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Commons Chamber

Volume 124: debated on Wednesday 16 December 1987

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House Of Commons

Wednesday 16 December 1987

The House met at half-past Two o'clock

Prayers

[MR. SPEAKER in the Chair]

Foreign And Commonwealth Affairs

Soviet Union (Human Rights)

1.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what further details have emerged about Soviet human rights violations over the last 12 months.

We are monitoring Soviet human rights performance closely and are aware that substantial abuses continue. I discussed these issues with Mr. Shevardnadze at Brize Norton on 7 December. While welcoming recent steps forward in Soviet performance, I stressed the need for further major progress in this area and handed over lists of individual cases about which we have received representations.

Bearing in mind that 51,000 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate in 1979, and that only 7,000 have been so allowed this year, will my right hon. and learned Friend tell the House whether his talks on 7 December gave reasonable hope that the Soviet Union might relax its stringent policy in this regard and perhaps pay more respect to the human rights that we should all like to see develop in that country?

The case that I was making to Mr. Shevardnadze, which we have continued to make to Soviet leaders on many occasions, is precisely that put by my hon. Friend.

Although the figures for Soviet Jewish emigration this year — 7,000 — are encouraging, they are very low compared with those achieved in the 1970s, with a peak of 51,000 in 1979. We shall continue to press the Soviet Union for more progress in that and every other aspect of human rights.

Will the Foreign Secretary explain what entitles us to lecture the Soviet Union on human rights, in the light of the number of innocent people in our own gaols? I refer in particular to the 11 innocent people convicted in connection with the Guildford and Woolwich pub bombings.

Anyone who poses such a question must be blind to almost every aspect of the facts about both societies. The cases to which the hon. Gentleman refers, like any cases of that kind, can be—and are—the subject of massive and extensive public debate in a press that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a Parliament that is entirely free; the subject of investigation in a court system; and, beyond that, subject to the surveillance of the European Commission of Human Rights, as is every other aspect of human rights. I urge the hon. Gentleman to go back to his school room and study the most elementary facts of international politics.

Will my right hon. and learned Friend make urgent representations to the Israeli Government about the infringement of human rights of the Arabs, whose countries have been invaded—

I was going to continue, Mr. Speaker, to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he would bear true regard to the effect of the influx of population from the Soviet Union to Israel, which resulted in deprivation of human rights among those whose land of birth has been invaded and abused by the military forces of the state of Israel.

I suppose that that question is remotely connected with the one on the Order Paper, and the answer is quite straightforward. In the interests of individual Soviet citizens of Jewish origin who wish to emigrate we shall continue to press the Soviet Union for freedom for those who wish to leave to be allowed to do so. That is an elementary component of the human rights case that we have pressed on the Soviet Union. With equal candour, we shall urge the Israelis to avoid all actions that may exacerbate conditions, create further obstacles to peace, increase the risk of confrontation and disregard the human rights of all the people who live in their territory. Our standards are the same and apply to both places in the same way.

Vienna Conference

2.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs whether he is satisfied with progress at the conference on security and co-operation in Europe, Vienna conference, and in particular with the response of the Eastern countries to the proposals in respect of the privacy and integrity of mails and communications put forward by the United Kingdom and other delegations.

No, Sir. Some progress has been made in negotiations on a final document, but movement on human rights and contacts remains slow. There have been no significant developments on privacy and integrity of mails and telecommunications since my reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, South (Mr. Sumberg) on 18 November, at column 599.

Will the Minister accept my sympathy and understanding of his dissatisfaction that progress has not been made, as many of us are also dissatisfied? Does he accept that the article in The Times on 8 December about the Shapiro family is one that deserves attention? At this time of the year children all over the world are writing to Santa Claus asking for their Christmas wishes to be granted, and a little girl of 10 has written to Mr. Gorbachev asking that she and her family might be allowed to go to Israel to meet her grandparents whom she has never seen. Does the Minister agree that that letter could be answered positively, and will he encourage such an answer to be given?

Yes, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. As part of the contact that we have with the Soviet authorities we take the opportunity to put forward human rights cases in the hope that they can be resolved— a number have been—and to point out to leading figures in the Soviet Union that the growth of trust and confidence between East and West will take place only when human rights are as rigorously observed there as we try to ensure they are observed within our society.

Is my hon. and learned Friend aware of the apparent connivance of the British Post Office in readily accepting the signatures of officials who sign receipts for registered mail in the Soviet Union? It is clear that that mail does not arrive. Should we not take further action in this country to ensure that we accept the signatures only of the people to whom the mail is addressed?

My hon. Friend has raised an extremely important point. He will be glad to know that, as part of the Vienna CSCE process, we have tabled a document calling upon all participants to agree procedures that would mean that only the addressee, or an agent nominated by him—not one put up by the authorities—should be able to give a receipt in those circumstances. We believe that that and a number of other proposals put forward would guarantee much greater freedom for mail than we have any reason to believe exists at present.

The final document from Vienna has now been postponed for at least six months. Would progress there be much quicker if we were to recognise the spirit of Helsinki and realise that that conference consists of 35 nations of Europe and North America and not groups representing Eastern Europe, Western Europe and non-aligned countries? Should we not try to work together as countries of Europe and North America rather than as groups reflecting political philosophies?

Even though quite a lot of work is done through groups, there are already 140 different proposals on the table and no sign yet that anyone is able to knock those proposals together into something that is acceptable to all. Obviously, we hope that, as the climate improves between East and West, it will be possible to make progress on those issues. None of us wants to see the groups outlive their usefulness. However, at the moment the only prospect of making any progress is by trying to build as large a consensus as possible within groups on matters that can be collectively discussed.

South Africa (Front-Line States)

3.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what economic assistance the Government have given to the front-line Southern African states.

We have long been involved in working to strengthen the economies of the front-line states and to reduce their economic and transport dependence on South Africa. Since 1980 we have given £642 million to the front-line states bilaterally and pledged £35 million to projects of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference.

I thank my right hon. Friend for her full answer and congratulate the Government on the constructive progress that they are making in support of the front-line states. Public attention is naturally focused on the northern end of the continent, Ethiopia, particularly at Christmas with the tragedy that is unfolding there, but what is the refugee position in Mozambique and what are the Government able to do to help?

During my recent visit to Mozambique and Malawi I announced in Malawi our willingness to provide substantial humanitarian aid for Mozambican refugees in Malawi. My hon. Friend the Minister for Overseas Development is awaiting a detailed breakdown of the food and basic requirements of those refugees from the Malawi Government. Further, we are looking at the needs of Mozambicans who have been forced to flee their homes because of attacks on them.

Does the Minister accept that if the constant attempts at destabilisation that are being carried out day by day — including the recent attack in Botswana — are allowed to continue without Her Majesty's Government imposing adequate sanctions against those who permit apartheid, it does not matter how much economic aid is given to the front-line states?

I have discussed this issue with the President of Mozambique. I should tell the hon. Lady that whatever happens in South Africa—we strongly oppose any form of apartheid, the bandits of RENA RMO, or any other group, who are varied and perpetrating the most awful acts against children and adults across Mozambique— I do not believe that sanctions on South Africa would be of any help whatsoever. President Chissano is seeking to bring about peace between the people of Mozambique. I hope that any country that might be involved in cross-border violations will cease to do so forthwith. There is no reason whatsoever for cross-border violations.

As it has recently been announced that a complete Cuban division has been sent to Angola, and $1 billion has been sent in armament aid by the Soviet Union, will my right hon. Friend assure me that no aid from Great Britain has gone to that country? If it has, surely our ideas are fundamentally wrong.

I assure my hon. Friend that in no way are we assisting Angola, other than in a humanitarian sense. Some £317,000 has gone to Angola for human, civil projects, and not for any other.

Does the right hon. Lady accept that the contribution that the Government have made — on a Government-to-Government basis — to the front-line states since 1980 has declined in real terms, according to 1986 figures, by just under half? Bearing in mind that the Prime Minister has refused to co-operate on sanctions, but has said that she prefers to give help to the front-line states which are being so violated by the apartheid regime, does the Minister not think that more help should be given from now on?

I must tell the hon. Lady that the help that Britain has given to the front-line states has been universally acclaimed as the right way to gain the economic independence of those front-line states, particularly the land-locked countries of Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. That has been helpful to them and will continue to be so, whatever value is given. In the past year alone, civil aid to the front-line states was over £80 million and a further £4·5 million was provided in military assistance for training.

East-West Relations

4.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on East-West relations.

We welcome the results of the Washington summit and hope that the intermediate nuclear forces agreement will lead to further effective and verifiable arms control measures. The more stable and cooperative East-West relationship that we want also requires full Soviet respect for human rights and cooperation over regional conflicts, including early withdrawal from Afghanistan.

The House will rejoice at the signing of the INF treaty in Washington and the roles that were played by my right hon. and learned Friend and the Prime Minister in the successful conclusion of the talks. Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that future progress on East-West talks must clearly be linked to the Russians demonstrating, not only by word but by deed, that they are fit to be treated as the moral equals of the West and that they must get out of Afghanistan?

I am grateful for my hon. Friend's support of the INF treaty. I am sure that the House will join me in expressing the hope that it will be speedily ratified and brought into force. I agree with what my hon. Friend said about the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The continued presence of over 100,000 Soviet troops there and the continued absence, as refugees, of 5 million Afghan people from their own country are severe obstacles to the proper development of full relations between East and West. Improvement in that respect is one of the several touchstones by which we shall judge the long-term attitude of the Soviet Union.

Is not the Foreign Secretary now trying to undermine the INF treaty, which was signed only a week ago, by entering into negotiations for an Anglo-French air-launched missile, thereby destroying the arrangement that previously existed? Will he not be regarded as committing an even greater crime against humanity than those that have been perpetrated by other members of the Government Front Bench?

