to the disaster in Chernobyl are not relevant to any nuclear power station in the United Kingdom.

School Buildings

6.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what study he is making of the essential maintenance needs of school buildings in Scotland.

There are two studies under way at present: a national accommodation survey by my Department in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, and a research commission which will sample the maintenance characteristics of schools in one education authority area.

What is the time scale for these studies? Has the old adage that a stitch in time saves nine ever been more applicable than to the crumbling state of many of our schools?

The results of the surveys will be made known as soon as they are available. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that one of the difficulties especially relevant in the Lothian region about the maintenance of certain buildings is that the local authorities have insisted on retaining far more surplus school capacity than is justified by the number of pupils. If local authorities insist on maintaining half empty school buildings, not only does that mean that resources have to be diverted to the heating and maintenance of these half empty buildings, but it denies proper educational opportunities to pupils in some of these schools. Such opportunities cannot be made available in a school that is only half full. Local authorities throughout Scotland have to bear in mind that resources are much better utilised on school books and on facilities of that kind than on the maintenance of more buildings than they need.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that one of the major problems is that in recent times authorities have not conducted policies that work for the benefit of the children by maintaining buildings in a fit state in which the children can be properly and adequately educated, but have been more inclined towards politically oriented activities for the sake of publicity? We require a fundamental review—part of which my right hon. and learned Friend will agree is under way at the moment regarding teachers' pay and conditions—of how we practise education in all its different ways in Scotland in order to get rid of the genuine anxiety that is felt by many people. In areas like mine, where schools are being closed——

Schools are being closed in my area, but my constituents accept this because it is sensible for the better utilisation of resources.

It is certainly correct to approach the various issues that are relevant to education in that way. The inquiry which the Government have announced will have wide terms of reference and will enable us to approach the matter in that way.

In view of the answer that the Secretary of State gave to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell), perhaps he would care to list the schools that he would like Lothian region to close. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman's constituents would like to know the answer to that question. Does he accept that the real cause of the decline in the fabric of school buildings is the massive cuts that the Government have imposed on local government? Does he further accept that in the recent elections the people of Scotland clearly stated what they think about the Government's education policies?

That was a rather predictable question. The hon. Gentleman might like to reflect on the figures produced by Strathclyde regional council, which estimated in the early 1980s that by 1991 a fall in school rolls would result in a surplus of no fewer than 230,000 school places. The hon. Gentleman is intelligent enough to be aware that if there is a surplus of 230,000 places—[Interruption.] This is arithmetic, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman will appreciate. If there is a surplus of 230,000 places and the number of school buildings is not reduced by a proportionate amount, a lot of resources will be wasted when they could be better used to provide good education for children. That is the lesson of the day that the hon. Gentleman might like to try to absorb.

Knockinlaw Project

7.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he plans to visit Kilmarnock to review the Knockinlaw project.

My right hon. and learned Friend cannot fit in a visit at present, but he will bear the invitation in mind for the future.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would not expect me to say that he is much loved in the district of Kilmarnock, but he is respected as an intelligent and sincere man. [Interruption.] I am not responsible for the thoughts of my constituents on these matters. Could he make it a matter of urgency to come to Kilmarnock to see the Knockinlaw project? We are grateful for the money that the Scottish Office has provided, but we could do with more, especially to refurbish the shop frontage, which covers three commercial enterprises and two which belong to the district council. It seems that no grants are available. Will he consider whether grants can be made available so that we can brighten up the shop fronts and enhance the area so that the quality of life of shopkeepers and customers may be improved?

My right hon. and learned Friend visited the Knockinlaw project in 1981 and I visited it in October 1983. We were both impressed by the successful way in which it had marshalled a wide variety of resources. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that we have given considerable resources to Kilmarnock and Loudon during the past two years. Its housing revenue account has increased by 53 per cent.—and that is no mean figure. I appreciate that there can be difficulties because of varied ownership, but the commercial shopowners might consider a joint approach to the Scottish Development Agency to explore the possibility of assistance towards the cost of improving the general appearance of their premises.

Hospital Facilities (West Fife)

8.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on the future development of hospital facilities in west Fife.

I have asked the health board to give further thought to its proposals for the provision of acute services in the whole of its area, including west Fife. I shall give careful consideration to the board's revised proposals when they are submitted.

That is an interesting reply. What does the Minister have in mind by asking the Fife health board to give the matter further consideration? Does he share the board's anxiety that this further review might incur a delay in phase two of the Dumfermline and West Fife general hospital, which would not be in the interests of the overall development of hospital services in west Fife? When does he expect to make a decision on this further review?

I appreciate the anxiety on this matter. The hon. Gentleman knows that there are different points of view in Fife about the board's future building programme. The original appraisal of the options open to it was based on the assumption that scope for development of the Victoria hospital in Kirkcaldy was limited. The most recent professional building advice states that further development may be possible. On that basis, I have asked the board to explore that possibility.

Is the Minister not ashamed of the latest figures for Fife, which show that more than 5,000 people are on the waiting list, 2,000 of whom have been waiting for more than one year and more than 1,000 of whom have been waiting for more than two years? Is he aware of the advice of the chief medical officer, that the waiting list will not fall substantially until the second phase of the Dunfermline and West Fife hospital is built? Will he therefore give urgent attention to the approval of the hospital scheme?

Of course I shall give urgent attention to its approval, but it is important that we get the plan right, because it will have to serve the area for some time to come. In the past seven years, three major projects have come on stream in the Fife health board area. In addition to the major projects, Fife health board, as a beneficiary of SHARE, is employing more medical and nursing staff and is attending to considerably more patients than when the Government took office.

Does my hon. Friend accept that although it is important to get this matter right, it is unfortunate that his Department has come along comparatively late in the day inviting further consideration of the position in Kirkcaldy? Is he aware that the people of Fife are grateful for the amount of new building that has been provided under this Government, one measure of which is that the rates bill for the new build since 1979 amounts to £500,000 a year?

I appreciate my hon. Friend's point. He rightly stresses the expense to the health boards, not only in Fife but elsewhere in Scotland, of local authority rates. That is not helped by the higher rating of new premises that have come on stream since 1979. I am aware of the need to make a decision, but I am equally aware of the need to make the correct decision and to consider the position in Kirkcaldy before making a final decision.

Forestry Commission

9.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what representations he has received concerning the consultation paper, "The Composition and Procedures of the Forestry Commission's Regional Advisory Committees".

Will the Minister confirm that representations should have been received by last Friday if individuals or organisations wished to make representations to him? As he has received no representations, will he now consider opening regional advisory committee meetings to the press and public? The Government have committed themselves to freedom of information. They have supported legislation requiring local authorities to open their proceedings to the press and public. In view of the increasing sensitivity of the public to the operations of the Forestry Commission, does he accept that if the press and public were guaranteed access to the meetings and deliberations of the RACs that would provide greater safeguards for the public interest?

Comments were asked for by the Forestry Commission, and the deadline was the end of May. I understand that the commission has received written comments from 28 organisations, and they are being analysed. The commission has decided to extend the period to allow for further written comments. There is no deadline, but the commission and the Government wish the comments to arrive as quickly as possible. The commission would be willing to meet any reasonable requests for meetings to discuss openness.

Does my hon. Friend accept that a most effective way of ensuring the future operation of the regional advisory committees would be for the Government to make clear their continuing commitment to the Forestry Commission as a whole, remembering that it commands wide public respect and support throughout Scotland?

I have drawn the attention of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mr. Pollock), to the statement made by the former Secretary of State for Scotland—my right hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Mr. Younger)—on the Forestry Commission. That remains Government policy.

Electricity Generation

10.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what he estimates the excess electricity generating capacity will be over peak demand in Scotland, after the commissioning of the nuclear power station at Torness.

The preparation of demand forecasts is a matter for the Scottish electricity boards. They estimate that in 1989–90, by which time the Torness nuclear station will be fully operational, the plant capacity additional to that required solely to meet the maximum demand with planned security is likely to be 27 per cent. This excludes oil-fired capacity placed in reserve and does not allow for any exports in the course of trading with England and Wales.

As the Secretary of State said earlier that the Government were in no case to do anything, presumably in the context of the nuclear industry, will he confirm, or deny, that the South of Scotland Electricity Board has been withdrawing staff from other plants to put them into Torness to hasten commissioning of the reactor? In view of the Chernobyl incident and the fact that, once commissioned, the plant will at some stage have to be decommissioned, with all that that entails in relation to the production of nuclear waste, and in view of current oil prices, would it not be better to bring Inverkip out of mothballs and keep Torness in mothballs?

I have no information on the first point. On the more general proposition, the hon. Gentleman should appreciate that it is in the interests of Scotland to have the maximum of cheap electricity for industry and for the consumer. As the hon. Gentleman knows, that is not only my view but that of his Social Democratic colleagues in the alliance, and it is a view widely held in many parts of Scotland, except in some of the circles in which the hon. Gentleman mixes.