The intemperate language that the hon. Gentleman seems to find it so difficult to resist demonstrates the total emptiness of his question. We have negotiated and worked long and hard to secure completion of the INF agreement. We welcome it and want to see it ratified, endorsed, and fully in effect. At the same time, we are perfectly entitled, just as the Soviet Union and its allies are, to maintain the effectiveness of forces that are not covered by the agreement.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that while Soviet citizens who apply to emigrate continue to be persecuted, and while religious and political dissidents continue to be subjected to imprisonment, systematic torture and psychiatric abuse, it would not be prudent to regard glasnost as anything more than another exercise in exploring the frontiers of Western gullibility?

Certainly we should keep in mind the extent to which standards in the Soviet Union and in other Eastern European countries fall well short of those enjoined by the Helsinki agreement. At the same time, we must acknowledge that many subjects that were not previously under discussion are now open for discussion. We welcome that as an important step in the right direction. We want to take advantage of that increased openness to achieve the higher standards for which my hon. Friend rightly presses.

Sri Lanka

5.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what representations he has made to the Indian Government concerning the refugee situation in Jaffna, Sri Lanka.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
(Mr. Tim Eggar)

We have made no representations. We understand that few people left Jaffna during the recent fighting, although there was severe dislocation within the province. The Indian Government have since provided relief supplies. Services are now being restored and life is gradually returning to normal.

Does the Minister realise that there are no independent and reliable reports of what is going on in Jaffna? The International Red Cross is not being allowed in to bring humanitarian and medical aid. There may be thousands of homeless people or refugees. Many people outside Jaffna are asking, "If the Indian Government have nothing to hide, why do they not allow in independent observers and agencies?" Is it not about time that the Government made representations in strong terms to the Indian Government to allow the International Red Cross and other observers to find out exactly what is going on in the province and to try to assist what may still be a severely disruptive and unsatisfactory international situation?

I am not entirely sure where the hon. Gentleman gets his information. Many people appear to have fled their homes during the fighting, but most, if not all, returned later. Food and medical supplies are being provided by the Indian Government. The hon. Gentleman will be delighted to hear that on 10 December, in Colombo, Her Majesty's Government were represented at a meeting that was convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Will my hon. Friend make it absolutely clear to the House that the harm that is being done to refugees on the Jaffna peninsula lies clearly at the door of the Tamil Tigers, who have a callous disregard for civilian life, and not at the door of the Indian Government'?

We very much support the agreement reached between the Indian Government and the Sri Lankan Government. We believe that that agreement is the only route to a lasting solution of the ethnic conflict.

Horn Of Africa

6.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what report he has received from the United Kingdom ambassador to the United Nations concerning United Nations policy towards the Horn of Africa.

We are continuously in touch with developments through Her Majesty's ambassadors to Djibouti, Ethiopia and Somalia and our permanent representative to the United Nations in New York. The United Nations development programme resident representative in Addis Ababa, Mr. Michael Priestley, is co-ordinating work to alleviate the current famine in Ethiopia and he has our fullest support.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is tragic that three quarters of Ethiopia's national wealth is now spent on arms, that Ethiopia has just secured a $4 billion credit from the Russian Government for further arms procurement, and that no fewer than 300,000 young Ethiopians have now been press-ganged into the armed forces? Is it not time that the Ethiopian Government started to discover ways of resolving internal strife in Ethiopia and spent less on arms and more on food? Will my right hon. Friend urge our ambassador at the United Nations, for whom we have the greatest respect, to try to bring pressure to bear on the Ethiopian Government, through the international community in the shape of the United Nations, to start peacefully to resolve Ethiopia's internal difficulties so that that country can begin to produce food to keep itself once more?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is a tragic situation, and we very much regret the continued fighting. It is causing great hardship and threatening the international relief effort. On 13 November we and our European partners deplored the attack on and destruction of a United Nations relief aid convoy. As I have said before in the House, a ceasefire based on humanitarian considerations would relieve much suffering and assist relief efforts. We, together with our European partners, will continue to urge progress towards a peaceful solution of the internal conflicts in Ethiopia, and I am sure that our ambassador at the United Nations will do all that he can to bring home to the Ethiopian Government what is going on.

In the long term, Ethiopia will improve its ability to feed itself only if the Ethiopian Government's agricultural policies stop discouraging farmers in the more fertile regions from growing food. They can produce a surplus to feed the growing population and provide reserves against natural disasters.

I welcome the Minister's comments about the efforts of the Government and of the international community in working for peace in Ethiopia. Nevertheless, will the right hon. Lady make it clear that the fact that a tragic war is taking place will not be made an excuse to listen to the voices that are sometimes heard in the House as a reason not to give aid to the civilian population of Ethiopia?

The Government and all hon. Members wish to see humanitarian aid given to the Ethiopian people, but there is no way in which we will help the Ethiopian Government, who, as my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Baldry) said, are spending tremendous amounts of money on armaments rather than feeding their own people. Therefore, all our efforts will be towards humanitarian aid and persuading the Ethiopian Government that their policies of villagisation and forced resettlement are wrong, counter-productive and not in the interests of their people or of anyone else in that region.

Is it not clear that a major element in the serious and worrying famine setting in once again in Ethiopia is the continuing warfare? Will Her Majesty's Government press, through the United Nations and our allies, for the early removal of foreign military forces from Ethiopia — specifically the large contingents of Soviet military bloc advisers and Cuban forces, which have been aiding the puppet Mengistu regime?

As my hon. Friend probably knows, we have already pressed for that, and we shall continue to do so. Our frustration — like that of the rest of the free world wishing to see Ethiopia able to cope with its ghastly famine problem—is that we are not listened to as we would be listened to by most other sensible nations. In that respect, there is a marked contrast between the way in which the Ethiopian Government have responded to the need for food and the way in which the Mozambican Government have responded by handing the land back to the people of Mozambique and increasing the production of food for their own people.

European Community

7.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he last met the European Commissioner, Lord Cockfield; and what matters were discussed.

I last met Lord Cockfield on 18 November, when we discussed matters of current interest in the Community, notably the negotiations on the Community's financial situation.

Has the Secretary of State raised with Lord Cockfield the concern that many of us feel about the regional and social effects of his proposals concerning the internal market; in particular, proposals to open up public supply contracts and harmonise VAT rates? Will he give us an undertaking that he will not proceed further along this road of the internal market until a full assessment of the social and regional effects on the least well-off is published?

I should not be disposed to accept the hon. Lady's advice in that respect. The fulfilment of the internal market, which is one of the central objectives of the Community and has been so from the outset, is rightly recognised as an important objective. We have been making significant progress in that direction recently, for example, with the fulfilment of the internal air transport agreement. Of course, it is necessary for the Community's structural funds to continue to be operated in a fashion best designed to help those areas most entitled to support, but that is no reason for not securing early progress with the internal market.

Will not the single European market proposed for 1992 be enormously beneficial to this country, provided that British business is sufficiently alert to seize the opportunity that it will provide? Yesterday the president of the CBI made remarks about the low level of awareness of British business, which is about 5 per cent. compared with that of other countries, for example, France, where the figure is 80 per cent. Bearing that in mind, what consultations is my right hon. and learned Friend having with his colleagues about the means of improving British business awareness.

I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend. The single market does not just involve the establishment of common rules and the elimination of trade barriers. It involves persuading the leadership of British commerce and industry of the importance of that market and of the challenges and opportunities that it offers. It is for that reason that my right hon. and noble Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry is launching a campaign precisely of the sort that my right hon. Friend has in mind to help British industry increase and make the most of opportunities that will be offered by completion of the market by 1992.

Will the Foreign Secretary consider the fact that, since the Community was created, regional imbalances have increased and that, although the completion of the internal market may generate new economic activity within the Community, it will not benefit the regions unless the Government and other Community Governments take specific measures to ensure that? Why will he not make such a study? Is it because it would embarrass the Government?

No. The hon. Gentleman knows that, since before world war two, and throughout the decades which have governed our politics, regional policy has been the subject of almost continuous study and adjustment. It is still something which the Government study very closely as part of the wider components of Community regional policy embodied in the structural funds. Any such devices should be effective for the purpose for which they are advocated.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that not only British business, but the British Government, stand to gain from the early achievement of the common market? Will he ensure that other Departments in Whitehall, besides the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, are made aware that it concerns all of them?

My hon. Friend is right. It is one of the reasons why we have always adopted a structure of government in relation to the Community that is designed to enlist the interest and support of all Departments of State. It is right, for example, that the establishment of sufficient openness in the awarding of public sector contracts should be regarded as an obligation by all Government Departments. I endorse the point made by my hon. Friend.

Given that a number of MEPs have already raised the issue of the imprisonment of environmentalists and the suppression of their organisations in Malaysia, and that British and other European tourists have come under threat of similar treatment, to such an extent that some have been forced to leave Malaysia very precipitately—

What representations has the Foreign Secretary made to the EEC Commissioners, or what representations does he intend to make, on these issues?

So far as any representations are appropriate in respect of such matters, they will have been made direct to the Malaysian Government.

Afghanistan

8.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the latest initiatives to remove Soviet troops from Afghanistan.

The European Council recently called on the Soviet Union to withdraw all its forces from Afghanistan by 1988. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister reinforced this message when she met Mr. Gorbachev last week.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that although it is encouraging that the Soviet Union has given several signs recently of wishing to adopt a. less menacing posture in the world, it is in direct contradiction to that that it should pursue the subjugation by brutal military force of a neighbouring country? Will my right hon. and learned Friend assure the House that if the representations that he and the Prime Minister are making yield no result he will, in due time, consider with out allies what further support and aid we can give to the Afghan resistance?

The best support that we can give to the case for Afghan self-determination is that represented by the pressure that we and our partners in the European Community and the overwhelming majority of the United Nations have given year after year, pressing for the withdrawal of all Soviet troops, the return of the 5 million refugees with honour and safety, and the restoration of Afghanistan's non-alignment and independence. The Afghan people must be given the right to self-determination. We shall continue to take whatever action seems most appropriate to secure that end.

As someone who attacked the Soviet Union for going into Afghanistan at the time and who has always taken the view since that the sooner Soviet troops left the sooner the people of Afghanistan could have their own freedom, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman will consider my view that there should be initiatives to ask the United States of America to remove itself from various parts of the world and not to bolster up reactionary dictatorships, as it does at present?

I must confess that I find it difficult to understand how an hon. Member of the hon. Gentleman's distinction and experience could fall into the trap of equating any other situation with that existing in Afghanistan, which is the source of the world's greatest refugee problem. About 5 million people have been turned out of their homes and 50,000 people have been killed or injured during the past year. That is the most blatant violation of national independence. Afghanistan has seen some of the greatest abuses of human rights that we have ever known. It is not possible to equate any of the matters to which the hon. Gentleman referred with that continuing monstrosity.

Middle East

9.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a further statement on progress towards a middle east peace settlement.

We welcome the Amman summit's endorsement of a peace conference under United Nations auspices and have called on all concerned to agree arrangements for the conference to be held as soon as possible. I shall be discussing these and other matters with senior Israeli Ministers when I visit Israel next month.

In the context of non-progress towards a peace settlement, is my hon. and learned Friend aware that in the past few weeks Israeli repression on the West Bank and in Gaza has been responsible for the killing of more than 20 Palestinians, including several schoolchildren? Bearing in mind that we are a permanent member of the Security Council, even if we cannot compel Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories in accordance with United Nation's resolution, could we not at least do something to curb the brutality of its army of occupation?

We are seriously concerned by the current upsurge in violent incidents, especially in Gaza, and have registered that concern with the Israeli authorities. Certainly, we hope that the Israeli occupation forces will respond in a humane and de-escalatory manner to the incidents that are taking place, because it is important not to intensify the cycle of violence. Of course, we deplore violence from whatever quarter it comes. However, it illustrates the dangers that are inherent in unresolved conflicts and the urgency of the search for a long-term, peaceful settlement in that area.

In the context of the persistent initiatives of Israel's Foreign Minister, Mr. Shimon Peres, for a peace conference, in the setting of the most welcome visit of Israel's President, Chaim Herzog, which ends today, and in recognition of 40 years of Israel's vibrant democracy, which it is now celebrating, will the Minister take this opportunity to express the Government's salute to that democracy and to the joint efforts of Her Majesty's Government and the Israeli Government to achieve that peace settlement and the resolution of those unhappy disputes which lead to such misery for all concerned?

It is a key element of the British Government's policy to recognise the right of Israel to secure existence, and of course we welcome Israel's celebrating its 40th anniversary. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and others are engaged regularly in discussions, notably with Mr. Peres, on the need for an international conference to try to resolve the long-standing problems, particularly of the occupied territories, without which one suspects the future of Israel will be difficult. I very much regret that the position put forward by some in favour of an international conference is not the position of all the Israeli Government.

Will my hon. and learned Friend tell the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) that the vibrancy of Israeli democracy is most strongly felt by the beat of Israeli truncheons on the necks of Palestinian children? Will he tell the Israeli President, who is currently in this country, that the murderous activities of his arrogant stormtroopers in territories in which they have no right to be is totally unacceptable to the House? Will he tell him further, most strongly, that if no action is taken to resolve this issue the Government will take action to help to resolve it?

We must be careful not to appear like competing football fans cheering on our teams in the dispute. Our view is quite clear—I believe the feeling is shared by many people within the state of Israel—that there can be no long-term security for the state of Israel if now almost 50 per cent., and in the future more than 50 per cent., of its citizens are not Israelis but Arabs, many of whom do not feel that they ought to be in Israel. Until that position is resolved, there will be instability. That is why we are doing our best in a non-propagandist way to call for an international conference, in the hope that the moderate leadership of the Arab world will be able to come to terms with the Government of Israel and make some progress under the auspices of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

I join, perhaps rarely, the Minister in the moderate words that he used and say that Labour Members are strongly repelled by the killings in recent days in the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Is he aware that we share the widespread repugnance in the world, even among the friends of the state of Israel, at the use of live ammunition to suppress dissidents in the occupied territories, when their continued existence threatens the permanent peace of the region? Will he take steps to pursue more vigorously the idea of an international conference and to persuade the Prime Minister of Israel, Mr. Shamir—as distinct from his Foreign Minister Peres — of the reckless and almost suicidal nature of his opposition to an international conference?

Very real vigour is being brought to bear on this. If the hon. Gentleman had read the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend to the Conservative Friends of Israel in October he would have seen very great vigour there. We should continue to try to bring to bear all the sensible pressure that we can to make those concerned with the resolution of the dispute realise the reality of the position. I say to the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner), who asked about this earlier, when asking me to commend Israeli democracy, as I am prepared to do, that that democracy is not extended to the occupied territories. Until it is, or until the position is resolved otherwise, there will never be the harmony that we want to see.

El Salvador

10.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he intends to seek to make an official visit to El Salvador in the next year.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no present plans to visit El Salvador.

Will the Minister comment on the likely effect on the civil crisis of statements such as that made by General Bustillo, the Chief of the Armed Forces in El Salvador last Friday, in which he criticised the Left-wing opposition in El Salvador, criticised Amnesty International and made ominous warnings to the Government of El Salvador? Will he make it quite clear that the making of such a statement is utterly incompatible with the training of El Salvadorian military personnel in Britain?

May I say, first, that no military personnel from El Salvador are being trained in Britain at the present time. The whole question of the compliance of all countries in the region with the peace agreement will be considered on 15 January by the five Presidents, as agreed under the Arias plan. It is best to suspend judgment until then.

Does my hon. Friend recall that the Inter-Parliamentary Union will meet in Guatemala in the spring? Will he take this opportunity to express his satisfaction with the restoration of diplomatic relations between this country and Guatemala and perhaps reflect on the part played by the British group in the IPU in furthering that process?

Of course we look forward to the IPU meeting in Guatemala. We are delighted that we have been able to restore diplomatic relations with Guatemala and it may he possible to discuss that further in the next question.

Is the Minister aware that while public attention has been concentrating understandably on the spectacular progress made in implementing the Central American peace plan by the Government of Nicaragua, there has been a regression in the situation in El Salvador? Death squads are back in the streets of San Salvador, two human rights activists have been murdered and the Far Right is flexing its muscles again. Will Her Majesty's Government urge President Duarte to start a dialogue with the opposition and end the murderous attacks on the civilian population?

I do not think that the use of emotive language is very helpful in relation to what is happening in the region. May I state gently to the hon. Gentleman that full civil liberties have still not been restored within Nicaragua. Only recently President Ortega said publicly that the Sandinistas would not hand over power if they lost elections—if elections are held—but would use the army to undermine any elected Government.

Guatemala

11.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will seek to pay an official visit to Guatemala.

My right hon. and learned Friend has no present plans to visit Guatemala.

If the Minister has no plans to visit Guatemala, will he at least recognise that, because of the position in Belize, we have some leverage over events in that area, which we can use for the good of the peace accord? Will he assure the House that it will be impressed upon the Guatemalan Government on every possible occasion that any failure on their part to comply with the peace accord and the general movement towards peace in the area will have extremely adverse effects on the normalisation of our relations with them over Belize?

We welcome the constructive initiatives that have been taken by the Guatemalan Government in accordance with the Guatemalan accord, which that Government played a major part in initiating and following through. Again, I must state that the Presidents from the five countries concerned will be meeting on 15 January to evaluate the progress that has been made.

Should my hon. Friend or my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State reassess the imminence of a visit to Guatemala, will they make a point of calling in on the drug liaison officers posted in the area in Central and South America and ascertain whether they have sufficient support to continue the extremely good work that they have been doing for some years?

I know very well my hon. Friend's great interest in matters relating to drugs in South and Central America. I assure him that I keep a very close watch on that.

If such a meeting takes place, will the hon. Gentleman urge Guatemala to ease the pressure on Belize, as my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) suggested, if only because that may help to co-ordinate efforts against the misuse of drugs in both countries?

That is a matter of concern to us. I know that the hon. Gentleman is aware that the Belize Government have made extensive efforts to eradicate marijuana and have expressed concern about the dangers to that country and others of the traditional marijuana routes being used by cocaine smugglers.

With regard to the state of negotiation between Belize and Guatemala, the hon. Gentleman will be aware that both countries have expressed a willingness to talk. But, sadly, the meeting that took place between the relevant Foreign Ministers in April this year was somewhat disappointing. We hope that both sides will meet again to discuss a way towards settlement.

Aids

12.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what steps he is taking to raise the issue of the global implications of AIDS at ministerial level at the United Nations.

On 20 October my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services addressed a special session of the General Assembly of the United Nations on AIDS. To promote ministerial discussion of AIDS we are also organising a world summit of Health Ministers in London from 26 to 28 January 1988.

The World Health Organisation estimates that within five years there will be 100 million cases of AIDS; in the subsequent five years, most of those people will develop AIDS and die. Does my hon. Friend believe that Ministers are adequately seized of the gravity of the problem?

My hon. Friend rightly stresses the enormous scale of the problem. The threat from AIDS is no respecter of territorial integrity. The WHO should play a central role in the battle against AIDS, and we have given it our full support. We have already contributed £3·25 million to its programme, in addition to the £14 million which has been voted for domestic research into a cure for AIDS. It was precisely for the reasons that my hon. Friend gave that we decided, with the WHO, to host the important summit that will take place in London next year. I am delighted to be able to tell the House that so far we have received 94 firm acceptances from Governments, all of whom—with the exception of only seven countries —will be represented at ministerial level.