Assuming that Torness is to be commissioned before the next election, what plans are being prepared for the evacuation of people living near the plant in the event of a Chernobyl-type disaster? If such plans do not exist, will the Secretary of State ensure that plans are prepared and that they are published?

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the Government have given particular importance to issues such as civil defence and how to deal with any emergencies that may take place. The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have utterly opposed any attempt to encourage local authorities and others to participate in normal sensible preparation for any problems that might arise involving power stations or any part of the local community. Notwithstanding that, the South of Scotland Electricity Board and all responsible public authorities take into account the need for proper provision for any incident that might take place. The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that the record of the nuclear industry in Scotland and in the United Kingdom over the past 30 years has no equal anywhere in the world.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend confirm that the purpose of Torness is to provide cheap electricity for those for whom the Opposition consistently bay in favour of a cheaper way of life and that there is no risk of a Chernobyl-type disaster at Torness because of our safety standards? Will he further confirm that a British Conservative Government, unlike the Socialist Government in Russia, would not cynically keep secret such an accident regardless of the consequences?

No doubt consideration of the kind to which my hon. and learned Friend referred in the first part of his question led to the Labour Government ordering Torness, the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson) supporting its construction and the present leader of the Labour party declining to enforce its decommissioning.

Local Government Finance

11.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland when he next proposes to meet the officers of Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to discuss the matter of local government finance.

My right hon. and learned Friend next plans to discuss local government finance matters with the convention on 18 July.

Will the Minister bear in mind that as a result of the recent elections officers of the convention have a massive mandate to tell the Secretary of State that they do not approve of his massive interference in the management of local government finance and that there is massive opposition to rate reform as envisaged by the Secretary of State? Will he take those two points on board and really listen to what the officers have to say?

We shall obviously listen to what representatives of the convention have to say when the meeting takes place. The idea of the Government being able to take an overview of local authority spending did not come about under the present Government. Indeed, it was one of the right hon. Gentleman's colleagues in government who told local authorities in 1976 that the party was over because they were overspending. There are still local authorities in Scotland which intend to spend more in real terms than they were spending in 1979. The Government have an interest in ensuring that that expenditure is properly restrained.

It is interesting to note that those who oppose rate reform have no thought-out alternative to put in its place.

Only the Government have been prepared to grasp the nettle to get rid of the present totally discredited rating system.

When my hon. Friend meets representative of COSLA, will he take the opportunity to discuss with them the question of increasing employment through the Prime Minister's decision to clear the streets of litter? When he discusses that question, will he actively promote further jobs in urban areas in order to ensure that the streets of Scotland are kept clean?

Obviously we shall want to examine closely the proposals that are being made for the clearing of litter south of the border to see how they can be used in Scotland. The collection and disposal of rubbish and litter are, in my view, not necessarily best done by local authorities. Indeed, we have encouraged local authorities over a long period to put out to tender those services to see whether they can be more efficiently and better done.

Will the Minister recognise, whether COSLA makes the point to him or not, that there is real concern that the introduction of a poll tax will unfairly affect residents in rural areas? Will he take that concern on board and recognise that rural authorities will need more resources to maintain services, given that the Government refuse to set up a rural development fund?

If the hon. Gentleman were to consider the indicative figures that we put out at the time of the publication of the Green Paper as to the likely levels of community charge, he would find that it is precisely in rural areas that those charges are likely to be lowest.

Solicitor-General For Scotland

Assembly Building

24.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland what area of the Scottish Assembly building in Edinburgh is currently used by him, by the Lord Advocate and by their staff.

As I have indicated previously to the hon. Gentleman, Crown Office buildings are fully occupied as office accommodation with the exception of the debating chamber, a lobby and a press room.

Is it not an absolute national scandal that the debating chamber of the Scottish Assembly building is lying empty and unused for most of the time because this Tory Government are refusing to respond to the legitimate demands of the majority of the people of Scotland, who want a democratically elected Scottish Assembly instead of being ruled by an undemocratic Tory junta which has received no mandate from the people of Scotland?

The chamber would have been much better used if a number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues had attended the last time the Scottish Grand Committee held its meeting there. As part of a Government who have done more than any of their predecessors to reform the private law of Scotland since 1979, in my view we are much better to concentrate our efforts on that than to waste months of parliamentary time putting together another unworkable scheme.

Does my hon and learned Friend agree that the lack of interest shown by the Scottish people in the meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee that have taken place in Edinburgh, and the lack of attendance of Labour Members, which was referred to by my hon. and learned Friend, and of other Opposition Members shows clearly that the debating chamber is best left empty for most of the time?

Certainly, there has not been much of a turn-out recently either of hon. Members or of the public, although in the past we have taken the oportunity of using the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in Edinburgh to put forward the legislation and the reform of which I have already made mention.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that if the Royal High school building was used for a Scottish Assembly it might generate more interest among his colleagues than is witnessed today by the lack of interest in this place, where not one Scottish Conservative Member has a question on the Order Paper?

Attendance at meetings of the Scottish Grand Committee in Edinburgh has been thin, as the hon. Gentleman will have noticed if he has been there. If he wants to encourage greater use of the building, I am sure he knows how to set about it.

Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that, rather than go through the farce of wasting vast sums of public money on running the Scottish Grand Committee meetings in that building, it would be better to sell it and use the resources on the Health Service or on something useful in Scotland, given that his Department survived without it in the past, and as the people of Scotland certainly do not want a Scottish Assembly?

Much as I appreciate the architecture of the Royal High school building in Edinburgh, as Solicitor-General I believe that the sooner we can move out of it and return to a proper Crown Office, the better.

Will the Solicitor-General expand on that last remark? He appeared to support the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth) and his scheme. Is that the Solicitor-General's personal view? Will he note that the Opposition are strongly in favour of continuing the present practice of meeting in Edinburgh as a prelude to the day when we have a Scottish Assembly properly established there?

I thought that I said clearly that at present the Crown Office occupies the greater part of the building. As a lawyer, the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that Crown Office activities are to some extent separated not only from the Court of Session and the High Court, but from the sheriff court in Edinburgh. It would be much more appropriate for my Department to be closer to those courts. There are a number of possibilities for the future use of the building, but I certainly would not suggest that it would be right to use it for a Scottish Assembly.

Criminal Justice Act 1980

25.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland when he intends to meet procurators fiscal in Scotland to discuss the use of evidence in courts obtained under part I of the Criminal Justice Act 1980.

I meet procurators fiscal from time to time to discuss various matters, including the 1980 Act, but no particular meeting is planned to discuss evidence under part I.

Does the Solicitor-General remember, when he was a mere Back Bencher serving on the Committee on that Bill, that his right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State, then a junior Minister, promised that there would be research into the working of detention powers? Is it correct that that research was carried out and that a report was produced in March 1985, which went to the Association of Chief Police Officers (Scotland), which demanded that it be repressed and that no further research be carried out? Will he now ensure that that report is published?

That is a searching and compelling question, but it is inappropriately addressed to me. It is for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State.

Police (Complaints)

26.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland how many complaints against the police in Scotland have been referred from procurators fiscal to the Lord Advocate for advice or decision.

To date this year, 142 cases of complaints against the police have been reported by regional procurators fiscal to the Crown Office for consideration by Crown counsel. In 1985, 493 cases were reported. Such cases are seen by me and occasionally by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

I am most grateful to the Solicitor-General for that reply. Will he give serious consideration to an examination by his Department into whether the police are referring to the procurators fiscal complaints which have nothing to do with the alleged offences? When the procurators fiscal say that they will take no action, it gives some spurious exoneration to the person under complaint. If that examination shows that that is the case, will the Solicitor-General give further consideration to the possibility of an independent complaints procedure for complaints against the police, in which the Scottish public would have much greater confidence?

The hon. Gentleman raises a serious and difficult matter. There are occasions when the police cannot immediately identify a complaint and when it would be inappropriate for them to reach a conclusion on whether it is purely a disciplinary matter or one which contains an allegation of criminal conduct by the police. Clearly, in those circumstances they tend to veer on the side of caution. They certainly put some cases which do not have a criminal content to procurators fiscal and the Crown Office. I am not sure that that causes the difficulties that the hon. Gentleman mentions, but I am prepared to look into the matter.

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that all complaints against the police are reported to a Law Officer and are scrutinised by him, or his noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, so that the highest consideration is given to any complaint of alleged abuse by the police?

Yes, I can confirm that matters have not changed and that the policy has not been altered since my hon. and learned Friend had these responsibilities. Not everyone is involved if it is only a matter of a possible breach of disciplinary code within the police. Furthermore, if it is a complaint which clearly has no substance, it is not reported to Crown counsel or to one of the Law Officers. Otherwise, as I said, a considerable number of complaints are personally examined by me or by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate.

Of the 400 or so complaints, how many originated in Greenock and Port Glasgow, and of those how many led to disciplinary or criminal proceedings, being taken?