Mr Charles Powell

13.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs when he expects Mr. Charles Powell, currently in post at Number 10 Downing street, to return to a post in his Department or as one of Her Majesty's ambassadors.

Does the Foreign Secretary recollect that in paragraph 187 of its report the Select Committee on Defence on Westland, an all-party Committee, confirmed that from 7 January 1986 Mr. Charles Powell was in a position to keep the Prime Minister fully informed about the role of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in relation to the selectively leaked Law Officer's letter? If Mr. Charles Powell was really so incompetent as not to have told the Prime Minister, whom he sees three or four times a day, about the role of the then Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, why is it that he was promoted in post and why did he keep his job—if, if, if?

I have nothing to add to the numerous statements and answers to questions from the hon. Gentleman given by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, especially — in relation to Mr. Powell's promotion — the written answer on 5 November this year, at column 121. Mr. Powell has a justified reputation as a very able official.

Has it not been the mark of the moral bully down the ages that he publicly and gratuitously attacks a man knowing full well that his victim cannot answer back?

Will the Foreign Secretary consider appointing Mr. Charles Powell to a job in the Falkland Islands, where he could begin the process of developing a dialogue between Falkland islanders and the Argentine Government? Is the Foreign Secretary aware that the biggest impediment to that dialogue is the activities of Mr. Patrick Watts, a local journalist, whose manipulation—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In view of the Foreign Secretary's economality with the truth on this, I beg to give notice that I shall seek to raise the matter on the Adjournment.

Commonwealth Conference

14.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the implementation by the United Kingdom of decisions reached at the recent Commonwealth conference.

Many of the Vancouver decisions will take time to implement. We have already provided another 20 training places for black South Africans, we will contribute to greater Commonwealth efforts to assist the front-line states, including Mozambique, and play our part in the Commonwealth Secretariat's working group on distance learning.

In addition to welcoming the trade policy and the training programme which my right hon. Friend mentioned, does she agree with the importance of increasing our trade with and investment in the less developed countries of the Commonwealth, so as to help them?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the first, important things is to make progress in the Uruguay round. The exploratory phase during the first year is on schedule, and detailed negotiations begin next year. In addition, it is important that we continue to make progress on the African debt issue. Two elements of the Chancellor's initiative on sub-Saharan debt — more regional technical assistance and longer rescheduling and grace periods in the Paris club — are already being implemented. We are still trying to persuade other countries to agree lower interest rates. We have offered a contribution to support Mr. Camdessus's initiative to enlarge the IMF structural adjustment facility. We still hope for conclusions to negotiations this year. In future there will be extra finance from the international finance institutions for Caribbean countries, and we hope to have a substantial early increase in the general capital increase in world trade.

Are we not in a unique situation at the Vancouver summit, in that we are isolated from the 47 other members of the Commonwealth on the key issue of sanctions? We are isolated, standing out against the call for a genuine effort to secure the universal adoption of limited sanctions, and we are isolated in refusing to join our Commonwealth colleagues in monitoring the implementation of sanctions. Will the Minister confirm that the Foreign Secretary has vetoed the proposal for a meeting between the European Community countries and the ACP countries on South Africa and has, therefore, true to form, again defended South Africa?

We have done nothing to stand in the way of appropriate dialogue with ACP countries, frontline states and other countries involved in those conflicts. The hon. Gentleman is quite wrong to describe the outcome of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as negative. There was widespread recognition that there is no quick solution and that the momentum for change must come from within South Africa. There was full endorsement of the United Kingdom policy of practical help for the front-line states and for black South Africans.[Interruption.] No, we were not on our own. We had full endorsement. I must say that there was agreement that we will coninue to differ over sanctions, but our common commitment in the Commonwealth to a peaceful and fundamental change through negotiations was agreed on, as well as the importance of dialogue and the enhanced programme of Commonwealth assistance to South Africa's neighbours.

East-West Relations

15.

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what improvements in East-West relations he estimates will follow from the visit of Mr. Gorbachev to Britain.

Mr. Gorbachev's visit to Britain permitted a review of the main issues in East-West relations, arms control, regional conflicts and human rights. It demonstrated both the considerable improvement in our own relations with the Soviet Union and the possibilities for wider co-operation if both sides are ready to discuss our problems openly and constructively.

May I congratulate my hon. and learned Friend on the positive and constructive role of the British Government, which was illustrated by Mr. Gorbachev's decision to visit Britain on his way to Washington last week? May I ask him to emphasise to Mr. Gorbachev the importance that the West attaches to the internal liberalisation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the substantial contribution that that would make to our relations?

The human dimension is vital to East-West relations and certainly will not be neglected in our discussions.

We all agree that, last week, East-West relations took a step forward with the signing of the INF treaty. However, today we shall take a step back, with the United States, after 18 years, again producing chemical weapons. It is to the credit of the Government that, over a number of recent years, they have made efforts to obtain a global treaty to end the production of such weapons. Are any new initiatives being proposed by the Government with regard to chemical weapons and, in particular, verification?

I am grateful for the fact that the hon. Gentleman recognises that the British Government have played a leading role in Geneva by tabling a series of papers dealing with verification and the way in which an international organisation might approach the task of removing chemical weapons over a 10-year period. I can assure him that we intend to keep up the momentum in those discussions and use every effort to ensure that the difficult verification issues are properly tackled.

Does my hon. and learned Friend recollect that Mr. Gorbachev first visited the United Kingdom in December 1984 as the guest, not of the Government, but of this House and of the Inter-Parliamentary Union? Does my hon. and learned Friend see a continuing parliamentary contribution to the increasingly—thank goodness—good relations between our two countries and to a constant, continuing dialogue between this House and the Supreme Soviet?

I recall some fetching photographs of my hon. Friend with Mr. Gorbachev at that time. I am sure that Mr. Gorbachev and other senior Soviets would welcome the opportunity to come and be photographed again with my hon. Friend.

Health Authority (Financial Allocations)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".]

Order. This is a preamble to what is to follow, and I have had notice of it.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will be aware that it is a convention of the House that statements to be made by the Government are presented to the Opposition by 3 pm. This afternoon's statement was received by the Opposition at 18 minutes past 3. I raise the matter because, on the front page of early editions of the Evening Standard, there is a full report of the statement that the House is about to receive. I understand that the 12.30 pm and 1 pm news also carried identical statements. The Government think that that is a smart move to deny the Opposition time to prepare, but is it not a grotesque affront to the House for Ministers to brief the press without even placing an embargo on its reports before the time when the House is favoured with a statement?

I repeat what I have frequently said before. I hold strongly to the view that the House should always be told first, and that if press notices are handed out, they should be embargoed until Ministers get up.

3.31 pm

May I first say that, although it is a courtesy rather than a rule, I naturally regret the fact that the statement was not delivered to the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) as soon as possible. Perhaps, when he has heard the statement, he will be able to decide for himself whether the reports that he has heard or read elsewhere are accurate.

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on allocations to health authorities.

As my right hon. Friend announced on 3 November, for 1988–89 we are increasing the provision for current expenditure on the hospital and community health services in England by £707 million, to a total of nearly £12,000 million. That includes an additional £50 million towards the rising cost of care and treatment for people with AIDS or HIV infection; an additional £9 million for the further development of the breast cancer screening programme; and an additional £5 million to reinforce our programme of projects to reduce waiting lists and times.

Details of the overall increases in allocations to individual regional health authorities, which take account also of the £15 million special fund to help ease transitional problems in regions receiving the lowest growth, and of other allocations including the funding for AIDS, are in the Vote Office. For every region, the extra allocations represent an increase over their current allocations of at least 5·5 per cent., compared with forecast general inflation of 4·5 per cent. We shall shortly also be seeking bids for 1988–89 projects under the waiting list initiative, for which £30 million is available.

We remain committed to the principle of ensuring the fair distribution of resources across the country, and that part of the allocations which depends on what is known as RAWP is based on the existing formula. Extensive work to examine possible improvements to it is, however, nearing completion, with a view to considering changes for future years. Separately, there are additional capital allocations of nearly £26 million. Together with receipts from land sales, which are forecast at over £200 million, this will sustain the hospital building and improvement programme in which over 450 major projects are currently being planned, designed or constructed.

Both current and capital allocations provide for 40 further breast cancer screening centres by spring 1989, over and above the 14 we expect to be in operation by spring 1988. They also provide for over £40 million of expenditure on services which need to be financed on a wider-than-regional basis. Full details of these supraregional allocations are also in the Vote Office. They include increases for neonatal and infant cardiac surgery and for spinal injury services, the designation of a new liver transplant centre in Leeds, and the designation of a fourth heart transplant centre at the Wythenshawe hospital in Manchester.

All these additional resources, together with those released by continuing our successful cost improvement programme and new money arising from income generation schemes, will enable health authorities to continue developing their services. At the same time, we are also taking action to ensure that we have speedier and more accurate information about the financial and service position of health authorities. I shall return to this important matter in a moment.

In so far as this financial year, 1987–88, is concerned, our monitoring arrangements have revealed a shortfall in income that could be eliminated only by short-term measures that would not improve health care or efficiency. This is clearly unacceptable, and we have concluded that to meet the immediate problem it would be right to increase health authority cash limits throughout the United Kingdom by almost £90 million, of which £75 million is for English health authorities. That includes about £10 million in further recognition of the particular pressures from the steadily rising number of AIDS cases which three of the Thames regions are facing this year. We have also decided to make available a further £13·3 million to offset the costs of damage caused by the severe weather on 16 October, thus bringing the additional funding for 1987–88 to over £100 million for the United Kingdom as a whole.

As I have said, we are taking steps to improve significantly the monitoring of health authorities' performance, with the intention of ensuring that resources are spent to maximum effect. These new arrangements will include formal and regular monitoring of income and expenditure levels and of output and activity. In addition, we shall shortly be setting up a special unit to help authorities take full advantage of income generation opportunities. We shall continue to encourage practical partnerships between the public and private sector where this will clearly benefit the patients of the National Health Service. The £7 billion a year of extra resources that the Government have already invested in our hospital services since taking office have enabled them, by any measure, to provide more care to more people than ever before. What I have announced today will help us to build on that.

The additional £75 million that the Minister has announced will be welcomed by the Health Service. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ninety million."] No, the Minister has announced an additional £75 million for English health authorities for the current year out of £90 million for Britain as a whole. That money will be welcomed by the Health Service, in the same way as a drowning man grasps at a straw.

I congratulate the Minister on the fact that his monitoring arrangements have revealed a shortfall in income in the hospitals. May I point out to him that the monitoring arrangements of just about everybody else in the Health Service noticed this months ago? If the monitoring arrangements have identified that shortfall in income, why is it that for weeks since the House resumed after the summer recess he and the Prime Minister have denied at the Dispatch Box that there was any shortfall in income?

I remind the Minister that this is the ninth month of the financial year. Why has he waited until this last gasp to provide extra funding for the Health Service? Why has he waited until 3,500 beds have been closed, 10,000 operations have been postponed and 24 infants have died waiting for a place in intensive care? Why has he not acted before? Why has he presented such a widow's mite in contribution?

I remind the Minister that this year he underfunded nurses' pay by £170 million. Where is the other half of the short change? If this sum is adequate, will the Minister tell the House what beds in what hospitals will now reopen and what operations in what district health authorities will now be rescheduled? Will South Manchester be saved the decision which it has to take tomorrow to close another 200 beds? Since the Minister is going to monitor how the money is spent, will he assure us that it will be free from the strings he placed on the £500,000 to Trent and West Midlands last week, when he obliged them to spend the money in private hospitals, not in their own hospitals.

Now that the Minister has had to admit that the sums for this year are inadequate, how can he come to the House and persist with the very same inadequate increase for next year that was announced last month? Is this the answer to the 1,000 doctors who went to Downing street yesterday and asked for extra money? Are they being told, "No, there is no money"? The Minister should recall that the health authorities have estimated that they need £935 million to stand still. Today's allocation of £707 million will mean further cuts in their budgets next year.

The Minister said that this increase represents 5·6 per cent. inflation. Will he confirm that, in estimating that increase of 5·6 per cent., he is taking into account the additional developmental money, and that the underlying inflationary increase on which this figure is based is 4·5 per cent.? Does he believe that the inflation rate in the Health Service next year will be 4·5 per cent.? Does he believe that nurses next year should get an increase of 4·5 per cent.? If he believes that they should get more, will he give the House a clear, unequivocal undertaking that the Government will fully fund whatever increase the nurses get?

I draw the Minister's attention to today's figures on the public sector borrowing requirement and point out that they show that this year the Treasury has received £3,000 million more in revenue than expected and has incurred expenditure of £1,000 million less than expected, leaving the Chancellor—[interruption.]—yes, doing very well— leaving the Chancellor with £4,000 million in hand. I draw the Minister's attention to the fact that one tenth of that sum would enable every health authority to reopen the wards it has closed, to fill the beds that are empty and to use the operating theatres that stand half-used for the whole working week. Does the Minister agree that, if that large sum is to spare in the Treasury the first priority for it is not cutting income tax but saving the Health Service? If the Minister agrees with that, will he resign if he does not get the money that the Health Service needs?

May I first make it clear—perhaps this ties in with the fact that the hon. Gentleman obviously believed what he heard on the radio at lunchtime rather than what was in my statement—that the increase for the health authorities in England is just under £90 million — not the £75 million to which he referred —[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman has failed to read on, to where £13·3 million of storm damage money is announced —[Interruption.]

Order. I remind the House that there is a very heavy day ahead of us. Interruptions of this kind take up a lot of time.

Perhaps I might just ask the hon. Gentleman what he would have said if we had left the South East Thames health authority with a £8 million bill for the consequences of the storm. I wonder equally about some of the other figures that he gave, particularly in his remarks about the alleged under funding of the review body awards this year. I do not know where that figure came from. Some 95 per cent. of the review body awards was funded either in the initial allocations, or by well over £200 million that was additionally made available at the time that the awards were announced. The amount left for health authorities to find from part of the proceeds of their much larger cost improvement programmes was about £24 million.

As for the amount available to the health authorities for next year, I made it clear in my statement that alongside the £707 million whose allocation I have dealt with today are £150 million of further cost improvement programmes — which will do no more than match what health authorities have achieved for several years now — and additional money which we estimate at between £10 million and £20 million from new income generation schemes. The total amount for the development of services is far larger than the hon. Gentleman has recognised.

Finally, let me pick up the point about how the money will be allocated to district health authorities, and, indeed, to individual hospitals. That will be a matter for the regional health authorities, to which the allocations announced today are being made. However, we shall make it clear that we expect them to take specific account of the problems of particular health authorities in deciding how that money will be distributed.

May I ask my hon. Friend not to take too much notice of the Opposition, who glory in every problem, and are determined to shout down any facts that are given? May I also ask him whether any expert has been able to give him a final figure for what it would cost to meet every medical need as it arose? Finally, will he consider urgently the longterm funding of the Health Service, and arrange to bring in private and other moneys that are available to meet the needs that exist?

I am certainly not aware of any expert having put an ultimate statistic on the potential for health demand, which clearly has an infinite range—or so most people would say.

I tried to make it clear in my statement that we recognise the need to obtain resources from all possible quarters to add to those that we take and provide from the taxpayer, and that we shall continue to encourage both new income generation schemes and the partnership between the private and public sectors, which in many parts of the country is bringing significant benefit to NHS patients.

While I welcome the Minister's statement about the heart transplant unit at Wythenshawe, how will what he has said affect the ever-lengthening queue of people, not least elderly pensioners, waiting for cataract extractions in Manchester?

The Minister is aware of the case of an elderly widow —a constituent of mine—who is blind in one eye and has a cataract in the other, and who had a long, painful and anxious wait for her operation. He is also aware that the most distinguished eye specialist in Manchester has said that we are falling to Third-world standards in this important area. How long must we wait to remove the problem of people dying on the waiting lists?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks about Wythenshawe hospital's transplant centre.

Cataract operations are an interesting example of a service in which there is considerable scope for improving our performance. In some other countries, cataract surgery is done much more widely—indeed, mainly—on a day surgery basis. As the right hon. Gentleman probably knows, the Manchester health authorities have a very interesting project for developing day-care surgery, and I hope that we shall soon find some way of helping them with that.

Will my hon. Friend accept that his statement will be widely welcomed outside this House, even though we know the Opposition too well to expect them to welcome any good news? With regard to maximising resources, what will my hon. Friend do about the medical agencies which have been set up to sell the services of junior doctors and which, in my part of England at least, are typically costing local health authorities a six-figure sum every year? That is a rip-off and it should be stopped.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his remarks. From exchanges that we have had, he will know that a number of regional health authorities are taking steps towards setting up their own agencies to combat the problem. I should also like to make it clear that I am seriously considering the introduction of controls to deal with the difficulties to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Was the Minister made aware of the disparaging comments that were issued from No. 10 Downing street to the Sunday press about the Royal Colleges of Physicians, of Surgeons and of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists? Does he agree with the tone and content of those disparaging criticisms? Does he believe that the criticism of the fall in standards and services was not genuine? Does he truly believe that £90 million — although extremely welcome — will be sufficient to grapple with the extremely serious problems that the NHS currently faces?

I believe that the total amount that I have announced today will make a significant difference to health authorities throughout the United Kingdom in advance of the huge additional allocations which they can expect in 1988–89.

The thing that I found most noticeable about the article in the Sunday Times was the extraordinarily rude remarks about other consultants made by a consultant who said that he was about to emigrate to the United States. I would certainly not wish to suggest that the problems and pressures of the Health Service are the responsibility entirely of doctors, but I ask doctors to acknowledge that they, too, have a contribution to make to help us overcome those difficulties.

I am much reassured by my hon. Friend's promise that he will monitor expenditure. I ask him especially to consider the waste of money in the South-East Thames regional health authority, which is paying for the lease on a building in Croydon that it vacated for lusher quarters in Bexhill. Will he consider that, in my constituency, we desperately need some of that money?

Yes, I can tell my hon. Friend that nothing would please me more than to be able to dispose of the building in Croydon, and we shall certainly continue our efforts to do so.

Is the Minister aware of meetings that have been held with district health authority managers in Yorkshire? Is he aware that, in the coming days, further cuts will be made to services in that area? Is he aware that £1·4 million will be cut in the Leeds Eastern health authority and that that will lead to the closure of the St. George's hospital in Rothwell—I was notified of that decision today. Is he also aware that £900,000 will be cut in the Wakefield health authority and that beds in the intensive care units will be closed? Is he further aware of the £600,000 that will be cut in the Pontefract health authority, which will mean a reduction in health care? Will he assure me that his statement today will ensure that those cuts do not take place in that area of Yorkshire?

I have said that the distribution between districts is, of course, a matter for the regions. However, I assure the hon. Gentleman that my statement means that the Yorkshire region will have another £4·7 million to distribute.

Does the Minister agree that we owe it to those working in the Health Service, to patients and to those on the waiting lists to make it plain that, far from standing still, the NHS is in fact making great progress both in terms of patients treated, doctors and nurses employed and new forms of treatment undertaken? Do we not further owe it to the members of the public who have expressed a wish to contribute more to the Health Service to introduce, as soon as possible, an alternative means of finance? If the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds can offer a medical insurance scheme, surely our Government should be able to do so.

Not only do we have a duty to consider alternative forms but we have been acting to increase the income of the Health Service; for example, through the land sales policy, which has so assisted the capital programme, and in other ways, including the income generation scheme. I accept that the problems and pressures that we face, which no one has sought to conceal, are those of an expanding service that is providing more and more care.