The hon. Gentleman has me at a loss. I am not able to tell hum immediately what the Greenock and Port Glasgow figures are, and I cannot tell him how many of them resulted in disciplinary proceedings, because the pursuit of disciplinary proceedings would be a matter for the assistant chief constable and the chief constable rather than my self. Those instructions would come from me only if there was a decision to proceed with criminal proceedings against a police officer.

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that while one wants to see complaints made against the police properly and fully investigated, it is equally important, when frivolous or malicious complaints are made, that the full rigour of the law is taken against people who distract the police and other officers of justice from their proper duties?

Yes, indeed. The policy is clear. If at some stage it is identified that the complaint is in any way malicious or is a wilful effort to waste the time of the police, often to secure a balance, proceedings are taken against those who make the malicious complaints.

Procurator Fiscal (Kilmarnock)

27.

asked the Solicitor-General for Scotland if he plans to meet procurators fiscal in Kilmarnock to discuss matters of accommodation.

I have no immediate plans to discuss matters of accommodation with the procurator fiscal at Kilmarnock. His accommodation problems are well understood. The planned solution is to relocate his office in the old Kilmarnock sheriff court house once that building has been vacated.

Can the Solicitor-General for Scotland tell me whether the Crown Office has, therefore, approved the sketch plans for the refurbishment and redevelopment of the old Kilmarnock sheriff court? If it has done so, would he perhaps discuss with his colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, the possibilities of Government funding to give that project the go-ahead?

As I said in my original answer, it is certainly the intention to relocate. That is a policy which my noble and learned Friend the Lord Advocate and I warmly support. A considerable amount of work has already been done on that, but, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates, funds have not yet been committed to it. However, we certainly want to see the project go ahead.

Scottish Question Time

3.33 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On previous occasions some of my colleagues have asked you to take account of the fact that, in comparison with other Question Times, where Government members are in excess, at Scottish Question Time there are twice as many Scottish Labour Members as Scottish Tory Members. On this occasion, Scottish Tory Members have tabled only one question, and that was by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Monro) who was not even present. In addition——

Order. I did exactly that today. If the hon. Gentleman looks carefully at Hansard tomorrow, he will see exactly what happened.

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. I was about to conclude by saying that in addition to that there were only six Tory Back Benchers present. I shall look at Hansard tomorrow, but I was counting up. For example, the hon. Member for Stirling (Mr. Forsyth), who did not table a question, was called on three or four occasions.

Order. That is my discretion. However, if the hon. Gentleman looks at Hansard tomorrow, he will find that Opposition Members were called much more frequently. It is always my endeavour at Question Time to call those hon. Members who have questions on the Order Paper if they can be broadly linked. Furthermore, I endeavour to give everyone an opportunity of being called at least once.

Mr. Speaker, can you confirm that when the House is taking questions on what are considered to be United Kingdom matters, Conservative Members expect the questions, quite properly in my view, to go from one side to the other and that is what happens? No cognisance is taken of the fact that there are many more Conservative Members present during what could be called United Kingdom questions, yet, unlike what the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) is calling for, no allowance is made for that.

Order. I do not propose to enter into a debate with the House on how I call hon. Members at Question Time.

The hon. Member for Eastwood (Mr. Stewart) was not present to answer questions this afternoon because, as I understand it, he is in Mexico for the World Cup finals. In view of the fact that the hon. Member is not only the Scottish Minister for sport but the Scottish Minister for industry, with a track record of scoring own goals against Scottish industry, can we have an assurance that he is in Mexico simply as a spectator and not as a replacement for Kenny Dalgliesh?

Mr Victor Paige

3.36 pm

(by private notice)

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on the resignation of Mr. Victor Paige from the chairmanship of the National Health Service Board.

In October 1983 I announced that the Government accepted the recommendations of the NHS management inquiry, under the chairmanship of Sir Roy Griffiths, that general management should be introduced into the NHS, and that a board should be set up within my Department to be responsible to Ministers for the Department's functions in relation to the management of the NHS.

Mr. Victor Paige took up appointment as chairman of the board, and as second permanent secretary within my Department, on 2 January 1985. His contract was for three years. The board was established in April 1985 and contains members drawn from business, the National Health Service and the Civil Service. Mr. Paige has paid tribute to the abilities of the Board and the progress the board has already made. I should like to express my thanks to Mr. Paige for his part in that progress.

I confirm that substantial improvements have already been made in the efficient management of the NHS. Those achievements reflect great credit on the Health Service itself, including authorities, managers and staff, and on the direction and leadership which the service has had from my Department.

As the House will be aware, Mr. Paige has resigned his position as chairman of the management board. He discussed his intention with me, and we agreed that it would be right for him to stand down. I have published in full the exchange of letters between us in which Mr. Paige explained his reasons. There is nothing that I can add to what he has said and my reply. I have therefore appointed Mr. Len Peach, who is the board's director of personnel on secondment from IBM, as acting chairman of the board. I shall make a substantive appointment as soon as possible.

The Government remain fully committed to better management of the National Health Service. I have every confidence that, under the leadership of the management board, health authorities and their general managers will continue to ensure that more and better care is provided for patients and that the best value for money is obtained.

The statement raises more questions than it answers.

Will the Secretary of State tell the House precisely why Mr. Paige gave up his £70,000 a year job in mid-contract? Did he jump, or was he pushed? Was he pressed for too many or too few cuts? Does his departure leave in tatters the policy of bringing private bosses into the National Health Service? Is it true that, in the past two months, three similar appointees have resigned as district managers — three out of the 25 outsiders? Is it true that the business genius who was appointed to head an audit into value for money in the NHS has just gone bankrupt to the tune of £300,000?

Does the Secretary of State agree that his policy is wrong, or is it just that he is a bad judge of people? Will he now appoint someone from the thousands who have made the NHS their life's work and not appoint another rank outsider with no staying power? Will he ensure that the new person uses the National Health Service instead of relying on the private sector?

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Mr. Paige set out the reasons in his letter. I do not think that there would be much point in my trying to interpret further what he said. There was no question of disagreement about resources. We have 750 general managers in post, and two or three have left. That shows the confidence in the concept of general management. I think that the hon. Gentleman will concede that Mr. Paige himself endorsed the concept of general management.

Substantial achievements have already been made. Indeed, £150 million of cost improvements have been made. The concept of identifying one person as being responsible and accountable for ensuring that decisions are made and that action is taken can only be right. We have no intention whatever of turning our backs on the general management concept. That concept is in the interest of the Health Service, and it is about time that the hon. Gentleman supported it.

Although one regrets Mr. Paige's departure, is not the important point that the concept of general management is now sufficiently well established — notwithstanding Mr. Paige's decision to go—and that very few people, other than one or two Opposition Members, would want to return to the old idea of a bloated bureaucracy? Does my right hon. Friend concede that, if any lesson is to be learnt, it is perhaps that Mr. Paige's successor should be given even more support, if that is possible, in standing up to the vested interests in the NHS, who have no interest in the NHS running on a commercial basis?

There is much truth in that, and particularly in my hon. Friend's opening remarks. The general management concept is accepted in the NHS. As the Institute of Health Service Management has said in a statement made during the past 24 hours, general management is beginning to work very well, and the NHS will provide better quality care and value for money as a result. That is why general management is important, and that is why it will and should continue.

Irrespective of one's view about the principles of general management, is there not widespread concern about the way that it is being implemented? Following Mr. Paige's unfortunate resignation, will the right hon. Gentleman undertake a review of the implementation of unit management policy? Does the Secretary of State have any intention of reviewing the new incumbent's terms of reference?

No, I do not think that that is necessary. The managment board is carrying out an important job. It continues in post, although obviously with the exception of Mr. Paige. and it will continue to do its work. Mr. Len Peach, the acting chairman, comes from outside industry, and is a man of enormous experience. I believe that the management board will establish itself and will continue to achieve great things for the NHS.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that management by committee cannot be very effective? Does he further agree that trying to manage by consensus must lead to inefficiency? Surely it is high time that we returned to a system of one person in a hospital being responsible for all management. That would be much better than having many committees, with one looking after provisions, one looking after beds. one looking after cleaning, and so on, without any one person being in charge. That is the problem in the NHS.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is why general managers are being introduced. not just at the regional or district level, but, most importantly, as my hon. Friend said, at the hospital or unit level. That is the philosophy behind what we are doing. The concept involves identifying the person responsible and accountable for ensuring that decisions are made and that actions are taken. It replaces the old unsatisfactory system which in, for example, the Stanley Royd case might lead to great tragedies for the NHS.

Why does not the Secretary of State come clean? He knows very well that Mr. Paige was not prepared to be shoved round by him and his Department. The right hon. Gentleman talked about Mr. Paige's resignation, but we need the right hon. Gentleman's resignation on the table.