This morning I received a copy of a letter that the chairman of Rotherham district health authority sent to the Secretary of State, saying that the underfunding on inflation of that health authority this year amounted to £500,000, £300,000 of which had gone to meet pay settlements this year. Will the Minister say how much of the allowance that he has announced will put back into that health authority? If the Trent region cannot do that for all district authorities in the region because of the sum that the Minister has in front of him, are we not still underfunded for this year, although he has not answered the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) about next year's funding for the Health Service?

We shall have to consider issues arising from the review body reports, when we have them, in the usual way. The record is clear: huge additional sums were made available last year. With regard to Rotherham district health authority, I must repeat the answer that I have already given—that the increase for Trent regional health authority is nearly £6 million for this year.

I warmly welcome the financial aspects of my hon. Friend's statement, but is he aware that, for some years, there has been growing anxiety about the quality of administration in the National Health Service—not necessarily at district level but at regional level? Is he aware of the great anxiety—in the part of the world with which my hon. Friend is familiar — about the fatuous performance of the North East Thames regional health authority, which has sought to move cancer services, shifting the goal posts at least three times, causing intense anxiety to cancer patients and relatives, and wasting public money? Perhaps the most important action that my hon. Friend could take to encourage those engaged directly in health care —doctors and nurses—is to shake up the administration of regional health authorities.

My right hon. Friend will know that the proposals for North East Thames cancer treatment services are currently with Ministers. Therefore, he will understand that I would not wish to comment directly on them. We shall be just as keen to improve still further the efficiency of regional health authorities as every other part of the service.

I welcome the £90 million that has been announced, but will the Minister say why we are still, according to what the consultants tell us, £110 million short? Some £110 million is needed for this year alone, and of that £500,000 is needed in Liverpool to keep the service going. With regard to next year's Estimates, does the Minister agree that £707 million is £200 million short, and will we not be in the same position next year of coming cap in hand for an extra allocation of £200 million? Finally, are land sales the only measure that the Minister is thinking about to sustain the building programme?

No, of course it is not. The building programme is sustained by three quarters of a billion pounds of public money, which we are increasing still further this year.

The increase that I have announced for Mersey regional health authority is nearly £3·5 million.

I have the same comment on both of the hon. Gentleman's shortfall figures. He and those who write the figures persistently ignore the cost improvement programme and all other potential sources of income. That is absurd. It appears that there is no room for efficiency increases — there is: we made it, and it is helping to improve patient care.

My hon. Friend will recall that the West Midlands regional health authority has a rate of funding that is 19 per cent. beyond the rate of inflation, so his statement will be welcomed as an addition to the Government's record. Will he bear in mind that that same health authority is underfunding the county of Shropshire by 10 per cent. on the RAWP scale? We would like to see some real meat to the promise that we shall have equitable funding or, better still, as suggested by the Father of the House, our right hon. Friend the Member for Castle Point (Sir B. Braine), abolish the regional health authority.

I am sure that my hon. Friend's words will have been registered by the chairman of the West Midlands regional health authority. I shall certainly bring them to his attention, having recently met many people from Shropshire about their concerns. The West Midlands health authority will gain nearly £7 million from what I have announced this afternoon in the present year, and about £72 million for next year.

Order. I have to remind the House that we have a busy day ahead of us, with no fewer than six Privy Councillors wishing to speak, and a maiden speech. There is a long list. I shall allow questions on this matter to go on until a quarter past four. Therefore, I ask for brief questions, please. Perhaps we shall also have brief answers as a result.

Will there be a parallel statement concerning increased expenditure on the Health Service in Scotland? Will the Minister recognise that the Minister who is responsible for health in Scotland is not in his place? Yet again, there is no Scottish Minister in the House to hear what is said about the Health Service in Scotland. We do not believe that the Service is safe in the hands of Ministers who are repeatedly indolent. Will he bring the matter to the attention of the Secretary of State for Scotland?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friend has been in no way indolent in the discussions that underlie the statement. Scotland will receive an addition £7·6 million. I understand that my right hon. Friend will make a statement in an appropriate way in due course about how he proposes to deploy that money.

Many of my constituents who have seen wards close and waiting lists lengthen will be grateful for the winds of reality that are sweeping through my hon. Friend's Department and the Treasury, much of which is due to my hon. Friend, and I thank him for that. Will he warn those health authorities that do not believe in cost efficiency and those consultants who are still carrying out restrictive practices that the money that he is making available is a precious resource and should not be squandered?

Is the Minister aware that we in Wales have suffered hospital closures and ward closures? We have lost nurses. We have disgruntled and frustrated surgeons and physicians. We have underfunded health authorities. What is in the statement for Wales? If the Minister cannot give us the answer, where is the Secretary of State for Wales? Why has he not come forward with a statement?

Will my hon. Friend assure me that, if the additional resources that he has provided this afternoon, which are most welcome, prove to be insufficient, he will be courageous enough to come to the House and announce a further allocation of resources? Will he assure the House also that health authorities will not continue to have to pick up the cost of underfunding pay awards? It badly affects the morale of all professions at all levels of the Health Service.

If I believed that the resources that I am making available for this year, in advance of the figure of more than £700 million extra for next year, were inadequate, I would not have made the statement in the first place. On the latter point that my hon. Friend has raised, it does not seem to me to be unreasonable that some— I emphasise, only some—contribution towards pay and price pressures in a year should be expected from the substantial cost improvement programmes. of course, we shall have to consider what those amounts should be.

Will the Minister accept that, since the Department of Health in Northern Ireland is linked with the Department of Health and Social Security, most of us are like Oliver Twist? We have come forward today, thanked him for what we have got, but we shall come back again. The reality is that the Eastern health board has already stated that, even in the light of projected figures, which are grossly underfunded when applied to RAWP, those health authorities and regional authorities that seek to do their work properly are subsequently punished because their resources are cut? Does the Minister accept that there is a need for the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to be present to answer questions.

The Nothern Ireland share of what I announced today is just over £2·1 million.

As the Government insist that health expenditure must grow by 2 per cent. in real terms if cuts are to be prevented, will the Minister assure the House that the NHS will be able to meet that objective this year? Will he help us also in judging the adequacy of today's statement by assuring the House that, from this day onward, he can confidently expect that there will be no more announcements about cuts in the NHS?

Taking account of what I have said several times about cost improvement programmes and other related matters, we estimate that the overall real increase in the resources that are available for care should be about 3 per cent. next year, which, of course, would more than cover the figure that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I certainly cannot undertake to him or to anybody else that there will be no further changes arising, apart from anything else, from sensible rationalisation of services—for example, when new hospitals are built.

Is my hon. Friend aware that, although they did not get a copy of his statement even five minutes before he made it, his hon. Friends warmly welcome it? We congratulate him on the fact that he has managed to prise from the Treasury more cash for this year as well as the substantial sums that he has already got for the following year. Will he say a little more about the monitoring process to which he referred? What will be the consequences of it? Will he be able to point out to some authorities that they will generate more income by contracting out and by working with the private sector? Some health authorities are not doing that. Pressure should be put upon them to use every possible means of getting other sources of income.

My hon. Friend will have noticed that the Treasury is here, in the shape of our right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, and appears to enjoy having the money prised out of it.

We shall certainly encourage health authorities to continue to explore ways of improving services and obtaining extra facilities along the lines that my hon. Friend suggested.

We intend to back up the existing cash limit monitoring from the beginning of January, with formal arrangements for monitoring income and expenditure and working balances on a quarterly basis, for taking at the very least, in the light of new management information which is now becoming available, a quarterly check on the number of patients treated and the state of waiting lists. Following those and other measures, we shall systematically take up with health authorities the reasons for the wide divergences of activity levels.

Does the extra £7 million for the west midlands mean an end to the closure of wards, beds and operating theatres as a result of underfunding in the west midlands?

The hon. Gentleman will have heard what I have said. I am not in a position to give guarantees, given that changes in wards, beds and hospitals can arise from a variety of causes, often the subject of dispute, but many of which unquestionably, even in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has in mind, arise from sensible rationalisations of services to get best value for money.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, whatever figure he announced today, there would have been a knee-jerk reaction from the Opposition to the effect that it was not enough? Will he accept my congratulations on what he has done, particularly given the problems that face my part of the world, Cornwall? What is the extra amount for the South-West region? When he reconsiders the RAWP formula, will proper account be taken of elderly people and the rural nature of some health authorities?

The figure for South Western under this afternoon's proposal is £4·2 million for 1987–88, and it is £43 million for 1988–89. On the RAWP formula, I have had a variety of things urged on me in the past few weeks. I have been urged to take greater account of urban deprivation, the elderly, rural scatter—one of the urban points—and increasing population. We need to examine the matter carefully; that is one reason why I have decided not to tinker with the formula this year.

Does not the Minister accept that it is wholly inappropriate that the health authorities of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should learn of their allocations only by questioning him? Does he not accept that they, too, are labouring under extreme difficulties? Why were not the figures published in the statement, with a clear analysis of how the money will be distributed to our health boards?

I have said that my right hon. Friends will be making statements to give further details in the appropriate way.

Will the Minister give the details for the North-West region? I accept that it is for the region to decide, but will he call the attention of the North-West board to the fact that 23 per cent. of Lancaster's population are elderly people who clearly need more resources? On RAWP, will he take into account the fact that land values in the north-west are very much lower than in other areas and that the north-west cannot get as much when it sells sites?

I note the latter point and, indeed, the point about the elderly in Lancaster, which I shall draw to the attention of the North-West RHA, if it is not already aware of it— although, knowing my hon. Friend, I suspect that it probably is. The figures for the North-West region are £5·8 million for 1987–88 and £55 million for 1988–89.

Will the Minister explain how this grossly inadequate sum will prevent the growing tendency to cut costs by having mixed sleeping wards in hospitals? Is he aware that in my constituency women who have had gynaecological operations are, to their great distress, placed in beds side by side with men's beds? Is he aware that many older women who have given a lifetime of service to this country are ending their lives in geriatric wards, often in mental hospitals, where they are placed side by side with demented men who sometimes physically attack them? They find demented men masturbating in the women's toilets. Is it right that women should be stripped of all dignity and end their lives in this manner for the sake of saving what is, overall, a paltry increase?

There are a variety of reasons why health authorities have mixed wards, and one is that some people prefer them. I would say only that I strongly oppose people being made to go into mixed wards if it does not suit them to do so. For the rest, the inadequate Victorian hospitals that the hon. Lady described are one of the reasons why we have persistently pursued a record capital building programme, which will be further advanced by these proposals.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on the proposals. However, will he speed up the review of policies such as the centralisation of radiotherapy treatment services, which in the North-East Thames area, at least, would cost more money, involve more hardship and reduce patient care? Will he speed up such reviews to aid the Health Service further —in addition to his achievement today?

We shall certainly seek to decide as soon as possible about the North-East Thames region's proposals about cancer treatment services. However, it should be emphasised that the aim is to improve the quality of radiotherapy services throughout the North-East Thames region, which includes Essex.

Has the Minister any comprehension of how inadequate and pathetic the sum of £7 million is to the West Midlands regional health authority, which is already £30 million underfunded for this year? Will that money mean that patients in Walsgrave hospital will be treated in wards instead of being treated in corridors as they were this week? Does the hon. Gentleman remember the Prime Minister saying eight months ago, "I go in at the time I choose, on the day I choose and see the doctor I choose, and I get out fast"? Does not the rest of the country have the right to exactly the same expectations as his boss, on £1,000 a week, and the Prime Minister when they are in hospital? Is it not a fact that his statement does not guarantee those rights?

I do not think that the West Midlands regional health authority, with which I spent a great deal of time on Friday, will regard nearly £8 million as trivial. Frankly, even if I had announced that 10 times that amount would be available, the hon. Gentleman would still have regarded it as trivial.

In view of the widening gap between what is medically possible and what any Government can reasonably fund, will my hon. Friend try to establish what the state should supply free on demand, what the private citizen should insure against, and what the patient should be charged for rather than paying more money to the health authorities to try to meet every medical eventuality? Will he institute a comprehensive review of the National Health Service to establish the principles and priorities?

Certainly it is healthy that the difficulties that have been the subject of controversy recently should have given rise, as they undoubtedly have, to more forward-looking thinking about the problems of providing health care. I would simply point to what we have already done to harness additional resources and promote partnership with the private sector to the benefit of the overall health care in this country.

Does the Minister agree that high unemployment and low incomes make a major contribution to the demands made by the people in Northern Ireland on the Health Service in both the public and the private sectors and as regards both physical and mental care? Does he agree that the terrible situation in Northern Ireland exerts extra pressure on the resources of those authorities? Does he further agree that approximately £1·30 per head of population will not make a significant contribution in that respect?

I take leave to differ with the hon. Gentleman on whether the sum of money that I have announced will have a significant effect. I judge that it will.

I realise that there are special factors in Northern Ireland —as there are in areas of urban deprivation, areas with a growing population and others. We seek to take account of all the differing factors in the money that we make available.

How does my hon. Friend reconcile his commitment to a fairer allocation of resources with the reality that, in the last financial year, Eastbourne health authority was 17 per cent. underfunded on the basis of RAWP, whereas this year it is underfunded by 19 per cent?

I do so on the basis that it has always been made clear that this is a movement taking place over a period which has to take account of the transitional problems also. South-West Thames regional health authority, which covers my hon. Friend's constituency, is among those that are benefiting again this year from the so-called RAWP bridging fund, designed specifically to help them overcome some of the problems of achieving redistribution to health authorities such as my hon. Friend's.

The Minister will agree that, in considering NHS funding, one must correct any increases for the pay and prices NHS deflator. When one considers that, one sees that the increase announced for 1988–89 in fact represents a cut in expenditure in real terms. [Interruption.] Wait a minute —don't rush it. The Minister has partly offset that by saying that £150 million will come from cost savings. However, that will simply return us to level funding without taking demographic changes into account. Will the Minister also agree that it is rather hypocritical of the Government to complain about consultants engaging in private practice when one of the Government's first acts when they came to power in 1979 was to change consultants' contracts to encourage them to engage in private practice?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that neither he nor I can know what, to use jargon terms, the HCHF deflator will be in the period ahead. Obviously, we shall not know the outcome of the review body and other recommendations until the spring of the forthcoming year. We shall have to consider that when the time comes.

Is my hon. Friend aware how welcome it is, at a time of great difficulty, to have a Minister who will listen to representations? Those of us who were here in 1976 can contrast that with what happened under the last Labour Government when there were cuts on a far greater scale than we have now. Does the Minister's announcement mean that, for next year, every regional health authority should be able to give some increase in real resources to every district under its care?

I think that I can safely give that assurance to my hon. Friend. In the light of the concern which he and other hon. Members have expressed, he may like to know that, in respect of that part of the distribution for next year governed by the RAWP formula, the highest increase in funding — 6·8 per cent. — is going to the Oxford region.

It was not until a throwaway supplementary answer of the Minister a short while ago that I, as a Welshman and Welsh Member, was sure that Scrooge's belated conversion was not merely an English phenomenon and that it might apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will he confirm —[Interruption.] No, it is not. Will the Minister confirm that the statement contains two detailed pages which apply only to the English authorities? Will he confirm that there is no specific reference to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland? Will he confirm that there are just two general, undetailed references to general United Kingdom figures?

Since the Minister began to speak, I have taken the trouble to phone the Welsh Office and was told to look for a written answer that is to be published later this afternoon. Will he bear in mind that we have already complained to the Secretary of State for Wales about Government by press release, particularly when the press release can be in the Press Gallery four hours before it is in the Library? If he cannot answer these questions—there is no reason why he should be able to—will he ensure that on Friday the three Ministers who are responsible and should be answering the questions, are paraded here in the House to answer them?

The statement said:

"we have concluded that …it would be right to increase health authority cash limits throughout the United Kingdom by almost £90 million, of which £75 million is for English health authorities."
I am bound to concede that that sentence does not include the words "Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland". However, it did not stop the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) focusing, rather inaccurately, on the fact that only £75 million was for England.

Order. I shall, of course, faithfully record the names of those hon. Members who have not been called; when we debate this matter again, I shall ensure that they have some precedence.

Britoil

4.22 pm

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The purchase of shares in Britoil by BP."

Britoil is the largest and most important independent company based in Scotland and its headquarters are in my constituency. It employs 1,700 people who, as we meet here this afternoon, are gripped by fear about the circumstances which have unfolded since the dawn raid on the stock exchange a week ago when BP began hostile takeover manoeuvres against the Britoil operation. According to The Times this morning, they are poised to deliver a knockout blow this afternoon on the stock exchange, so this is an urgent matter.

It is also important because the board of directors, the management and the staff are, to a man and woman, opposed to this hostile takeover bid, and are looking to the House and to Her Majesty's Government to redeem promises which they have made to them. Given the Christmas hiatus which is about to come upon us, my constituents and the company are concerned that, before we resume in January, the game will be over and they will have been dragged screaming and kicking into a marriage which is certainly not to their liking.

The consequences of a BP takeover would be dire indeed. Britoil, a good example of enterprise culture in operation, would disappear into the vast maw of British Petroleum, whose own provenance is increasingly open to question. The Kuwait Investment Office has just bought another few hundred million shares, bringing its stake to one billion shares in British Petroleum.

There is a clear locus for this House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer holds a golden share in Britoil, which he said was to ward off hostile predators of the BP kind. If we have a debate this afternoon, the House can ask the Chancellor how solid is that golden share. When will the public see its value? When will he break the less than golden silence of the last few days? Will he ensure that the cheap brass of the City of London does not knock out the black gold of Britoil whose record in the oil industry is exemplary?

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galloway) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,

"The purchase of shares in Britoil by BP."

I have listened with concern to what the hon. Gentleman has said and I appreciate that we are approaching the Christmas recess. However, he knows that the decision that I have to make is whether to give his application precedence over the business set down for today or tomorrow. I regret that I cannot find that his application meets the criteria under Standing Order No. 20, and regret that I cannot put his application to the House.

Points Of Order

4.26 pm

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you reflect in the next 24 hours on a parliamentary malpractice which is on the increase? This is the habit of even the most senior and informed Ministers of using their answers to refer questioners to questions that do not in any way answer the question asked. You will recall that question No. 13 referred to Mr. Charles Powell, a senior Foreign Office civil servant, and I asked very carefully how it was that he remained in the post in the circumstances.

Order. We are going back into Question Time. I shall reflect upon what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I cannot have any responsibility for answers to questions. I often wish that I could.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. During questions on the health authorities statement, a number of hon. Members were called. Perhaps you, Mr. Speaker, could help some of us who will no doubt face criticism in our local press about not being called and not appearing to be here—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, dear."] When Conservative Members take that sort of attitude, let me draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the fact that no one from the Merseyside area, the north-east or the north was called. You may recall. Mr. Speaker, that there is a problem with mental hospitals in my constituency, which I have raised many times.

Order. I know about that. I was reluctant to curtail questions on the statement, but, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have an important debate ahead of us. I wish it were possible for every hon. Member who wishes to participate in these matters to speak. I cannot say more than I have already said, but I shall bear the hon. Gentleman's complaints in mind. If he wishes his position to be reinforced in a letter to his constituents, I shall be pleased to help him.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This afternoon the Minister for Health made an important statement about National Health Service funding. It was only in questioning him that the position of Scotland was extracted. He also went on to say that the appropriate Scottish Minister would make a statement in his own way. I have since learned that the Minister responsible for the Health Service in Scotland is appearing on a radio programme in Scotland at 5 o'clock to speak on this subject. I have always understood that the first priority of hon. Members, particularly Ministers, should be their attendance in this place, to account for what they are doing, rather than appearing on the media.