I have endured three months of the hon. Gentleman during the proceedings in Committee on the Social Security Bill and I suppose I can take a little more than that. However, his comments on the NHS are no nearer the mark than any of his comments on social security matters.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his tribute to my constituent, Mr. Victor Paige, and his work in the NHS. Mr. Paige, together with my right hon. Friend and many Conservative Members, is deeply committed to the idea of general management because of the result that it has already produced. Is my right hon. Friend aware that the 25 per cent. more nurses at the Hemel Hempstead hospital in my constituency are paid for partly by the efficiency savings that have been brought about by strong general management? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the terms of reference for the new chairman will not only be the same as those for the previous chairman but will be redoubled in an effort to obtain efficiency?

I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. We have already achieved £150 million in the cost improvement programme. That money goes directly into the Health Service and is valuable to it.

Does not this affair show that one cannot impose the blunt instrument of commercial markets on what is effectively a social service? Why does not the Secretary of State tell the truth? Why in his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) did he stick so religiously to his brief? Why does he not tell us what really happened and what arguments have taken place in the past two months between Mr. Victor Paige and the departmental Ministers on the running of the service?

We have exchanged letters on this matter. Mr. Paige has put out his reasons for resigning, and I have replied to them. We agreed that it would be right for Mr. Paige to step down.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, in his letter, Mr. Victor Paige does more than endorse management principles; he warmly and enthusiastically supports them? Does he further agree that the management of the NHS is, as Mr. Paige has said, complex? Is it not inevitable that there will be difficulties in introducing business management methods into this enormous concern, which covers professional people and staff in catering, laundering, cleaning and many other activities, all of whom have traditional but inefficient practices? Is my right hon. Friend aware that we shall fully support the new chairman, when he is appointed, in helping him to rid the Health Service of these practices and to achieve efficient business management within the NHS?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The Health Service is a complex management job, and it employs about 1 million people. The Griffiths report recognised that complexity, and Mr. Paige's achievement has been that he has taken the management process to stage one and, in particular, to the stage when general managers have been appointed almost entirely throughout the country.

Is the Secretary of State aware that, while people may not care too much either way about Mr. Paige, they are aware that there is insufficient funding of the National Health Service resulting in continued cuts, lengthy waiting lists and closures? Is he also aware that there is no lack of understanding on the part of the public regarding the Conservative party's attitude to the NHS? It has no genuine commitment to the NHS, and it would not stay in power for five minutes were it not for electoral reasons.

There is nothing in the resignation of Mr. Paige to do with the question of more resources. The attitude of the Conservative Government to the Health Service is shown by the fact that we are spending £18·75 billion on the Health Service, which is a 24 per cent. real increase on what the last Labour Government spent.

Will my right hon. Friend take on board Mr. Paige's two comments about improving employees' commitment and the importance of management education? Does he agree that we are lucky to have a large number of committed and able people within the NHS who, with a little encouragement and a dollop of that management education, might provide the general managers of the future, whom Mr. Paige rightly regards as vital to the future of the NHS?

That is an important point, particularly in relation to management education. The new acting chairman of the management board, Len Peach, with his experience will be well placed to implement just that.

Do not the terms of Mr. Victor Paige's resignation letter to the Secretary of State make abundantly clear the Government's absolute folly when they decided to implement the Griffiths report wholesale and appoint 750 general managers throughout the country, creating this new edifice of which Mr. Victor Paige was the top point, without bothering to test the Griffiths report in pilot schemes in different health authorities throughout the country?

As the Secretary of State has laid such emphasis on the need for general management and lines of responsibility, does he not feel that what comes through loud and clear from this resignation is that, instead of decisions being taken in the front line, they were being referred more and more up the line to the Elephant and Castle and that they were falling victim to personalities and politics there?

No, I do not think that that is the case. The concept of general management is that decisions should go down the line to the hospital and to the districts, and that is what is taking place. I have heard before what the hon. Gentleman has said about pilot schemes, but I do not think that that is a very sensible way of introducing the concept of general management into the Health Service. I certainly do not think that if we had done it that way we should have secured anything like the cost improvements that we have managed to secure under the plans and policies that we have implemented.

Order. This is a private notice question. I shall allow one more question from a Member on each side of the House.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, although the National Health Service management board has been in existence for just over a year, much of the best work that it has done has been in recent months, particularly in its evidence to the Public Accounts Committee? Is he able to give a commitment to the House that this work will continue with even more rapidity than before, even while we are awaiting the appointment of a new chairman?

Yes, entirely. I am grateful for what my hon. Friend has said. The work of the management board will go on as usual. I can give him totally that assurance.

What estimable qualities other than those possessed by Mr. Paige is the Secretary of State looking for in his successor?

We need someone with management experience and I think, above all, with a commitment to the National Health Service.

Legionnaire's Disease (Badenoch Report)

3.52 pm

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will make a statement about the first report of the Badenoch committee of inquiry into the outbreak of legionnaire's disease in Stafford.

The outbreak at Stafford district general hospital occurred in April 1985: 101 patients caught the disease and there were 28 deaths. This was the second most serious incident ever recorded, surpassed only by the outbreak in Pennsylvania in 1976 from which the disease was first recognised. The source of infection was traced to the air conditioning system. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services appointed a statutory public inquiry on 7 June 1985, chaired by Sir John Badenoch.

The inquiry has produced a first report covering the Stafford outbreak and has also made recommendations more generally about hospital air conditioning systems. The inquiry will now consider and make recommendations on action to reduce the possibility of future outbreaks, whether in hospitals, other buildings or elsewhere, and the Government expect to receive this second report around the turn of the year. The first report concludes that, on present knowledge, the outbreak at Stafford cannot be attributed to any single factor, nor does it hold any individual or group directly responsible. It points out that legionnaire's disease has only recently been identified and is not well understood. The report refers to a combination of circumstances which appear to have contributed to this outbreak.

These circumstances include defects in the design and construction of engineering services, problems during the commissioning of the air conditioning plant, lack of knowledge and understanding of the sophisticated engineering plant, shortcomings in maintenance, including chlorination, and the weather conditions. The report also points to the inherent difficulty on present knowledge of eliminating the legionella bacillus in water spray cooling towers used for air conditioning.

The report praises those who cared for the infected patients and I gladly endorse this tribute. The report makes recommendations specific to the circumstances surrounding the outbreak and requiring local action. In particular, it calls for a review of the health authority's microbiological services in Stafford. I am asking the West Midlands regional health authority and the Mid-Staffordshire district health authority to report within three months on the follow-up action they have taken or intend to take.

Revised guidance on the maintenance of cooling towers was issued to health authorities in January 1986 following consultation with Sir John Badenoch. This reflects the lessons learned at that stage from the inquiry. In the light of the completed report, the Department has today issued a further circular to health authorities asking them to check for features similar to those found at Stafford and to take appropriate action. They are also being asked to ensure that existing guidance on maintenance is being followed and that operational engineering staff have access to detailed guidance on the operation of individual water spray cooling systems.

The recommended code of practice for hospital engineers should be available by about the end of the year. In the meantime, discussions are in hand with the Public Health Laboratory Service to establish a register of engineers so that relevant expertise can be available if needed by the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre and health authorities.

The inquiry recommended that a committee of experts should be convened urgently to consider all aspects of the use of biocides as a means of minimising build up of legionella. This committee will be chaired by Dr. A. E. Wright, director of the Public Health Laboratory Service Newcastle laboratory, and will begin its work shortly.

Other recommendations dealt with reducing reliance on air conditioning in general and water spray cooling towers in particular. Current hospital building policy, with its emphasis on smaller hospitals, means that new hospitals generally use less air conditioning than before. Preliminary inquiries indicate that no new water spray cooling towers will be incorporated in hospitals currently being planned. The inquiry's conclusions will reinforce the commitment to air-cooled systems for new hospital building.

As regards existing hospitals, health authorities have been asked to give details about the type and number of water spray systems now in use, as a first step to carrying out the recommendation that urgent consideration should be given to their replacement. Only a minority of hospitals are thought to have such systems, but the inquiry will establish an accurate national picture. I understand that the inquiry team did not envisage immediate replacement of such systems; it was concerned to ensure that existing systems operate as safely as possible and those which have reached the end of their natural life or present particular maintenance problems should have priority for replacement.

Early action was taken with the two health notices in July 1985 and January 1986 and further instructions, based upon this first report, have now been issued to health authorities. These steps will reduce the risk of any repetition of the outbreak. Production of a code of practice and setting up the register of engineers experienced in this field will also contribute to that end. In the longer term, the new committee on biocides should help to clarify how these chemicals can best be used to reduce risks further. Information is being collected about existing hospital water spray cooling systems as a first step in the consideration of their longer-term future.

We owe a great deal to Sir John Badenoch and his fellow inquiry members for the energy and application they have brought to producing this report. For the broader questions about what may need to be done to reduce any risk from the disease in other circumstances in hospitals, other buildings and elsewhere, the Government look forward to the second report, which is expected around the turn of the year.

I join the Minister in thanking Sir John Badenoch and his colleagues for the work that t hey have done in the inquiry. As the Minister has said, the findings of the committee have revealed a considerable number of shortcomings. There are many uncertainties surrounding even that which happened at Stafford, and there are even more uncertainties about the knowledge, development and spread of legionnaire's disease generally.