I thought that the hon. Gentleman was on to a very good point in his question when he elucidated the reply.

National Health Service (Improved Provision Of Services)

4.29 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require improved provision of services in all aspects of the National Health Service.

If the Prime Minister's husband had cancer, would she see him die because the local hospital had overspent its quota for operations? If the Prime Minister had a grandchild who needed a heart operation, would she see that child turned away again and again because of the shortage of trained nurses? Heaven forbid. The Prime Minister would not want any such tragedies in her family, and neither would I in mine. I do not want them to occur in anyone's family.

The undeniable fact is that, in the Prime Minister's Britain, such tragedies are happening every day. Every day in our public hospitals more beds are lost, more nurses leave their jobs and more people suffer and die unnecessarily. Those people may be statistics, but they are also flesh and blood. Therefore, I have not come here today to bandy statistics—who believes them anyway?

Like a clockwork parrot, the Prime Minister squawks away, "We spend more; we have spent more. We, we, me, me." Who believes that? From every corner of the country and every level of the health profession comes the same lament — "The hospital service is in crisis." Even Conservative Members say so. It is in total crisis, but from Downing street the parrot simply screeches louder, "We are giving more, more, more." The offering of peanuts this afternoon is totally insufficient to meet the crisis.

The Prime Minister is not deaf. She knows exactly what the doctors, nurses and hospital administrators are so desperately trying to tell her. She knows perfectly well that our hospitals will be lucky to survive the winter without more shameful tragedies. Of course, they would not be the Prime Minister's personal tragedies, because people like her buy their urgent hospital treatment. However, they are tragedies all the same. They are the tragedies of those people who are too poor to jump queues, who are not quite rich enough to avoid the effects of Government policy. I repeat those words "Government policy" because in my opinion the current crisis in our hospitals has been deliberately created as an act of policy. Health care is being deliberately squeezed, purposely run down to undermine public support for the principle of the National Health Service itself.

Just after the second world war, Sir Winston Churchill implied that the Labour party's creation of the welfare state and the National Health Service would be the first step down the road to the concentration camps. "How absurd", one might think, "how paranoid", in the light of the vast public health achievements of the past 40 years. Yet deep in her heart, the Prime Minister still believes that, because she distrusts the whole philosophy behind our present hospital service. She loathes the very idea of collective provision for individual need, provided free at the point of that need and paid for, collectively, through taxation, graded to individual wealth. That is still the governing principle of the Health Service, and judging by all measurable evidence it is still the overwhelming preference of the British people.

However, it is anathema to the Prime Minister. If she is indeed determined to dismantle the whole structure of post-war social provision as she sees it, why should the Health Service be exempt? In fact, would not our hospitals be the most crucial target as they most nearly fulfil, in Britain, the hated "Socialist" ideal?

Make no mistake — the National Health Service is not safe in the Prime Minister's hands, because she is philosophically committed to its destruction. The early phases of that destruction are what we see today —hospital closures, ward closures, staff losses, inadequate funding and "industrial-style" management—all leading to lower standards of patient care, all calculated to ensure that the only people who believe that the National Health Service gives good value for money are those who can afford private care. It has all been consciously orchestrated to sap the nation's faith in community provision and is aimed ultimately at privatisation and handing over health care to private profiteers on the American model, with a two-tier system of health provision and with double standards: one for the rich and fortunate who can pay, and one for the unfortunate who cannot, who can be turned away from hospitals when they have got behind with their insurance payments.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker—

Order. I am listening to the hon. Lady's submission, which I think will shortly come to an end.

We should not forget the old man with cancer or the little grandchild with a hole in his heart. In future, are their life chances to depend solely on cash—not on compassion or on the caring instinct, collectively expressed, but purely on the ability to pay? Heaven forbid. Indeed, heaven forbid that a grandchild of the Prime Minister, or mine, or anyone else's, should ever be weighed on the shameful scales of payment or pain. It would be shameful if the relief of pain and suffering were ever again a matter of politics in this country. However, without doubt, we are already on that slippery slope towards the politicisation of pain.

If I am wrong, let the Prime Minister deny it. Let her come to this House—

Order. I think I anticipate the point of order. The hon. Lady must tell the House what she wants her Bill to do.

How does the Prime Minister see our hospital and family doctor services developing, or otherwise, for the rest of the century? What exactly is the Thatcherite vision of the 21st century? In the current crisis, the British people are entitled to know what the cuts and the chaos are about. People have a right to know where the different parties stand on the central philosophical issue facing British society. Opposition Members have no hesitation in saying where we stand. We stand where we have stood for the past few decades and more. We stand for the elimination of waiting lists, charges and understaffing. We stand for adequate resources, adequate pay and adequate public provision—

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. With respect to the hon. Lady, is it in order for an hon. Member introducing a Bill to go on and on without mentioning the Bill?

I have already given that hint to the hon. Lady. I am listening carefully to what she is saying. I should like to hear her say what her Bill will do.

With respect, Mr. Speaker, when the hon. Gentleman interrupted me that is what I was trying to say.

The Bill is about sufficiently improving services covering all aspects of health care—this is what I was saying when the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Jesse]) deliberately misheard me — to eliminate all waiting lists; provide sufficient resources to meet the ideals and practical requirements of the system; eliminate all charges, again to meet the ideals of the service; introduce an adequate programme of preventive health care, including provision for the training of staff, publicity and general education; end the exploitation of staff which is, at the moment, rampant in our Health Service and provide adequate rates of pay for those staff; introduce a realistic and enforceable grievance procedure for patients, to be provided by an ombudsman with real powers; introduce a democratic form of management as a matter of priority.

The National Health Service is being run down. I defy any Conservative Member to vote against the Bill unless he can put his clear alternatives to the House and the country. Why is the National Health Service being run down? If it is to disappear, how will it be replaced? Let the Prime Minister come to the House and answer that straight and simple question, not with figures or squawking like a parrot, but with philosophy. Let us see and hear the quality of the Prime Minister's care and compassion. Let this small Bill be the beginning of a great national debate on the most important social institution, the National Health Service, once a matter of great national pride but now, although it hurts me grievously to say so — [Interruption] I am absolutely—[Interruption.]

What is happening at the moment is a disgrace that the nation should take to heart. Let the Prime Minister come here to tell us what she has in store for the National Health Service in the 21st century; we have our vision and we want to know the Government's.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mrs. Alice Mahon, Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. John Battle, Mr. Dave Nellist, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Ms. Dawn Primarolo, Mrs. Audrey Wise., Mr. Jeremy Corbyn, Mr. Eric Illsley, Mr. Bob Cryer, Mr. Max Madden, and Ms. Mildred Gordon.

National Heath Service (Improved Provision Of Services)

Mrs. Alice Mahon accordingly presented a Bill to require improved provision of services in all aspects of the National Health Service: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 15 January and to be printed. [Bill 72.]

We have a heavy day ahead of us. Is it a matter that I can genuinely answer?

Mr. Speaker, will you confirm to the House that on ten-minute Bills it is the normal practice that people listen in silence to the presentation of such a Bill and do not interrupt with points of order? It is particularly deplorable for Conservative Members to interrupt a ten-minute Bill, when the purpose of the Bill is quite clearly stated on the Order Paper. People often present Bills which are difficult to understand, but on this occasion it was specifically set out on the Order Paper. It is deplorable that hon. Members should interrupt a speech on a ten-minute Bill, which by tradition should not be interrupted.

I agree with what the hon. Gentleman has said, but he will have heard what I said to the hon. Member for Halifax (Mrs. Mahon)—that, in making an application to bring in a Bill, it is necessary to describe what the Bill contains. That is all I was seeking to elucidate from the hon. Lady.

Orders Of The Day

Local Government Finance Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Before calling the Secretary of State, I inform the House that I have selected the reasoned amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It might also be helpful if I inform the House that all motions for instructions to the Committee on the Bill are out of order. Therefore I have not been able to select them. The instructions requiring the Committee to consider alternative ways of achieving the purposes of the Bill are out of order because the Committee already has that power. The instructions requiring the Committee to consider dividing the Bill are out of order because the Bill is not drafted so as to make a division practicable. The rules governing the admissibility of instructions are clearly set out on page 545 of "Erskine May".

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you confirm that, none the less, it is still perfectly in order for those of my hon. Friends who think the Standing Committee should examine the desirability of linking the charge to ability to pay to add their names to the Order Paper at any time between now and 10 o'clock tomorrow?

I can certainly confirm that to the hon. Member, and I confirm that it would be perfectly open for him to put down an amendment at a later stage.

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. In recent times a change has been made to Second Readings and Second Reading amendments. Mr. Speaker, a practice has been adopted occasionally by you and the previous Speaker that when, for instance, the Liberal leader or SDP leader has put down a Second Reading amendment, it has been taken. There used to be a time when that gate was never opened, when Second Readings were simply voted for or against. Now, as a result of the change that has taken place in the past few years, any amendment to the Second Reading of a Bill, in effect, gives an indication to the Committee to take account of the amendment.

Some amendments have been put down on the Second Reading of the Local Government Finance Bill. As Mr. Speaker on occasions has found it necessary to take those Second Reading amendments and so give the Committee the power to take account of them, my argument is that the gate has been opened for instructions also to be presented. It puts the Chair in some difficulty if it is prepared, as it has been in recent times, to accept longwinded amendments on Second Reading, but not to accept instructions from other sources. I would have thought that the matter ought to be looked at again.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark
(Birmingham, Selly Oak)