Even the first report has implications for other hospitals in other areas, and it is not entirely clear from the Minister's statement whether the Government fully accept all the recommendations within it. I should like the Minister to be specific about that. Will he tell us whether the Government intend to find the extra staff and money that will be necessary for the investigation of the cooling systems at other hospitals and for any adaptations and replacements that may be necessary?

Does the Minister accept the committee's recommendation that there should be further research into legionnaire's disease? If he does, is he satisfied that there are presently only two Government-funded research projects into legionnaire's disease? Given the tribute that has been paid to the Public Health Laboratory Service and the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre in the report, will he reaffirm that the Government have abandoned any intention of interfering with the Public Health Laboratory Service, or to abolish it or the Communicable Disease Surveillance Centre, which were around at the time of the outbreak.

Although this is not covered by the report, I should like to know whether the final report will cover the action taken by the Minister's Department? To be fair to the Minister, that was action taken before he became the Minister for Health. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that no fewer than five days elapsed between his office at the Elephant and Castle being informed that the Stafford hospital people believed that legionnaire's disease was caused by their water cooling system and the Department informing other health authorities with hospitals with identical cooling systems of what had happened at Stafford?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments about Sir John and his colleagues. As a first step towards achieving urgent consideration about whether to replace existing spray systems, we have called for the establishment of the precise situation throughout the country. I understand that there are about 400 water spray cooling towers now in place, and we shall need to consider the details of the installations.

The assessment of where we stand can be undertaken notwithstanding resource implications within existing budgets. The immediate priority for health authorities must be to ensure that the existing equipment is correctly and safely maintained. These instructions have already gone out and they will be reinforced by the publication of the report and by the further health notice which is being issued.

Legionnaire's disease is affecting countries throughout the world and I am not aware of any research projects that are not being followed through. I would be prepared to give consideration to any suggestions that come forward and to pass them on to those responsible for medical research.

The hon. Gentleman made some rather exaggerated comments about the Public Health Laboratory Service and a report which was produced earlier this year. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear quickly that he did not accept the proposals in the report and that he wished the service to continue in its existing form. My right hon. Friend's clear undertaking remains.

The content of Sir John's final report will be a matter for him and his colleagues and not for me.

I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement, the Badenoch report and the Government's immediate response last year to my call for a full independent inquiry, but will my right hon. Friend accept that some serious criticisms are contained in the report that show that the sort of action that is outlined in the report is necessary? Will he join me in extending sympathy to those who were bereaved during the course of the outbreak of legionnaire's disease in my constituency? Will he ensure that appropriate praise is given to the nursing staff for the wonderful work that it conducted in difficult and dangerous circumstances while the outbreak was continuing?

Yes, I join my hon. Friend in his expressions of sympathy, which have been made in the House before and which, I am sure, will be reiterated in all parts of it, to the relatives and friends of those who suffered. I endorse the tribute which was paid in the report and paid previously by my predecessor and by the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) to the staff. Anyone who reads the report of the inquiry will see that tribute is paid in unstinted fashion to those who had the care of the patients who, alas, suffered from this serious infection. I congratulate my hon. Friend, whose assiduous attention to detail as the constituency Member has rightly won admiration and praise in all parts of the House.

I associate my right hon. and hon. Friends with the comments that have been made about the sympathy that we should extend to the relatives of those who died in this tragic incident and the tribute that we should pay to the heroic efforts of the staff who put it right. We owe a debt to Sir John Badenoch for the expedition with which he has produced the report.

Can the Minister confirm that DHSS maintenance standards for the cooling towers are upheld and that the proper recommended procedures are followed? I understand from his statement that he found that there were maintenance defects. Has he considered the use of biocides such as Hatacide LP5 as a replacement for chlorination, as chlorination has been found to be defective, and certainly in the conditions found in modern water spray cooling systems?

Secondly, the Minister will know from the expert advice that he has been receiving that old people are especially vulnerable to legionnaire's disease. He has said that 400 institutions have water spray cooling systems, and I ask him to give especial attention and priority to those that accommodate elderly people, who are particularly at risk. If he finds that there are still suspect systems, will he ensure that no expense is spared in replacing equipment?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for what he has said about extending sympathy to the relatives of those who died. He has addressed himself to the maintenance of the air conditioning plant at Stafford and, as I said earlier, the report reveals a number of defects in design, installation, maintenance and chlorination which appear to have contributed to the outbreak of the disease. The inquiry was not able to point the finger precisely at any one specific failure or cause. The infection appeared to start on 9 April and appeared to cease on 19 April. The cessation may have been contributed to by a change in weather conditions, but there is still no absolutely clear reason why the outbreak started and why it ended.

The way in which infections of this particular organism have been found to operate in different parts of the world at different times makes it extremely difficult to be precise and specific about the causes. The hon. Gentleman has referred to the use of biocides and he will have heard me say that we have accepted the recommendation that an expert committee should consider the issue. I have said that Dr. Wright, who is a distinguished expert in this area, will be chairing the committee. I hope that the membership of it will be established pretty soon and that it will get to work without delay.

The hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) was right to draw attention to the vulnerability of old people to infection. People who have suffered from chronic infections and, indeed, those who have been heavy smokers also appear to be vulnerable. They all appear to be more liable to be adversely affected by the infection. The hon. Gentleman's point about the water spray cooling towers, and their relationship to institutions where there are people with particular vulnerability, such as the old, will be taken into account.

May I associate myself with my right hon. Friend's kind and generous remarks about the care bestowed by the staff at Stafford hospital, particularly the care for my constituents, who are just five miles away from Stafford hospital? Will my right hon. Friend confirm that also about five miles away is Meaford power station? Have he and the inquiry completely eliminated the possibility of a correlation between the water cooling system of Meaford power station and legionnaire's disease? Has my right hon. Friend satisfied himself that the committee has ensured, through any consultations that it may have had with the Central Electricity Generating Board and others, that there was no connection? Will he confirm that the most rigorous inquiry has taken place as to the efficacy of the water cooling system at Stafford general hospital and, indeed, the quality of maintenance of the water cooling system?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments and his endorsement of the tribute to the staff concerned. He will have personal knowledge of that because some of his constituents were affected. A connection with the water cooling systems in nearby power stations has not been established, nor, I suggest—although I do so subject to correction—has it been totally eliminated. As far as I can judge from the scientific and engineering evidence that is coming forward, it is extremely difficult to be absolutely positive either for or against any proposition in this area. It has become clear that the organism that led to the deaths and illness of those affected in the outbreak was identified as being in the air conditioning system. Cooling tower No. 4 had a connection with the outpatients' department where, as far as one can judge, the majority of those who were affected picked up the infection.

What steps will be taken to ensure that employees of the National Health Service are made aware of the contents of the Badenoch report, and what steps will be taken to ensure that sufficient training is given to staff in the NHS to overcome any problems arising from the changes that will be necessary as a result of the recommendations in the report?

Secondly, will the right hon. Gentleman assure the House that any changes that have to be made to NHS equipment in any hospital as a result of the report will be paid for out of central funds, not out of local district health authority funds, so that they will not be set against the costs of existing services and staff?

When the final report is ready, and if any changes are required in building control regulations for any other building or installation, will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Department of the Environment introduces the necessary building control regulations for any new central heating or water cooling systems rather than awaiting another disaster such as the one that we have already had in the NHS?

The general tenor of the hon. Gentleman's remarks is much less than fair to the very careful preparation that has been done in the past to give guidance on the dangers and difficulties associated with the disease. I checked the experience in other countries, and I found that the guidance that was issued by the NHS in this country was in advance of that issued anywhere else in the world. We should take pride in the fact that NHS staff have been out in the front and leading internationally in dealing with this difficult infection.

With regard to passing on information, the report is going to all health authorities. No doubt, in their own circumstances, they will let all those concerned know. There are recommendations in the report about the wed for further training and, of course, it will be carried through.

Order. I must have regard to subsequent business on the Order Paper. This statement is about the inquiry into legionnaire's disease in Stafford. Will hon. Members direct their questions to that and not widen the issue?

As I have two hospitals in my constituency—Leicester general and the Towers hospital — will my right hon. Friend assure constituents and the elderly——

Will my right hon. Friend ensure that there is wide circulation of the Badenoch report so that elderly people in the country, including Stafford, realise that when they go into hospital they will be properly cared for and that health and safety will be maintained throughout? Will he further ensure that the report will be distributed not just to the health authorities but to those who are particularly concerned—the elderly?

I can assure my hon. Friend that the report will go to all the health authorities, and indeed it has been circulated among Government colleagues and, I am pretty sure, to the professional institutions and others involved. I imagine that within the scientific and engineering community with particular concern for those systems the report's recommendations will be studied with care. The guidance that my Department will issue to all health authorities will also be made available to anyone else outside who has an interest and who asks for it.

Is not the Minister aware that it was precisely because it was impossible to isolate the true origin of the epidemic at Stafford that there was considerable disquiet in the area? Will he please understand that what is required now is urgent action in relation to the other hospitals with comparable systems? That requires central funding. It is not enough to send out a circular. Those hospitals must be given money immediately so that they can do something about their existing systems.

The hon. Lady slightly misunderstands the position. Guidance about existing systems has been available since 1980, and it was reinforced in July 1985 and January 1986. The hon. Lady does a grave disservice if she is trying to show that a shortage of finance is connected with the difficulties. If she reads the report, she will see that lack of finance was in no way involved.

The Minister has talked about specific recommendations for hospitals, but I suggest that an outbreak could occur in air conditioning systems in other public buildings, unless proper maintenance of the systems is carried out. The remit of any committee that the right hon. Gentleman sets up should include aspects of air pollution through air conditioning systems and its effect on health. More people are recognising the link between air conditioning systems and absenteeism from work, with more infections — [Interruption.] But it is important that any committee——

Order. I am sure that it is important, but will the hon. Lady please concentrate on the statement?

I am attempting to do so, Mr. Speaker, by showing that legionnaire's disease could occur in any public building unless there is proper control of air conditioning systems. Any committee that the Minister intends to set up should have a much wider remit than what he has suggested so far.

The hon. Lady must have misunderstood what I said. She will understand when she reads the report. Sir John Badenock's committee has produced a first report dealing with the Stafford incident in particular. I said that there would be a second report, which would look at what could be done to reduce any risk from the disease in other circumstances, in hospitals or other buildings, whether in the public or private sector, and elsewhere. Even the possibility of the infection on ships has already been identified. Sir John and his colleagues are going ahead with that wider work and their report can be expected towards the end of the year.

Has the Minister considered paragraph 52 of the report? It says that one of the ways in which the dissemination of this disease is known to occur is

"via shower heads or spray taps (which are used intermittently, and where the organism may multiply if the water is warm) …"
Bearing in mind that the Select Committee on Employment, on which I have the privilege to serve, looked into the problems of this disease and considered evidence to the effect that it also arises from whirlpools and Jacuzzis and in other precise systems where water goes into the air, will the Minister direct the inquiry specifically to those problems? Apparently no prosecutions are to arise from the current disasters. Can the Minister tell the House whether as a result of this inquiry and the miseries which gave rise to it steps will be taken to remove Crown immunity in respect of any such further incidents which may involve liability by hospitals or prisons or any other public institution? That immunity should have been removed long ago.

Crown immunity has absolutely nothing to do with this. If compensation is paid as a result of this inquiry and this incident, it will be a matter for the Mid Staffordshire health authority operating under our regulations, and in the final analysis it will be a matter for the courts to determine. I can give the hon. and learned Member the assurance that Crown immunity will not come into that.

The hon. and learned Gentleman directed my attention to a paragraph in the report and seemed to be suggesting that I should draw Sir John's attention to that paragraph so that he and his colleagues could carry out further work. Sir John and his colleagues hardly need me to draw their attention to what they have written so that they can decide upon their further work. As I have said, that work will be wide ranging and Sir John and his colleagues will look at the action that will be required to reduce the possibility of this infection arising in hospitals, in other buildings or elsewhere. Sir John and his colleagues have taken a fairly wide remit.

This important report demonstrates the difficulty of explaining why legionnella bacilli multiply. In following up the report, will the Minister ensure that a careful look is taken at the extent to which the problem could arise because of products being used in the manufacture of drainage systems, air cooling towers and so on that do not comply with the BSI standard, especially if such products are imported?

I am sure that Sir John and his colleagues will wish to look at that matter.

The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) spoke about other buildings. I have checked and found that the air conditioning system in the Houses of Parliament does not have a water spray system.

May I refer the Minister to the recommendations of the report and especially to recommendation 8(a) on page 64? It says:

"urgent consideration should be given to replacing any wet cooling tower with an air-cooled system".
That will involve finance. Can the Minister say whether finance will be provided and, if so, whether it will come from central funds?

The report says that urgent consideration should be given to those matters and as a first step towards giving that consideration we have called for information about the systems in use. That information will need to be considered. As I have said, the immediate priority must be to ensure tha the existing equipment is correctly and safely maintained. Of course it will cost money to replace water spray cooling towers. It is clear that the inquiry did not recommend immediate replacement of such systems, and in any case the replacement of towers that are at the end of their lives will cost money.

In planned hospital building for the future we have, fortunately, turned to air cooling rather than water spray cooling and we will look into the problems identified by the survey that has been initiated about dealing with existing water spray cooling towers. If that involves significant cost, then, of course, the matter will be looked at. Changing circumstances are always looked at in the context of the ways in which we fund the National Health Service.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Earlier today we had a statement about the resignation of Mr. Victor Paige. I asked the Secretary of State a question. I am not suggesting that his reply was a lie, but I am suggesting that we should have fairness and I know that you, Mr. Speaker, try to ensure that. The Secretary of State said that the Committee which considered the Social Security Bill sat for three months. That is correct, and I never missed a sitting. He said that I suggested things in the Committee with which he totally disagreed. The Secretary of State was hardly ever there. May I suggest that you, Mr. Speaker, have a word with the Secretary of State to sort things out?

I thought that the hon. Gentleman had asked for the Minister's resignation.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. We have had an important statement about legionnaire's disease at Stafford hospital, and implications for local health authorities clearly arise from the statement. The Minister has not answered the serious question about how the local authorities are to fund the cost of implementing the recommendations in the report. Can you advise me, Mr. Speaker, by what means we can get a clear answer from the Government about this important matter that is causing many health authorities a great deal of worry?

I called the hon. Gentleman to ask a question, but I do not know whether it was fully answered. There are other ways in which the hon. Gentleman can deal with the matter. He can deal with it at Question Time or even by way of an Adjournment debate if he is fortunate enough to get one.

Bill Presented

Tobacco Products (Health Warnings)

Mr. Archy Kirkwood, supported by Mr. Roger Sims and Mr. Laurie Pavitt, presented a Bill to provide for the presentation of health warnings on packaging of tobacco products, and related advertising and promotional materials: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 4 July and to be printed. [Bill 170.]

Road Traffic Accidents Compensation For Victims

4.28 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide compensation for victims of road traffic accidents without proof of fault and for related purposes.

The casualty toll on our roads is horrific, and from figures supplied to me last week in a written answer it appears that in the last four years for which records were available 1,251,000 of our citizens were injured in road accidents. Of those, 682,000 were men, 380,000 were women and 189,000 were children. We know from the researches carried out by the Royal Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury, chaired by Lord Pearson, and known as the Pearson commission, that only a fraction of those who are injured on our roads receive any compensation through the ordinary provisions of the law on tort, a law which requires those who seek damages to prove negligence against the defendant. The report said:
"only about a quarter of those who are injured by motor vehicles actually succeed in recovering tort compensation".

The manner in which it is decided whether someone who is injured on the road is to get compensation is archaic, ridiculous and does not work. It is a form of legal lottery, or, as the Pearson commission said:
"the fault principle operates with particular capriciousness. The `forensic lottery' had become 'a lunatic lottery and an absurd system for providing compensation for anyone."'
The system denies compensation to most people and ensures that in most cases those who obtain compensation are kept waiting for a long time for the money that they so desperately need.

It is the purpose of this Bill to introduce into our law the concept of no-fault liability in respect of road traffic accidents. It would ensure that when a case comes to court years after an accident people are not called upon to give evidence about what happened in a split second. which, even immediately afterwards, they cannot remember with any certainty, that they are not cross-examined in court about matters which occurred when they were suffering from shock, and even if they are trying to tell the truth—most are—will fail to do so, that matters which rely on personal recollection and not upon documentation but upon which people's entire financial futures depend, will not be matters for courts, and that people who are entitled to be compensated will obtain that compensation without having to prove negligence.

The concept is not new in our law. Under the Employers Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969, when an employee is injured or killed at work because of defective equipment, and in a subsequent action the employer is deemed to have been negligent, liability is imposed without fault. The House has accepted and approved a directive of the European Economic Community regarding product liability, and the Government are therefore committed to introducing legislation that will bring no-fault liability into our law in respect of defective products. If a product is manufactured in or imported into Britain after the summer of 1988 and it is defective and the defect causes death or personal injury, the sufferer will not have to prove negligence against the defendant — it will be presumed. The Bill would introduce precisely the same concept into the much larger, broader, more anguished and common area of road traffic accidents, in respect of which 250,000 families are affected each year by the nonsense and lack of sense and compassion of the law as it stands.

Strangely enough, matters are getting steadily worse. In Leicestershire, for example, the number of people killed on the county's roads during the first three months of this year was almost double that for the same period in 1985. Seat belts have done some good, but they have not removed the miseries of the road casualty. The Bill would provide for no-fault liability.

The question that would then arise is, who would pay for the reform? Part of the problem is that a private Member's Bill cannot involve public expenditure, because that is contrary to the rules. Part of the answer lies in the removal from lawyers and courts of cases which could properly be dealt with through a different and much less expensive system. Money would therefore be saved. Part of the answer may lie in the system which exists in New Zealand and which, I am told, is to be introduced in Australia. The state operates a scheme with or without insurance companies. The answer may lie in the insurers bearing the cost, as part of the cost would be saved by their not being forced into litigation, courts and unworthy and unnecessary costs. Part of the cost might be added to insurance premiums. I reckon that most motorists would be pleased to pay that price if it meant that, in the event of an accident, they would stand a chance of getting compensation such as is denied to them at present.

I wish to pay tribute to the memory of Lord Pearson, a man for whom I had enormous affection and respect. I wish that his report in this respect had not been hidden away since 1979–80. At least this Bill will bring to the attention of the House, the Government and the public the fact that the forensic lottery must end. That was the Pearson commission's description of this unduly slow and expensive to administer system. One day, some 45 per cent. of the cost of tort compensation will cease to be swallowed in administration costs and people will get the compensation to which they are entitled.

If the House accepts the Bill, it will add to people's prospects of getting justice. As the Pearson commission said in respect of product liability, there is no justice in our courts for most of our citizens. Those who are poor enough to get legal aid can bring a case to court, those who are rich enough not to need it may sue or defend, but for those who, like most of us, come somewhere in between, there is no hope of fighting a case. That is why some three quarters of accident victims who deserve compensation get none.

In those circumstances, I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce the Bill as the start of a campaign which I trust will end as did the product liability campaign—with a change in the law.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Greville Janner, Mr. Stuart Bell, Mr. Gerald Bermingham, Mr. Tony Blair, Mr. Gordon Brown, Mr. Alfred Dubs, Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. Ron Leighton and Mr. Geoffrey Robinson.

Road Traffic Accidents Compensation For Victims

Mr. Greville Janner accordingly presented a Bill to provide compensation for victims of road traffic accidents without proof of fault and for related purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 4 July and to be printed. [Bill 169.]

Building Societies Bill Money (No 2)

Queens Recommendation having been signified—

Ordered,

That, for the purpose of any Act resulting from the Building Societies Bill, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of money provided by Parliament of any expenses incurred by the Treasury for the purposes of tribunals established in pursuance of that Act to hear appeals against decisions of the Building Societies Commission established by that Act relating to the authorisation of building societies to raise funds and borrow money.—[Mr. Ian Stewart.]

Orders Of The Day

Building Societies Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 3

Power To Amend, Etc, To Assimilate To Company Law

'(1) If, on any modification of the statutory provisions in force in Great Britain or Northern Ireland relating to companies, it appears to the Treasury to be expedient to modify the relevant provisions of this Act for the purpose of assimilating the law relating to companies and the law relating to building societies, the Treasury may, by order, make such modifications of the relevant provisions of this Act as they think appropriate for that purpose.

(2) The "relevant provisions of this Act" are the following provisions as for the time being in force, that is to say—

  • (a) so much of Part VI as relates to investigations or inspections;
  • (b) the provisions of part VII (management);
  • (c) the provisions of Part VIII (accounts and audit); and
  • (d) so much of Part IX as relates to winding up.
  • (3) The power conferred by subsection (1) above includes power to modify the relevant provisions of this Act so as to—

  • (a) confer power to make orders, regulations, rules or other subordinate legislation;
  • (b) create criminal offences; or
  • (c) provide for the charging of fees but not any charge in the nature of taxation.
  • (4) An order under this section may—

  • (a) make consequential amendments of or repeals in other provisions of this act; or
  • (b) make such transitional or saving provisions as appear to the Treasury to he necessary or expendient.
  • (5) The power to make an order under this section is exercisable by statutory instrument but no such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

    (6) In this section—

    "modification" includes any additions and, as regards modifications of the statutory provisions relating to companies, any modification whether effected by any future act or by an instrument made after the passing of this Act under an Act whenever passed; and
    "statutory provisions" includes the provisions of any instrument made under an Act.'. — [Mr. Ian Stewart.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    4.37 pm

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    The new clause provides that if in future changes are made to the law relating to companies such as are also appropriate for building societies, comparable provisions can be made by statutory instrument to apply those changes to building societies.

    By way of example, I should mention clauses 57 to 60, which deal with loans to directors and cover matters which were enacted for companies in 1980 but which had to wait for several years for primary legislation to extend them to building societies. The power proposed in new clause 3 would enable building societies to be brought into line and to avoid that problem in future.

    The Opposition have nothing of substance to argue with in the new clause. If company legislation is amended and the Government want to amend building society legislation accordingly, the new clause empowers them to do that without too much fuss. We believe that that is quite logical.

    As building societies are to have more commercial purposes and as large sections of the Bill are derived or borrowed from company legislation, it seems logical to empower the Treasury to relate new and amended company legislation to building societies without primary legislation.

    Only one matter has occurred to the Opposition upon which we would like assurance. In the first place, the legislation would be thoroughly scrutinised by the House if the House wished to take that opportunity. Will the Minister explain why such alterations were contemplated? Under subsection (5), that must be done by affirmative resolution. There will be ample opportunity for scrutiny and questioning about its purpose and relevance. Therefore, the Opposition do not take issue with the Government over the new clause.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 4

    Service Of Notices

    '.(1) This section has effect in relation to any notice, directions or other document required or authorised by or under any provision of this Act or by the rules of a building society to be served on any person other than the Commission and the central office but subject, in the case of notices or other documents to be given or sent to members of a building society, to any provision of its rules.

    (2) Any such document may be served on the person in question—

  • (a) by delivering it to him;
  • (b) by leaving it at his proper address; or
  • (c) by sending it by post to him at that address.
  • (3) Any such document may—

  • (a) in the case of a building society, be served on the secretary of the society;
  • (b) in the case of a body corporate (other than a building society), be served on the secretary or clerk of that body;
  • (c) in the case of a partnership, be served on any partner;
  • (d) in the case of an unincorporated association other than a partnership, be served on any member of its governing body.
  • (4) For the purposes of this section and section 7 of the Interpretation Act 1978 (service of documents) in its application to this section, the proper address of any person is—

  • (a) in the case of a building society or its secretary, the address of its principal office;
  • (b) in the case of a member of a building society, his registered address;
  • (c) in the case of a director or the chief executive of a building society, his officially notified address;
  • (d) in the case of a body corporate (other than a building society) its secretary or clerk, the address of its registered or principal office in the United Kingdom;
  • (e) in the case of an unincorporated association (other than a partnership) or a member of its governing body, its principal office in the United Kingdom;
  • and, in any other case, his last-known address (whether of his residence or of a place where he carries on business or is employed).'.— [Sir George Young.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    With this it will he convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 7, 33, 125, 131, 136, 143, 148, 151 to 153, 157, 159, 164, 179, 180, 187, 210, 215, 217, 218,155, 234, 241,242,255,263 to 267, 275,290, 292,306,333,337, and 341.

    New clause 4 and the Government amendments are a series of relatively unexciting and mainly technical amendments which improve the parts of the Bill which cover communications between a society and its members, and a society and the commission and the central office.

    If ever a true word were spoken, it is that this batch of amendments is totally unexciting. Having examined each amendment separately, there were times when I just had to hold on. I can underline what the Minister has said.

    In politics nothing is quite what it seems. We are discussing a great batch of amendments, starting with new clause 4. We believe that the Bill contains certain matters of principle and the remainder is administrative superstructure. While we accept that the superstructure must be correct—and that is important—we intend as a matter of tactics and strategy to confine our main lines of argument to what is controversial, not to these administrative matters which form part of the superstructure of the Bill.

    The amendments largely cover technical matters, but we must be assured that the procedures are logical, watertight and, if challenged, accord with principles of natural justice. We have examined all the amendments and are satisfied that these steps meet the criteria needed. Provided that the Government are satisfied that they meet the needs of potential problems that might arise, we give the amendments our approval. With that, the Opposition will not challenge the clause or the amendments.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 6

    Power To Make Advances Secured On Land Overseas

    '. — (1) The appropriate authority may, with a view to conferring on building societies or building societies of particular descriptions powers to make advances to members secured on land outside the United Kingdom corresponding to the powers to make advances secured on land within the United Kingdom, by order—

  • (a) designate countries or territories outside the United Kingdom as countries or territories as respects which advances under this section may be made secured on the land;
  • (b) specify, or provide for the specification by direction of the Commission under the order of the forms of security on land which may be taken for advances under this section, in any prescribed circumstances and subject to any prescribed conditions;
  • (c) determine, or provide for the determination under the order of, the classification of the advances (and accordingly of the mortgage debts) as class 1 advances or class 2 advances for the purposes of the requirements of this Part for the structure of commercial assets;
  • (d) provide for the application of the provisions of this Part applicable to advances secured on land to advances under this section with such modifications as appear to be appropriate;
  • (e) provide for any other provisions of this Act to have effect in relation to advances under this section with such modifications as appear to be appropriate; and
  • (f) make such incidental, supplemental or transitional provision as appears to be necessary or expedient.
  • (2) Any powers conferred on building societies under this section may be conferred on building societies of a specified description or all building societies other than those of a specified description.

    (3) Where, by virtue of an order under subsection (1) above, advances are made by a building society on the security of land outside the United Kingdom, the aggregate amount of mortgage debts outstanding in respect of such of those advances as are class 2 advances under the order shall count in accordance with section 18 towards the limit applicable to class 2 assets under that section.

    (4) Subsection (3) above is subject to any provision contained in the order.

    (5) The "appropriate authority" for making an order under subsection (1) above is—

  • (a) as regards the relevant British overseas territories, the Commission acting with the consent of the Treasury, and
  • (b) as regards other countries or territories, the Treasury.
  • (6) The power to make an order under subsection (1) above is exercisable by statutory instrument and, as regards the procedure applicable to such an order,—

  • (a) if the instrument designates other countries or territories than any of the relevant British overseas territories, the order shall not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament, and
  • (b) if the instrument designates any relevant British overseas territory and no other country or territory, the instrument shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
  • (7) In this section—

    "relevant British overseas territories" means the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man and Gibraltar;
    "security on land" includes any right or power in or over land to secure the payment of a debt and "secured on land" has a corresponding meaning;
    "specified" means specified in an order under subsection (1) above;

    and any reference to a provision of this Part is a reference to that provision as applied to advances under this section. — [Sir George Young.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    With this it will be convenient to take the following: Government new clause 7 — Qualifying asset holding for certain powers.

    Government new clause 23—Loans for mobile homes (No. 2).

    Government amendments Nos. 6, 56, 58 to 60, 62 to 64, 240, 243 and 246.

    In fairness to the amendments that we have just dealt with, I said not that they were "totally unexciting", but that they were "relatively unexciting". The totally unexciting amendments will be dealt with in a moment.

    New clause 6 honours a commitment that my hon. Friend gave in Committee. New clauses 7 and 23 deal with mobile homes. The Government believe that it is important to provide more help for the mobile home sector. These days, mobile homes are a far cry from the caravans whose image they share. Mobile homes are prefabricated units built to a high specification conforming to BSI requirements and they have a life of at least 25 years. The fittings are of a high quality and all main services are laid on. They are mobile in the sense that they can be dismantled and moved to a new site.

    It is appropriate that building societies should be given greater powers to lend on security of a mobile home than other class 2 lending powers. After considering the position, the Government have decided to make an exception on mobile homes to the £5,000 limit on class 3 loans to individuals. Societies with a qualifying assets holding will be able to lend up to £10,000 on the security of a mobile home.

    I should like to introduce my brief remarks by declaring an interest. I have the honour and privilege to he a vice-president of the Building Societies Association.

    I support the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment. I am sure that one way in which building societies can help is to lend money at realistic and responsible rates of interest to people who want to exercise their right to buy but who, through dint of circumstance, are unable to do so through normal and traditional methods. The only way these people can achieve that is to acquire a mobile home.

    My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State introduced legislation which brought security of tenure to those who had previously found that, although they owned a home, they did not own the land on which their home was situated. The Government have secured for them the right to ownership through the Mobile Homes Act 1983. Building societies have a responsibility to ensure that these vulnerable people who own and occupy mobile homes on mobile parks are protected. Hon. Members on both sides of the House who have mobile home parks in their constituencies know that these people do not consider themselves as owner-occupiers or council tenants in the first place. They consider themselves to be home owners in the last resort. Such people could fall prey to consumer credit organisations which charge rates of interest far in excess of those charged by responsible and prudent building societies.

    I commend the new clause. I issue a challenge to building societies to allocate significant funds to extend to a large section of the mobile home community the opportunity to exercise the right to buy and the right to home ownership.

    I declare an interest as the parliamentary adviser to the Midshires Building Society.

    New clause 6, when exercised, will give building societies the power to lend on property overseas. Does my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State intend to ensure that building societies will be given early powers to lend on land in Great Britain, for example, in the Channel Islands and on the Isle of Man?

    It is an anomaly that building societies are not able to lend on the security of land in these islands. Other financial institutions in the United Kingdom with which building societies compete—the banks and the trustee savings banks, for which my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury has responsibility—are able to do business on the Isle of Man and in the Channel Islands. Will my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary ensure that building societies are given powers to carry out business in those territories, even though the House understands that there are many overseas territories in which he would not wish to authorise building societies to act as that might be detrimental to the interests of lenders?

    I do not wish to anticipate what the Minister might say, but I believe that the points that have been raised in relation to the Channel Islands and Gibraltar have been dealt with satisfactorily by the Government in other new clauses.

    I also declare an interest, although this is not a financial interest. I am also a vice-president of the Building Societies Association for which I am not paid. That is a great honour.

    The hon. Member for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Heddle) raised the important matter of mobile homes. Increasing numbers of people live in very satisfactory accommodation in mobile homes. There is no reason why building societies should not advance money on a mobile home provided that it is a permanent home on a mobile home site and not a touring caravan or something of the kind that we have read about recently in the newspapers. This is particularly important because nowadays one marriage in three ends in separation or divorce, resulting in great economic difficulties. It is all very well in Hollywood or on the screen among very rich families, but most ordinary families in this country cannot afford divorce and the cost of supporting an ex-wife as well as a current one. Often the husband or the wife—usually the husband—gives or is forced to give the matrimonial home to the spouse and family and would himself be homeless if he could not occupy a mobile home.

    It is extremely sensible to provide that building societies may lend on mobile homes, and the Building Societies Association entirely agrees with what the Government are doing, but the association has just one query about the wording of the new clause. It seems not to deal with joint loans in relation to mobile homes. The association believes that the Bill should provide that a joint loan to two or more persons should be treated as though it were a loan to one of those persons for the purposes of the relevant limits. As this will not be a class 1 loan, the overall limit for class 2 or class 3 loans could be affected. Perhaps the Government could make it clear susequently, either here or in another place, that a joint loan will be treated as one loan.

    We are going through the Bill at exhilarating speed, but the Government's luck cannot last. Nevertheless, the Opposition support the new clauses and the amendments.

    It was pointed out in Committee that it made more sense for building societies to lend directly overseas rather than through a clutter of subsidiaries, but one or two questions arise in relation to the new clause. I appreciate the distinction between the negative resolution procedure in relation to designated British overseas territories and the affirmative resolution procedure in relation to other overseas territories. These presumably correspond to the possible degrees of risk on categories of secured investments, the firmer security of the affirmative procedure being required as a check by the House.

    Subsection (5)(a) of new clause 6 provides for the commission to act with the consent of the Treasury, but under subsection (5)(b) the Treasury will act on its own. Perhaps the Minister will explain why in one case the Treasury will advise the commission whereas in the other the Treasury will act alone.

    In new clause 7 it makes a great deal of sense to separate the two principles originally contained within the framework of clause 14.

    By and large, all these provisions make a great deal of sense, and the provisions with regard to mobile homes are to be welcomed. I shall therefore say no more on that subject as I am most encouraged by all that has been said already.

    A number of points have been raised in this short debate. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Cockeram) that it is indeed our intention to lay orders at an early stage providing the relevant powers in relation to relevant overseas territories.

    The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) made a fair point about joint loans. The Government will look again at the point and if we are convinced of the logic of the case we shall take appropriate steps in another place.

    With regard to new clause 6, the Government agreed in Committee to consider an order-making power to allow societies to act directly overseas rather than through subsidiaries, thus allowing flexibility to reconsider arrangements for overseas operations if circumstances—for example, in the EEC—should change. Although the provisions in the Bill already go beyond what is available in most other states and are entirely consistent with our treaty obligations and with the draft directive, the Government have looked at the matter again and in the interests of flexibility we have decided to include an order-making power for direct operations.

    On the rather technical question about the Treasury acting on its own volition or giving advice, I should like to reflect on what the right hon. Gentleman has said and write to him or see that his representative in another place gives him the answer.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 7

    Qualifying Asset Holding For Certain Powers

    ' .—(1) This section has effect for determining for the purposes of this Act whether, in any financial year, a building society has a "qualifying asset holding".

    (2) A building society has a qualifying asset holding in any financial year if, and only if, the aggregate value of its total commercial assets, as shown in its annual accounts for the previous year, is not less than £100 million or such other amount as may be substituted for it under subsection (3) below.

    (3) The Commission, with the consent of the Treasury, may by order made by statutory instrument substitute for the amount for the time being specified in subsection (2) above such other amount as the Commission considers appropriate.

    (4) An order under subsection (3) above may contain such transitional provisions as the Commission considers necessary or expedient.

    (5) An instrument containing an order under subsection (3) above shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'. — [Mr. Ian Stewart.]

    Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

    New Clause 8

    Officers And Auditors Not To Be Exempted From Liability

    ' .—(1) Subject to subsection (3) below, any provision to which this section applies, whether contained in the rules of a building society or in any contract with a building society o